Best of the Cities 2007

101+ reasons to celebrate life in the twin cities—from pub trivia to pizzas, sushi to shopping

Amusements & Distractions

Movie Theater

The lounge at the Heights Theatre holds a grand piano and antique chandeliers. The auditorium boasts a proscenium, two sweeping curtains, and a Wurlitzer that rises out of the orchestra pit before shows on Friday and Saturday evenings. The projector is equipped to run silent films and new releases, in black-and-white or Techni-Color. But the best thing about the Heights is that it makes a night at the movies a special event: hurrying into the plush lobby before the film; waiting for the curtain rise in the popcorn-scented darkness. There’s even a DQ next door where you can get a Slurpee and argue about auteurs. All this, and you’ll still spend less than twenty bucks. 3951 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Heights, 763-788-9079,

New Sport

Minnesota’s professional men’s lacrosse team, the new Minnesota Swarm, dressed in blue and gold, plays eight home games between January and April. The National Lacrosse League games draw a rowdy crowd: 14,144 people at last year’s finale against the Arizona Sting. Don’t know from lacrosse? Think hockey, with a ball and turf instead of pucks and ice. The fancy stick handling and bloody brawls are the same. Xcel Energy Center, 175 Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, 651-602-6000,

Romantic Ride

You don’t need to be in love (or in Venice) to experience a summer evening gliding in a gondola. On Lake Calhoun, visitors can enjoy a ride in one of the elegant black vessels without leaving the shadow of Minneapolis’s skyscrapers. The boat and its gondolier are available to rent every night during the warm season. Weather, water, and mood permitting, you might even swan over to Lake of the Isles, where Venetian-like lagoons and bridges await. Rates: $15 per person for 25 minutes; or $50 an hour for two people, plus $15 for each additional guest. Available evenings and weekends during summer, by reservation. Lake Calhoun Boathouse, 3000 E. Calhoun Pkwy., Mpls.

Photo by David J. Turner


Today, Brave New Workshop is known for its mainstage sketch-comedy shows. But it first became famous, in the 1960s, for its late-night improv performances, held in the wee hours of the weekend (presumably when all the squares were asleep). The gags are still going strong: at 10 p.m. on Fridays, midnight on Saturdays. Tried-and-true mainstage cast members juggle audience suggestions with spur-of-the-moment inspirations. Anything goes in these shows, and often does. The $1 ticket price is no joke, though, and true comedy fans know the bargain they’re getting—they begin lining up a half hour before the yuks begin. Brave New Workshop, 2605 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-332-6620,

Urban Run

Minnesota’s European settlers slogged through their first winters at the convergence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers—so you should at least be able to survive a short jog here, on the Big Rivers Regional Trail. There’s no getting lost  on this flattish, four-mile jaunt: Hugging the left side of the paved path are sandstone bluffs dotted with swallow caves and crimson sumac; to the right is the American Nile—and panoramic views of Fort Snelling and the erstwhile camps of the Dakota. Marathoners and other long-leggeds can cross the Highway 55 bridge and reach the fort, or double back to Harriet Island. Confidential to laggards: Downtown Mendota, less than two miles from the start, overflows with beer. Sibley Memorial Hwy. and Lilydale Rd., Lilydale

Bike Path

If the U.S. Census is to be believed, Minneapolis ranks second among major cities—behind Portland—in the percentage of bike commuters. (Honolulu, which ranked number nine, should probably demand a recount in, say, the month of February.) But what we like in a bike path is a route that starts nowhere and ends nowhere. The Cannon Valley Trail fulfills the criteria. It’s a pure joy ride, nearly 20 flat miles that flank the river on an old rail bed. In the high season, there’s a $3 usage fee, which goes to keeping the pavement as smooth as Norm Coleman’s stump speech. And like the senator’s Iraq policy, you can reverse direction at the halfway point, in tiny Welch, and hope that no one notices. Cannon Falls to Red Wing,

Architecture Guide

Minnesota buildings designed by Graves, Pelli, and Nouvel have caught the eye of the international press. But the most significant addition to the Minneapolis—St. Paul architectural scene in recent years is actually a book: The AIA Guide to the Twin Cities spotlights 1,500 buildings of note, from the state capitol to suburban cinemas. St. Paul author Larry Millett writes with an unstuffy tone and an eye for telling detail. And he isn’t afraid to call Galtier Plaza a financial “sinkhole” or to point out that the windows in the now-defunct Ramsey County jail once allowed miscreants to “moon” boaters on the Mississippi River.

City Park

The parking area will fit 14 cars, but on the sunniest Sunday in September, you won’t see more than two or three other souls in the lot. There are probably black-op sites that get more visitors than the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, a 27-acre greenspace wedged in between St. Paul’s Lowertown, Dayton’s Bluff, and the Mississippi River. Granted, it’s a work-in-progress, a native prairie growing out of the concrete jungle of an abandoned rail yard. Just don’t tell the fauna—like the red-tailed hawk, big as a mailbox, hopping in the lower limbs of an oak—that this isn’t authentic nature. And the flora? Every unvanquishable weed you’ve ever cursed on your front lawn grows magnificently here. Fourth St., off Commercial St., St. Paul

Photo by David J. Turner

Place To Meet Single Men

Where can a lass meet a lot of single men outside of bars, comic-book stores, or jail? Try a rock-climbing class, which tend to attract larger proportions of male participants than many clubs or social groups. (At Vertical Endeavors in St. Paul, one of the country’s finest climbing facilities, guys comprise roughly 50 percent of attendees—and staffers say several pairs of climbers have fittingly gone on to tie the knot after meeting in classes.) Let’s face it: These men are buff, confident, and self-reliant—not to mention pretty good with their hands. Vertical Endeavors, 845 Phalen Blvd., St. Paul, 651-776-1430

Place To Meet Single Women

The Minnesota Opera’s Young Professionals Group

, which enjoys discounted tickets to operas and post-show cocktail parties, is about 70 percent female. But divas they’re not. At recent YPG events, attendees from among the group’s 160-plus members included lawyers, scientists, and other sober-minded professionals—many of whom recently moved to town, almost all in their twenties and thirties. They seemed to prove that not everything about opera involves deception, sleeping with gods, and Rubenesque proportions. But that’s for you to find out.

