July 25, 2019 · 12:00 pm
So nice to be with my kids to mark these occasions. We are staying at an Airbnb on Ashland Street in the MAC-Grove neighborhood of St. Paul, not far from where noah and his pal for life Conor live (midcity.)
Dirck and I took an easy and scenic bike ride along Marshall and over then along the Mississippi to the Guthrie Theater where we met “the kids” (who drove in the black monster truck emma and rocket rented), which was a good starting point for emma who is in the twin cities for the first time. We took the long elevator in the Guthrie up to the cantilevered outdoor deck with stupendous views of water crashing down St Anthony’s Falls. Then we rode over the stone arch bridge past the falls to northeast Minneapolis to check out some great vintage stores noah, our guide, has found include Find Furniture (lots of mid century modern) and x, where I bought a lively patterned 80’s shirt jacket, complete with shoulder pads!
We rode back to St. Paul along the east side of the river thru dinkytown (the u of Minnesota college town) and the stadium, stopping briefly for some light rain to pass. The kids brought back delicious arepas from Minneapolis for an afternoon snack (we had a delicious brunch earlier at Rose Patisserie in St. Paul.. great quiche). we went to a nearby bar for drinks and then for a delicious dinner at Bar La Grassa in the Minneapolis warehouse district and stopped by the fabulous “bank” bar, an Art Deco masterwork that used to be the farmers and merchants bank (now a hotel) downtown. Couldn’t ask for a better bday with my family!
On Sunday, after a mom’s day brunch at Noah’s apartment on Edmunds Street we drove to Minnehaha Falls, which was full of water, and lined with visitors. onto Lake Harriet for a stroll past the Scandinavian looking pavilion, with lots of visitors too strolling, cycling and skateboarding. Also spotted an old trolley that I am not sure goes where. early Cambodian dinner (green curry, scallion pancakes, omelette), at Cheng Heng in Noah’s neighborhood.
October 1, 2018 · 3:27 am
Busy weekend visiting Noah in the Twin Cities. This trip we spent more time than we have in ages in St. Paul because Noah has moved there from Minneapolis. But we still made it back to our old stomping ground in Uptown, in part because we stayed again at a great Airbnb in south Minneapolis, in a 1917 stucco house a block from the bike trail along Minehaha parkway.
We checked out the revamped Sculpture Garden next to the Walker which looks a little shaggier and less manicured, thanks to the prairie plantings. I’m still a fan although I did notice that the spoon of the Oldenburg Spoonbridge and Cherry has a yellow water stain. I particularly liked the giant blue rooster sculpture. Noah did note, accurately, that several sculpture parks around the country seem to have work by the same sculptors and sometimes almost the same work. The McDonaldization of sculpture parks?
It took two tries (I botched the first one by failing to have my ID, believe it or not) we finally were admitted into Volstead’s Emporium, my first visit to a retro speakeasy, which I gather is a thing. To enter, we walked down a nondescript alley and stood in a short line in front of an unmarked industrial looking metal door where a guy occasionally looked out at us through a peep window he slid open and closed. After a suitable wait to make sure we felt we were entering some exclusive club (shades of Studio 54) he let various parties trickle in after others trickled out.
The atmosphere was very atmospheric – cozy little quasi-private booths, dim lighting, low ceiling, lots of old wood, vintage brass light fixtures and art nouveau wallpaper. We sat at a high top table by the bar and had pricey cocktails and shared some good desserts (key lime pie, a chocolate brownie with banana chip ice cream.) There were clever touches, like gilt-framed mirrors in the booths that opened, with an arm extending to serve people their drinks and food. This being Minnesota most people were wearing denim, plaid and/or flannel (including us) and the wait staff were friendly rather than haughty. We also noticed a few empty tables as we left, even though a few people were kept waiting out in the cold.
The previous night, when this 59-year-old did not have an ID to prove she is over 21 (why thank you) we ended up at a much louder bar nearby, the LynLake Brewery.
September 30, 2018 · 10:20 pm
Over the years we have dipped in and out of St. Paul, trying a restaurant here or visiting a shop there but never getting a sense of the place or the lay of the land. With Noah now living in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, we spent more concentrated time there and left with a better feel for the place, which looked lovely on a early fall weekend with the trees just starting to change.
