Plazaburger at the Convention Grill

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The first thought on seeing the Convention Grill in Edina is “50s diner.” In fact (or perhaps fiction, as there is some debate on the matter), the Convention Grill opened 1934. When you walk in the door of the small art deco building at 3912 Sunnyside Road in Edina, it looks more like a Depression-era lunch counter. There is no rock-n-roll and no car culture. Just short-order cooks in starched white shirts and white aprons manning the grill behind a counter lined with chrome stools. Servers in starched white skirts hustle malts, burgers, and fries out to the diners. This isn’t manufactured nostalgia; this is the way the Convention Grill has been for the better part of a century.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

If you order a malted milkshake ($5 half, $6 full), it will arrive well before your meal, as if to challenge your willpower. A chunky malt, poured out of a stainless steel cup into a soda fountain glass – just try to make it last until your burger comes. Our Oreo malt was absolutely decadent. And when else can you eat two pints of ice cream before dinner, but when dinner is a burger and fries?

Possibly the most unconventional item on the menu is the Plazaburger ($6.90), famous to anyone who has spent time in Madison, WI as the namesake burger of the Plaza Bar, a campus drinking institution off State Street. Convention Grill’s homage arrives with the dark bun open, the burger unabashedly naked, and the top of the bun covered with a thick schmear of sour cream and an abundance of chopped onion.



Out-of-Towners’ Guide to Minneapolis-St. Paul

Becca Dilley, Brenda Johnson, Crystal Liepa / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley, Brenda Johnson, Crystal Liepa / Heavy Table

Welcome to the Twin Cities! Don’t know where to find interesting, high quality food and drink? Whether you’re looking to splurge or eat on the cheap, we’ve got you covered. Looking to drink killer cocktails and treat a hangover the next morning? No problem. Want to know where the locals get their donuts, sausage, tacos, and coffee? You’ve come to the right site.

The Guide is a collection of places our contributors take out-of-towners (or suggest others take visitors). It’s not a “best-of” list. It also is not comprehensive. There are numerous places that we love that didn’t make it into the Guide. To keep the document from growing out of control, our contributors had strict instructions to only submit one place per category. If you asked us where to eat, drink, and hang out, this is what we’d tell you. Together, the interactive map (posted at the end of this article), list, and corresponding foursquare list will help you plan out your gastronomic tour of the Twin Cities.

Hey locals! Along with using the guide and sending it to folks visiting town, we hope you will add your recommendations in the Comments section (and tell us why our suggestions are completely off-base). We plan to update the guide annually, so your feedback will help us improve the document, as well as provide out-of-towners with additional suggestions.

Celebration Restaurants

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Brasserie Zentral; 505 S Marquette Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55402; 612.333.0505 | Our review
“Brasserie Zentral’s very existence raises the question: Where else in America can you score a meal that successfully channels the opulent glory of the Austro-Hungarian empire? Okay, so maybe it’s been done before, Chef Russell Klein certainly puts his own spin on the genre. Food at Zentral is alternately (and often both) awe-inspiring and comforting, and the friendly, knowledgeable service is the cherry on the sundae that makes this glorious feast a meal to remember.” — James Norton

Broders’ Pasta Bar; 5000 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55410; 612.925.9202 | Our review
“Broders’ is where we’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and the closing of our first house, and there’s no secret why it’s our favorite destination: the perfectly cooked, seasonally sauced housemade pasta. Whether you’re snuggled with your sweetie at the bar with a couple glasses of wine and a piece of bestia nera flourless chocolate cake or at a table passing plates of pasta and risotto to share among friends, Broders’ knows how most of us like to celebrate — with good, unpretentious food at reasonable prices, and a great wine list to boot.” — Jill Lewis |

Corner Table; 4537 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55419; 612.823.0011 | Our review
“You only think you’ve eaten pork belly, but really, you haven’t experienced swine perfection until you’ve dined at Corner Table. Refined wine choices, cozy interior, and five-star level cuisine make this neighborhood gem the spot I always can’t wait to return to.” — Joy Summers; seconded by Becca Dilley:  “They use local seasonal produce, but their main focus is their charcuterie: house cuts of pork, charcuterie, and terrines. It’s an awesome way to taste the best the Midwest has to offer!”

