Culinary Time Travel!
As I write this it’s high vacation season, but have you ever wanted to take a vacation from your own era? You can! With one little drink or meal in your own backyard. And you can pick your favorite time to time-travel to, like:
Wild-West Stagecoach Style
On the road from St. Paul to Rochester, Minnesota is: Mantorville! Home of the Hubbel House, a genuine old stage-coach stop where General U.S. Grant stayed. It’s been going since 1856, and it looks like a real set from Deadwood—a set from Deadwood that serves cheesecurds. Oh, and if you get the steak covered in cheddar cheese, let me know how it is, I’m dying to know.
Lumber/Robber Baron Splendor
Then, let’s skip to Minnesota’s next prosperous era, the Gold Rush-like sprint into Minnesota and Wisconsin’s great undisturbed hardwood forests for lumber. That lumber rush created millionaires all over Stillwater and St. Paul, and the richest of the rich lived in St. Paul’s Irvine Park—like dry-goods kingpin Joseph Forepaugh, whose top-of-the-line mansion is now Forepaugh’s, a deluxe high Victorian museum and very lovely fancy restaurant. Chef Donald Rodriguez spent time cooking at California’s French Laundry, the best restaurant in America, and makes the best beef Wellington I’ve had in my life—lacy, exquisite pastry contains a really nice piece of meat, and is a joy to behold—even though it’s fabulously expensive and easily one of the most expensive restaurants in the state. Still, if you want to dine as if you’re in the fanciest possible period room at the MIA, here’s your chance. At the very least, it’s worth getting a drink, to soak in the glory of Irvine Park and luxe Victorian Minnesota.
I’m in the minority, but I really do like Forum, the restaurant now in the old Forum Cafeteria, Minnesota’s most important Art Deco interior. Here’s why: The parts of the restaurant that draw on the strengths of a classic French brigade kitchen (real roasted-bone stocks, and so on) are done right, and hence it has fantastic wild rice soup—not avant-garde, not reimagined, just wild rice soup made the right way, absolutely from scratch, and it tastes so good. And the view! That room, that beautiful Forum Cafeteria room with its mirrors, silver, sage, and uniquely Minnesotan take on Art Deco—If you don’t at least pop in here and get a drink some time between now and Christmas, you’re cheating yourself of a beautiful experience.
What’s Art Moderne? You know the classic Airstream trailer with its swooping lines, old Studebaker cars, things like that? It was the 1940’s evolution of Art Deco, and in Minnesota we have a great representation in what used to be called the Farmer’s and Mechanic’s Bank in downtown Minneapolis, but is now the restaurant of a Westin hotel called capital B.A.N.K. Its amazing, amazing architecture includes acres of burnished maple and these sort of swooping amber chandeliers; it’s regal and captures mid-century American sleek optimism. It's another really fantastic place to get a drink. They do true vintage drinks, like a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, plus fancy new drinks like a wonderful, fresh blackberry sidecar.
For the 1950’s we have many, many great Minnesota options. I’m picking Jax in Northeast, the Convention Grill in Edina, and the Dairiette Drive-In on Minnehaha in St. Paul. I’m on the fence about Andy’s Garage in the Midtown Global Market—or is that too intentionally retro to really qualify as time travel?
For the 1960’s Sputnik/Jetson’s space-age there’s the other Mickey’s diner, the one at 1950 Seventh St. W. in St. Paul (close to the airport edge of the city) or Nye’s, the gold-flecked Polka Palace in Northeast Minneapolis.
For the 1970's, of course there's Mancini's Char House in St. Paul. It looks like John Travolta could stroll in in his white suit at any second. And the music! The lounge! Find a leisure suit for yourself and your date and come on down. Of course, Mancini’s is also one of our wonderful affordable family steakhouses. (Oh, please don’t go to Mancini’s if you’re a vegetarian, or you’re going to have a baked potato for dinner.)
But what am I missing? What’s your favorite place to time travel while drinking and/or dining around here? I’ll take suggestions for a possible Minnesota Monthly feature—and while I’m thinking history, I’ll confess I’ve never been to Naniboujou Lodge. Have you? How was it? I’m dying to know.