Best All-Night Art Party
Since 2011, Northern Spark has paid homage to the Twin Cities’ vibrant art scene with an all-night outdoor summer art festival. This year more than 53,000 people embarked across six designated zones of Minneapolis, from the University of Minnesota to the Walker (expansion to St. Paul is expected in 2017). Minneapolis transformed into a massive installation with movable art broadcasted across iconic buildings, music filtering from within Mill City Ruins, and sculptures that came to life on the streets. A digital app generated music through smartphones, creating a walking orchestra out of festival-goers. Artists are already gearing up their work for 2016’s theme—the appropriately named “Climate Chaos.”
R.T. RybakFormer Mayor of Minneapolis/ Executive Director of Generation Next
“I find myself so much more connected to ‘the north’ than ‘the Midwest.’ Minnesota is the star of the north, an incredible part of the world.”
Best Argument For Keeping The North Clean
Portage: a Family, a Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life (University of Minnesota Press), by Sue LeafIn October, Center City–based nature writer and zoologist Sue Leaf released a memoir that focuses on her lifelong love of paddling in the wild.
A short excerpt:
“I’ll always turn to the North!” That first line of Florence Jaques’s book Canoe Country intoxicated me at age twenty-six. I agreed wholeheartedly. My definition of “North” was expanding. Until my late teens, North had been my family’s cabin on Lake Alexander in central Minnesota, nestled under towering white pines. The pines were few, though. Most had been cut in the great deforestation that took place in Minnesota in the nineteenth century. The second-growth woods surrounding the cabin were mixed deciduous forest, with plenty of red oak and ash. Yet it was woodsy, and there were loons, and it was north of the Twin Cities. But then, when I was eighteen, my boyfriend introduced me to the Boundary Waters. The lakes on the border of Minnesota and Canada were bottomless, their waters stained mahogany with tannins. Balsam fir needles, crushed underfoot, scented the cool air. There were high cliffs, and there were diminutive plants on the forest floor. I learned about bunchberries, with scarlet clusters of fruit; tiny pink twinflowers, which also grow in Sweden and were beloved of Linnaeus, the famous botanist; and wintergreen, whose fragrance wafted clean and minty when you scraped the leaves with a fingernail. Loons on the border seemed wilder than those of my childhood. Their thin wails careen- ed in the black nights.
Third-Best Summer Ever
If there was any question about which office of Minnesota government is most whimsical, its climatology department’s “Summer Glory Index” clears up the matter rather quickly. At the end of each summer, state weather wonks look back at temperatures, dewpoints, and rainfall from June to August, apply subjective scoring, then compare said season to summers past. The fewer days with extreme heat and humidity, the higher a given summer ranks on the Glory Index. This summer’s miracle run of comfy, dry days, cool nights, and perfectly timed rains made it the third nicest since the Index began in 1903.
Best Instant Heirloom
They aren’t your grandmother’s quilts, but Louise Gray co-founder Alexandra Gray Bennett was inspired by her mother in reimagining a classic. Bennett and her business partner, Jocelin Johnson, introduced their collection of made-in-Minnesota quilts in February at the New York gift show and have been busily filling orders nationally and around the globe. Locally, the quilts are available at five retailers, including the gift shop at the Walker. The collection distinguishes itself by juxtaposing the traditional quilt format with graphic patterns, using geometric stitching lines and neutral color blocking. Because the quilts are made entirely of cotton, they are practical to use daily and machine washable. The Minneapolis-based founders say part of their company’s mission is to encourage hiring skilled workers domestically to make products. “Our hope is to ignite this conversation within the home goods sector to be integral in re-establishing the cut-and-sew industry in America,” Bennett says.
Best ’Hood On The Brink
West Seventh, St. Paul
One of St. Paul’s oldest neighborhoods sprang from a squatter’s camp founded by infamous bootlegger Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant in 1832. Though soldiers eventually destroyed the makeshift settlement to allow for the expansion of Fort Snelling, it paved the way for the more reputable West Seventh, named for the street that runs from the base of Summit Hill to the Highway 5 bridge. Today, the commercial and residential district comprises historic brick buildings, Victorian-era homes, and a demographic gumbo that includes artists, African and Asian immigrants, and descendants of the area’s original European settlers. Its businesses range from old school (the Pearson’s Candy factory, Mancini’s Steakhouse) to new cool (breweries such as Bang and Bad Weather, boutique/gallery Artista Bottega). Add to the mix ambitious projects like the live-work artist lofts at the old Schmidt Brewing site and the forthcoming Seven Corners Gateway mixed-use development and you’ve got the makings for St. Paul’s answer to Northeast Minneapolis. Fingers crossed it doesn’t forget its roots in the process.
