Twin Cities Dining [split from Texas board]
So here are my impressions from this trip. I'd like to thank the MSP 'hounds for all the informative posts which guided me to wonderful places to eat. Your help made the week much more enjoyable. I had to make a couple changes, and Nook, Heartland, and Izzy's have been set aside for the future. Here we go.
I had the NY Pastrami and the roasted chicken and wild rice soup. Service was also helpful and answered any question I had about the menu. My server gave me a vivid description of the soup, which I enjoyed. The broth was light, and not creamy with just barely any salt. I also liked the pastrami and the quality of the ingredients clearly stood out. It's a little leaner than I'm used to, and was more moist rather than oily. Overall, Crave seems like a good lunch option in the MOA and their $9.95 lunch specials is a bargain. I'm curious about the quality of the 12 piece bento because of this meal, so I'll keep it in mind for next time.
The 5-8 Club
Came out here to have a Juicy Lucy. I took my first bite carefully as advised and was pleased for two reasons: 1. the burger came out medium-well and 2. I didn't end up getting burned by the cheese. The melted cheese inside the patty added a different kind of flavor and made the burger juicer and moister. I enjoyed the simplicity of the burger and felt that it didn't need any vegetables or additional toppings. Too bad I had to wolf my food down very quickly because I failed to account for how busy this place is during the lunch hour. As I had previously said, easily the best lunch of the week and I wish I had more time to enjoy it.
Twin City Grill
This was the final lunch of the week because I found myself at the MOA once again. I had the burger and beer lunch special. Nothing particularly stood out to me about their food and I don't see why they are always packed for lunch. On that note, it was good that my group had enough time to compensate for how slow this lunch went because it's another busy place. This time would've been much better spent at 5-8.
Dinner here was pretty hectic because I had limited time with the car that particular night. Dine in wasn't an option so I decided to hope for the best and bolted from Bloomington to St. Paul during the middle of rush hour to grab a take out order. I picked out a quarter pound of slow roasted pork, quarter pound of the spicy/sweet braised beef, small order of roasted yams with andouille sausage, and a masa corn & cheese cake.
I wish I had ordered a lot more, because this meal was outstanding. The beef was my favorite, exceptional moistness and the heat was perfect! The pulled pork needed too much help from the sauce, but nontheless, I enjoyed the texture and how lean it was. Brasa also earns additional props for being very prompt with the take-out order. Without a doubt, I would come back.
Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
As a Houston native, I was curious about Ngon because this is the first time in my life where I've seen a Vietnamese restaurant which has both craft beer as well as high quality, local ingredients on the menu. I went with two friends and started with the duck confit and pork lettuce wraps. I liked the complex, curried flavor and the herbs on the duck, and the baguette was acceptable. The char on the pork in the lettuce wraps was pleasant and the lettuce clearly didn't come out of a bag.
Entrees were short ribs for myself and my 2 buddies had pho tai ribeye and pho bo vien. I liked the fresh vegetables on the short ribs and the meat had good flavor but overall, I can't call it anything exceptional. I tried some of the pho and the tenderness of the high quality meats were the high point. All in all, I liked the food and by the end of the meal, I understood why Ngon is not for everyone. Nice variation from the norm but adding grass-fed beef into pho just felt a little excessive, so I'd rather go with a more traditional approach.
I read plenty of praise about their izakaya menu and they did not disappoint. Had a kinpira gobou first, a simple dish with a nice earthy flavor. The main highlights were okonomiyaki and takoyaki, two dishes that I very rarely get to have. The okonomiyaki was delightful, crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside! The takoyaki was packed full of ingredients. They didn't go crazy with the sauce, I liked the nice chunk of octopus, and I couldn't find any fault with the batter. Very good!
Very tough to choose from so many delicious offerings and I ended up going with the sea salt caramel ice cream. I had to do my best to not immediately scarf it down and just savor the flavor. The ice cream was very creamy and the flavors sparkled. I'm also in deep regret that I didn't know about the 5 scoop sampler until after I had left.
Once again, I appreciate all of the insightful comments and tips! Looking forward to next time.
TC's in 1982-4 were stellar. A totally undiscovered gem. Now of course it's been discovered by East and West Coasters but I agree, it is still a lovely place. Next time you go try to get in some swimming in some of the city lakes. Kitchy as it is the Mall of America is worth checking out too.
Well for starters the Buttery is still there and STILL a good watering hole. Perhaps the PacMan machine is still in service!