Geek Hangout

Robots are supposedly incapable of emotion. But the cool toys at Robot Love, a store loaded with cultish collectibles, are certainly capable of eliciting emotional responses—at least from Japanese-action-figure fans. Hipster artists whose works have been shown at Soo VAC and the now-shuttered Ox-Op gallery sell their freakish figurines in this house of love. And fans of anime-inspired “low-brow” art flock to it like it’s the second coming of Obey. 2648 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-871-9393,

Family Drama

On select Saturday afternoons, the Guthrie Theater hosts Target Play Dates, each thematically linked to the play currently being staged. Kids ages 4 to 11 attend a free theater workshop that incorporates acting, storytelling, movement, and music. The rest of your troupe sees that afternoon’s matinee for $15 each (tickets normally $34 to $54). Call for dates, times, and additional details. Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Mpls., 612-377-2224



Bird Watching

Rhapsodies on the natural splendor of our North Star State generally don’t include mentions of Richfield. Yet nestled in the armpit between 35W and the Crosstown is one of the metro’s most productive birding spots, the Wood Lake Nature Center. It’s a 150-acre island of actual green amid the tangle of suburban jungle—in other words, a highway rest stop for migrating birds. Spring attracts the kind of avian traffic that thrills your hard-core listers: A good trip may turn up a dozen warbler varieties, such as Tennessee, yellow, chestnut-sided, and magnolia. And a boardwalk trail around cattail marshland reveals herons, egrets, and ducks. 6710 Lake Shore Dr., Richfield, 612-861-9365,

Camping Close to the City

Lake Elmo Park Reserve

is not only a great place to pitch a tent, it’s also just an 18-minute drive from downtown St. Paul. So close to civilization, in fact, that you can probably skip the fishing and shop the local butcher for Alaskan salmon. Most of the park’s 3.5 square miles is rolling prairie and pine forest—an ideal place to spot a woodpecker or white-tailed dear. Spend a night at one of the park’s 108 campsites (five of which are remote walk-in spots), or strike out on foot—maybe via ski—on the 12 miles of trails. 1515 Keats Ave., Lake Elmo, 651-430-8370

Cross-Country Skiing

The best cross-country skiing gets you outdoors even in the dead of winter. Wild River State Park does you one better—its 35 miles of trails weave through stretches of woods that are practically inaccessible even in summer and are best explored on skis. At the trail center, you can rent skis, sip a cup of cocoa, and even contemplate staying the night—in one of the heated camper cabins nearby. 39797 Park Trail, Center City, 651-583-2125

High Five: Hot Dates

Old Arizona, Minneapolis

A tango dance studio, a romantic wine bar, and even a chocolate lounge—you could spend the weekend, every weekend, in this undiscovered hangout. 2821 Nicollet Ave., Mpls. 612-871-0050,

PHC, on Fridays, St. Paul

These Prairie Home Companion rehearsals, though not broadcast, are still the real deal—Keillor, bands, guests—for about half price. Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul, 651-290-1221

Veranda Lounge, St. Cloud

The city’s most elegant wine bar (with 65 selections sold by the glass) just got better: It now has a Scotch bar, too, with 19 whiskies to warm up your evening. 22 Fifth Ave. S., St. Cloud, 320-258-0254,

Söntes, Rochester

Mediterranean cuisine meets Midwestern hospitality at this new tapas bar. And in a city better known for its medicine than its meals, it’s a welcome addition. 4 Third St. SW, Rochester , 507-292-1628,

Afterburner Lounge, Duluth

Plane-watching, cheap beer—just don’t buy any tickets you’ll regret after waking the next morning. Duluth International Airport, 4701 Grinden Dr., Duluth, 218-727-1152

Photo by Ross Andersson

Best Dance Instructor

No one coaxes a wallflower into a conga line like Dean Constantine, who has spent 56 years teaching ballroom moves to future Fred and Gingers (and soothing dance-floor jitters with his rakish wit). He and his daughter, Deanna, offer classes at various locations throughout the Twin Cities. For details, call 952-938-8583 or visit

On the proverbial “two left feet”: “An old wives’ tale. People think they’re the misfit and everybody else knows how to dance. But I don’t think more than 10 or 20 percent of people feel comfortable on a dance floor.”

Why the foxtrot should be taught to third-graders: “You don’t have to be born with any athletic prowess [to do it]. If you can walk and breathe, you can get a good 70 years out of it. And you won’t be playing football with your wife when you’re 50.”

On what he calls the “hug-and-shuffle crowd”: “They shuffle around a little. Move over here, move over there. They get by—if they’ve had a couple of drinks.”

On the dance instructor’s golden era: “Disco. I had to take the phone off the hook just to get to the bathroom.

