Many, many thanks to all who posted in response to my request for the best joints in the Twin Cities. We had an excellent time and, given that we had prearranged social engagements involving food, we managed to hit quite a few of the places you recommended.
At first our friend (one of my fiance's groomsmen whom I hadn't met before) looked at me oddly when I would throw out the name of this or that restaurant, none of which he'd ever been to in his 6 years in the city. But my proudest moment was when we were saying goodbye and he said, 'I feel like I got to know my own city'. It's all thanks to you hounds.
here's the rundown:
Friday brunch--we woke up late (time change and all) and wandered into downtown St Paul. We found it a very easy walk from our hotel. We ended up at Mickey's Dining Car. We knew that it would be your typical greasy spoon, but in fact we didn't find it so typical. For its category, the food was of high quality and well prepared. We liked the potato-y-ness of the hashbrowns even if they weren't super crispy and the bacon was a delightful surprise. In fact, the bacon all over the Twin Cities was good--thick cut, smoky, not that squiggly, thin, icky bacon you can sometimes get at the average joint. We loved watching the cook from our counter seats. For us, this was a perfect introduction to the city.
Friday dinner--our friend was craving super nachos and he thought we'd get in some bowling, so we went to Bryant-Lake Bowl. Sigh. Apparently since his last visit, this place has got the idea that it can serve pretty crappy food at 'upscale casual' prices. I knew I should have had a burger, but considering I'd had a fried breakfast at 2pm, I just couldn't face it. I had the pad thai with mock duck. I asked for it spicy, but E had forgot to tell me that there is often a disconnect between what a West Coaster will call spicy and what goes by that term in the Midwest. My meal was something like $13 and it was not good. E was sucked in by the marketing of the 'Chimichanga of Destiny', a whopping $14.25. Again, there was nothing to justify such a high price, especially since it was a vegetarian option. A had the organic bison philly, which was apparently quite good. He was pretty devastated at the loss of the nachos, which have been removed from the menu. We knew we should go for local beer, but couldn't resist the rotating Rogue beer (from Oregon), which was delicious. We didn't have time to bowl; perhaps that would have made us think more kindly of the Bryant-Lake.
Saturday brunch--Went to the Louisiana Cafe. My French toast was a tad dry, but still tasty. E had the Cajun Benedict. It's a very different take on the concept from our favourite place in Seattle, but was also very good. He liked the spiciness of it. Hashbrowns were far greasier than Mickey's, astonishingly. The sweet potato fries our friend got were a huge hit. The others got and liked the Tex Mex omelette and the Everything Omelette. It was at that point that our friend started looking approvingly at me when I suggested places to try.
Sunday brunch--imagine a group of 12 or so, many of whom were hung over and many with midafternoon flights trying to find a good place for breakfast at 10am on a Sunday. The local wedding guests all lived in Minneapolis, so we went there. Sadly, we ended up at the CC Club. We were thankful that there's a no-smoking law in the city, but the food didn't live up to our standards for a good joint, despite the above-par bacon.
Sunday snack--Once everyone else was gone, we had time to hang out with our groomsman friend. At our request, he took us to Sebastian Joe's. This was a highlight of our trip for sure. We liked the ice cream better than any we can get in Seattle (we have a couple of good gelateria instead). I had the Coyote Chocolate (or Chocolate Coyote) and was pleased with how much of a cayenne kick there was and how well it worked with the chocolate and cinnamon. I also had strawberry, which was the perfect texture. The handmade cones were a boon, as well. In Seattle we can get that in a huge waffle cone but not in a regular size. I was also thrilled to have a good cup of leaf tea, since I'd been missing that for several days. E had the roasted garlic and the blueberry. The blueberry had a similar soft beautiful texture to the strawberry and there were berries in every bite. He liked the roasted garlic, but would have preferred a smaller-sized scoop. A had the Pavarotti.
Sunday dinner--after a walk around Lake Calhoun, we were ready for some dinner. E decided he had to try a Juicy Lucy and A loves fries, so we went to the Nook. Never one to say no to a challenge, A ate himself into a T-Shirt quite easily. I had just a plain burger with onion rings. We all had some Summit; I went for the Oktoberfest, which was a silly mistake since I don't really love that style of beer. The Extra Pale was more satisfying. The hand-cut fries were excellent and the quality of the burgers good. I discovered that I prefer a grilled to a fried burger but as fried burgers go, these were well executed. E was glad he tried the Juicy Lucy, but next time would try the pepper jack instead of the cheddar. I think we'd all go back.
Monday--E and I had a late afternoon flight, but we were not going to be prevented from sampling a few more delights! We checked out of the hotel and walked to Babani's for an early lunch. Neither of us had had Kurdish food before. I was delighted to have a vegetarian meal with some vegetables! I had the Garbanzo bean shilla with the silopi salad, he had the chicken with preserved lemons and something else I can't remember with the same salad. The chickpeas were the most tender I can remember eating and his chicken fell off the bone. He tried an Ave Mast yogurt drink and found it more 'interesting' than 'super delicious'. I tried the Kurdish lemonade. I liked but didn't love it, but it was nice to try such a different interpretation of lemonade.
We then got on the 21 and stopped off at Izzy's. I went for Peace coffee with a strawberry izzy (wanted to do a side-by-side compare with SJ) and E had the spongebob with a peppermint bonbon izzzy. I have to say, the 'izzy' thing is a wonderful contribution to the world of frozen treats. I wish every place did the same--E said that it would have been perfect to have roasted garlic as an izzy rather than a full size. We would happily eat Izzy's again, but Sebastian Joe's gets first place in our hearts. The texture was slightly better and the handmade small cones were a delight. Still, both places are superior to Seattle ice cream.
We hopped back on the 21, switched to Light Rail and flew back to Seattle well satisfied with our chowish visit to the Twin Cities. We never made it to any 'fancy' food, but we're happy with how it worked out. There's always next time.