Monthly Archives: July 2012

My Minnesota Home (Part 4)

Day 5 (6/28): Ever since my Great Aunt Althea took my brother, sister, and I to the Mall of America (MOA) in the early 1990s, the giant shopping center has been a favorite go-to location of mine. In fact, while I lived in the Twin Cities metro area, the MOA served as my local mall, and I got to know the layout of the four-floors quite well. Along with several other stores and restaurants, I can still tell you where to find GAP (2nd floor, south side), Games By James (3rd floor, east side), and Twin City Grill (1st floor, north side). And you can’t miss Nickelodeon Universe – the amusement park which occupies the entire center of the mall and can be seen from various vantage points throughout the expansive shopping extravaganza. I even worked in a store at the MOA for a short period after graduating from college. So, whenever Bryce and I find ourselves back in Minneapolis, we charter a visit to the MOA.

The Mall of America provides a great escape from the extreme weather that one can experience in Minnesota (regardless of season). To evade the oppressive heat on our most recent visit, we met up with our friends Dianna and Carrie to meander the floors and shops. My first order of business was to get some lunch. Now, I realize the trashiness of what I’m about to say, but I’m okay with it. I enjoy a fast-food meal at Long John Silvers every once in a while. I mean, we were on vacation – what’s wrong with a little fried food frenzy? The bonus about the Long John Silvers at MOA is that they serve state-fair style cheese curds, one of the best guilty pleasures I miss most living outside of the midwest. I therefore couldn’t pass up the opportunity to indulge in these heavenly nuggets of fried cheese. At this point, you may be wondering, what are cheese curds? Well, let me tell you. Cheese curds are the oddly shaped bits of cheese formed when separating the curds from the whey, usually cheddar. In their raw state, I enjoy them right out of the fridge, on a salad, or in a hot bowl of chili, all melty and gooey. Cheese curds are most common (and popular) when battered and fried. Think mozzarella sticks, only smaller and infinitely better. I have yet to perfect frying cheese curds at home, which is probably not a bad thing…they’re definitely not a diet-friendly food. A treat every now and then never hurt anyone, though, right?

After cruising the mall for several hours and walking off roughly three of the cheese curds I ate, Bryce and I headed to Uptown in Minneapolis to meet our dear friend Paul for a chat about life’s changes and pre-dinner drinks at The Lowry. On the waitress’ recommendation, I ordered one of their signature drinks, the Snarf, a mix of plymouth gin, simple syrup, lime juice, shocktop belgian white ale, joia grapefruit, chamomile, cardamom, and soda. The drink was one of the most interesting I’ve tasted and proved good enough for a second round, and because we were meeting yet more friends for dinner later, Bryce and I just imbibed a couple drinks. The Lowry’s menu showed promise, however, and I foresee a return stop in the future to try out a few of their meal offerings.

Our fabulous time with Paul drew to a close far too quickly, and in the blink of an eye, Bryce and I drove off to meet Duane and Allan for dinner at another Uptown establishment, Roat Osha. Having met Duane and Allan through Bryce’s affiliation with OneVoice Mixed Chorus, we all became quick friends. As an added perk, Duane and Allan like food as much as we do, so we always find great places at which to share a meal and conversation. Leaving the choice of our dinner venue in their hands was a smart option as I thoroughly enjoyed my selection from their extensive Thai cuisine menu. I’m not sure Bryce liked his as much as I did mine, and shamefully, I forgot which items we ordered and cannot provide any further details. Further proof of the aging process, bah. Oh, well – we had a wonderful time catching up with Duane and Allan. I do remember we walked a few blocks to Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream Cafe after dinner, though. Much like Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul, Sebastian Joe’s offers a flavorful variety of homemade ice cream. I waited patiently in line with Bryce, Duane, and Allan to see if the Salty Caramel ice cream that inspired my own version was available that beautiful Minneapolis evening. Much to my pleasure, I found the flavor on the menu board and ordered a small dish, the perfect night cap to another fantastic day with the best of friends and food in my Minnesota home.



My Minnesota Home (Part 3)

Day 4 (6/27): For the first part of our stay in Minnesota, our friends Carrie and Jared (along with their puppers, Spunky) opened their beautiful Hugo home to us. Carrie, Jared, and I attended college together at the University of Minnesota in Duluth starting way back in 1995. I know I’m dating myself, but c’est la vie. Staying with Carrie and Jared provided us the chance to catch up over Carrie’s great cosmopolitans as we wound down from our days running around the metropolitan area. One of the best qualities of great friendship is the ability to not see or talk to each other much and still pick things up as if no time lapsed at all. Bryce and I are blessed by the many friends we share this type of friendship with, Carrie and Jared certainly among them. I felt guilty that as our schedule for the week filled up, I failed to set aside specific Carrie and Jared time outside of our late evening fireside chats. Bryce and I therefore jumped at the chance to have lunch with Carrie at Washington Square Bar & Grill in White Bear Lake. Knowing we planned to munch on some popcorn at our afternoon movie matinee, Bryce and I each ordered a small plate. I ate a buffalo shrimp salad which was good, exactly what I expected in terms of flavor, and the right portion size. Bryce’s tostada with chorizo, potatoes, sour cream, and fresh fixings was also good. I look forward to going back to Washington Square Bar & Grill for more.