On dancing at 77: “I’ve got a new hip, a new knee, a new wrist—I’ve got a complete chassis overhaul going here. But I’ll never retire, because I’ve never worked. Going to a dance class is like going to a party. Everybody’s there to have fun.”

Best Late-Night Entertainment

Jazz is still a relative entertainment bargain. You can sit five feet from the world’s best jazz musicians at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant for the same amount you’d spend just on parking for a Vikings game or a T-shirt at a U2 show. And the deal gets better as the evening grows longer: Just $5 to catch such cool local acts as Jelloslave and the Zacc Harris Trio every Friday and Saturday at 11:30 p.m. The jazz is adventurous, the beer and wine just $3.50—the night’s really just getting going. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-332-1010,

Best Bargain Tickets

Variety has always been a hallmark of the Southern Theater, whose stage featured vaudeville, silent films, and even Strindberg dramas before the footlights went dark in the ’40s. This past fall, the tiny theater—reopened in 1975 and recently restored—unveiled an ambitious 30-show season that could rival its first few decades in terms of diversity and dynamism. Dance takes center stage (ballroom, Indian, Native American, hip-hop, and even clogging), but there’s music, drama, and new media to boot. The show stealer, however, is the price: Tickets rarely top $25. 1420 Washington Ave. S., Mpls. 612-340-1725,



Food & Drink


When the owners of the cozy 128 Café called it quits this year, their unrivaled barbecue ribs went with them. And though the joint is reopening, allegedly with the original recipes, an alternative has emerged in the meantime. Jay’s Café, the latest to occupy the former Chet’s Taverna space in St. Paul, is nearly as quaint, and it serves equally homey, braised (not barbecued) stick-to-your-ribs ribs—so tender they nearly fall apart on your fork. The cafe, which specializes in local and organic foods, swaps the sides to coincide with the season—watermelon and corn-on-the-cob in summer, garlic mashed potatoes in the winter—so you can go back again and again. 791 Raymond Ave., St. Paul, 651-641-1446,


Twin Cities bagels have long been a horror show: overly doughy, bulbous as life preservers, and laden with novelty ingredients. But take heart: The Dark Ages are over. The vehicle of our deliverance is, admittedly, unusual—you’d expect the crunchy hippies over at Common Roots­, a café emphasizing local, organic, and sustainable foods, to churn out nasty quinoa-and-amaranth inner tubes, right? But you’d be wrong: The restaurant takes an old-school approach to bagels, churning out elegant renditions of classic varieties such as poppy, sesame, plain, and onion. 2558 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-871-2360,

Happy Hour

What makes happy hour happy? Drink specials are required, but good food seals the deal. Three bucks at Chino Latino buys Juan Gordo’s torta pequeña (“little sandwich”), which comes in two varieties: chorizo with avocado or Cuban medianoche (hot ham and cheese). Both are delicious and come with chips and guacamole: It’s an obscene amount of tasty food for three clams. Better still: Not only is Chino’s happy hour nearly three hours long (4:30 to 7 p.m.), its late-night twin runs from 10:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. Now that’s something to be happy about. 2916 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-824-7878,

Photo by Terri Brennan

Sushi Platter

The word omakase (OH-mah-kah-say) comes from the Japanese verb makasu, which means to trust. You give the chef your budget and a general sense of what you like to eat, then he gets creative with the freshest stuff behind the sushi bar. At Origami, that might mean a three-way sashimi appetizer with a few pickled sides, followed by a crunchy hand roll, and then a tempura-battered-asparagus maki. Or, it could be something entirely different. The only thing that’s guaranteed when dining omakase-style is that you’ll never have the same meal twice. Origami, 30 N. First St., Mpls., 612-333-8430; Origami West, 12305 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka, 952-746-3398,

Pre-Theater Dining

You promised your date dinner and a show. But if you take her someplace too far from the theater she’ll never have time to hear all about your high-school football glory days and the amazing score you once set in Q*Bert. That’s where Manhattan’s can help: It’s a martini toss away from both the Orpheum and State theaters, and within walking distance or a short drive from several other venues. You’ll have time to savor the generous steak, chops, and fish dinners, or, if it’s a post-show bite you’re after, the bar’s late-night happy hour offers half-price glasses of wine and appetizers. 800 LaSalle Ave., Mpls., 612-339-3600,

Roadside Stop

Confession: The last time we headed up Highway 61, we bypassed Betty’s Pies and drove five miles up the road to the Rustic Inn Café. The original portion of the Rustic’s dining room, a 1920s log cabin, feels far more sincere than Betty’s, as does such heartening fare as homemade meatloaf, fried walleye pike, and open-face sandwiches that are smothered in “special mushroom sauce,” buried in cheese, and broiled like a casserole. Just be sure to save room for pie—caramel apple pecan, five-layer chocolate, or meringue-crust raspberry cream. 2773 Hwy. 61, Two Harbors, 218-834-2488,

New York—Style Pizza

Andrea Pizza

closes the gap between the Big Apple and the Minneapple, giving patrons a chance to eat New York—style, crispy, thin-crust ’za. The stuff is foldable, oily, and shockingly authentic to its original Sicilian recipe, and the staff is as unpretentiously rough-and-tumble as it was when brothers Andrea and Mario Gambino founded the three-store chain back in 1972. 330 Second Ave. S., Mpls., 612-332-6457; 811 Lasalle Ave., Mpls., 612-630-2882; 380 Jackson St., St. Paul, 651-228-1626

