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Aug 24, 2008 11:23 AM

MSP hounders -- what do you think about the story on where to go here during the RNC convention?

I thought the selections were pretty good and fit the criteria he set for himself (less expensive places that are good)..

There were a couple on the list that I didn't know and am intrigued to try -- after the convention.

Will you change your dining and hangout choices during the convention at all? I'm expecting a few of my haunts near downtown will be packed. But it will be interesting to see.

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    1. Can you provide a link or a reference so we can see the criteria and the list?

      1 Reply
      1. re: KTFoley

        Here is the story. It is on this site with travel stories:

        I believe this was written by the writer who was asking for recommendations from this board a while ago for places that are less expensive but good. The article is aimed at "volunteers at the convention traveling on a budget," not those well off who can go anywhere.

        I see too that there is a companion article for the democratic convention on how to eat in Denver on the cheap.

      2. James Norton (who seems to be a regular contributor to Chow as well as a staff writer for the Twin Cities free weekly City Pages) did a nice job with that piece, I thought.

        Al's (open only for breakfast--can require a long wait especially weekends), Russian Tea House (open only for lunch and on weekdays; super limited and not entirely "authentic" menu--but, still delicious), Mercado Central, The Nook (can require a long wait), and Pho Tau Bay are some of my favorite spots in the Twin Cities, partly because of the chow, but even more so because they have a lot of local charm and character.

        None of these places is particularly convenient to the XCel Center, though, so, I guess it depends on how much free time attendees have and where they will be staying. Hopefully, they will have a car and a good map.

        A chowhound with a real sense of adventure who wants to get away from downtown St. Paul but doesn't want to stray too far from the XCel center would just hop in her rental car and explore that stretch of University Avenue in St. Paul from the Capitol to about Snelling or so. For breakfast (starting at about 8am, but not on Sundays and not after about noon), Vietnamese Coffee and croissants at Trung Nam Bakery. There are numerous options for lunch or dinner along University Avenue, many of which have been discussed extensively on the Midwest board.

        Also, anyone who is going to find Mercado Central in Minneapolis not too inconvenient, might also enjoy Midtown Global Market several blocks farther West on Lake Street around Chicago for its relative diversity and lunch options in particular. Neither Mercado Central nor Midtown Global Market is super exciting after about 7pm.

        Also, if they have a car, the portion of Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis that the locals call "Eat Street" would be fun to explore, too. The Eat Street merchants used to have a terrific website, but, unfortunately, it seems to be gone.

        Again, all of these places have been extensively discussed on the Midwest board for anyone who wants to read up.

        I personally intend to stay as far from downtown as possible during the convention.


        2 Replies
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Ill add that his "local to the Xcel" rec of Barbary Fig is neither particularly representative of a cuisine the TCs do that well, or really that impressive generally. In the mid-priced slightly upscale ethnic range i think conventioneers would do well to hit up Ngon Bistro on University. Or, in a similar vein (non-divey moderately obscure ethnic) Everest on Grand would provide the same lovely grand ave setting and oppotunities to gaze at the shops/houses up and down summit on the way there or back.

          as for staying away from downtown st p, ill be in california until after the festivities end, and thats just fine with me. now the real question is which one of my houses in california i want to spend the week in . . . and how many choices i have to choose from.

          1. re: tex.s.toast

            One of the neat things about Ngon Bistro is that they try to source locally. If you're looking for authentic pho and bahn mi sandwiches, Ngon might not be your place (head a little farther west on University Avenue to Saigon, which is at Dale), but if you're looking for French-inspired Vietnamese cuisine, it's a neat little place.


            Another place that sources locally and is slightly "upscale" but still very affordable is Tampopo in downtown St. Paul.


            Both of the above are discussed passionately on the Midwest Board.

            I like the momos at Everest on Grand.

            Here are some recent threads about neat spots on Grand Avenue in St. Paul


        2. i'll probably come off as rude. okay, i *am* rude.

          i was sort of bewildered at some of the selections. chino latino? it sucks(!)-- but it's also about as far away from the action at rnc as possible-- you can't get any more uptown than chino-- oh, except for barbette, also listed-- which certainly **doesn't** suck, but as an "out and proud" lesbian couple-owned queer hangout serving that anti-american-family-values french food. . . it just wouldn't be my first thought to rec barbette to the rnc staffers, call me crazy. . .

          al's breakfast is a revered local institution, but c'mon the place seats 13! max! and there is no place to set down your leatherbound notebook next to you on the counter. talk about rubbing elbows with the common folk, or more likely, with the liberal intelligentsia-- since al's is frequented by the profs from the university-- campus is one block away. al's is a great place for msp'ers to take out of town guests, but not to rec to thousands of folks all wanting hashbrowns simultaneously-- at least send 'em somewhere they can all get coffee at the same time, sheesh. . .

          nye's? what's wrong with kramarczuk's across the street, especially for cheap fabulous eats (and neither of those adjectives describes nye's food)?