The St. Paul Farmers Market, downtown under an overhang structure, was bursting with fruit, veg and huge colorful dahlias. We bought treats for brunch the next morning – peach strudel, cheese, smoked trout, snowflake apples – and some to devour on site including excellent pierogies stuffed with creamy mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese, with plum sauce drizzled on top and sour cream.
Later we had very good sandwiches at the St. Paul Cheese Shop near Macalester College (prosciutto and brie; roast beef, arugula, red pesto.) Dirck and I drove past the grand mansions along Summit Avenue (the annual house tour the following day was packed with people lining up in front of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s boyhood home and other stately homes. Unable to find Common Good Books where we’d last visited it decades ago, we discovered it had long ago moved — around the corner from the Cheese Shop where we ate lunch. It’s still good, even it owner Garrison Keeler’s star power has since dimmed.
Six of us had delicious Cambodian food for $64 (pre-tip) at a no-frills restaurant called Cheng Heng near Noah’s new place. (No liquor, among my favorites — a crispy chive pancake, an omelette filled with bean sprouts and bits of pork served with lettuce and cucumber, stir-fried tofu , crispy and in a delicious light brown sauce.
Before leaving we walked around Lake Como, dropping in at the old pavilion (which we later learned is a 1992 replica of the original early 1900’s structure), the cool old streetcar station with a facade of round stones, a torpedo monument to the WW2 submarine, lovely old Victorian homes overlooking the lake with long green lawns and well tended gardens and porches. The “kiddie” cones at Grand Ole Creamery were big enough for this adult. And takeaway sandwiches from a Kowalski’s Market will do for dinner on the road home. (Not as good as the St. Paul Cheese Shop, though.)
May 22, 2018 · 9:20 pm
at Minnehaha Falls
My friend Nell and I only had a half day here but made the most of it. After driving my son Noah back to his apartment in Minneapolis from a trip home to DSM, we checked into our pretty Airbnb, an early 1900’s four square with a lovely garden in South Minneapolis near the Minnehaha Parkway and bike trail. We stopped at Midtown Global Market for some “Hot Indian” food including an “indurrito (Indian burrito) and delicious “Indi-Frites” – crispy seasoned fries with an aoili dipping sauce. Clever.
On an afternoon with perfect bike riding weather (cool, light breeze, slightly cloudy) we rode on a lightly populated trail (a Monday) west and north to Lakes Harriet, Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. I did learn that when you ride this direction, you have to stay off of the bike trail that’s on the sidewalk rimming the lakes because it’s carefully designated for riders going the opposite direction — and Twin Cities riders take these designations very seriously, as they should especially on very busy weekends.
The trails were relatively quiet on a Monday but we didn’t want to “break the rules” so we ended up riding a few sections of the trail on the side of the access road lining the trail, which fortunately had few cars but was at times bumpy and sandy. No big deal. I also learned that the Lake of the Isles offers immediate and easy access to the Midtown Greenway trail, another favorite and we rode that subterranean-feeling trail to a cool trailside bike store/cafe called MPLS Coaster Brake Cafe, near the Global Market. I loved that you could wheel your bike right into the store/cafe and park it near some lounge chairs to take a break. No need to lock out front.
We rode back on Portland Avenue along the bike lane which worked well, given the heavy rush hour traffic. There were several other riders, which helped make us a more visible presence on a busy city thoroughfare. Back on the Minnehaha Parkway, we learned the hard way to stay on the trail rather than the bordering streets, in order to get under 35W Highway. (We had to backtrack slightly and portage down some steps with our bikes.) We also had to overshoot the street where our airbnb was because there wasn’t an easy exit off the wooded trail — but no big deal, we just backtracked a little.
