Final Four – Food, Drink, & Tomfoolery, around MPLS

Welcome to Minneapolis, the city of flour & sawdust, and passively-aggressive shy, but friendly, strangers – some of whom are neighbors and coworkers. We’re excited to have you visit (but less excited at the prospect that you won’t leave). This is your Unofficial Official Guide to having the best possible time at the 2019 Final Four, regardless of your team’s outcome. Many of the city’s outdoor attractions are still thawing but the indoor activities (eating & drinking) provide ample opportunities to get to know us. While you’re here, you should spend a good portion of your time sampling the local fare, it’s kind of a big deal. Additionally, we have lots of fun stuff to do, other than hockey (speaking of which, don’t poke at Wild fans, they’re a little salty right now… & generally speaking, hockey fans are a pretty tough bunch). The museums & theatres are world class, and if you want to get outside, the lakes are great for swimming, especially when you don’t have to cut holes in the ice. The following information has not been vetted by the local chamber of tourism, but trust me, I know better than them about what you’ll like, I’ve got ESP(N).

Pointers/Tips:

Before we get into the more important info, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The weather forecast you’ve been watching… it’s made up. We knew no one from Texas, Alabama, or Virginia would show up if they knew we were expecting 15 inches of snow and sub-zero temps. After all, it’s the Final Four, not the Super Bowl. Now you know, pack wisely.
  • 2. The skyway that connects the Mall of America and the stadium will be operating as a One-Way for the duration of the weekend. The directional flow will change every 15 minutes so as to expedite the folks trying to make tip-off, or catch a sale at L.L. Bean. This means you cannot walk, you must run, sprint actually, full out, for the entire distance (it’s only about 7.6 miles, but with the moving floors, it’s more like 2 miles – you can do it!).
  • 3. The craft beer scene in the Twin Cities is better than the craft beer scene in any of your locales (including you, Sparty). What that means is you’ll probably drink more than you planned — because most of the beers are delicious — and you’re on vacation — in a place that is relatively cold — and you want to hang out in “cool” (not cold) places while talking about how your team will dominate (or how they lost, either way). Therefore, bring your journal along so you can remember which beers you need to tell your friends back home about. If you forget your journal, take pictures, that’s probably better for most folks, considering the writing ability of the typical college student/grad these days.
  • 4. Last but not least, as I told the visitors from Philly and Boston last year, Minnesota Nice is not exactly what you think. Minnesota Nice is all about buying beer for the people sharing the bar with you (all of them). So please be Minnesota Nice and buy a round for the bar and we’ll be sure and reciprocate when we visit the place where Dave Matthews was born – or whatever, or tour Charles Barkley’s dorm room, or roam the Detroit Steel at Cadillac Ranch (I know, that’s Amarillo, but what else is within 5 hours drive, and interesting?), or… not coming up with anything for East Lansing, is there anything of note in West Lansing? Is there a West Lansing? How about something nearby, maybe Zingerman’s Deli? Ann Arbor’s not that far, is it?

Victuals for Tigers, Raiders, Spartans, & Cavaliers

As for the food & drink portion of this guide, we recommend taking in as many local establishments as your stomach can handle. I know you’re here for the games (or at least some of you are) but as good as the basketball may be, the eats & local breweries are the main reason our city was selected to host the Final Four (the stadium is meh). We are the Hot “new” foodie destination and unless you have an aversion to flavor, you’re in for an amazing experience. I’ll break it down by Final Four School, but feel free to intermingle at these establishments, we’re all about being inclusive and not at all passive-aggressive, as far as you know, but I didn’t say that, seriously, don’t tell anyone I said that.

We’ll start with Auburn (we, as in me, myself, & I), not because I’m going in alpha order, but because they are traveling the farthest (by about 30 miles), and they’re a football school; this basketball stuff is just an excuse to travel and try new restaurants while listening to the thick accents of Yankee folk. Take a trip through the skyways and find Kadai Indian Kitchen, plan to sit for awhile after you finish, the portions are large and you won’t even consider leaving anything on the plate. Once you can move, make your way to Cardigan Donuts. These are the best donuts in the universe (we have 4 of the best donutteries, in the universe, in a 15 mile radius), and that’s not hyperbole. Every visitor to Minneapolis is encouraged to eat a few dozen while they’re here. There’s a reason we’re called the City of Flour & Sawdust (or used to be). For dinner, go to Manny’s if you want Steak, the Freehouse for craft beer & burgers, Cafe Alma for a swanky, but not pretentious, delicious meal, Italian Eatery for Italian, of course, and The Local, for fish & chips. Breweries best suited to Tigers are Surly, Lyn-Lake, Tin Whiskers (St. Paul) & Able. Why, you ask; because I studied tigers at one point in my life (probably 6th grade, a report on Indonesia) and therefore know what flavor profiles tigers’ prefer.

