Sunday, January 09, 2011

My Favorite Things

Let's Think of Spring and Our Favorite Things

For those of you not in Minnesota, we’re in one of THOSE winters. Since Thanksgiving, I think we’ve reached freezing twice. We’ve been bombarded by record-setting snowfalls. And we’re in the midst of a cold spell (read: not even close to freezing) that is a couple of weeks old with no relief in sight on the 10-day forecast. The word that comes to my mind most often is “oppressive.”

So one starts looking to the future, no matter how far ahead it might be. The only silver lining to this winter is that when spring finally comes (and it’s going to come late, no doubt), there is going to be a shared euphoria that absolutely intoxicating. This state is going to explode like the blooms on the trees.

That’s where my head is tonight – with spring and grass and sun and the marvelous downtown area where I plan to spend a LOT of time this summer. In short, it’s with some of my favorite things that I’m starting to associate with a Twins baseball game.

Let’s start with food, because I’m hungry. And because it’s cold, I’m going to start with…

Comfort Food - Glueks
Check that - let's make that "Comfort Everything." The space is fairly comfortable, seeing as it's practically a Minneapolis institution. The Gluek’s building has been around since 1903 and was completely restored after a fire in 1989. I've also found the crowds pre and post game to be very reasonable considering its prime location.

But what I really get excited about is the food. Their mac n cheese is made with German spaetzle instead of noodles, giving an extra kick of density and satisfaction. The Voice of Reason™ swears by their open-faced turkey sandwich which is also the blue plate special on Wednesdays. Lately, I've been most enamored with The Berliner, an open-faced sandwich of their pot roast. Welcome home.

Burger - Ike’s
I'm sure I'll catch hell about this because burger people each have their favorites, but I'll take Ike's version over everything else around Target Field. It’s the right size, has just the right level of greasiness and comes with a cart of condiments that lets you experiment a bit.

Meat Fest - Fogo de Chao
This brazilian steakhouse is two blocks from Target Field and will serve you enough fresh grilled meat to choke a starving lion. They just keep coming to your table with 14 different types of skewers and give you whatever you're hungry for. It's expensive, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper than heaven.

General - Loon Café
Any list like this needs to obligatorily mention the The Loon's chile - but I'll be honest and say I just don't get it. It is also VERY crowded before and after the game, and any other time that a bar should be crowded. But The Loon does just about everything well - great sandwiches across the board, good service, fun crowd and even the specialty shot - The Grape Ape. I have a good friend to whom this place has basically become a second home. And "second" is in debate.

Sandwich - Murray’s
I've opined about Murray's Steak Sandwich before at length, but it's worth bringing up again, so here's the deal.

Go into the bar - not the restaurant - sit down, order yourself a beer and help yourself to the addictive (and complimentary) garlic toast. Then, order the steak sandwich. Personally, I like it on white bread instead of the panini and also want to make sure it includes the bacon.

This isn't a Philly steak sandwich. It's bite-sized chunks of Murray’s steak, and it is unbelievable. It is like eating one of their steaks, but somehow even better. Is it the cheese? The bacon? The way the steak juice soaks into the bread? Or is it that every bite includes the char-ry texture outside and the tender meat inside? Don't know and don't care. All I know is I miss it like a sibling.

Buffalo Wings - Runyon’s
The buffalo wing craze hit in the late 80s, and Runyon's has been famous for theirs ever since. They don't try to put any fancy twist on the recipe; this is just the ultimate wing, exactly what you want it to be, only better.

You might be wondering why beer has its own category? But only if you haven’t met me.

Local, Big Beers - Gluek's
They have several taps, but the three you'll want to pay attention to are the three Gluek's brands - a blond, a redhead and a brunette. I like the darkest of them, but it isn't a heavy beer, just a very dark lager style beer called (I think) a dunkel. That's good, because I tend towards the large version of it, served in a liter mug.

Brew Pub - Rock Bottom
It's a national chain of brew pubs, but a good one. They rotate a selection of about a half dozen self-made beers, but risk instead trying one of the couple of casks beers they constantly rotate. Their food is also solid fairly solid, and if you're looking for a fairly light but tasty appetizer, give the soft pretzel a pull.