Dim Sum

Bigger really is better at Jun Bo, the enormous red-and-yellow edifice looming over Richfield’s I-494 strip. The restaurant’s exterior may look like it belongs in Las Vegas, but its parade of dim sum is as authentic as any in China. During peak dining periods, when 80-some varieties—shrimp dumplings, steamed pork buns, coconut tarts, fried taro cakes—are available, the tiny tea snacks are stacked in steamer baskets and ferried around the room on circulating carts. Just point to a basket and make your selection—and hope your finger doesn’t quiver when you choose the chicken feet. 7717 Nicollet Ave., Richfield, 612-866-6888

Power Breakfast

The finest hotel restaurants are as redolent of power as bacon grease, with executives flying in, entertaining clients, then finalizing deals over—you guessed it—breakfast before jetting back to New York, Los Angeles, or Monaco. And FireLake’s “Power Breakfast” options have everything you need to take care of business: Try the eggs, hash browns, biscuits ’n’ gravy—and pork chop. A true power breakfast, after all, should necessitate a knife. 31 S. Seventh St., Mpls., 612-216-3473,


It’s a Dr. Seuss moment: a café seemingly too small for this world and an unusual choice—flips or flappers. At the Colossal Café in south Minneapolis, the flip is a pastry, a small pancake ballooning with whipped cream and stuffed with strawberries or other seasonal fruits, all for a couple bucks. The flappers are the café’s signature yeast pancakes, which run from the traditional butter and real maple syrup variety to an apple, walnuts, and Brie delight, dabbed with brown sugar and honey. The place may be Lorax-tiny, but its big-hearted spirit wins over any Grinches. 1839 E. 42nd St., Mpls., 612-729-2377

Group Dinner

New to Minnesota and no one’s inviting you to dinner? Invite yourself, joining dozens of other people at monthly Twin Cities Supper Club dinners in fine restaurants—some new, some old favorites (Cue, Solera, Café Havana). Not that anything was familiar at first to Jennifer Wiacek, a transplant from San Francisco, who brought the supper-club concept with her a couple years back. Now her e-mail list numbers some 850 young adults hungry for socializing and, presumably, good food. To join them, e-mail


When it’s the deep of winter and you’re waylaid with a bad case of the sniffles, stuffy sinuses, and a raspy throat, the best remedy, we’ve found, is a bowl of Babani’s dowjic, a Kurdish version of Thai tom yum or Chinese hot-and-sour soup. Bits of chicken and rice settle at the bottom of the golden elixir, while flecks of basil float to the top. One breath of the steamy stuff will clear your head and one sip of its sour lemon-and-yogurt tang will revive your soul, at least, if not your body. 544 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-602-9964,

Sandwich Shop

There’s a reason every culture has its version of the sandwich. It’s a balanced meal between two slices of bread that’s packable, portable, and infinitely variable. We’re currently captivated by the ones at Be’Wiched, a new Warehouse District deli owned by two young alumni of the Alma and Solera kitchens. Theirs is a gourmet approach to humble fare: Meats are house-cured and smoked, then sliced paper thin and topped with top-quality condiments. With all the choices—the pastrami with pickled cabbage and course-grain mustard; tuna confit with black olive, cucumber, and preserved lemon; and roast beef with horseradish, Harvarti, and onion jam—it’s impossible to pick a favorite. 800 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-767-4330,



Restaurant Row

Every neighborhood loves its neighborhood restaurant—and those who live near 48th and Chicago in south Minneapolis love all 10 of theirs. In the mood for Mexican? There’s Pepito’s. Beer and a burger? Adrian’s Tavern. French bistro fare? Café Levain. For a quick, takeout meal, there’s Turtle Bread or the Chicago Deli, or sushi at Ba-Gu, or a hot slice at Pizza Biga. You can start the day with coffee at Sovereign Grounds and end it with ice cream at Pumphouse Creamery. And if you count the Parkway Theatre’s buttered popcorn (it’s been known to double as dinner), there are 10 local, independent eateries the neighborhood supports—a little something for everyone. Adrian’s, 612-824-4011; Ba-Gu, 612-823-5254; Café Levain, 612-823-7111; Chicago Deli, 612-822-8362; Parkway Theatre, 612-822-3030; Pepito’s, 612-822-2104; Pizza Biga, 612-823-7555; Pumphouse Creamery, 612-825-2021; Sovereign Grounds, 612-825-6157; Turtle Bread Company, 612-823-7333

North-Shore Brunch

Duluthians thought hell was waiting for the lift bridge, but edgy entrepreneur Mitch Omer is now giving them a real taste of the dark side at his new Hell’s Kitchen satellite in Canal Park. The food is similar to his downtown Minneapolis mainstay—lemon-ricotta pancakes, huevos rancheros, wild-rice porridge—but the décor is more gothic (black walls, chandeliers), if all in a tongue-stud-in-cheek kind of way. The biggest difference is the massive bar. Who said you couldn’t get a drink in hell? 310 S. Lake Ave., Duluth, 218-727-1620,

Foreign Food Court

Save yourself a plane ticket and get a taste of Southeast Asia at the International Market Place in St. Paul. Inside the shabby, unassuming sheds, the bustling market is filled with vendors selling plastic dishes, cooking tools, fresh produce, and Hmong costumes. Asian men watch music videos, and Caucasians are as scarce as English signage. The food court is a collection of small stalls where fried fish, sausage, pork, curries, ribs, and bubble teas are sold. Bring a wad of small bills and, if you don’t speak Hmong or Thai, be prepared to do some gesturing. 217 Como Ave., St. Paul