Bryce and I happened to arrive in Minnesota at approximately the same time as an intense heat wave. The area sweltered in 105-degree temperatures which felt more like 115 with the heat index. Being that outdoor activities enticed neither one of us in those conditions, we opted to see a movie and stay cool during the afternoon of our 4th day in Minnesota. My favorite movie theater in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is the Woodbury 10 Theatre, and I truly miss seeing movies there on a regular basis. Actually, the theater may be my overall favorite venue for films. First-run movie matinees cost a mere $4.00 while evening shows are only $6.00. On top of the affordable ticket prices, Woodbury 10 sells the best popcorn in town. Why? Because its topped with real butter! Who uses real butter anymore? As far as I’m concerned, not enough theaters do. The flavor is far superior to that buttery flavored oil most places use. So, for two matinee tickets, a tub of popcorn, and two sodas we spent $18.00. $18.00! I think that is the price for two matinee tickets at our local movie multiplex here in Harrisonburg. How depressing. Thankfully, we didn’t think about that as we watched ‘Prometheus,’ a plodding, sci-fi thriller which, outside of its obvious plot holes, made for a great afternoon escape.

When we were home in Minnesota for Christmas and again when I returned for a funeral in March, I put together a gathering of sorts at the Granite City Food & Brewery, a chain restaurant in the suburb of Eagan and one of our usual picks when we lived in the Twin Cities. The response in December and March proved quite positive, prompting us once more to pick Granite City as the location in which to meet as many of our friends at one time as possible on this Wednesday night. While the restaurant offers a wide range of popular menu fare and a few made-in-house brews, what really draws us in is the comfortable setting that allows a group of 10 or more people to sit back, relax, and truly enjoy the company of one another. Plus, Granite City makes some of the tastiest French Onion and Cheddar Ale soups I have had the pleasure of trying. In fact, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I crave their French Onion soup from time to time. Perhaps the true underlying reason for selecting Granite City Food & Brewery lies in my addiction. Oh, well. Any excuse to see Kelly and her 2-year-old daughter Lily (who stole the show), Allison, Dianna, Maggie, Dave, Laura, and Matt works for me!


My Minnesota Home (Part 2)

Day 3 (6/26): Last summer we spent our free time with as many people as possible, checking off our Minnesota bucket list of things to do before moving to Virginia. For dinner one June evening, we met our friends Karly and Dustin at Broders’ Pasta Bar before heading out to see the extended version of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the theater. You may recognize the place, actually – Guy Fieri featured the bistro on an episode of ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’ not too long ago. The food we ate at Broders’ that night almost matched the quality of the wonderful company we shared and commanded another visit. Unfortunately we were unable to return before we moved away.

As we pieced together our Back in Minnesota Calendar of Events, we needed an evening with Alisha and Steve, a couple I’ve known for years via my career with Red Lobster and who have become close friends to both Bryce and I throughout our relationship. Though we had been back in the Twin Cities on a couple of occasions, our schedules never quite aligned with Alisha’s or Steve’s. Seeing them, therefore, became a priority for us. Once we had a date on the books, we tossed a few different restaurant ideas around until Bryce brilliantly suggested Broders’ in Minneapolis. Genius!

Broders’ serves seriously delicious, fresh-made pasta in an enchanting bistro setting and offers one of the best summer dining deals in Minneapolis. On Tuesdays through Thursdays, from 4:30 to 6:30, you can enjoy a plate of marinated olives, a sharable salad, two pasta dishes, and a half bottle of selected house wine for just $30. Believe me when I say it’s a steal, especially when you take into account the quality of Broders’ food. We practically devoured our creamy carbonara and spicy puttanesca and highly suggest trying both dishes. Alisha and Steve ordered from the Dinner Menu rather than the Summer Supper Menu and found their choices of lasagna al granchio and the daily risotto special to be equally as impressive. The chefs struck the right balance between seasoning and herbs with each sauce, cooked the pasta perfectly al dente, and produced a proper pasta-to-sauce ratio (or rice-to-sauce in Steve’s case). Even though the four of us wound up sufficiently stuffed, we opted for the added decadence of a flourless chocolate cake and ice cream stuffed profiteroles to top off our meals. Not surprisingly, the desserts lived up to the high standards set forth by dinner. Definitely check out Broders’ Pasta Bar if you get the chance, and if you don’t mind an early dinner, the Summer Supper Menu makes for a treat on the palate and your pocketbook.