Best Food Truck Builder
Behind every successful food truck is a handyman or woman with some serious kitchen-building skills. Locally, that person is Mark Palm, whose Plymouth-based Chameleon Concessions has outfitted many Twin Cities food trucks, including Hola Arepa, AZ Canteen, and World Street Kitchen—and many more across the country. He’ll soon open Palm Kitchens, a state-of-the-art facility that will not only expand his truck-building business but include 24/7/365 commercial kitchen space for food truckers and a heated yard where they can park and vend come winter. Because what’s more North than a food truck rally in January?
Amy Hewett-Olatunde2015 Minnesota Teacher of the Year
“‘North’ means being true to one’s roots yet always prepared for change. The north transforms, it adapts, it preserves. . . . It’s the Green Line to get pho. . . . it’s Lake Street with taco trucks and Norwegian krumkake.”
Best Way To Kick Hunger’s Ass
Food shelves and donations are great ways to battle hunger, but in the Twin Cities a few creative thinkers are taking the fight a step further by not just feeding hungry people, but nourishing them. Nonprofit Loaves & Fishes has been feeding people for 30 years, but it has recently begun working plots of local farmland to make the free meals it provides healthier and more sustainable. Food truck ReFillMN sells good food to the public and then uses all proceeds to deliver food to shelters. The Good Grocer recently opened on Lake Street in Minneapolis and allows members to work at the store for a 25 percent discount on food purchases.
Best News for Consumers Who Value Super-Fast Delivery Over Everything Else
Amazon's Twin Cities Takeover
In its ongoing quest for world domination, the Roman Empire of online shopping spent part of 2015 focusing on the Twin Cities. In June, Amazon officially announced plans for an 820,000-square-foot distribution center to open in Shakopee in 2017. There, workers (and their robot helpers) will pack and ship electronics, books, and other products—good news for area consumers as well as the unemployed (the fulfillment center will bring 1,000 full-time jobs to Shakopee). In the meantime, the mega-retailer has launched Sunday delivery in the Twin Cities, along with same-day grocery delivery.
Best Food Business Incubator
What was once a stable for horses pulling keg carts during Minnesota’s first brewing boom is now an exciting experiment in generating local food businesses. The Food Building in Northeast Minneapolis is the brainwork of Kieran Folliard and Mike Phillips, sprung from ruminations on the crazy practice of shipping Minnesota pigs to California to be made into Minnesota salami. What if Minnesota salami was made in Minnesota, the pair wondered? After Folliard sold his 2 Gingers whiskey brand to Beam Inc. in 2012, he bought the 26,000-square-foot building with the vision of filling it with artisan producers making uniquely Minnesotan products. First to move in was Phillips’ salumi brand, Red Table Meat Company. Next came The Lone Grazer, Reuben Nilsson’s cheese made from grass-fed Minnesota cows. The hope is that Steve Horton, formerly of Rustica, will eventually open a bakery along with the first flour mill in Minneapolis since 1902. Bringing Folliard’s vision together is The Workhorse, a newly opened café that features the building’s products and a menu of casual dishes like roasts and sandwiches.
Best Outstate Bike Amenity
Taking a cue from our kick-ass urban bike amenities, this spring the DNR installed bicycle maintenance kiosks at 31 state parks and trails, including the spankin’ new Brown’s Creek State Trail in Stillwater.
Best Performance By An Actor Who Hasn’t Even Had Braces Yet
To Kill a Mockingbird, the Guthrie’s first play under the direction of new artistic director Joseph Haj, was largely regarded as too restrained and emotionless—though it wasn’t without its bright spots, particularly the Barton Open School sixth grader who played Scout on opening night. In her Guthrie debut, the precocious Mary Bair (who finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird hours before opening night) managed to masterfully inhabit the world-weary and world-innocent point of view that is the book’s heartbeat.
Best New Music Venue
Concert Hall at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra finally has a right-sized performance space—one the Pioneer Press dubbed “an acoustic wonderland.” The long, high, shoebox-shaped room opened in March with a capacity of 1,100, and no matter where you sit, you’re never more than 90 feet from performers. It’s an arts community success, too. Four organizations that were constantly competing for performance space—The Minnesota Opera, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Ordway, and The Schubert Club—laid down their instruments to get this hall made in the name of renewed collaboration and resource sharing. For Ordway president and CEO Patricia Mitchell, who retired this year, the hall is an ovation-worthy note to leave on.
Va-Megn ThojExecutive Director of Little Mekong and the Asian Economic Development Association
“People who don’t know Minnesotans tend to stereotype us. They think we have funny accents, that we love the weather and the cold, that we’re hearty and tough, and that we’re really homogeneous. But I think we’re pretty diverse.”
