This is the first in a four-part series of stories underwritten by Sociable Cider Werks that trace a 22-mile bike route through Minneapolis and St. Paul, hitting markets and off-the-grid eateries along the way.
You live in one of the most bikeable metro area in the United States, but when was the last time you went off the beaten path? You already know that biking and eating (and drinking) go together like a snowball on a July sidewalk: Peddling can melt away the calories you consume.
The Twin Cities are blessed with clusters of mom-and-pop lunch counters hiding in plain sight. It is my contention that these sometimes difficult to find, decidedly unflashy, rarely Instagrammed, sometimes holes-in-the-walls serve some of the best food in our state.
This series is underwritten by Sociable Cider Werks, makers of innovative libations that are best shared with a friend.
And here’s some even better news: These foods, counters, and storefronts are often found in neighborhoods you perhaps haven’t thought to bike. You already know that transport on two wheels is the best transport: You see the world at eye level, without the barrier of glass and metal. Walking up to a lunch counter is metaphorically similar. There are fewer barriers between you and the food. Less artifice. More deliciousness. Obvious bonus: This food is practically designed to bundle up in a plastic bag, be toted outside, and get snarfed on the curb next to your bike tires.
Cycle this route from Northeast to East Lake to University Avenue to St. Paul’s East Side in installments, or if you’re feeling epic, do the whole thing in a single day. Whatever the case, be sure to stop at at least a couple of these places. After all, if you’re not working up an appetite, you’re not cycling hard or fast or long enough.
Dong Yang, 725 45th Ave NE, Hilltop
If you have a friend who loves Korean food and she hasn’t been to Dong Yang, bring her. She’ll think you’re nothing short of a ninja. On the outer edge of Northeast, as it creeps into Columbia Heights, in a nondescript strip mall (the type of location where many of the world’s finest foods hide), Dong Yang’s lunch counter is concealed behind stacks of kimchee and rice crackers.
A grocery store first, Dong Yang has a back kitchen with grandmas who cook as you might imagine they do at home. The mostly Korean clientele enjoys the bustling daily lunch service (no dinner served here, so this is a lunch counter in the truest sense).
We highly recommend the Japche, a jumble of glass noodles and julienne veg to satisfy any serious noodle craving. It’s usually eaten on special occasions in Korea, but here it can be yours anytime for less than 10 bucks. Kimchee fanatics should also consider the Kimchee Stew, a clay pot holding a bubbling lake the color of what it is — gochujang (hot pepper paste) dissolved in stock and kimchee brine, with more kimchee added in. Don’t go in headlong. It bubbles hot fire for a reason.
Most items fall under the $12 mark, and a new and welcome addition is the gorgeous illuminated menu board with full color photos and descriptions in both Korean and English. The only misrepresentation is that the real thing is even prettier than the picture.
Editor’s Note: We originally placed Dong Yang in Minneapolis; it’s actually in Hilltop.
Once you’ve understood the symbiotic relationship Bark and the Bite, a barbecue food truck, has with Sunny’s, a classic corner store, you’ll wonder why every corner store doesn’t have a similar arrangement.
Sunny’s had a commercial kitchen that went largely unused, but since Bark and the Bite has been cooking out of it and serving from a simple lunch counter at the back of the store, stopping off for a pack of gum and a roll of toilet paper hasn’t been the same.
In no time, you’ll be hefting out a bowl of Black Bean Chili with burnt-end brisket along with the Charmin. The chili is a special, so keep your eye on social media for its roughly weekly appearance. This marvel is rife with heavy smoke and the coveted burnt ends. Think of this chili as the ham hock and split pea soup that you get only when the ham has been devoured and the holiday is over. It’s the explosion after the bomb.
The crowning glory of the dish is a raft of cornbread providing little sugary pops of crunch to balance out the formidable bass notes of the almost-chocolate broth, falling-apart brisket, and black beans.
Also see the passive-aggressive wings: Tennessee Hot Wings tossed in dry rub. According to the cook, “The hardest thing about this job is making these wings and then having to sell them.” Imagine hot-hot-hot chili sauce melding with duck confit tossed in the signature dry rub that offers pings of more heat, spices, and sugar. House-made sweet pickles piled on top offer brine, and lots of smoke underpins it all. This is also an off-menu item. You gotta know to get them, and now you do.
Sentyrz Market, 1612 NE Second St, Minneapolis
All across America, old, coveted neighborhoods in big cities are in an elaborate gentrification dance in which new construction and progress want to move in, while the preservation of what is already there is key to why anyone would want to be there in the first place.
Northeast Minneapolis being no different — with its bars and churches and strong Eastern European sensibilities — tries to keep its bearings as rents skyrocket.
Sentyrz Market, established in 1923, is where you want to go for the Old Nordeast. Now that the Twin Cities is engaged in a full-on grocery store competition (Fresh Thyme or Trader Joe’s? Hy-Vee or ALDI? Kowalski’s or Byerlys?), my money goes to Sentyrz. The most obvious reason is that because of a grandfather clause, you can buy booze with your groceries in a single transaction, the way the rest of the thinking world does. The only other establishment in the Twin Cities where you can perform this important enterprise is at Morelli’s on St. Paul’s East Side, which we will learn about down the line.
Here, you can scan the aisles not for organic or local products but for fortifying and time-tested items like fluffy, made-on-site egg salad sandwiches, quarts of kraut, mayonnaise salads with ring macaroni and cubes of ham. But most importantly, look for the butcher shop, which might make the best summer sausage and wild boar brats in the state. Carry these (hopefully you’ve brought a pocket knife on your ride), along with a bottle or two of cheap wine, back to the cycle. This is what mid-ride moments are made for.
DIRECTIONS FOR THIS LEG, FROM DONG YANG TO SUNNY’S TO SENTYRZ
DONG YANG, 725 45th Ave NE, to Sunny’s Market [3.5 miles]
South on Quincy Street NE .4 miles
Left on 42nd Avenue NE
Right on Jackson Street NE
Left on 41st Avenue NE
Right on Van Buren Street NE .7 miles
Left on Columbia Parkway .5 miles
Left on Fifth Street NE .8
Get on Grand Rounds Trail heading south, parallel to University Avenue 1 mile
Turn left onto University Avenue NE at 27th Avenue .4 miles
SUNNY’S MARKET AND DELI, 2207 University Ave NE, to Sentyrz Market [.5 miles]
South on University Avenue NE
Right on 22nd Avenue NE .2 miles
Left on NE Second Street .4 miles
SENTYRZ LIQUOR AND SUPERMARKET 1612 NE Second St
NEXT LEG: From Northeast to East Lake Street