The Twin Cities — Vacationing Up North, Vol. 2

30 Sep

Ok then.  Welcome back to part two of two about our trip this summer to the Twin Cities.  Wait.  You DID read part one of two, right?  If not, you can catch up here.  After all, you wouldn’t want to miss out now would you? WOULD YOU? And whatever else, I hope you’re not getting tired of reading about What I Did On My Summer Vacation.

Parka

A little ways across town from where we were staying in Minneapolis sat Parka.  A relatively new restaurant (it opened just this year I believe), Parka occupies a corner of a home furnishings store.  Perhaps it was because it was so new, but Parka almost didn’t make it onto our radar.  All of the credit for finding out about Parka goes to Tania.  I’m not sure how or why she found it, but all I can say is that I’m glad she did.  So also is she.  I’m pretty sure Parka was her hands-down favorite place we ate the entire time we were on vacation.

IMG_0891

The food at Parka was fantastic.  It was innovative and interesting without being pretentious in anyway.  Everything that they do there is clearly done in the pursuit of good food. (Well, the Minnesota-shaped cutting boards don’t really enhance the food necessarily.  But they are cool!).  From the outset, Tania and I knew that we wanted to have dessert.  So we decided to split a few things rather than order separately.

Collectively, we decided on meatloaf sandwich. Oh man. Oh man oh man. It was goooooood. And it was big. (It also came with french fries.  Really good french fries.) It was a good thing we decided to split it, because that left room for us to try other things.  Like the ham and pickle tots.

IMG_0888

Yes the tots have dill gel and cheese foam.  But forget everything you’ve thought recently about the overuse of such garnishes.  This is not pretension mascarading as creativity: Parka uses them effectively to bring a new twist to familiar flavors.

Speaking of new twists, at this point with the explosion of craft brewing we’re all accustomed to beer flights.  Parka does something different however.  For dessert, they offer a flight of milk.  With cookies.  We had the option of getting a half order of dessert.  Tania wanted to.  I wanted my own cookies.  In the end, I won out.  And we got cookies.  Lots and lots of cookies.  So, might I suggest if you’re there as a couple, a half order would probably suffice.  We were biking though, so it worked out ok; we rode it off.

IMG_0897

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the service at Parka as well.  We sat at the bar looking into the kitchen.  As we were leaving, we struck up conversation with one of the chefs and she encouraged us to come back and try the new things that regularly appear on the menu.  It was at that point that we had to break the sad news that we were just visitors from Ohio.  She seemed genuinely sad—sympathetic would be more accurate I think—that we wouldn’t be able to try even all of the things on the current menu.  So, the lesson for tourists: if you’re only going to be able to go once, let the chefs know—they’ll steer you right and make sure you get to try the best that they have to offer.

Brasa

IMG_0910

How do you follow up on a lunch like the one we had at Parka? You have dinner at the restaurant of a James Beard award-winning chef.  So that’s what we did.  We ate at Brasa Rotisserie.   Brasa is built on the model of protein and side dish.  Rather than order a pre-set meal, you take your pick of two chicken options, pork , and beef.  Then, choose from the list of 13 or more side dishes.  They suggest a meal is one meat and two sides.  But, no one is forcing that upon you.  You could eat ALL OF THE THINGS if you wanted.  Totally up to you.

IMG_0911

I didn’t do a good job of taking photos at Brasa sadly.  In part, it was hard.  Because we did end up with so many sides and individual dishes, accurately capturing the meal would have been tough.  I had the pork, Tania the rotisserie chicken.  Then we had a variety of sides: cornbread, black beans, andouille and yams, and other things that I’ve forgotten.

Regardless, it was all great. If I went back the only thing I might do differently is disregard their suggestion that you limit yourself to just two sides.  I could have easily eaten another one and there were certainly plenty to choose from.

Café Latte

Remember how I mentioned that long ago, in a galaxy far far away, Tania lived in Minnesota?  Well, she lived over in St. Paul.  Not too far from a place called Café Latte.  I know this, and have known this, because both she and her mother rave about it.  So, obviously, no visit to the Twin Cities would be complete without a stop there.

IMG_0926

Put most simply, Café Latte (or at least part of it) is a soup, salad, and sandwich restaurant.  But that doesn’t quite convey the overall experience.  The salads are good, interesting, and you get a lot for your money.  Also, both soup and salad come with bread.  So if you get both you get TWO breads.  Win.

One thing that Café Latte is known for is their turtle cake.  Which, sadly, we did not try.  We (or at least I) was saving room for dinner that night.  I had been waiting long for the meal that was to follow.  That’s because that night we had reservations at The Bachelor Farmer.

The Bachelor Farmer

To say I had high expectations for The Bachelor Farmer would probably be an understatement.  I had first read about the restaurant when the New York Times published a review several years ago.  Ever since then, I had wanted to go.  I’m not saying I agreed to go to Minneapolis for vacation JUST to eat at The Bachelor Farmer—but it certainly didn’t hurt the cause.  Even better was the fact that no trip to The Bachelor Farmer is complete without a stop at Marvel Bar.

