The beauty of a busy thoroughfare like Lake Street is the history that quietly builds up along its sidewalks. It’s not a museum, perfectly curated for your learning pleasure. It’s living history. Unpolished. Ever changing. You become part of it by just being there. In a couple of blocks you see the immigrant experience that formed the city we are today. Businesses established by first-generation Americans sit side by side. A century-old Scandinavian market operates just down the block from a new Somali/Ethiopian restaurant and a Mexican bakery. There’s no telling how things will change decades from now, but we think you might find a few tasty reasons below to visit these businesses today. In a way, you’d be shaping history. — M.C. Cronin
OTHER EAST LAKE STREET CHECKLIST INSTALLMENTS: Lake Plaza, Gorditas el Gordo to Pineda Tacos, Taqueria Victor Hugo to Safari Restaurant, El Sabor Chuchi to The Rabbit Hole, Midtown Global Market, Miramar to San Miguel Bakery, Mercado Central, Ingebretsen’s to Pasteleria Gama, La Alborada to Quruxlow, Midori’s Floating World to El Nuevo Rodeo, Urban Forage to Himalayan, Blue Moon Coffee Cafe to Merlin’s Rest, Hi Lo Diner to The Bungalow Club
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
The East Lake Checklist is the third Heavy Table illustrated travelogue to explore a major gastronomic thoroughfare in Minneapolis and/or St. Paul. The East Lake Checklist is the Heavy Table’s follow-up to our 55-restaurant survey of independent eateries on Central Avenue and our 72-restaurant series about restaurants on the Green Line. We’ll publish five-restaurant installments biweekly until we’ve documented every nonchain spot on East Lake Street between 35W and the Mississippi River. (We’re estimating 75 spots, but we’ll see how it shakes out.)
This series is made possible by underwriting from Visit Lake Street. Heavy Table retains editorial control of the series — as with Central Avenue and the Green Line, this tour will be warts-and-all.
“From the river to the lakes, visitors and residents can shop local and be social on Lake Street. More information at VisitLakeStreet.com.”
1601 E Lake St, Minneapolis
It’s hard to imagine East Lake Street without Ingebretsen’s. The place has been slinging Scandinavian specialties like picked herring, Swedish meatballs, and fruktsoppa (fruit soup) on Lake Street since many of our great grandparents were in cloth diapers: 1921 to be exact. So, tradition runs deep here. You can feel it in the wood floors, in the Swedish horses on the gift store shelves, and in the hints of rosemåling you find here and there. You even sense it in the people who work here.
One of the guys behind the counter — we’re pretty sure he was an Ingebretsen — gave us a history lesson. He told us Ingebretsen’s was one of the first delis in the city to get refrigerated glass cases back in the 1930s. An interesting detail made all the more so by the fact that earlier we’d been looking through those very same cases selecting a salmon filet. Those refrigerators have been running for almost 100 years. So, why can’t we buy one that last longer than five years these days?
We visited Ingebretsen’s after the New Year and missed out on the — apparently ridiculous — Christmas rush. “We go from our busiest time of the year to our slowest time of the year almost overnight,” said our friend behind the counter. Traditions run deep. It’s easy to see why this place is so incredibly loved by the families of the Nordic immigrants who helped shape the Twin Cities. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
It’s hard to know where to go with a deli spread as wide and varied as the one at Ingebretsen’s (everything from fruit soup to lutefisk to luncheon meats), so we kept it simple: a package of lefse ($7), a half-pound of smoked, pepper-studded salmon ($8.50), and a half-pound of whitefish ($5.50). The lefse was delicate, almost feathery light, and papery thin, with a legit potato flavor through and through.
We thought the salmon was wonderful — evenly smoked with a pronounced (but not acrid or overly aggressive) smoky flavor, a tender, moist texture, and good, evenly distributed hits of black pepper. The whitefish was simple as can be — neutral in flavor with only a hint of smoke, a blank canvas on which to paint other flavors. — James Norton
2937 Bloomington Ave S, Minneapolis
A couple of us spotted this place while parking and peeked into the front window just to make sure it was actually open. Our plan was to go wrangle our full group and return, but a gentleman came out and insisted we come in right away. The patrons gathered in the main room welcomed us with open arms.
They treated us as friends immediately, happily filling us in on details about the restaurant, smiling and joking with us. They told us the place had been more of a cafe, but it recently reopened with a full kitchen. They said it wasn’t a cheap endeavor, but it was worth it, because, according to the entire group, it has the best sambusas in town. These guys couldn’t have been bigger advocates for the place if they were owners. In fact, if they weren’t owners they should get a commission for the sales job they were throwing down.
The decor is straightforward. There’s an order counter and a few tables in the front room, and there’s a small room with additional seating in the back. Eventually, the rest of our group joined us and we were seated in the back room.
Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of sambusas, so we’ll have to come back sometime. Something tell us we’d be welcomed. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***