by Lee Foster
Minneapolis offers a dynamic travel experience to the visitor. Beyond my overall portrait of the Twin Cities, here are a few of my favorite and newer experiences to recommend, especially for the visitor interested in culture, art, and cuisine:
*The Cowles Center.
The Cowles Center for Dance & Performing Arts, 528 Hennepin Avenue in the downtown theatre district, adds an elegant performance venue, opened in 1911. The Shubert Theatre was moved to the site and a Cowles building added, joining the Schubert with the sturdy and historic 1888 Masonic Temple, forming a block-long performing arts milieu. The setting is particular lovely at night when the Cowles Center is lit in varying colored lights.
Target Field, the new downtown stadium for Minnesota Twins baseball, is a handsome facility that adds much energy to the area. I took in a Twins game, well attended by fans on a Thursday afternoon, despite the fact that the 2011 season win-loss record was not something to celebrate. One aspect of the new stadium is how many local restaurant vendors and food purveyors participate. My hot dog was no ordinary and anonymous dog, but rather an Italian sausage dog from a restaurant known as Market Pantry. My popcorn was not a mere multi-national bland offering, but a handcrafted popcorn from the dedicated and chosen supplier, Angie’s Kettlecorn.
*Nice Ride MN.
A bike pick-up and drop-off system, Nice Ride MN, is expanding in the urban region. Entrepreneurs with pedicabs also compete for the opportunity to take the visitor around. I engaged Ryan Dean of Shottyz.com to pedal me from Twins Baseball over to a look at Loring Park. Segway tours are also popular, offered by Magical History Tours.
Whenever I get back to Minnesota, taking in a play at the Guthrie is on my must-do list. The 2011 performance of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, done with a clever early 20th century look, reminded audiences of how universal and timeless is Shakespeare’s genius at portraying the hopes and foibles of the human animal. One premise of this play is that wit and repartee, so fun at the onset of a love relationship, can inhibit the progression of love when delight in wit becomes an end in itself.
*35W Memorial and Illuminated New Bridge.
Downriver from the Guthrie, a new, white structure has replaced the 35W bridge that fell, tragically, in 2007. The 13 who died are memorialized at a tasteful monument of vertical posts on the river bluff near the Guthrie. The new structure is quite lovely at night when seen with its reflection in the water from the water-level park in front of the Mill City Museum, just south of the Stone Bridge. An unusual feature of the new 35W bridge is the technical ability to illuminate it at night with light of any color. During my visit a deep blue was the chosen spectrum.
*Weisman Art Museum.
Another cultural institution along the riverfront to indulged in, beyond the Guthrie, is the silvery-skinned Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, 333 East River Road, at the University of Minnesota. The Weisman is a stunning piece of local architecture to observe. Architect Frank Gehry designed this stainless steel showplace. Proceed to the campus and get a close-up view of the building from below it, next to the river. This multi-angled architectural tour de force catches the sun on its many-plane façade. The design is a striking contrast to the usual sturdy, rectangular box look of much Minnesota architecture.
*Tim McKee and La Belle Vie.
The restaurant to relish if you want some of the best in Minneapolis fine dining is chef Tim McKee’s award-winning La Belle Vie at 510 Groveland. I opted for the eight-course Chef Tasting with the Wine Flight wine pairings, which amounted to a three-hour pageant of taste sensations. Possibly the Roasted Squab With Foie Gras and Shell Pea Caramelle was my favorite course, paired with an Archery Summit Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon. The quietness of the elegant dining room, a low decibel and chandeliered masterpiece, makes conversation possible. The wait staff have the polish of Guthrie Theater actors, except that they are dealing with fact rather than fiction. The culinary artistry on your plate will rival the quality of anything on the walls of the Walker Art Center, which is across the street.
*Ethnic Eat Street.
For a Minneapolis food alternative that is economical, ethnic, and diversified, go to the so-called Eat Street district, a 17-block stretch along Nicollet Avenue south of the downtown. I parked between East 25th and 26th and looked around at the Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Arabic eateries before choosing Seafood Palace for dinner. At this Chinese place my choices were the Pot Stickers, Honey Walnut Shrimp, and Sweet and Spicy Beef Baby Short Ribs. The repast was delicious. I then walked across the street to Arabic Sinbad’s for a walnut-stuffed dessert pastry.
