Ole, Sven, and Lars came into the bar. They were high-fiving each other, shouting, and generally having a celebration of some sort. "Line 'em up," Ole shouted as the party continued. They drank and carried on for hours.
Finally the bartender’s curiosity got the better of him. "Just what are you celebrating?" he asked.
"51 days! We did it in 51 days!" they responded.
"What did you do in 51 days?" he probed.
"Put the puzzle together," they replied, "51 days and the box said 3-5 years!"
Dunn Bros. Coffee Shop and Scandinavian Bakery
I passed by Dunn Bros. a few times on my morning walk to work, intrigued by the sign outside reading ‘Scandinavian Bakery’ but entirely too frightened by what that might mean to go in. Finally I gave it a try, and then another, and then another! I didn’t feel right about moving on until I had tried each and every oddly-named and shaped pastry in the display case. Puffy Kolache, for example, comes in flavors like prune and poppy. Pulla rolls are like a sweet roll that’s been punched in the stomach. The resulting indentation is full of rock sugar and sliced almonds, while the dough is spiced with specks of cardamom. I’d never seen cardamon used outside of an Indian restaurant before. Cinnamon knots vied for shelf space with Munkkis, giant turnovers full of apple or cherry filling. Even traditional muffins are given an unusual spin – the little signs next to them read "Pina Colada" and "Monkey Bites".
Dunn Brothers is also one of the few places on Nicollet Mall where you can have lunch outdoors on a weekday without spending a fortune or an hour on line. They serve tasty but rich "calzones" with unusual fillings like salmon or roasted vegetables. The last time we visited, a free slice of raspberry torte was being given away with every entrée ordered. (Apparently a bakery customer hadn’t picked up his order). At lunch you can sample Scandinavian cookies as well, like the rich, delicious almond kringler – kind of like a Scandinavian biscotti sent from hell to destroy your diet.
8th Street Grill and Peter’s Grill
Peters: 114 S. 8th Street – 612-333-1981
8th Street: 800 Marquette Avenue – 612-349-5717
If you’re looking for an un-fussy dinner without a wait for a table, either of these grills will do. Both stay open later than most restaurants on Nicollet Mall – a plus when you’re working late and have to grab a quick bite before heading back to the office. Both look vaguely seedy from the outside, and both offer numerous well-placed television sets and absolutely typical cuisine. Peter’s has a certain unpretentious nostalgic charm; wisecracking, gum-cracking waitresses, 50’s-style diner food, and a respectable assortment of fried bar snacks to eat while you watch the game. But though 8th Street is completely lacking in charm of any kind, it became a home away from home for a while, thanks mostly to an excellent Minnesota Wild Rice and chicken soup, and a wonderful waitress who treated us like family. On our second visit, she not only remembered what we’d ordered for dinner the week before, but also what time we had arrived and what kind of beer we drank. On our third visit, she asked us why we kept coming back. We explained that nothing else was open at 8:45pm and she proceeded to write us a list of ten restaurants in downtown that are better than 8th Street Grill. Now that’s service.
990 Nicollet Mall
Trust me, you’ll enjoy the newspaper-inspired décor a lot more than the food at The Newsroom. I still don’t understand why my colleague ordered something called ‘paella pasta’ but I assure you it was as bad as it sounded. Pastas are unexceptional here, but it’s worth stopping by for a drink or appetizer just to check out the news headline themed t-shirts worn by the staff (such as, Front: "Bush Daughter arrested for underage drinking" Back: "And you thought YOU were having a bad day!"). During the day you can get lunch next door at "The Typo Deli" where the menu is filled with intentional typos.
831 Nicollet Mall
This is where Minnesotans take New Yorkers to impress them, and where locals on an expense account take clients to dinner. Zelo offers an eclectic Italian menu, not particularly authentic in homage to its Minnesota location. Walleye turns up in a panini, for example, though you’d never find one swimming in the Mediterranean. Décor is tastefully dark and subdued. The wait staff is gloriously attentive, though slightly rough around the edges. Apparently local celebrities like to hang out at Zelo. I didn’t recognize any, but needless to say I’m not sure what constitutes a local celebrity unless Mary Tyler Moore is in town. Dinner started out well with glorious salads and excellent bread, but the rest of the meal was uneven. My pasta disappointed – the sauce was spiked with large bitter chunks of undercooked garlic. A carpaccio appetizer and a New York strip steak were big hits with our group. The wine list was appropriately sophisticated, but I was annoyed when we ordered a 1997 Antinori Chianti (not cheap at $47!) and were served a 1998, an inferior year. A lame excuse was offered ("oh, we ran out of the ’97") and no change was made to the price. My rating? Not worth the price of admission.
The Warehouse District
Once upon a time, Minneapolis’s warehouse district was a booming center of industry, where sturdy turn-of-the-century brick buildings were constantly being filled and emptied of all manner of goods. Then things changed, and like so many warehouse districts, it fell into disrepair. Now this fourteen-block area, conveniently close to Downtown, has been revitalized through some canny renovations and the insertion of a few carefully chosen art galleries, boutiques, and nightclubs. Here’s the sad part - unfortunately the revitalization committee didn’t take a close look at who was buying their restaurant leases, and the area is now littered with dime-a-dozen upscale chain restaurants like Chevys (Mexico in a box), Copeland’s (New Orleans in a box) and a planned Olive Garden (Italian in ... you know the rest). So if you’re going to visit, go AFTER dinner!