Texas Tech is next, and probably the most difficult to plan for. Not to stereotype all of Red Raider Nation, but the number of good bbq joints in this neck of the woods isn’t going to be enough to hold all of you for every meal, so you’ll have to try some other foods, like pizza, at Broders Cucina, or Pizzeria Lola, or Pig Ate My Pizza (which is a bit of a haul, but the sled dogs move pretty fast when carrying the wheeled wagons). Butcher & The Boar is your place for meat, lots of meat. Try Bar La Grasa for some upscale & stupid-delicious Italian. Head across the river to St. Dinette and get a 1/2 dozen small plates and a couple, five big plates (share around the table). It’s not a tapas joint but the offerings are so stupendous (including their burger) that you’ll want to try everything. Make a run to A Baker’s Wife, for donuts (open at 6:30, bring cash). And for a real Minneapolis Foodie experience, head to Tilia; you’ll be wishing you lived here, after having a meal at this neighborhood joint. For craft beer joints, there’s 1 that fits West Texas folk to a T. Having more than a few dangerous men & women who’ve roamed the Panhandle and Hill Country, Dangerous Man Brewing is #1 on your list of taprooms to visit. Also, try Pryes, Boom Island, & Utepils, all of which are better than Lone Star, by a good measure (not that Lone Star is bad, mind you). And just for fun, in the skyway, find Taco John’s so you can stop wondering if it really exists.

Sparty is the least likely to be phased by the blizzard-like conditions and will therefore get no recommendations for skyway dining (you’re almost as tough as Minnesotans). Also, knowing that the DNA of Sparty is not far removed from Goldy, or Bucky, we’ll start with local beer. Indeed Brewery, Venn Brewing (make your own diagrams), Wild Mind Ales, & Modist are good bets for Michiganders who are accustomed to a wide variety of delicious craft brews. Try Matt’s Bar for Burgers (Jucy Lucy or double cheeseburger, either way), Spoon & Stable for a high-end, legit 4 star joint (probably bar seating, but they might have a few tables if you call right now). Young Joni has great pizza & whatever else you order, they kick ass… and if they’re on too long of a wait, Anchor Fish & Chips is up the street. Broders and Terzo are your places for pasta/Italian, and Town Hall (3 locations) has solid sandwiches/bar food and more craft beer, because you’re Sparty. And don’t forget some donuts; grab them from Angel Food Bakery (next to Hell’s Kitchen).

The Cavs, coming from the Mid-Atlantic Region, are well versed in seafood, but probably know nothing about walleye, now you can learn. Try the Tavern on Grand to learn about non-salt water fish (it’s different… ). If you’re looking for a meal you can talk to your friends about, five years from now, go to 112 Eatery. Birch Steakhouse for, well, you know, and they have great pizza as well. Want some fried chicken, go down Nicollet until you reach East 43rd Street; Revival makes a mean bird (regular, hot or FIRE). Bull’s Horn Bar in the Southeast corner of the city has serious burgers (and bologna sandwiches) and you’ll feel like you’re in “old Minneapolis”. If you prefer a burger in a space that feels more like NYC, Parlour Bar is your spot. Eli’s is a local staple that is small (think row home) and homey and feels like a special type of place to enjoy a meal (and it is). Get Donuts from Bogart’s. The taprooms you should visit are Fulton, Lakes & Legends (reminds me of Starr Hill, a bit), Insight, & for the Cider fans, Number Twelve. Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase for all the beer you plan to bring back.

A Few Last Thoughts

This is just a sampling of the amazing joints we have to choose from. There are many, many more: from Eat Street (Quang, Icehouse, Glam Doll) to NorthEast (Hai Hai, Sample Room, Football Pizza, Fair State Brewery) to the Southside (Midtown Global Markets many eateries and Eastlake Brewery), our city/s (St. Paul, et al.) is/are blessed with an abundance of great eats and drinks. Beyond that, there isn’t much to do around here, unless you like the great outdoors, but you’re basketball fans, so I’ll assume you want to be inside and not waste your time with Lake Life talk.

Congratulations on this big achievement; your teams have been impressive and will do you proud. If your team fails to make it to Monday evening’s event, don’t feel bad, look at it as an opportunity to do more exploring around the North Star State. Travel North by North and see what you find. The Final Four is all fun & games, literally, that’s all it is. Don’t take it too seriously. Eat & drink to your heart’s content and worry about counting calories when you get back to warmer climes. Good Luck to All, & Skol!