Reason to Eat Your Veggies

Pity the cauliflower. It’s homely. It tastes bland. It gets no love from most foodies or chefs—the vegetable equivalent of Indianapolis. All of which is why the cauliflower fritters at 112 Eatery are so extraordinary. Served with lemon wedges and a dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the fritters boast a thin, crispy coating that manages to compliment the cauliflower’s texture rather than smother it. Still, the ultimate compliment is that this dish may actually cause you to crave cauliflower, a feat most scientists once considered impossible. 112 N. Third St., Mpls., 612-343-7696

High Five: New Cocktails

A Woman of Leisure, Café Maude

With flavors more subtle than its sassy name, this pink drink offers refreshing sips of lychee and lavender. The cocktail is topped off with the delicate Asian fruit—a major improvement on the standard maraschino cherry. 5411 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-5411,

Fruity Mojitos, Picosa

Picosa spices up this rummy, mint-lime summer staple by serving it with a splash of tropical fruit juice. Choose between mango, guava, pineapple, passion fruit, raspberry, and more as you wait for the snow to melt off Picosa’s fabulous patio. 65 Main St. SE, Mpls., 612-746-3970,

Bubble Tea with a Bump, Jasmine 26

Asian bubble tea—a sweet, milky beverage served with black tapioca and an oversized straw—becomes novel all over again with the addition of alcohol. Our favorite is the green tea slushy mixed with a smooth shot of rum. 8 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-870-3800

Berry Saffrontini, Saffron

Fancy martinis often over-promise and under-deliver. Happily, this one hits the mark, with blueberry preserves and a hint of Eastern spice. (When blueberries aren’t in season, try the Saffron Rose or the harissa-spiked Bloody Mary.) 123 N. Third St., Mpls., 612-746-5533

Hot Chili Raspberry Cosmo, Bank

Cosmos are as overplayed as Sex and the City reruns and the once-trendy tipple now seems not only boring, but overly sweet. Bank’s version balances the berry with heat from a chili giving the drink a needed edge. 88 S. Sixth St., Mpls., 612-656-3255,

Photo by Ross Andersson

Best Sommelier

For many diners, a restaurant wine list is as helpful as an organic chemistry textbook. That’s why we asked Bill Summerville, the wunderkind behind the wine programs at La Belle Vie and Solera in Minneapolis, for some pointers that will help steer you to the perfect bottle.

Admit your ignorance. Don’t be bashful about letting the server know your real level of wine knowledge. It’s a great relief to have a customer admit they know next to nothing, and it can set the stage for an open and relaxed dialogue.

Name your price. Give the server a price range. A good server should give three price points within the type of wine you’re looking for. This demonstrates that he or she is more interested in giving you options as opposed to just up-selling.

Reveal your biases. Tell the server what kind of wine you have at home. That way they can gauge your taste by what you actually drink. Let them know if you want to stay in this same comfort zone or if you want to expand your horizons.

If you wish, be discrete. If you don’t want to let your fellow diners know how much (or how little) you’re willing to pay for a bottle of wine, show the server the list while pointing to the price of a bottle with the approximate price you have in mind and say, “I like wines like this one. What else do you have like that?”

Best Beignets

When our favorite doughnut shop shuttered its doors and Krispy Kreme’s stock price tanked a few years ago, we found solace in a basket of those puffy, square pillows known as beignets. The French doughnuts are a dietary staple in New Orleans, but they’re tough to come by here in the Twin Cities. Thankfully, those on the menu at the Good Day Café are as tasty as any we’ve ever tried: tender, flaky, and sugar-topped, with rich, buttery flavor. The beignets are fried in enough grease to soak through two takeout bags—though you’ll never make it to your car without first devouring them. 5410 Wayzata Blvd., Golden Valley, 763-544-0205

Best New Brewery

Question the conventional wisdom. That’s the gist of Flat Earth Brewing Co., the state’s latest microbrewery, whose name conveys the almost heretical boundary-pushing behind its array of fine beers. What’s a little St. Paul brewery doing cooking up fancy Belgian-style ales with traces of orange, plum, and pear? Or others with hints of chocolate and honey? Making beer that matters, of course. These are strong brews in every sense—the Bermuda Triangle Belgian Triple clocks in at 9 percent alcohol—for savoring, not slamming. Available at the Happy Gnome and Pizza Lucé in St. Paul; Acadia Café and Grumpy’s in Minneapolis; and other locations.



Home & Help



Sara Nachreiner, co-owner

Got an original from a master? Looking for a way to showcase Junior’s prize-winning oeuvre—the talk of the second-grade art show? Either way, Mitrebox can help. This Warehouse District favorite offers frames with 22-carat finishes to simple hand-carved wood. Designers can recommend frames that complement the art as well as your style (not to mention your budget). And excellent craftsmanship and attention to archival framing, mounting, and matting will ensure that the work lasts a lifetime and beyond.  213 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-676-0696,

Pest Control

Wildlife Removal Services

Michael Tucker, owner

Mice. Snakes. Raccoons. These aren’t exactly the kinds of creatures most people want as pets or, worse, roommates. So call Michael Tucker and tell him everything. He’ll listen empathetically as you fret about the bat that circled your bed or the squirrels in your attic. Then he’ll get to work removing the unwanted visitors, using live traps whenever possible (Guilt be gone!). It’s a dirty job, but Tucker does it with professionalism, a sense of humor, and respect for both the pests and your property. Bloomington, 952-884-3707



David Osterberg, owner

Let’s be frank: That cool Victorian couch you bought for a steal at an estate sale may be authentic, but it’s seen better days. For the last decade, David Osterberg has been re-upholstering furniture at his Tangletown shop, Remnants. His smart, creative vision can refresh the look of any piece while maintaining the original integrity of the design, whether it’s an Eames chair or a favorite piece of family furniture. He’s passionate and meticulous—the perfect choice for anyone who appreciates good design. 4754 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-5591,

Art Conservation

Midwest Art Conservation Center

Elizabeth Buschor, conservator

If a decade in the attic has turned your priceless tapestry to tatters, head to the Midwest Art Conservation Center. The nonprofit has been in the business of conserving art and artifacts for public institutions and private individuals for more than three decades. It offers services for everything from paper works to sculptures, and has been praised for its affordability and professionalism. The organization even offers 24-hour emergency services for flood, fire, and other disaster recovery efforts. 2400 Third Ave. S., Mpls., 612-870-3120,

Personal Training

The Firm

Kristin Braniff, trainer

If you’re serious about changing the shape of your body before the wedding or that high-school reunion, head to the Firm, where trainers in the company’s F.I.T. program, including Kristin Braniff, will help whip you into the best shape of your life. After a pre-program assessment, you’ll spend eight weeks doing 50 intense, customized sessions, including weight-training, cardio, and Pilates. You’ll learn how to eat well and make good choices for your long-term health. And you’ll look smashing for the big event. 245 Aldrich Ave. N., Mpls., 612-377-3003,

Tree Service

Majestic Tree Care

Rebecca Seibel-Hunt, owner

If that ol’ oak looks sick, the arms of the elm are snaking through the power lines, or the hedges need a haircut, look no further than Majestic Tree Care. Arborist Rebecca Seibel-Hunt and her staff offer preventive care, fertilization, and disease and insect diagnosis, in addition to pruning and removal services. Best of all, workers will clean up all the leaves and branches afterward—often leaving the area in better condition than when they arrived. If only it were so easy to get the kids to do the same. 4247 Queen Ave. N., Mpls., 612-522-3210,


Class Act Catering

Linda Savage, owner

Whether you’ve got an upcoming wedding with 300 guests or a small group of investors you’re hoping will help finance your million-dollar idea, Class Act Catering provides custom menus that are light years beyond box lunches and iceberg-lettuce salads. From roasted-turkey-and-orange-curry wraps to lemon-curd dacquoise, Class Act will give events an elegant touch without demolishing your budget. They’re efficient, prepared, and timely, and they’ll even package up the leftovers for you. 3605 Ashbury Rd., Eagan, 651-456-9246,


Beds & Borders Landscape Design

Andy Freeland, owner

Green lawns are perfectly pleasant, but if you’re looking for a yard with personality, try Beds and Borders Landscape Design. Its staff provides custom designs with trees, shrubs, patios, flower beds, retaining walls, and other features, while paying close attention to technical issues like drainage. Can’t tell a dandelion from a daffodil? You’ll get to see photos of all the plants before they’re in your yard. Do-it-yourselfers can hire the company for a consultation. 6521 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 612-396-2014,



Style & Shopping

Home Collection

The largest brand rollout in Macy’s history is a good thing, indeed. The department store has teamed up with Martha Stewart on an exclusive collection of home goods, including fine linens, classic glassware, professional-grade cook’s tools, and DIY cake-decorating kits. The splashes of Martha’s signature blue throughout the store lend a chicness to Macy’s that we haven’t seen since, well, Marshall Field’s. Macy’s, 700 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-375-2200, and 10 other metro locations

Stylish Spandex

Whether you’re getting in gear or onto the couch, Lucy has something comfortable for you to do it in. The women’s shop is a beacon of hope in a sea of spandex options. Comfy pants in six styles and three lengths ensure at least one pair will fit like a glove, not a girdle. Tanks and tops, hoodies and zip-ups are all here, too, in an array of colors and patterns. Sweating never looked so stylish. Galleria, Edina, 952-922-8590,

Photo by Terry Brennan

Salon with Style

A haircut will never again be just about your coiffure. Minneapolis’s Salon Rouge is draped in Parisian sophistication, what with its rich toile-cloaked walls, Boucher murals, and Belvedere shampoo bowls from Europe. Even a trim has a decidedly Marie Antoinette feel thanks to Richard Staab and Jeffrey Dunn, the duo that brings this salon one step closer to sanctuary. 6 S. 13th St., Mpls., 612-374-2201


On the morning Laura Nelli sat up in bed and said, “I’m going to make handbags,” the only thing she had ever sewn was a shark pillow in home-ec class. But she liked working with colors and textures, and handbags combined the two. Nelli got her first break in a Duluth vintage boutique, and has been perfecting Nelle Handbags ever since. Her three collections of handmade clutches—for wedding, holiday, and everyday—incorporate sumptuous silks and semiprecious stones. They’re simple, beautiful, and, despite the current clutch craze, timeless. Clutch Boutique, 5005 France Ave. S., Mpls., 612-455-0606

Cycling Couture

Cycling might be cool, but those outfits. Are Day-Glo colors really necessary? We think not. Ryan Carlson and Brent Gale of Twin Six agree. The design duo creates fashionable alternatives that are rooted in good graphics. Think jerseys with argyle, houndstooth, racing stripes, and brewery emblems—in colors that won’t turn your stomach. It’s no surprise that local bike shops and major retailers like REI have snatched up the line. We’re hoping that pleasantly padded bike shorts are next.


