Last weekend, I made a quick visit to post-Sandy New York, where parts of the outer boroughs are still reeling from storm devastation, while most of Manhattan is back to business as usual. The trip was more an art-and-architecture tour than a culinary one, but as I fueled myself to tour the High Line and Discovering Columbus, I made a few comparisons between New York’s restaurants and ours.
In many aspects, their culinary scene has the advantage—but in a few aspects, victory is ours!
In the Twin Cities, ethnic restaurants such as Ngon Bistro in St. Paul and Naviya’s Thai Brasserie and Jasmine 26 in Minneapolis have taken a more upscale approach than their casual brethren, offering classy ambiance, more refined platings, carefully curated wine lists, and more. A visit to Pylos in the East Village made me wish the Twin Cities had a Greek restaurant that took a more contemporary approach to supplementing the country’s traditional moussaka, lamb, and whole fish. Gardens of Salonica in Northeast tilts in that direction, but I’d love to see it move the needle a little more.
The Communal Table
The communal table is something of an efficiency necessity for Manhattan’s packed dining rooms, but the concept never really caught on here. Are Minnesotans just shyer, or more protective of quality time with their chosen dining companions? Several years ago, I had a few great communal table experiences at Scott Pampuch’s Corner Table and the old Armatage Room, but I haven’t replicated those experiences in awhile.
Again, this perk is driven by ultra-urban restaurants’ space constraints, but coat checks seem more common in Manhattan restaurants and I wish more Twin Cities restaurants would offer the service. Not only is having your coat whisked away a hospitable touch—one that suggests being a guest in someone’s home—but it’s a lot more comfortable to sit in a booth without layers of puffy coat insulation sandwiched between you and your friends.
The World’s Largest Applebees
Put simply: New York is home to this atrocity, Minneapolis is not. How I ended up setting foot through its doors is something that I’d prefer not to explain. (When a pregnant Badger fan is determined to catch the last few minutes of the Wisconsin/Indiana game, you don’t get in her way…)
11:30 Brunch Service
Sure, it’s easy to find sushi or a burger at 3 a.m. in Manhattan, but good luck scrounging up a morning meal before noon on a weekend. The coffee shop around the corner from my friend’s apartment in the Village doesn’t open until 10 a.m. on weekends! A coffee shop! At 11 a.m., we tried three different brunch spots before finding one open for service. (One restaurant began its brunch service at 11:30, the other at noon.) Where were the early risers with gutters to clean and mountain bike trails to ride?
The $8 Iced Coffee
Brunch at the Dutch was terrific, by the way. (If you go, be sure to kick off your meal with an order of the honey butter biscuits!) But the premium prices—$15 flapjacks, $8 (!) iced coffee—made me appreciate the relative affordability of the Twin Cities’ best brunch spots. Brunch at the Kenwood, for example—$12 huevos rancheros, $2.50 Dogwood coffee—is just as enjoyable and a little easier on the wallet.