Final Four Bound
Destination – Final Four

Minnesotans’ Policies & Helpful Hints for Super Bowl Guests:

Greetings Outsiders – and Welcome to L’Étoile du Nord (Star of the North for the non-French-Canadian folk). We are really excited to have you visit (please don’t stay past the 5th, that’s the day after the Super Bowl). We take a great deal of pride in our part of the larger Continental U.S. (which is bigger than Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, combined [New York not included, because Yankees fans], just pointing that out) and would like to share some, not all, of our treasures (hands off the Jalapeño Spam). But before I get into the list of items that you are encouraged to try, buy, and tell your friends back East about, we need to address a few policies/rules that make this place what it is, which is pretty gosh darn good. As an aside, there might be one or two things in this post that prove to be less than 100% accurate, this should in no way dampen your enthusiasm nor make you nervous as you seek out the iconic places and delicious eats. Enjoy your stay!

First and foremost, everything you’ve heard about “Minnesota Nice” is, more than likely, wrong. Which is not to say we’re not nice—on the contrary, we’re extremely nice, we just have a different way of showing it. When we visit far away lands, like Wisconsin, or North Dakota, we make sure to buy a round of drinks for everyone, in whichever bar we happen to be sitting in, that’s how we show our Minnesota Nice (that’s really all there is to it, if you buy drinks for the whole bar, everyone will be really nice to you, it’s kind of a reactional type of niceness). When guests visit us here, we expect the same from them; and seeing as how you’re our guests this week, we expect to get a lot of free rounds… if you want the full experience of Minnesota Nice.

Second, we have a lot of bikers here (not Harleys) and they ride in all seasons (because we’re quite a bit tougher than the average American). If you choose to drive, keep your eyes peeled for them, and for the other cars that don’t see them until the last second and swerve into your lane. Your best bet is to hop on a Metro Transit bus or the light-rail, or hire a Sled (like Uber & Lyft & rickshaws but with sled dogs and a musher).

Third, the Vikings (not the ones that play football) are real and many of their descendants live in this area. As luck would have it, many of those descendants are fans of the football team. As DNA would have it, Vikings are rather large, on average, and menacing, sometimes, and don’t scare easy. This is a perfect opportunity for you to practice the art of Minnesota Nice.

And last, and maybe most importantly, we don’t have accents, you have accents. This is meant as a clarifying comment so you don’t accidentally make any snide remarks about the way we say “baaaygel“, or anything with an “ag” in it.

So, to review: 1) Minnesota Nice = buying drinks for your new friends in Minnesota. 2) Watch for bikers and/or download the Sled app (available on HP Palm only). 3) Vikings are large and strong and pretty nice, most of the time. 4) Accents are yours.

Super Bowl Weather in Minnesota

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk Minnesota Treasures. Unlike New England, we’re not known for just one thing (but I’ll admit, Legal Seafoods Clam Chowder is delicious); and unlike Philadelphia, there’s more to do than eat cheesesteaks while looking around Independence Hall. We’ve got a lot of unique places to visit (many include food) and products to sample. So get out your phone and take some notes.

Grain Belt: This company has been making belts, out of grain, for more than 150 years. Nearly all of the Minnesota regiments and batteries that fought in the Civil War used these belts for their uniforms (the exception being the artillery batteries, the belts kept catching fire). They have 3 belts in year round production (Weaved Wheat, Casual Corn, & Tri-Grain Mock Leather [rye, barley & buckwheat] for more formal occasions). They only have one storefront and it’s located across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge (you’ll see the huge neon sign) just keep heading up Hennepin a couple blocks and it’s right by Kramarczuk’s Sausage Company (which makes the best sausages this side of Warsaw).

1st Avenue: I’m sure you’ve all heard of the iconic First Ave and have read about its storied history, but did you know that its actually on 7th Street? Yep, no lie. Its always been on the corner of 7th, across from the Target Center where the 4 time Champion Minnesota Lynx play their home games (between the Lynx and the Univ. of MN Gophers Women’s Hockey [6 NCAA Championships], we do pretty well in the team-sports world). Anyway, First Ave is legendary as a place that has witnessed the likes of Prince, U2, BB King, Björk, The Replacements, Pearl Jam, The Violent Femmes, A Tribe Called Quest, Emmylou Harris, Fishbone, and many many more. Also, it’s only 7 blocks to Eli’s Food & Cocktails, a seriously good local eating establishment.

Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll: It’s nougat surrounded by caramel and rolled in peanuts (Virginia type they say). And, Kemps (another local icon) makes an ice cream that celebrates the goodness of this delectable treat. Buy a few boxes and treat your friends and family when you get home.