Located in the same building as The Bachelor Farmer, Marvel Bar is a speakeasy-style bar that emphasizes well-crafted cocktails.  After a bit of brief uncertainty about where exactly to go, we eventually sidled up to the bar.  Marvel Bar isn’t a big space, but it is well apportioned and designed.  (I took no photos, not wanting to spoil for you dear reader the mystery or intrude on over ambiance.) I thought it was great.  Tania was less impressed.  She thought it was a bit pretentious.  But that could just be that she never received the Cheetos she ordered—which are the only food on the menu.  She’s still convinced that she was denied them because she wanted to eat them earnestly—not ironically.

I feel like it was all for the best however that she never got the Cheetos.  After all, it would be bad to spoil your appetite before dinner! And what a dinner it was.

IMG_0935

Have you ever put butter on raw radishes?  No? Me neither.  At least not until we went to The Bachelor Farmer.  Instead of bread service, at The Bachelor Farmer you get radishes, butter, salt, and some flat cracker bread.  I don’t even know the last time I had a radish period.  I had thought they were spicier than the ones we were served.  Maybe I’ve been wrong about radishes this whole time.

IMG_0931

To start, we ordered one of their “toasts,” a take on the smorgasbord, or Danish open-faced sandwich.  Oh, if I haven’t mentioned this already, The Bachelor Farmer is what would properly be termed “new-Nordic.”  Taking inspiration from traditional Scandinavian dishes, the restaurant has a tightly focused seasonal menu.

IMG_0944

I had an excellent pork dish, prepared in a way that emphasized the fresh flavors of the ingredients.  It was well-balanced and properly cooked.  Tania made a meal out of toasts and sides, opting for beets and swish chard.  Again, the sides were simply prepared in a way that maintained the focus on the foundational ingredients themselves.

No review would probably be complete without mentioning the popovers either.  Apparently there is a nostalgic connection between popovers and the Dayton’s department stores.  Not being from Minnesota myself, the connection was kinda lost on me.  But what was not lost was that the popover was delicious.

IMG_0951

To close out the meal, we were given a bag containing two little almond cookies.  It was quite the nice touch, and while I was too stuffed to even think about eating them, they went well with coffee the next morning. (Cookies for breakfast!)

IMG_0954

Minnesota State Fair

Cheese curds from the Mouth Trap.  Get it? The mouth trap??? It's a pun.  Because, you know, mice like cheese. :)

Cheese curds from the Mouth Trap. Get it? The mouth trap??? It’s a pun. Because, you know, mice like cheese. 🙂

One of the reasons for going to Minnesota in the first place was to visit the Minnesota State Fair.  Tania claimed it was awesome, so of course I had to see for myself.  The fair is well-known for certain food offerings: giant tubs of cookies, Pronto Pups (the original batter-dipped hotdog, allegedly pre-dating the corndog), butter dipped corn, and of course, cheese curds.  I was about to say that we didn’t try them all, but I realized we did.  Everything but the cookies that is.

Tania with her butter-dipped corn.

Tania with her butter-dipped corn.

The Minnesota State Fair is also well-known for new and experimental fair foods.  A new offering this year was Comet Corn—a caramel-corn-like thing frozen in liquid nitrogen.  Liquid nitrogen? Yes please, I don’t really care much what else you say after that.

Comet Corn, still smoking.

Comet Corn, still smoking.

One of the coolest parts of the Minnesota State Fair was the celebration of their state’s brewing industry.  They had a setup allowing people to sample different four-beer flights from different breweries around the state.  It was a great idea, and a great way to celebrate the state’s craft brewers.

IMG_0967

IMG_0965

Pratt Taber Inn

Prior to going on our Minnesota road trip, I had never stayed in a bed and breakfast.  And after having stayed at the Pratt Taber Inn, I’m worried that no other BnB will be able to live up to the high bar it set.  Although Tania and I took the usual interstate highways to get to the Twin Cities, we decided to take a scenic detour on the way home and track the Mississippi River as we returned to Ohio along the Great River Road.

Tania uncovered the Pratt Taber Inn when looking for an interesting place to stay along that route.  It’s possible that she was simply looking for any place that had its own resident cat, but I’ll believe her when she says that it was just a happy coincidence.  (BTW, I believe that the cat would have made an excellent cat beard.)  Regardless of the reason, I was glad she found it.

Now that is one BIG cat.

Now that is one BIG cat.

Deb, the owner, was super friendly and fun to talk to.  We hadn’t been there five minutes before she had a glass of wine in our hands and we were hanging out chatting with her and some of the other guests.  She gave us great suggestions about things to check out during our brief time in Red Wing, including the Red Wing Brewery which reopened a few years ago, as well as a great place to go and watch the sunset over the Mississippi.

IMG_1003

And while the beds were super comfortable, that’s only half of the equation when you’re staying at a bed and BREAKFAST.  Deb’s breakfast certainly didn’t disappoint.  The delicious french toast with whipped cream and mixed berries was a great way to start the day, and it gave us plenty of fuel for the rest of the trip home.  I don’t know that I’ll have much occasion to return to Red Wing any time soon, but you better believe that if I do, I’ll be staying at the Pratt Taber Inn.  Heck, it might be worth going back for that alone.

Sun setting over the Mississippi in Red Wing, MN.  Farewell Minnesota, see you soon!

Sun setting over the Mississippi in Red Wing, MN. Farewell Minnesota, see you soon!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: