Tag Archives: Minneapolis

Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities–a New Book

Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities coverfrontHot off the press!  My new book Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities is arriving in bookstores and online.  Yay!  It took a lot of really fun dining in Minneapolis and St. Paul to research that book and its finally here.

The Twin Cities boast one of the country’s most vibrant culinary scenes. Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities offers a tasty tour, from downtown fine dining destinations to dive bars, food trucks and the beloved Minnesota State Fair.

Order it online or in Twin Cities book stores and gift shops.  And, to stay in touch with the ever-changing Twin Cities restaurant scene, follow uniqueeatstwincities on Instagram.

Scandinavian Christmas in Minneapolis

IMG_1249
The dining room at the Turnblad Mansion at the American Swedish Institute

Snowy or not, one of the best places to go in in Minnesota for some Christmas cheer is the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.  I just finished reading Michael Booth’s clever and insightful book about the Scandinavians, Almost Nearly Perfect People, so I was particularly motivated for an encounter with a place that offers a chance to rub elbows with so many fair-haired folks in intricately patterned sweaters.

This time of year, the Institute’s gorgeous Turnblad Mansion is festooned with trees, trolls, yule goats, and young women dressed as Lucia, flaming candles in their hair and all.

IMG_1247Six of the mansion’s 33 rooms are decorated each according to the Christmas customs of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and this year Minneapolis’s Museum of Russian Art, too. All these countries seem to have a fascination with mischief making trolls or elves, called variously tomte, nisse, jelasvieran, and joulupukki.  (According to Booth, 54 percent of Icelanders believe in elves.)  Whatever you call them, they’re great fun.

IMG_1244Another draw at ASI any time of year is its terrific restaurant Fika with some of the best meatballs you’ll ever have, and no lutefisk in sight. Gone are the days of tasteless white Scandinavian food.  Chefs such as Sweden’s Magnus Nilsson have changed all that.  Check him out at his restaurant Faviken in Sweden on Netflix’s “Mind of a Chef.”

Finally, the ASI gift shop will make you want to be a Scandinavian even if you’re not.

A Riverfront Tour in Minneapolis: Where History Flows With the Mississippi

PicMonkey CollageSince the beginning, Minnesota’s lakes and rivers have been the engine of the region’s development and the focus of recreation, not to mention the source of a whole lot of  fish. The Twin Cities, for example, have their roots on the Mississippi River, which has transported timber and grain from the Midwest to markets in the east and powered the four mills of the Pillsbury family, among others, since the early 1800s. That made the riverfront in Minneapolis primarily an industrial area. Interesting, but not particularly scenic.

SONY DSCAll of that is changing as the city rediscovers and redevelops its waterfront. The mills and warehouses have been converted to trendy apartments and condominiums now and that section of the riverfront is part of an expanding Mill Ruins Park. It’s the sight of the Mill City Farmers Market in summer, where you can eat and buy great organic produce under the watchful gaze of some of the world’s great playwrights who look down from the Guthrie Theater next door.

Though the new version of the riverfront is more vibrant, it’s the 18777967 unusual history here that makes it so intriguing. You can revisit the city’s early days in several ways. First, pick up a copy of Mary Relindes Ellis’s novel Bohemian Flats, which is named after the area slightly downriver from the mills which was home to the city’s poorest immigrants, mainly from Germany and eastern Europe (or Bohemia) who are the subject of the story. Set after World War I, the book traces the progress of a German immigrant family who settled in the ramshackle village that grew up along a low point along the river, many of whom worked in the flour mills.

Next, start a riverfront tour at the Mill City Museum, which offers an in-depth look at the flour industry and the early days of Minneapolis. It’s built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill. Wander the across the Stone Arch bridge for a terrific view of the river and St. Anthony Falls, which powered the mills and check out the paths and ruins along the water. Grab some grub at the Farmer’s Market and watch the river roll by as you eat.

Book lovers will want to wander down Washington Avenue to explore the Minnesota Center for Book Arts at Open Book. You can view the artistic assembly of the pages, covers, and spines, then peruse the shop at MCBA, which is a reader’s delight of books, gifts, handmade paper, and journals.

Rent one of the green bikes from one of the Nice Ride Minnesota stations near the museum and head downriver for a scenic tour. Make a stop at Izzy’s gourmet ice cream to fuel your trip. You’ll arrive at Bohemian Flats, which is no longer a wild collection of shacks, but rather a lovely park inhabited mainly by University of Minnesota students throwing frisbees. It’s a great pastoral place to enjoy the view of the river, the university campus and, in particular, the futuristic Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum. It makes quite a contrast to the image of the old Bohemian Flats on the cover of Ellis’s novel.

Bohemian Flats in Minneapolis is now a pastoral play area across from the University of Minnesota.
Bohemian Flats in Minneapolis is now a pastoral play area across from the University of Minnesota.
The view from Bohemian Flats is quite a contrast to the site's 19th Century origins with the futuristic Weisman Art Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, atop the river bluff.
The view from Bohemian Flats is quite a contrast to the site’s 19th Century origins with the futuristic Weisman Art Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, atop the river bluff.

Murder and Mayhem: Investigating Crime Fiction

I hardly ever read crime novels. When I have, the experience has usually been a disappointment. The books were “low-brow,” with weak characters, predictable plots and lame dialog. However, this genre is so popular I’ve always figured that I must somehow be missing the good stuff. It was a mystery to me.

Another fact that has piqued my curiosity about crime novels is that the Twin Cities area, where I live, has more crime writers per capita than just about anywhere. A few years ago, an article in The Economist of all places, speculated, “Why do the Twin Cities create so much literary gore?” The answer was three-fold. There are a lot of advertising agencies here, which have spun out several successful crime writers (not sure about that connection aside from a very abbreviated, direct writing style). Also, several former reporters for the two major newspapers here have moved from journalism to fiction, true crime to the imaginary version. Finally, some attribute it to the weather. One writer, Brian Freeman, who has published a crime novel set in Duluth, in northern Minnesota, explained to The Economist, “What is there to do during those long winter months beside sit inside and think dark thoughts of murder and mayhem?”

I decided to conduct my own investigation into the virtues of crime fiction and go to the source, Once Upon a Crime, the bookstore in Minneapolis. Tucked into the lower level of a building on 26th Street, just east of Lyndale Avenue, Once Upon a Crime is truly a hidden gem, though not a secret to crime fiction lovers.  Pat Frovarp owns the shop with her husband, Gary, and a dog appropriately named Shamus,  She doesn’t just know about the writers, she knows a huge number of the writers personally. This year the store won The Raven Award, the top honor for non-authors given at the annual Edgar Awards, sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America.

She gave me a quick tutorial on the genre and revealed a world far more intriguing than those crime or thriller books one sees on the racks in grocery stores and airports. The store handles fiction only, no true crime. Under this umbrella one can find countless sub-genres, something for every taste—“hard-boiled” and violent to “soft-boiled” Agatha Christie-type works which Pat calls “cozies.”  Pick just about any part of the world or any period in history, there’s crime fiction that takes place there. Best of all, for someone like me, there are works that weave in history and that I (yes, snobbishly) would call “literary.”  I had trouble narrowing it down, but I left the store with The Canterbury Papers, a novel by Minneapolis writer Judith Koll Healey that takes place in the Middle Ages and Big Wheat, a mystery story set in the Dakotas in 1919, by St. Paul author Richard A. Thompson.

I can’t wait to settle in for a long read on a dark and stormy (and cold) night.  I also anticipate going back to visit Pat for a discussion of books, crime and dogs.

Bikes and Books Tour of Minneapolis

The Twin Cities are regularly rated among the most literary cities in the country
(check out Flavorwire‘s pairing of top cities and books set in them) and Minneapolis has been voted the best biking city in America for the last two years.  So it makes sense to put the two together for a two-wheel tour of some of Minneapolis’ outstanding independent bookstores as well as its famous Chain of Lakes.  FYI, for anyone not familiar with this area of Minneapolis, we’re talking flat, paved bikes-only paths, great for kids and anyone who may not be Tour-de-France-fit.

Start out in the city’s Uptown neighborhood, home of some of Minneapolis’ most fun bars and restaurants, as proven by the continual discussion of noise regulations for the area at city council meetings.  It’s also the home of Magers and Quinn on Hennepin Avenue, the city’s largest independent bookseller which bills itself as “A bounty of the world’s best books assembled by biblioholic booksellers.”  This is a place that will make even the most dedicated e-book reader stow the tech and stock up on print.  It has that cozy independent bookstore feel and stacks you could wander for hours. They have everything, new, used (deals!), beautiful antique volumes and first editions…so bring your backpack.  And, if they don’t have a book you’re looking for, they’ll track it down and order it for you.  It’s also a good idea to get on their mailing list for author appearances and reading ideas.

If you haven’t come equipped, trot around the corner to Calhoun Bike Rentals on Lake Street and rent a bike for the rest of your journey.   They also offer bike tours of some of the most interesting areas of Minneapolis.

The Tin Fish restaurant in the Lake Calhoun Boat Pavillion makes a great place to stoke up for lunch. Then start pedaling.  The Chain of Lakes is part of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway.  Head south along the east side of Lake Calhoun and on down to Lake Harriet.

A short side trip from Lake Harriett is Wild Rumpus Books a fantastic children’s bookstore that features, in addition to books, live animals and a tiny front door for children to enter through.

Head back to Lake Harriet and north again to Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and on to Birchbark Books and Native Arts in the lovely, leafy Kenwood neighborhood.  It’s one of my favorite bookstores (see my previous post) with a special emphasis on Native American literature.  The staff and owner, novelist Louise Erdrich, carefully choose the books here and handwritten notes offer insight into books for browsers.  Books aside, any store with a confessional and dogs on the premises is good for the soul. You’ll need a little nosh to sustain you as you retrace your path back to Uptown.  Stop next door at the Kenwood Café.

Many bibliophiles make a point of hitting independent bookstores such as these whenever they travel.  To that end, IndieBound has an Indie Store finder that helps readers find indie booksellers just about anywhere.  For more on bookstore tourism, take a look at GalleyCat and Bookstore Tourism.

A Virtual Concierge—I Need That!

I wish I could find a Jen Knoch everywhere I travel.  It’s easy to find travel agents, hotel concierges, and corporate event planners galore who can offer some piece of travel planning, but it’s seldom information that’s very customized or personal. Consequently, I spend a lot of time talking to friends to get their tips and pouring over sites like TripAdvisor. I’ve had great experiences with travel planners for big trips, groups like Costa Rica Expeditions or the Blue Men of Morocco, for example, but what if you’re an individual, family or a book group traveling to someplace like the Twin Cities or Chicago or Seattle?

Knoch’s Radar Virtual Concierge Services, which caters to Twin Cities experiences, offers customized suggestions, based on the client’s needs and it’s affordable for “regular” people.  She says, “My sweet spot is the locally owned businesses that do tend to be more unique, under-the-radar and neighborhood type places that typically aren’t known to corporate event managers, hotel concierges, and travel agents.  They tend to focus more on the obvious, larger venues, well-known, chains, etc. An individual, a couple, a group, a family looking for an adventure in the Twin Cities whether they live here or are visiting, are my absolute perfect clients!  There is so much to do here and much of that is ‘unknown’ and I get my kicks out of blowing people away with the greatness of these cities from dining to music to retail to all-things culture.” Radar’s service is offered on a one time, weekend, annual or event-based basis, with the fees to match, starting at $15. I have yet to find a comparable service in other markets.  Do they exist?

One of Knoch’s favorite “bookish” spots in the Twin Cities: Wild Rumpus. It’s one of my favorites, too, and I’ve missed going there now that my boys are grown.  So, trolling their Web site, I was delighted to discover that they have an adults-only book club and, best of all, a remedial book club for adults who missed or want to revisit some of the classics of children’s literature. The store’s animal hosts alone make it worth a trip.

A Soothing Visit to Birchbark Books: Louise Erdrich Shared Her Book Suggestions–and I Took Them

Yesterday was a blustery day in Minnesota that would surprise even Winnie the Pooh.  I blew into the one of the best places in Minneapolis to be on a stormy day, Birchbark Books .  It’s a cozy independent shop with warm wood, a dog to greet you, and an unusual array of books that might not come to your attention in a big chain bookstore. The shop reflects the literary, environmental and Native American cultural interests of its owner, National Book Award-finalist, Louise Erdrich.

In contrast to the agitating wind outside, soothing Native American music played inside as I strolled through the books, Native American quillwork, basketry and jewelry.  Louise attaches hand-written notes to books she suggests which feels like she has left personal notes just for you. That sales technique certainly worked on me; I picked up a signed copy of Louise’s book The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, along with two books I would never have chosen, Risking Everything-110 Poems of Love and Revelation edited by Roger Housden, and just in time for Halloween, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, about a vampire and a journey through the capitals of Eastern Europe.

The store creates an atmosphere that I would have loved as a child, with a tiny loft and a “hobbit hole” to play in, the kind of place that might stir up a child’s imagination and make even a reluctant reader want to big up a book or have a story read to him. Another of my favorite features of the store:  a confessional that was formerly a sound booth in a bar as well as a confessional. As the shop’s Web site says, “One side is dedicated to Cleanliness, the other to Godliness. Louise is currently collaging the interior with images of her sins.  The confessional is now a forgiveness booth, there for the dispensation of random absolution.”

This would be an excellent spot for a book club outing, perhaps with lunch or dinner at the Kenwood Café next door and a chance to hang out and chat with the store’s booksellers. They also organize a BYOB Book and Dinner Club.

Those who can’t make it to Minneapolis should take a bit of inspiration—okay, steal the idea—and organize your own Book and Dinner event.  What a great way to share meaningful conversation and meet new friends.