As an added bonus to enjoying dinner early we were able to spend more time hanging out with Alisha and Steve. Broders’ Pasta Bar sits a few short blocks from Lake Harriet, one of the beautiful chain of lakes within Minneapolis. We drove up to the lake, parked our cars, and walked around, reminiscing about old times and sharing new stories with one another. We meandered over to the band shell where we caught a quick bit of a free band concert and wandered through the adjacent rose and zen gardens. Don’t worry, we stopped to smell the roses – literally. In the zen garden, the park and recreation board set up a neat little origami station with step-by-step instructions posted on, well, cement posts and recycled paper. Of the four of us, only Bryce successfully folded his square piece of paper to match the crane. The rest of our failed attempts created much laughter and fantastic new memories we added to those we made over dinner and took with us as we parted.


My Minnesota Home (Part 1)

DAY 2 (6/25): Having started early on day 1, we decided to let our weary heads sleep in a while before hitting the road again. Once awake, we packed up our groceries and chugged along. For a healthy snack, we threw some red grapes in the freezer overnight. If you have never tried frozen grapes before, I highly recommend giving them a whirl. The skin acts as a mold for the refreshing popsicle that forms inside. The mini-popsicles pull double duty by helping to chill the food in the cooler – bonus! That is if they last long enough…

Back on the highway, we found our way out of Illinois, through the state of Wisconsin, and back to Minnesota in time for dinner. Our first stop? Grand Avenue in St. Paul, one of our favorite haunts. There we met our dear friend Dianna. You know you’re home when you can throw your arms around a friend in a great big, welcome-back hug. The three of us settled in at Punch Pizza to catch up over some of our favorite pizza in the Twin Cities. What makes their food so great? Punch serves fresh, Neapolitan style pizza hand-made to order and cooked in an 800-degree wood-burning oven for just 90 seconds. The intense fire produces a chewy, thin crust that is dotted with toasty bits of charred air bubbles that blister open and perfect for sopping up the excess sauce and toppings that slide off the pizza. Just writing about Punch’s pizza makes my mouth water. Sorry I forgot to take a picture – sadly, taking out the camera was an afterthought.

Coconut and Cookie Monster

After finishing dinner, we continued talking and walked across the street to what I consider one of the nation’s best ice cream parlors. In fact, I’d go as far to say no meal on Grand Avenue would be complete without dessert from Grand Ole Creamery. I mean, seriously. The quaint little throwback of a scoop shop inspired me to create the Heath Ice Cream that in turn inspired this very blog. On top of all that, I credit Dianna with introducing me to Grand Ole Creamery quite a few years ago. Fitting that we ended our evening together there. The only sad news on this visit– no Heath Ice Cream. Bummer. Instead I ordered a homemade waffle cone, a must when you’re at Grand Ole Creamery, with a single split (two flavors, one slightly-larger-than-a-scoop portion) of Coconut and Cookie Monster, a blue-tinted ice cream filled with Oreos and chocolate chip cookie dough. They might not have been Heath Ice Cream, but they were pretty darn delicious. Ah, Minnesota – good to be home.


My Minnesota Home (Prologue)

Whew! Bryce and I recently returned from our whirlwind, 12-day road trip to Minnesota where we spent lots of much needed quality time with family and friends. There’s no feeling quite like seeing the people you love for the first time after moving half way across the country. Every gathering, every conversation, every meal, every laugh becomes a cherished memory. While visiting those we love, we also caught up with our favorite Minnesota sites, tourist traps, restaurants, and foods – many of which we miss almost as much as family and friends. Okay, not really, but I need a few cheese curds in my life and folks here in Virginia are blissfully unaware of their presence. It’s a little sad, I know. Anyway, over the next few days, I’ll share a day-by-day rundown of the people and places we saw as well as the delicious food we ate during our vacation back to my Minnesota home.

DAY 1 (Sunday 6/24): We left Harrisonburg bright and early, driving off before 8:00 am. (Yes, we can do early mornings despite someone’s lack of faith – ahem, Bill Newton.) Bryce thoughtfully put together travel-friendly sandwiches and snacks so we could avoid spending money at fast food joints along the way. To keep things interesting throughout the 11-hour trek, we took turns at the wheel every few hours and switched between iTunes playlists and NPR podcasts. I love me some “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” and “The Splendid Table.” Our first day of travel took us through Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana to our rest stop with one of my friends from high school and his wife in Normal, Illinois. Jonathan and Julie were gracious hosts, offering us not only their home but also a great grilled dinner, the likes of which we seldom see in Virginia owing to our lack of a grill. Consider us new fans of turkey burgers, with which experimentation will commence soon! We also enjoyed our first corn on the cob of the season, so often hit or miss. Luckily for us, this was certainly a hit and got me thinking about fun things to try with corn later this summer. Yay for more inspiration! We finished our first day en route home to Minnesota by relaxing in the hot tub, drinking bottles of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy in hand, and basking in great conversation with great friends. Vacation was definitely and thankfully underway. Next post – day 2 – Minnesota!