Have you heard? Tights are in and leggings are out. Belts and bracelets are the new It accessories. Skinny and wide are both denim dos. Metallics are here to stay. You’ll find it all, and find it first, at Bluebird Boutique. Fashion-forward owners Allison Mowery and Sacha Martin have an uncommon knack for spotting and buying up trends long before we civilians conceive of them. When the season’s merchandise hits their shop months later, it always manages to be spot on. 3903 W. 50th St., Edina, 952-746-8675,


Whether you’ve cursed your complexion for years, or you long for that elusive red-carpet glow, a visit to Sarah Kurn Skincare will change everything. First, master esthetician Kurn and her staff will thoroughly assess your skin and explain, in both scientific and layman’s terms, why yours is misbehaving. They’ll then create a facial that’s customized for you. The result is a no-nonsense experience with high-impact results that won’t leave you splotchy and red. 4461 Lake Ave., S., White Bear Lake, 651-426-6040

Photo by Terry Brennan

Men’s Shop

It’s about time men got a store dedicated to more than shirts and ties, or outdoor gear. At Martin Patrick 3, owner and interior designer Greg Walsh has rounded up exquisite versions of everyday things for the gentleman: classic shaving sets, enameled cuff links, polished-wood valet boxes, buttery-soft leather goods, and ivory-handled canes. As for the polish and élan, you’re on your own. 211 N. First St., Mpls., 612-317-0045

Teak Boutique

Oh, Great Dane! They’re called “nesting tables,” and these sleek, mid-century furnishings have lines so clean you could, well, eat off ’em! In fact, every minimalist, contemporary piece at Danish Teak Classics is perfectly prim, pure, and pristine. Some items mimic plumed peacock feathers or the elegant, whimsical bodies of flying saucers. The owners of this Danish Modern shop lovingly restore half-century-old objects to their original velvety condition. And for modern aficionados who want their teak brand-new, the store also carries a line of new classics from Danish designers. 1500 Jackson St. NE, Suite 277, Mpls., 612-362-7870,

Local Finds

At Corazon, owner Susan Zdon and buyer Hilary Brasel spotlight clothes, gifts, jewelry, paper, and home accessories that are not only made in Minnesota, but often unavailable at every other gift shop in town. The free-spirited store also serves as an art gallery of frequently rotating works, which fit right in with the constantly changing merchandise. 204 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-333-1662; 4646 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-276-0198,


Sarah Kusa

’s designs for dishcloths, table runners, and more are so refreshingly clean they’ll inspire you to keep your kitchen the same way. The Minneapolis designer takes her cues from nature (think coneflowers and ribbon grass), laying crisp silhouettes against luscious shades of plum, jade, and ivory. Kusa’s creations are the real deal, too: She hand-mixes her own bold shades of ink and stitches her linens with her mom’s hand-me-down sewing machine. The best part? Dry-cleaning these table dressings is strictly forbidden.

Kitchen Shop

With Sur La Table now open in Edina, Cooks of Crocus Hill stores on both sides of the river, and Kitchen Window still simmering in an otherwise-floundering Calhoun Square, the Twin Cities are well-stocked with kitchen stores. But when it comes to depth of selection, our fave is Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater. This oversized shop carries all the finest culinary equipment and tools, plus elegant tableware, barware, and linens from around the world. Searching for stocking stuff? Chef’s offers more than 80 styles of salt-and-pepper shakers and grinders. Need a silicone rolling pin? You’ll find the popular Sil-Pin in red, orange, yellow, and black—a color for you and every cutout queen on your gift list. 324 S. Main St., Stillwater, 651-351-1144,



Winter Wear

Think shearling. Think suede. Think faux fur in all the right places. Sports Hut offers a sublime selection of fashionable winter outerwear, from jackets by Prada to boots by Ugg Australia, plus all the best gear for getting out in the fluffy stuff: skates, skis, hats, helmets, goggles, gloves. Is this Aspen? Close—Wayzata. 1175 E. Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata, 952-473-8843,

Beauty Aids

The art of beautifying should itself be pretty. And Ampersand has just the tools—luxe lighting, Mason Pearson hairbrushes—to make over your vanity space. Amid its collection of ivory-handled shaving sets and rich hand creams, the shop’s Apothecary section offers ideas and inspiration for dressing up your dressing room. Because after all, doesn’t your home deserve to look as good as you do? Galleria, Edina, 952-920-2118,

Treasure Chest

This little store of worldly whatnots is the best Parisian flea market the City of Lights never had. At Galerie Sochi, treasure hunters can find heirloom Italian and French hand-painted pottery; delightful antique trinkets with ageless charm; candy-colored jewelry by local artisans; and did we mention the artifacts brought in by the Fair Trade Organization. 362 Snelling Ave., St. Paul, 651-699-2140

Handmade Gifts

Machine-made, mass-produced objects have their place and their purpose. But if you want to give a gift that’s more memorable and lasting—something with soul—pay a visit to the Twin Cities’ only gallery of fine American craft. The Grand Hand Gallery features works by several hundred artists from the Upper Midwest and across the country, including wheel-thrown pots, hand-woven textiles, blown glass, original jewelry and photographs, and more. You’ll feel like you’re shopping the American Craft Council Show. Without the crowds. 619 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-312-1122,