          & what's with the lack of focus on the eats in st paul itself? why not mention some of the great bakeries in st. paul for breakfast instead of al's? & as much as i'm a fan of obento-ya (como in southeast minneapolis--another teensy weensy place with not enough seats for its regular customers, let alone hordes of interlopers), why send rnc folks so far off the beaten path, to the uptown, northeast, and dinkytown minneapolis neighborhoods (none of which have good parking), to find eats, in these little bitty establishments? what's wrong with st paul? what's wrong with tanpopo--which is *right there* is lowertown(?)-- it's just as cheap, and arguably a tad nicer, than obento-ya, and it can certainly handle more folks at once. . . why no mention of fasika. . .--oh, maybe the big "obama" poster in the front window, uh, never mind. . . but for goodness sake, folks, the 35w bridge is still not open to traffic, minneapolis remains cut in half and out-of -towners are confused about detours. as TDQ points out more gently than i, university and grand aves are well-marked, easy to find, main drags. they're *right there* IN ST. PAUL, teeming with small locally-owned establishments that are perhaps a little more st. paul politically right-leaning than their counterparts across the river, which tend to be more generally left-leaning. . . ?

          i just don't see how the recs in this article will be especially helpful to the rnc-ers. by and large these recs are too far away, too teeny, too inappropriate (?) or am i missing something obvious-- are the recs close to hotels where the volunteers will be staying, or something? help me? someone?!?

          6 Replies
          1. re: soupkitten

            You're right: it can't be emphasized enough: Al's in Dinkytown in MPLS is really really tiny. A 13-14 seat counter, max. Al's also has very limited hours and long waits. Bravo Bakery on Grand Avenue in St. Paul (in one of the links I provided) is really really tiny. Russian Teahouse: pretty tiny, lunch only hours.

            I really love Tanpopo (with an N not an M as I spelled it above) and Ngon because they are elegant, source locally, and offer good chow at reasonable (though not rock-bottom) prices and, as you say, would fit a decent number of people. I have no idea how swamped such places are going to be, though. Tanpopo would be possible to walk to from the XCel Center (if you are ambitious and have some time). I wouldn't recommend walking to Ngon Bistro.


            1. re: soupkitten

              There are 45,000 people expected to be in attendance NOT counting support staff, media, out-of-town protesters, etc. Well over 20,000 people will be staying in Minneapolis proper. There's a reason why they were so quick to get Hotel Ivy and the W up and running. Thousands more are staying in the surrounding suburbs (Eagan, Bloomington, Edina, Roseville, etc.). (Disclaimer: I'm not at all involved...just stuff I've read in the papers, etc. as a layperson)

              As for the list's a list. The visiting Chowhound that really cares would be posting a query looking for specific foods, so I'm not really sure how valuable a "catch-all" list can ever really be. The thing is, if I was going to be around downtown St. Paul, the "quick hit"/close-by places I would think of would be El Burrito Mercado and surrounding west side eateries, as well as I Nonni/Buon Giorno which is just a hop and a skip up Shepard Road. If I'm stuck out of town for business, I want a good list of artisan bakeries as soupkitten mentions and coffee shops as well. Man would I love to stumble on a Kopplins while on a business trip! Golden Fig too.

              On a side note, I'm fascinated to read a somewhat St. Paul centric list that doesn't include Cafe Latte. That's gotta be a first.

              To the comments after the article and...sorry soupkitten, you know I adore you but I have to call you on this one...posts on here about what "types" of restaurants/restauranteurs "these people" would be interested in, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. Cuisine is one of the few things on this planet that can unite people of different persuasions. We have a pretty eclectic mix just on the Midwest board alone...let's stay above that kind of stuff.

              1. re: soupkitten

                crap. what did i say, the bit about barbette's lgbt-friendliness?