Best Assistant Conductor Who No Doubt Will Someday Run The Show
Roderick Cox, Minnesota Orchestra
How does one even become a conductor? “Develop an imagination for the music. Show with your hands,” Roderick Cox says. In June, the 28-year-old Georgia native became the Minnesota Orchestra’s newest assistant conductor. Here’s where we could list his accomplishments: the Robert J. Harth Conducting Prize from the Aspen Music Festival; specialties in living composers and youth engagement; conducting the Orchestra’s Celebrate Cuba! concert in Minneapolis last July, complete with a 23-voice Cuban choir. Here’s where we could repeat the oft-repeated superlatives: “Uncommonly talented!” “Extremely musical!” And here’s where we could mention that, even sans umlauts, he’s the most powerfully named conductor we’ve ever heard of. But what we really love is how, as an undergrad, he saw Zelma Redding (Otis Redding’s widow) on the street and jumped at the chance to thank her for the financial assistance her foundation had given him for college. His forthright passion led the foundation to go even further and pay for the French horn that ensured he majored in music. Perhaps becoming a conductor starts with knowing how to perfectly conduct one’s self? We’re excited for him to show us, and our kids, how it’s all done.
Best Somewhat-Under-The-Radar Groundbreaking
The $50 million Nicollet Mall redesign broke ground this summer, led by James Corner Field Operations, the landscape architecture and urban design company responsible for the High Line elevated greenway in lower Manhattan, as well as other high-profile urban projects around the globe. The project focuses on 12 pedestrian-friendly blocks to include a theater in the round, a lighted art walk, and an outdoor “reading room”—all with the goal of encouraging more people to come down from the skyways to street level.
Best Theatrical Power Couple
Shá Cage and E.G. Bailey
This year, each member of this life partnership won at the Ivey Awards, the Twin Cities’ answer to the Tonys. E.G.Bailey won as part of the team that made Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet, produced at the Guthrie Theater by Pillsbury House Theatre and The Mount Curve Company (he was assistant director). Shá Cage won for her acting in Grounded, a one-woman show from Frank Theatre. Three days after the Iveys, Cage opened two shows within hours of each other: Henry the IV, Part I for Ten Thousand Things Theater (she played a lead) and the one-woman show U/G/L/Y, which she wrote herself, and which was directed by her husband. As a performer, Cage has brought a fierce fearlessness to that complicated emotional space between anger and grief this year that is particularly resonant with mothers and women of color. As a director, Bailey has brought an immigrant’s awareness of insider/outsider complexities—he was born in Liberia and raised primarily in the U.S.—as well as a music producer’s ear for rhythm and composition. Their collaborative work is at once seamless and individualistic: They are easily two and one at the same time.
Julie SchumacherUniversity of Minnesota professor and first woman to win Thurber Prize for American Humor
“‘North’ means cold weather but open-mindedness. Like some other northern states (I won’t name them), we like sports and politics, but we’re artsier than most of our neighbors.”
Best Leaders In Supporting Refugees
Keith Ellison and Amy Klobuchar
Historically, our state has had more refugees per capita than any other—an estimated 95,000 refugees have resettled here since 1979. Though the influx has slowed, more displaced people arrive here each year, including recent waves from Burma (Myanmar) and Somalia. Minnesota’s commitment to refugees hit the national political stage in 2015. In June, senator Amy Klobuchar helped introduce a national bill to increase funding in order to help refugees who have survived torture rebuild their lives. The Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization Act of 2015 updates a similar act from 1998 and has bipartisan authorship and support. Also in June, representative Keith Ellison introduced a national bill to increase coordination between countries and better provide resources for people fleeing war, persecution, and natural disaster. That bill, the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act of 2015, has support from several religious denominations, including partners of Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, which has brought refugees to Minnesota since the fall of Saigon. Both bills are pending, though they made it to subcommittee—a good sign. Other recent examples of our commitment to the displaced: The national Center for Victims of Torture in St. Paul (one of five local nonprofits here working on behalf of refugees) published an analysis showing that the number of refugee torture survivors in the U.S. is likely three times the previous estimate. And the University of Minnesota approved a human rights master's program that will start taking students in 2016.
Best Local Shopping
One of the freshest, most alluring boutiques to open in the Twin Cities this year is actually NOT in the North Loop. The maker movement made its way to Excelsior at Golden Rule, where founder and jewelry designer Erin Kate Duininck showcases the latest wave of local creativity, from watercolor paintings and letterpress cards to leather goods, textile art, and even furniture. Located inside a newly restored (and suitably sun-drenched) white house on a hill along Water Street, Golden Rule is not only promoting makers but creating community around them. Not all the cool creatives live in downtown lofts!