Beer Selection - MacKenzie's
The further you get from Target Field, the smaller the crowd at the bar, so there is a huge difference between being 2 and 5 blocks away. MacKenzie's is the latter, which is nice because you don't need to fight your way to the couple of dozen taps they have behind the bar. These guys CARE about the beers they serve and aren't afraid to go off the edge of the map to find something they like. As such, you'll find at least a half dozen you've never had before, and when you come back in a month, you'll find another half dozen. That sounds like a pretty good night to me. Two, actually.

Who wants to blow an entire day around the ballpark? Ooh, ooh, me! I do! I DO! So start with a little breakfast before the afternoon game at one of these places.

Cinnamon Roll – Ike’s
The weekend all-you-can-eat brunch at Ike's is fast becoming legendary. The primary feature is the starter - a cinnamon roll to share that is literally the size of Charlie Brown's head. There's plenty more, eggs to order and a family-style plate of everything else you would ever want, but if you're not careful with the "appetizer," it'll all be superfluous.

Ooh, and if you want to shake off last night's festivities, you might want to pony up for the Bloody Mary. I don't drink them, but my wife gets as excited about one as she did about Cliff Lee rejecting the Yankees.

Adventurous - Hell's Kitchen
Hidden about a six-block walk from Target Field is Hell's Kitchen, known for its eclectic food and even more eclectic interior decorating. So when I'm feeling a little less Minnesota Mild, I like to try out the Maple-Glazed Bison Sausage, Huevos Rancheros or the Buttermilk/Cornmeal Pancakes.

Irish Breakfast/Hangover Fixer - The Local
They have a breakfast menu, but who has that kind of patience? Opt for the buffet, and dish yourself an enormous pile of the creamy hash browns. But be careful - they are good enough that you will crave them for months afterwards. You've been warned.

Diner Breakfast - The Band Box
The downside is that this pint-sized diner is way over by the Metrodome, but if you're looking for a true "joint," this is your place. It's been around forever, isn't much more than a counter and some chairs, and is the most affordable place on the list. The breakfast sandwiches are good, but seriously consider the pancakes, which are the size and thickness of a big 'ol diner plate.

Postgame Outside Escapes
The outside game is over, but the last place you want to go is inside. I like to stay outside at one of these options.

Being Fabulous – 7’s Roof
The appeal? Basically, it's that you're on a roof. To be honest, it's not a particularly beautiful view, but it's a roof, it's outside and it's summer in Minnesota. That's enough for bliss.

Not that the bar isn’t beautiful. Lovely people wearing lovelier clothes sitting on plushy couches. Frankly, I'm alway surprised that they'll let me come up there.

Being Young & Stupid – Sneaky Pete’s
Speaking of places that probably shouldn’t let me in, I’m entirely too old to go to Sneaky Pete’s. It is full of very young, very attractive people acting young and attractive. But they will let me in, which is great because it is easily the best people watching place in the Warehouse District. And that’s saying something.

The outside portion is in the back, and it includes both a patio and a deck. Neither overlooks much, but you’ll have trouble turning away from the drama that plays out there at the bar and dance floor anyway.

Ambiance – Smalley’s Alley
I'm not sure why this place calls to me so much. It isn't the beer selection, which is dominated by every kind of light beer imaginable. It isn't the crowd, which is shoulder-to-shoulder substantial before and after a game. And it isn't the food, since they changed the mouth-watering seasoned sour cream.

I'm left with: it's an alley. I just love having a beer in an outside city alley. It feels like you're in a much bigger city, possibly in a different era, next to Wrigley or Fenway or even old Shibe Park. Am I alone in this? I can't be, given just how crazy crowded it is every game night, right? Or do people really just like having five kinds of light beer available that much? (Gawd, I hope not.)

There, I feel better now. Bring on the snow and the cold. I can hold on for another couple of months. But if I missed anything, make sure to let me know in the comments below.


Another baseball tradition is returning after a year hiatus. The Annual Hot Stove Banquet is back and will be Friday January 28th at 6:00 PM at Carpenter’s Hall at 710 Olive St. in St. Paul. It’ll be hosted by Brad Zellar with special guest Jim Kaat.

I’ve been to this event several times and it really is a wonderful, comfortable and casual get-together of hardcore baseball fans. Tickets are $30 in advance (send a check payable to BPT to 1141 Portland Ave, St. Paul, MN 55104) or $35 at the door. The Voice of Reason and I will be there to talk baseball to anyone else willing to brave the elements.