                MSPD--first off i agree with your disdain for the politico-sniping after the article. it *should* be all about the food and the local gems imo, not the politics or any us/them. that isn't the way i feel, first off, & if i came off that way, or was offensive to anyone, i'm sorry. i'll happily eat my own words.

                at the risk of digging myself deeper, i do feel that barbette, in particular, is an inappropriate rec for an rnc list. if a deeply conservative friend or family member was visiting msp, staying at the st paul hotel, and wanted to go out for french food in that price range, i'd rec s/he meet me at meritage (walking distance) in an instant, or offer to pick her/him up and drive over to fugaise. barbette, far away at the westernmost end of lake street in mpls, i would consider out of the question for many reasons. there is no fast or direct way to get to that area from downtown st paul. if my friend/family member had to find her/his way to the restaurant, i'd be very concerned they may get lost in the uptown one-ways and diversions. i would not take conservative family members to dinner there, for fear of an uncomfortable culture clash. there are other restaurants doing a fine-excellent execution of the same cuisine which are great alternatives, and much closer!

                while individuals can and do get over their political differences over a plate of ribs or a pot of stew, some establishments do wear their politics more openly than others. i think that when restaurants are more overtly political, it does become part of the ambiance, which may make it more comfortable for some than others, and it should be a factor in what establishments we chowhounds rec, and for whom. the obama sign at fasika. the stars and bars on the wall of the gopher bar. different folks will be more or less un/comfortable. i don't think it's fair (to the restaurant, or the potential guests) to tout barbette's identity as an "ethnic" restaurant to out-of-towners without disclosing other elements of its identity-- it might be setting guests up for disappointment or discomfort, and possibly after a long and difficult journey, too! :( i don't wish that on any visitor to our fair cities. there is far too much good chow to be had throughout msp-- mostly i'm wondering why the listed restaurants aren't closer to the action, either nearer the hotels or the convention itself. as i said, i feel many of the establishments are too small or too far away to be helpful to the visitors for this convention.

                i'm probably being overly critical, what can you do within the parameters of a list of dozen or so restaurants in the msp area-- the list isn't definitive, because it can't be-- too small.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  You make some good points. I admit, I guess I probably don't acknowledge the less open-minded folks in making recommendations and I forget sometimes that not everyone is as comfortable in certain situations as I am. There's a whole lot of difference between a general list to RNC folks (which we are discussing) and specific recommendations to known people (which I was kind of thinking)'re right on there.

                  On a side note, I biked past Barbette today at lunchtime (detour to avoid the half dozen squad cars and cops arresting a guy on the Greenway, including a K9 unit that scared the absolute bejeezus out of me, which I didn't think was funny at all until I saw it happen to another guy going the other way, at which point I laughed hysterically when he almost crashed into the fence swerving out of the way).

                  It was a good reminder of the place's existence (I don't get down to Uptown as much lately) and I thought, "what a great place to relax while sightseeing Lake Calhoun or shopping in Uptown". They even have a smattering of cute tables outside, albeit probably a bit noisy. Assuming they're indifferent to politics or whatever, it would seem an ideal place to introduce a chow-inclined visitor to a neat part of the city and our "urban parkland-meets-Uptown" vibe.

                  Anyway....I appreciate your comments (as always).

                  1. re: MSPD

                    & rereading your post above-- 45,00 people, with 20,000 folks staying in minneapolis proper! i am stunned, and feel a bit stupid about a few of my comments. chino latino may be lots of things, but it is-- big, and "fun," and certainly i could see a lot of folks having fun with those oversized tiki drinks and swapping business cards, and having a swell old time, far into the night--i see the point of that rec now! barbette is lovely, and i'm sure james norton was thinking of the nearby lakes, jogging/bikes, sightseeing & shopping, exactly as you were, MSPD. lucia's is also blocks away and would be another excellent rec in the area.

                    gosh there are so many small places in msp-- and so many people will be visiting, that i hope specific questions start coming in on our home board soon. i've talked to a few local restaurateurs--well located to the convention-- and was surprised they didn't have reses coming in yet. i hope the small independent places that have great food get some much deserved biz, and that our visitors get to eat outside of the hotel restaurants!

                    --cheers, sk

                2. re: soupkitten

                  I think your first paragraph unfairly stereotypes all republicans as being limbaugh clones, which - thankfully - they're not. But you're absolutely right about the lack of interest in St. Paul. Despite his creds, I think Mr. Norton has a few places he likes a lot, mostly in Minneapolis, and he's sharing his faves. The article (to me) didn't come across as particularly well researched.

                3. These are really interesting thoughts. I think we should put together a quick list of our own with some of these ideas. Keep them coming and I'll assemble them in a couple days.