Dinner was at The Happy Gnome, a gastropub in St. Paul (which I kept calling the “Grumpy Troll,” a Wisconsin place we’re going to this weekend). We went for the beer (note to self: Indeed is a good local brew!) and ended up staying to eat (note to self: good salmon burger) rather than going to a nearby Cambodian restaurant, as planned. Great company, with two of the world’s nicest boys, errr, young men! On the way home, we stopped briefly at Patisserie 46 (because it was only blocks from our airbnb) and for a quick walk around Minnehaha Falls (note to self: hike this area properly some time!).
October 2, 2017 · 3:12 pm
If you’re looking for smoked whitefish in Northern Minnesota, here’s a travel story I wrote….
An Iowan takes in the region’s tourist basics, but it’s the taste of the fish that stands out.
September 11, 2017 · 4:12 pm
Has it really been a week since we were hiking in Jay Cooke State Park, on the St. Louis River, in Carlton, MN? Not for nothing is this park reportedly one of the Top 10 most visited in Minnesota. It was a logical spot to stop on our return from the North Shore to Minneapolis because it’s about 10 miles southwest of Duluth. I was reminded of my beloved Ithaca when we crossed a suspension bridge over raging falls (although the water was an odd yellow-brown, reminiscent of root beer, which I later learned is caused by tannic acid, a natural plant compound used to tan hides – and make wine). We hiked on a muddy but scenic trail along the falls and into the birch and pine forest on a drier trail until a rainstorm suddenly blew in. Fortunately we didn’t get totally soaked. We found a shelter on the trail and the rain soon stopped but we ended up eating our picnic of smoked fish and cheese inside a rustic park lodge, completely with roaring fire! Nice touch!
Back in Minneapolis, we took “the kids” out for a quick Vietnamese meal at Quang, on “Eat Street,” aka Nicollet Avenue, which was packed with customers but the servers did their best to get the food to us quickly.
September 9, 2017 · 3:46 am
So glad my friend Denise highly recommended we drop by Naniboujou Lodge, just north of downtown Grand Marais. We didn’t eat brunch there but what a remarkable place! The massive dining room has a high ceiling boldly decorated in zigzaggy stripes of red, yellow, orange, green and blue – and other Cree Indian-influenced designs, plus an enormous fireplace made of cobblestones. As resorts go, it’s not big or fancy. The rooms are reasonably priced, maybe because there aren’t a lot of amenities that I could tell other. The Lake Superior beach front is the main draw.
Grand Marais reminded me of summer resort towns in northern Michigan, with tourist shops and a wickedly good donut shop (World’s Best Donuts). These towns never quite feel like real places to me, although I’m sure they are to the townies. We wandered through the Sivertson Gallery, full of North Woods crafts and artwork. At the North House Folk School (which offers classes in folk art and traditional northern crafts), I talked with a woman who was boiling wool to use to make hats, shoes and puppets. We also dropped in at smoked fish shop #3 of the trip – -the Dockside Fish Market, which felt very much like a summer resort hot spot with tables in the back overlooking boats docked in the harbor.
On the drive back, we stopped several times to take short hikes along waterfalls and gorges at Cascade River State Park and Temperance River State Park with strange yellow-brown water, the color of root beer, that I learned later was caused by tannic acid – a natural plant compound used to tan hides and make dry wine. We watched daredevil kids jump off high rocky perches in the woods, way down into a pool of water at the end of one series of waterfalls, near the beach. This reminded me of Ithaca, although the birch and pine forests reminded me of northern Michigan. We also stopped briefly at Betty’s Pies, which was doing a land office business at 5 p.m. Pie before dinner? Why not — we’re on vacation.
Cascade River State Park, Minnesota North Shore
Back in Duluth, we wandered around the imposing Fitger’s Building, a former brewery turned into a hotel and shopping complex. Behind the building, we sat on a walkway overlooking the water and watched the sun set, then went back into the building for a burger and beer at the pub. People were lined up outside the Portland Malt Shoppe, in an old lakeside building, when we left the pub, which was a perfect thing to do on a late summer evening with slightly cool temps and a light breeze. But we were too full for ice cream. Next time.