Eat Street Social; 18 W 26th St, Minneapolis, MN 55404; 612.767.6850 | Our review
“A Minneapolis institution with sister restaurant, Northeast Social, as another option, this is a great place to enjoy the sights and sounds of Eat Street and revel in their craft cocktails. Highly recommended is the steak tartare, and if you’re looking for an after-dinner drink, check out the Torpedo Room for tiki drinks.” — Liz Scholz



Lulu’s Lawsuit, Nighthawks, and More

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

The old Shorty & Wags at 38th and Nicollet will become a Landon Schoenefeld joint called Nighthawks, featuring restaurant-within-a-restaurant Birdie. You can help kickstart an effort to bring 3.6 acres of prairie to Cannon Falls. Lulu’s on Selby is seriously unamused by the unrelated Lulu’s Public House (above) at the State Fair. Waseca is going to get its own farm taproom called Half Pint Brewing Company, Minnesota’s first. And the Well Fed Guide to Life hits the State Fair (here’s our exhaustive visit; and don’t forget to enter some photos in our State Fair food photography contest and win big.)



The Craft Brewers of Minnesota, Part III: Beer at the Fair

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

This is the third in a series of six stories underwritten by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Their financial support allows us to dig deeper into the craft, culture, and personality of Minnesota’s brewers. Read our previous installments: Part I on brewing styles, and Part II on All Pints North.

A collection of cask beers rests on a table in the foyer of the Agriculture Horticulture Building at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s right near the honey exhibit, around the corner from the apples, past the largest cabbage and the herculean pumpkins.

It’s Firkin Friday at the Land of 10,000 Beers exhibit. We’re sipping on Olvalde’s Brynhildr’s Gift, part of a 4-beer flight. It’s an already wild and wooly brew that’s driven even deeper into the woods by an infusion of juniper berries.

Becca Dilley / Lake Superior Flavors

Becca Dilley / Lake Superior Flavors

As we drink, we speak with Tim Nelson (above, right), founder of Fitger’s Brewhouse, about running a brewpub. “One of the biggest challenges is getting your beer to market,” says Nelson. “As a brewpub, we can only distribute to other restaurants we own; they’d be called ‘tied houses’ traditionally.” He adds that serving craft beers they produce is a way for Fitger’s to distinguish themselves in the marketplace.

Fitger’s has made obvious use of the strategy, operating multiple restaurants under their brand. But that’s more or less the only card they can play, because they’re prohibited from distributing to other bars, restaurants or retail accounts. The restriction seems like an echo of the days before the Surly Bill, when brewpubs and production breweries were organized to do separate things, either sell beer on site or distribute.



Legends of Butter Sculpture

Sponsored by the University of Minnesota Press

Sponsored by the University of Minnesota Press

This story is sponsored by the University of Minnesota Press – check out their end of the summer 30% book sale.

The earliest recorded example of butter sculpture was Dreaming Iolanthe by Caroline S. Brooks, which displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Since then, of course, butter sculpture has become a very popular activity to check out at the Minnesota State Fair, among other state fairs. Here’s some more background on this much-buzzed-about art form and its earliest pioneers.

Excerpted from Corn Palaces and Butter Queens: A History of Crop Art and Dairy Sculpture by Pamela H. Simpson (2012, University of Minnesota Press).

The 1911 Iowa State Fair featured John K. Daniels’s butter sculpture of a boy trying to get a calf to nurse. Visitors were given a souvenir postcard advertising the Beatrice Creamery Company, the sponsor of the display. Photo from author’s collection.

The 1911 Iowa State Fair featured John K. Daniels’s butter sculpture of a boy trying to get a calf to nurse. Visitors were given a souvenir postcard advertising the Beatrice Creamery Company, the sponsor of the display. Photo from author’s collection.

 

John K. Daniels, Professional Butter Sculptor

The work of John K. Daniels (1875–1918) provides a good example of the professionalization of butter sculpture. Daniels emigrated from Norway to Minnesota with his family when he was nine. He grew up in Saint Paul and trained there in several art schools and with two different sculptors before setting up his own studio. Like most sculptors, he modeled in clay and put his finished pieces into stone and bronze. In 1900, to earn some extra money, he accepted a commission to make a butter cow for the Minnesota State Fair. His fame as a butter sculptor, however, was established the following year, when he created a spectacular model of the Minnesota state capitol for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The State House, designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, was still unfinished in 1901, but it was the pride of the state. The board of managers for the Minnesota Exhibit wanted to show a plaster model, but there was not enough time or money to make one. Daniels offered to do it in butter for two thousand dollars. Working with an assistant, he took six weeks to make the 11′ × 5′4″ model. The two men spent fifteen-hour days in a glass case cooled to thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit, and were so “chilled to the bone” that they had to take frequent breaks to warm their hands.