The State Capitol Building: St. Paul has a lot going on: Winter Carnival, non-drinking Festivities, The Science Museum; Saint Dinette (don’t ask, just go), Minnesota History Museum, and much much more. At the center of it all is the newly refurbished State Capitol. It’s a gorgeous building and the people working in the State Govt love having visitors pop-in and ask “what ya doin’?” And when you’re riding the light-rail between the Twin Cities, jump off and eat at HomiBolé or Afro Deli, you won’t be disappointed.

Metro Transit Light-rail.

Cardigan Donuts: As a donut connoisseur (actually, a connoisseur of all food and drink), and having traveled far and wide to taste all manner of cuisine, sweet and otherwise, I can attest to the fact that Cardigan Donuts is one of the premier donutteries in America. We are spoiled, here in the City of Flour & Sawdust, with a plethora of amazing bakeries/patisseries: A Baker’s Wife, Salty Tart, Bread & Chocolate, Granny’s Donuts, Patisserie 46 & Rose Street, Angel Food Bakery, and more than a dozen others of the highest quality.

Dangerous Man Brewing: Craft beers are another thing we have no shortage of around the State. Nor do we have any trouble keeping them in business. Trying to name “the best” would be like trying to pick the best cheesesteak in Philly, so many different styles and people like what they like. That said, Dangerous Man Brewing is certainly amongst the crème, particularly in the colder months (which would be most of them in this neck of the woods). A few others that I would be remiss not to share: Fair State, Indeed, Tin Whiskers, Fulton, Lakes & Legends, Boom Island, Steel Toe, Town Hall, Flat Earth, & BlackStack. If you get through those, it means you’ve probably stayed past the 5th and it’s unlikely you’re ever going to leave… Welcome to the North.

Nye’s Polonaise: Maybe the coolest place to listen to polka— in the universe. It closed more than a year ago, but according to those who know, reopened a few weeks ago. It’s a gem.

Matt’s Bar: If you love bar food and have never tried a Jucy-Lucy, get ready for Heaven. Pro-tip: it’s cash only; and if the line is long, don’t allow the door to be held open. And you can get a beer from the bar and get back in line, as long as you’re not standing outside. And play the jukebox.

Food Trucks: The Minneapolis/St Paul Food Truck scene is wild and wooly and filled with great food. If you are only going to try one, go to Mid-Nord Empanadas, they’ll be stationed at 10th & Nicollet-NorthEast corner. These empanadas are so authentic you’ll swear you’re in Quito and wonder why it’s so damn cold. If you’re trying more than one, enjoy, our food trucks rock.

A few other tips and insights: we’re passive aggressive, sometimes, not always, whatever, it doesn’t matter, just don’t do anything stupid; you might hear someone say “What the Heck!”, they’re not necessarily religious, or a prude, it’s just Minnesotan for What the Fuck; Uff-da is not the sound made when sneezing, it’s Viking for “holy shit”; If a complete stranger (a Minnesotan stranger) offers you a bite of something, they’re not trying to poison you, we’re just good at sharing and we want others to try this new found dynamite dish; lutefisk & lefse are scandinavian staples, skip the lutefisk unless you fancy yourself an Andrew Zimmern type (he’s Minnesotan, he’ll eat anything).

And a few more locales and eateries to check out, some of them are off the beaten path but well worth a taxi ride (don’t use Sled for these places, too far, dogs will get tired). The Walker Art Center; Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA, not M.I.A.); Mill City Museum; & The Testify Exhibit at the Minneapolis Central Library.

Tilia; 112 Eatery; Pat’s Tap; Alma; George & The Dragon; Parlour Bar; Troubadour Wine Bar; Gyst; Quang; Gandhi Mahal; Gorkha Palace; Manny’s; Bar la Grassa; Hola Arepa; Dominguez Restaurant; Bull Horn Burger Bar; Town Hall Tap; Pizzeria Lola; Wise Acre; The Pig Ate My Pizza; Spoon & Stable; Freehouse; Kadai (in the Skyway); Dogwood Coffee; Key’s Cafe; Italian Eatery; Sonny’s; Sebastian Joes; Revival; The Corner Table; Cecil’s Deli; Crescent Moon (pizza); Broders Cucina Italiana; Sen Yai Sen Lek; Holy Land; The Anchor; & The Sample Room.

I’ve certainly missed a few places that deserve to be mentioned but that’s ok, you’ll be back, and when you visit next time, hit me up for new suggestions.

Congrats on making it here and as they say in NOLA, this time of year – Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler… & Skol!

Super Bowl Week is upon us