Generally speaking, when people think about a fun urban getaway, they consider attention-grabbing coastal cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Miami. So when we planned a recent urban adventure, we chose a city – excuse me, cities – that doesn’t usually top the list: Minneapolis/St. Paul.
As is so often the case, our time was loosely structured around food. In addition to a long list of restaurants to hit, we wanted to cover a lot of ground on foot, had tickets for a touring production of Wicked, and had plans to catch a Vikings game. In short, our plates were full. Good thing our hotel was well located for making tracks.
On the recommendation of a friend, we decided to visit the popular Hell’s Kitchen for our “welcome to Minneapolis” dinner. We were fully prepared for some really yummy comfort food (try the walleye BLT and then thank us in the comments), but were also surprised to be treated to excellent live jazz. The experience was so good that we returned later in our visit to pick up brownies and cheesecake for the room. We strongly suggest you do the same.
Viewfinder Tip: With an extensive skyway system, Minneapolis is pedestrian friendly year-round.
The next morning – coffees in hand – we strolled down the pedestrian-friendly Nicollet Mall and paid our respects at the Mary Tyler Moore statue. Since neither of us happened to be wearing a beret, fellow visitors were spared a hat-tossing reenactment. Because we had dinner reservations at one of Minneapolis’ best restaurants that night, we ambled over to the revitalized North Loop for a vegetarian fried green tomato sandwich at Smack Shack. It provided just enough fuel to continue to explore the city before an evening of pasta and theater.
We know we are not alone when we say that we love Italian food, and we hit the jackpot in that category. Immediately upon reading rave reviews for the pasta at Bar La Grassa, we decided to make it a pre-theater event. And here’s the deal: we had some of the best pasta of our lives. For two guys who recently spent a month in the Piedmont region of Italy, that is saying a lot. While the spaghetti carbonara (with an expertly prepared soft cooked egg) is worth making reservations, the dish that stole the show was gnocchi with cauliflower and orange. That dish, followed by an outstanding production of Wicked, made for an ideal evening.
Spaghetti Carbonara from Bar La Grassa
With less than two full days in the city under our belts, we already needed to burn some major calories. In addition to helping mitigate our gastro-transgressions, we find running to be a great way to see a new place. One of our favorite runs during this journey was a gorgeous autumn jog through Loring Park, past the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and through tiny neighborhoods to the picturesque Lake of the Isles.
Run accomplished, it was time to sit back and watch other people be active. While the Vikings stadium is right in the city – which makes for a great gameday vibe – we opted to catch part of a football game in the comfort of a popular downtown sports bar. We don’t make a habit of drinking beer and eating buckets of fried food for lunch, but we do feel it is important to adhere to local customs. Perhaps we should have run more.
Since we were yet to get over to St. Paul, we chose to cut out of the game early and spend the late afternoon and early evening walking idyllic Grand Avenue. We made a small detour to visit Lyndon’s Soda Fountain for a cherry bomb – a cherry soda and dark fudge ice cream float. On the way back to our hotel, we decided to go all in and get dinner at Matt’s Bar, which is home to the locally beloved Jucy Lucy. There is some debate about who invented this molten cheese-stuffed hamburger (a bar down the street makes the same claim). We’ll have to return and get to the bottom (er, center) of it.
With so much to do (and eat!) we strongly believe that Minneapolis/St. Paul should make your short-list when planning an urban getaway.
What are your favorite midwest eats?