September 7, 2017 · 2:43 pm
New Scenic Cafe did not disappoint. Lovely location on a lakeside country road about 12 miles north of Duluth, pretty backwoods decor with lots of wood, local artwork, even stacked tree branches here and there. The food was great — a light interesting cold corn soup, tuna sashimi tacos with avocado and interesting slaw, frites, a pulled pork sandwich with avocado and queso, a killer sundae with caramel corn, peanuts, hot fudge and locally-made ice cream. When we left at 10:20 p.m. two people were relaxing in low wooden chairs around a fire pit on the front lawn, watching the almost-full moon drop a puddle of light onto the lake.
Before dinner, we ended up by the lighthouse in Two Harbors, which turned out to be a lovely place to watch the sunset over the water as we stood on a long breakwater.
Since I am
writing a story about smoked fish shops here, we stopped at Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse in Knife River, a famous old roadside joint with a totally different vibe than Northern Waters. Knotty wood walls, an old neon sign outside advertising Royal Bohemian Beer and the Smokehouse, smoked fish and that’s about it, although there is a dining area in an adjacent room with tables, an old pinball machine, pool table and bar. (When I asked the woman behind the fish counter if the bar was operational she said no. “My grandfather was killed in a knife fight at the bar so we only sell beer to go,” she explained.
This morning we walked down the hill to Positively 3rd Street Bakery, (named after a song by Bob Dylan, who was born here). A sweet guy with a ponytail sold us a gooey roll and wheat bran muffin, then gave us free coffee that we took down the hill to a lovely rose garden at Leif Erikson Park. We found a bench overlooking the water. The public spaces here are really nice. Lots of lakeside paths and gardens and parks. We got more coffee at Duluth Coffee, a hipster place downtown and set off for Grand Marais on a pretty morning.
September 6, 2016 · 5:10 pm
The eastern section of The Root River Trail was also well worth riding and less traveled. The trail asphalt is rougher, especially the five miles between Peterson and Rushford but Minnesota is on it…the section is slated for replacing this month. There also is a steep uphill and downhill between Miles 37 and 38, as forwarned, but it wasn’t too bad and we are used to more ups and downs on other trails. For families with little kids, Houston has a neat nature playground and near Whalan is a low key miniature golf course. We did backtrack to Whalan to stop at Aroma Pie Shoppe, which come much recommended. At 4 pm there was little left so we tried two kinds of pies we have never had before, both very good: sourcream raisen and Vermont maple (as sweet as pecan pie, with coconut). Dinner was good at Old Village Hall Restaurant where we ate on the patio on a perfect summer night. I was glad we stayed one night in town (at the lovely old Habberstad b&b, in the Orchid Room) especially so we could get a feel for the place once it has quieted down. IT was nice to walk back to the inn along quiet residential streets at night after dinner.
September 4, 2016 · 1:06 pm
WE finally made it to southeast Minnesota to ride our bikes along the much-touted Root River Trail and it was as lovely (and easy to ride) as advertised– at least the 15 mile stretch from Lanesboro east through the tiny town of Whalan (with its famous pie shop) and the slightly less tiny town of Peterson, where we had excellent pie at Burdy’s Cafe, an unassuming little place with cheerful teenage girls as our servers. The trail was largely flat but not dull. It follows the wide,often fast moving river for the most part, through woods and fields, past picture perfect old farmsteads, tidy towns and wooded stone bluffs. We also lucked out with the weather, low 70s, sun but cloud cover.
Lanesboro’s main drag was packed with people, cars and bikes but not awful. It’s lined with wellkept old brick storefronts. It’s not as well heeled as, say, Stockholm, Wisconsin or ticky tacky as, say, places I won’t mention.It has a nice local art gallery, a popular ice cream shop and the Pedal Pusher’s cafe, which has a hearty Minnesota vibe (the Norwegian meatballs were already sold out when we arrived at 6 pm). We picnicked for lunch in the city park, overlooking a little pond where people were fishing and families pitched tents. We particularly appreciated the public bathrooms there, at the library, with pay showers (who knew?), where we changed into our biking gear.
TOnight we are 45 miles south in Decorah, one of our favorite places in Iowa, staying at a pleasant and affordable Airbnb ($53) on a rural highway outside town. We stopped in town for ice cream and beer at Topping Goliath, an award winning local brewery. or so Dirck tells me.