                  I like the idea of Tanpopo but it's next door to Black Dog Cafe, which, as I understand it, is going to be kind of headquarters for those opposed to the RNC's direction. They are going to have life music and events drawing people all day on a couple of the convention days. Because it's a little ways from the convention center it will be accessible. I'm picturing that it will be jammed and getting to Tampopo may be a bit of a trick.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: karykat

                    I don't mean to dampen your excitement for your project, but, to be fair, James Norton did solicit our ideas in his "Conventioneers on a Budget" thread, which he's linked in his chow article in the section called "From the Chowhound Boards." I personally declined to provide any recommendations in that thread, not because I wanted to make Mr. Norton's job harder (I don't, I think he's a nice guy and a talented writer working hard to make a name for himself in the culinary writing scene, which I applaud), but I believe that a true chowhound would come visit us on the Midwest board, do a little research, and maybe post a question or two about places of specific interest depending on where they are visiting from, where they are staying and what kind of chow appeals to them.

                    I guess I'm just not in a mood to provide general recommendations to no one in particular when I don't know where they are coming from, where they are staying, and what kinds of foods excite them. If they are coming from Kansas City and staying in Eagan and are, say, vegetarian, my recommendations might be different than if they are coming from L.A. and staying in downtown Minneapolis and have a giant fascination with ______ culture.

                    I'm sure this is coming out wrong, so, sorry for my inelegance in expressing myself.


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      >> I believe that a true chowhound would come visit us on the Midwest board, do a little research, and maybe post a question or two about places of specific interest depending on where they are visiting from, where they are staying and what kind of chow appeals to them.<<

                      I think the Midwest board will indeed have these kinds of questions.

                      Meanwhile RedPepper has a blog post with a very good list:

                      1. re: MplsM ary

                        There's a really good discussion on Site Talk right now about giving advice to out of towners called "On Recommendations to Visitors" that I think is relevant to this current topic. The question here is what is the role of the chowhound community in providing information to visitors. It's not just telling them where to eat (like Zagats) but, assisting them in their own chowhounding, which is as much about exploration and discovery and growing as a 'hound as it is about food.


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          And, from my perspective keeping huge hordes of people on your side of the river. :)

                          I'd read that thread and I'm of the "you get out what you put in" almost karmic bent. "Where should I go in the Twin Cities - any kind of food" questions, well I skip right over those because if they can't be bothered to type their desires then I have no inclination to fire up my brain and fingers to come up with a response. James Norton and RedPepper answered that broad swath question in their own way.

                          When it comes to the convention, people need space (networking is not a solo sport) and that should be taken into consideration when choosing dining destinations. Al's is a silly recommendation for conventioneers be they republicans or vacuum manufacturers.

                          1. re: MplsM ary

                            HAHAHA! Yes, we'll be happy to entertain anyone on our side of the river any time as long as they stop calling it MINNEAPOLIS. ;-).

                            I will say that there are likely plenty of people coming to the convention who aren't conventioneers, exactly, but journalists and TV people and so on. I don't know how much networking those folks need to do, so, maybe a few of them might end up at Al's for the glorious pancakes and some reflection time.

                            As far as James Norton's piece, I think he's done a good job of revealing the Twin Cities as a place with some interesting and diverse chow with some charm and character. I think that's what the point of a piece like his is, to give people a sense of the Twin Cities from a chow pespective, not really tell people where to eat. Similarly, I know I've been reading a lot recently about the food in China. Not because I need to know where to eat during the Beijing Olympics, but so that I can understand the games in context.

                            Speaking as a person who hasn't always known a lot of about the Twin Cities dining scene (and as a person who still has much to learn and who is so incredibly grateful to the Twin Cities 'hounds for what they've taught me), I think there are plenty of people who would be surprised to read that not only do we have restaurants like those in Mercado Central or like Pho Tau Bay, but that those are just the best of many terrific Mexican or Southeast Asian places from which we have to choose.

                            I don't think anyone will be surprised to read that we have a place like Al's or a place like the Nook: that's what they expect of us. But, he's done a nice job of chosing the best of a couple of those places that give a glimpse into the local character.

                            And while Chino Latino isn't my favorite place, the fact that he's written about it lets people know yes, we have places like that, too. We have places like Barbette, whatever that means to you. And so on.

                            So, from the perspective of giving people just a glimpse of the range of dining options at a budget level, I think Norton did a fine job. He gave people a glimpse of who were are. I wish he'd dropped the cartoony Nye's in favor of Kramarczuk's and think he could have chosen something more representative than Barbary Fig, but I don't think his choices overall were disasterous. The fact that they reflected some of his personal bias and tastes is completely appropriate, in my opinion.


                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                        I hadn't noticed that James Norton linked to his "Conventioneers on a Budget" thread. Perhaps that thread and this thread are all the guidance we need to worry about (plus answering the specific inquiries that come in as desired.) I had mentioned putting together a supplemental list but my level of ambition is waning as my week has become busier. And the existing links are good resources.

                        This has been an interesting discussion, as usual.