*Ritz Theatre in the Northeast.
The Northeast Neighborhood is an up and coming area worth putting on a visitor’s radar because of its emphasis on culture, fine dining, art, and community. The cultural hub is the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, guided by Michael Romens. The Ritz hosts a variety of innovative shows. I caught a Middle Eastern dancing performance by the Jawaahir Dance Company during my visit.
*Northeast Social Restaurant.
A few steps down from the Ritz is the Northeast Social restaurant, 359 13th Avenue NE, which is booming. The innovative cuisine, an American bistro style guided by owners Sam Bonin and Joe Wagner and chef Geoff Little, shows a strong Minnesota commitment both to regional farmer-direct supplies and to sourcing worldwide when the result can be unique flavor profiles. I enjoyed a tasting menu evening. My favorites were the scallops with truffled corn puree, the heirloom tomato caprese with house pulled mozzarella, and the English pea gnocchi with fennel and grape tomatoes. The front window opens to the street in pleasant weather and a bell clangs occasionally when the order is given to raise a glass and call out “Social!” The restaurant is closely tied into the community, with many staff members living nearby. The owners characterize the Northeast Social as a “gathering place for social indulgence.” Sam Bonin’s front of the house hospitality and the good value of the menu prices are further pluses.
*Northrup King Arts Building in the Northeast.
One big arts magnet in the Northeast Neighborhood is the former Northrop King Building (www.northrupkingbuilding.com), 1500 Jackson Street NE. This former cluster of structures for the giant seed company now houses 190 artist studios. I happened to meet ceramic sculptor Steve Hemingway, of Hemingway Ceramics, and learned about his raku-fired pieces. The First Thursdays in the Arts District open house is the best time each month for a visitor to go there and meet the artists. There are also two annual art crawl events, Art-A-Whirl in the spring and Art Attack in November. Both are good opportunities to meet artists and see their works.
*Red Stag Restaurant in the Northeast.
Another restaurant in the Northeast Neighborhood closely tied into the art scene and the rapidly evolving farmer-direct food sourcing strategy, celebrating Minnesota and Wisconsin suppliers, is Red Stag Supper Club, 509 1st Avenue Northeast. Red Stag is the first LEEDs-certified restaurant in Minnesota. This Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design award means the building and operation conform to a high standard of environment goals. The many strategies implemented to get this best-practices LEEDs status include LED lighting, which cuts energy bills and take-out food containers that can be composted rather than thrown away. Faucets in the building turn off automatically. The cooking oil is re-processed into hand soaps used in the restrooms. The food at this light and airy space is tasty. I enjoyed the cauliflower and peas soup du jour, the red-sauce Pasta Bolognese, and the Grilled Flatbread, with walnut and spinach pesto and house made mozzarella. The décor theme is of a Northwoods-style supper club. A Friday night fish fry dish could be walleyed pike or locally-raised tilapia. “Here you can dine well, but with a conscience,” said sous chef Jerry Fodness.
*The Minnesota Character.
The historic diversity of the Minnesota economy, making it resilient in recessionary times, contributes much to the relative social harmony that a visitor will observe. Historically, Minnesota people supported themselves first with the fur trade. The huge white pine forests of the state, once thought to be endless, propelled the second major industry, lumber. Wheat farming and milling, plus general agriculture, offered the third avenue to wealth, as time proceeded. (Some of the former Minneapolis grain elevators, which appear like cathedrals of commerce at various places in the midwest, have been transformed, ingeniously, into condominiums.) Corn and soybeans are now major crops, with the demand for ethanol increasing the price of corn and the value of agricultural land. Another major growth area is in computer and high-tech products, with companies such as Honeywell, 3M, and IBM propelling the economy ahead.
If you want a short list of the vibrant and newer reasons for visiting Minneapolis and Minnesota, consider these bulleted items as a rationale.