W A Frost up on Cathedral Hill in St Paul was an old bastion when "Selby-Dale" was an area few brave souls dared to treat. It is now 100% gentrified.
You may have followed the severe mental trauma I had caused by Sherlock's Home closing. I believe there is a pub/restaurant in the same building. It would be worth a visit just to check out the bar back which was hand-crafted after that of a famous London pub. Beautiful. The new place is Jimmy's but I have never been back there after the heartbreak. For all I know the mahogony bar back was taken out. http://www.jimmysfoodandcocktails.com/
You must visit Mama's Pizza !!! Great old-school Italian. And bring plenty of loose change for the coin-operated miniature TV's (black and white -- oh hell, just thought, these may no longer work with digitalization) provided in each booth.
Try to make a diversion to Stillwater to the Bavarian Gasthaus Hunter especially on nights where Ed the accordionist is there (assuming Ed who had a minor stroke a few years ago is still going strong).
Another German stronghold (less to my taste but still OK). is http://www.gasthofzg.com/
I also quite like the Black Forest Inn http://www.blackforestinnmpls.com/
Note: these are all OLD SCHOOL places. There will new and trendy spotes galore too. TC's always excels at authentic (as well as Americanized) Italian. Look out for that.
For cask-conditioned ale I have no personal experience with, but have hear promising buzz about Great Waters in St Paul.
The UofM Campus has some great authentic Cantonese. one example only is http://www.cheung.bizland.com/
Of course one institution not to be missed is breakfast (either pre 700am or or post 2am) at Mickey's Dining Car original location opposite the bus station in downtown St Paul.
Chez Colette http://www.sofitelmplsdining.com/ in the Sofitel used to be in 1982 a completely authentic (well, sort of close enough for the upper Midwest at least) bistro experience. Has it changed? I don't know. It could be a mind **** for those pining for the 80's to return (that would be me).
Would love to hear of your experiences. The Twin Cities are still a gem of a place even if the traffic and stuff has gotten out of hand versus how it used to be.
If you have time a run up to Duluth to see Lake Superior (a truly impressive sight when you crest the hill) is well worth it.
Oh and of course you must attend the Minnesota State Fair which it sounds liek you will be there when it is open. Blows all other State Fairs off the charts.
A shorter drive to St Cloud and you will find the ex brewer from Sherlock's Home Bob McKenzie is there and I think he MAY have cask ales on the go at times.
IF you go do tell him I miss SHerlock's and I am the madman who drove there all the time from Oklahoma.
Other links referred to above
http://www.wafrost.com (in the old days catholic priests from the Cathedral coudl be spotted having a few)
395 Robert St. North, St Paul, MN, 55101
My office is literally across the street from the Mall of America on Killebrew, just a short walk away. Now that you mention the state fair, some folks at work are actually trying to add it in as one of our excursions. I really hope we get a chance to visit the fair since I've only been to the one in Texas.
Anyway, I was warned that the area around the MOA is a wasteland of chains, which filled me with much contempt while bringing delight to my coworkers. It was very difficult to convince anyone to go to lunch outside of the mall, but I managed to sneak off to 5-8 Club for a Jucy Lucy. Easily the best lunch of the week.
However, due to the time constraint, I wasn't able to take the time to eat slowly and enjoy the meal at it's fullest. The burger came out medium-well and thankfully, I wasn't punished by second degree burns in my mouth while I rapidly tore through the food.
Dinners were a different story. I drove out of Bloomington and got a few good meals at Brasa, Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, and Obento-Ya. As far as a first impression, I was delighted at how much support is given to local farmers/growers and breweries. Ngon was the only meal that felt so-so since I found it excessive to put grass-fed beef in a bowl of pho and I got a strong "ladies who lunch" vibe out of the place. I never imagined myself drinking craft brews while eating Vietnamese food! But, I'll save my full disclosure for a lengthier post in the Midwest forum. I will take heed of your recommendation for Italian for the August trip. To be honest, while doing my research I didn't see too many Italian suggestions being thrown out.
As far as drinks go, I only hit Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery and picked up some of Surly's offerings at a liquor store which I found on Beerfly. I will do my best to make time for The Buttery, that was another recommendation given to me. I also now understand why so many folks in Texas demand that Surly take their distribution down here and loaded up my suitcase with plenty of beer.
Another old school place. Mancini's. Herring and crackers followed by Walleye would fit the bill here.
(Sorry if my recommendations are from the 80's but that is my romping around the Cities time. Have been back many many times but the area is enshrined in that era.)
531 West Seventh Street St. Paul, MN
651 224-7345 / 651 224-7346