Deals On Wheels

Used-car shopping? No need to race around town. Poquet Auto Sales maintains an inventory of more than 100 hand-selected import and domestic vehicles, each low mileage, one-owner, accident free, and detailed to perfection. If you don’t see the car you’re looking for, they’ll find it. And overhead is low, so prices are too—as in well-below retail. Best of all, you’ll never hear a smarmy sales pitch like “What can we do to get you into a new car TODAY?” 800 N. Lilac Dr., Golden Valley, 763-522-2000,


There’s a theory behind StyledLife: Dazzle is in the details. A sharp trench coat is dull without the right belt; a ball gown is just a dress without the proper jewelry. StyledLife owner Kevin Quinn created his shop with that idea in mind. He sources accessories from around the globe, bringing his customers fine leather from Italy and vintage scarves and ties from his own collection, procured after 20-plus years in the retail business. But Quinn’s best gift to shoppers? Accessories always fit. Gaviidae Common, Mpls., 612-746-5400,

Greeting Cards

Truth be told, Zeichen Press owners Fran and Jen Shea didn’t start a letterpress intending to be the next Hallmark. Sure, Zeichen can be sweet, but when you’d rather be honest, borderline snarky, Zeichen’s notecards are refreshingly blunt. The 30-something sisters-in-law have backgrounds in design—Fran formerly an art director and Jen previously worked as an interior designer—and both had been stay-at-home moms prior to starting the press. The Shea sisters use an antique press to make bold, new statements such as “I’m glad you’re having a baby and I’m not.” If it’s true, why not say what you feel?

High Five: Pet Pampering

Off-Leash Park, Burnsville

There are seven fenced acres of sniffable space, plus a circular romping path for true lap dogs. But Alimagnet Dog Park isn’t your typical puppy playground. It has a swimming pond, a heated shelter with heated water bowls, flood lights for nights, free pick-up bags, and even a paw-washing station. BYO towels. 1200 Alimagnet Pkwy., Burnsville

Pet Boutique, Minneapolis

Urban animals deserve an urban-shopping experience. So walk your Weimaraner over to Bone Adventure Pet Gear, and sniff out the latest from hip designers. You’ll find hemp collars and leashes, fancy frosted biscuits, and graphically pleasing pet beds (plaid is so last year!). Mmmmeow. 312 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-378-0211, plus two other metro locations

Canine Spa, Hopkins

For purebred pampering, mutt makeovers, and every kind of coat cleanup in between, nothing beats a visit to Shampooch Grooming Salon. The friendly staff is skilled and gentle, even with skittish types, and the grooming area is spotless. That is, until Spot spies the big fake fire hydrant in the lobby. What a relief! 1585 Hwy. 7, Hopkins, 952-746-4777

Pet Portrait, Minneapolis

All the photos or picture collages in the world really can’t capture Princess’s personality. Happily, Carol Peltier can. She creates folksy, colorful pet portraits versus classical realist art. Send her a photo and give her some background, and, in about two weeks, you’ll have an original piece just as playful as your pet.

Pet Product, Minneapolis

Your poor pooch has been parading around the dog park in a cheap, plasticized-fabric collar for far too long. It’s time to outfit him with one of Alisha Zavadil’s smart Bark + Biscuit designs. When the Minneapolis resident had trouble finding a chic collar for her Great Dane, she decided to take matters into her own paws—and made one of her own.

Photo by ross andersson

Best Vintage Expert

Hayley Bush

is a walking wardrobe of vintage style. The owner of Lula Vintage Wear in St. Paul, she has a passion for old-school fashion that was born when she was 12 and discovered an old shirt at a garage sale. These days, Bush stays busy handpicking the delicate, decades-old fashion finds for her pristine shop, and offering vintage lovers shopping advice and a portal to the past. 1587 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-644-4110

Know thyself, love thyself:
The reason folks gravitate toward vintage clothing is not only its quality, but also because, at some point over the last 100 years, their body type was in vogue. There is vintage clothing that brings out the positive aspects of everyone’s shape. Fifties looks good on an hour-glass figure, ’60s on a straighter body…. Your style is what looks good on your body.

What’s up-and-coming in bygone-era style:
I’m into plaids and textures right now. Last year, I was into smaller prints. I’m always looking toward the future, which is kind of ironic.

Size matters: For a century, clothing was made according to a standardized sizing system. Vintage-clothing stores commonly go by waist measurement. When you bend your body to the side, the part that bends is your waist. People for some reason give me their hip measurement for their waist. I wonder then, where are their hips? At their knees?

On delicates: Most vintage clothing should be washed gently in gentle detergents. I wash almost everything in cold because I have had very traumatic laundering experiences. My favorite product is called Color Catcher, by Shout. It captures any loose dye in any load of laundry.

Best Package Design

December may be the month for giving, but ever since we got a look at Daub & Bauble we’re feeling rather greedy. We want the hand wash, lotion, and dish detergents in rich fragrances like sweet Tarocco Orange & Clove, and spicy Mission Fig & Thyme. And we want them on our shelves and countertops, where their coordinating, graphic labels, designed by Minneapolis-based design firm Wink, will be the perfect cheap-chic accessory for our less-than-perfectly decorated homes.

Best Denim Experts

If you’re clinging to the pleats of your “mom jeans” for dear life, or have yet to scoop up a pair of this season’s wide-legs, the girls at Covered will show you the way. Don’t be intimidated by the designer brands or sorority clientele at this Dinkytown shop. Stacy Larson, Jody Larose, and Ally Nordgaard have superpowers when it comes to dressing every shape and size in denim. They’ll tell you what works, what doesn’t, and when to just shut up and try on a pair already. 402 SE 14th Ave., Mpls., 612-378-4776,

Burbs & Beyond