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.