Best Hipster Landlord
Peter Remes, First & First
Rundown buildings that others write off as kindling are where Peter Remes finds opportunity. The real estate developer behind First & First has a reputation for turning dilapidated manufacturing plants, often in less-than-ideal locations, into hubs of industry for some of the coolest operations in town (think Aria, Icehouse). He did it again this year with Vandalia Tower near the new Central Corridor light rail in St. Paul. Hackwith Design House and Munster Rose floral are now among the Instagram stars running their booming businesses out of the old King Koil mattress building, which is still being improved. Lake Monster Brewing was scheduled to open a taproom at Vandalia Tower by the end of the year. Its patio is sure to be a destination come springtime.
Most Accessible Contemporary Dancer
After receiving her BFA in dance and BA in theater from the University of Minnesota in 2001, contemporary dancer Vanessa Voskuil proceeded to perform and choreograph all over town—and she hasn’t stopped since. She co-founded the Minnesota Dance Film Festival in 2010, which included a short film in which her choreography captures the essence of various environments: a calm grassy meadow, a ravine, city streets. It’s no surprise that the challenging yet accessible dancer was awarded a 2015 McKnight Fellowship for choreography (her second time landing this specific grant). Up next, she’s touring in Japan and China and generating a body of solo work called three/3.
Best Upgrade To An Upgrade To A Frozen Lake
Art Shanties Projects Receive $100,000 Grant
The arts organization famous for reimagining ice houses as public art is celebrating its 10th birthday in style by being among the 38 grantees out of 1,300 applicants to receive a $100,000 ArtPlace American grant "to further integrate arts and culture into the field of community planning and development." That means, come February, the landscape of frozen White Bear Lake will have better shanties than ever before.
In 2011, Minneapolis businessman Osman Mohamed Ali opened the Somali Museum of Minnesota on Lake Street to provide younger Somali generations a glimpse into their heritage and to give the community a deeper understanding of its culture. In addition to the 700-plus items on display—everything from traditional household items to paintings to a life-size nomadic hut—cultural classes like basket weaving and traditional Somali dancing are offered. This year, the museum added a mobile education element that brings artifacts and cultural discussions to locations around the Twin Cities.
J.D. FratzkeChef/co-owner of Saint Dinette and The Strip Club Meat & Fish
“The Boundary Waters have become such a huge part of the ‘north’ identity—we can go and reconnect with something primal whenever we want to. . . . It’s a veritable time machine.”
Best Island That Isn’t Actually There
On May 30, Alabama Shakes and Father John Misty played a show on a Minneapolis Parks “island” that wasn’t even there 150 years ago and, technically, isn’t even there today. Here’s the skinny: The land is named for former Minneapolis health officer Dr. P.M. Hall, who, as a teenager in the 1870s, noticed an island forming under the Plymouth Avenue bridge. The gentle current that channeled off of the Mississippi and ran between it and Northeast Minneapolis made the parcel well suited to swimming, so Hall’s Island became home to a bathhouse and beach for the better part of a decade, until Calhoun, Harriet, Nokomis, and other city lakes became the preferred beaches of the Minneapolis swimmerati. After years of stagnation, the river channel that annexed the island from the mainland was filled, and suddenly Hall’s Island was no longer an island at all. By the 1960s, the largely unused space was acquired by Scherer Brothers Lumber for $95,000, which sounds like a pretty penny for a tiny, barren not-island until you find out that it sold it back to the park board for $7.7 million in 2010. Now, as part of Minneapolis’s RiverFirst initiative, it’s being turned back into an island, complete with a kayak beach, pedestrian bridges, and live music amenities. In the meantime it’s just semi-desolate parkland, prime for some Alabama Shaking.
Best Use of Celebratory Dancing
Minnesota Twins #wewinwedance
Sure, the Twins didn’t actually make the playoffs in 2015, but finishing the year over .500 (83-79) for the first time since 2010 ain’t too shabby. How did the team go from near-worst to near-first so quickly? Celebratory dance parties, of course. The re-signing of aging former Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter (who retired at the end of the season) injected a clubhouse vitality that the team had lacked since he left for Anaheim in 2008. Hunter’s #wewinwedance Instagram and Twitter hashtag, where players would celebrate wins with neon-lit, choreographed dance parties, became the thing of social media legend as the season wore on—and the fiber that taught a young ball club how to have fun again.
Best Old-Time Skill Made New
Urban BoatBuilders’ Canoe-building Classes
In 1995, a group of educators put their heads together on a community project that would develop the skills of local disadvantaged youth. The result was Urban Boatbuilders, a St. Paul–based nonprofit that teaches kids how to construct canoes, then paddle them. The organization restructured in 2012, and enrollment boomed. Today, it serves more than 450 youth, who, in addition to boat building, can partake in summer enrichment classes, math programs, woodworking courses, and recreation activities.
Best Redo Of A Perennially Horrible Development
Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center at Block E
The artist formerly known as Block E is now called Mayo Clinic Square, and not only is it 10 times cooler looking than its former self, it’s 10 times more useful. Replete with state-of-the-art technology and full-on sports and weight training facilities, the Mayo Clinic’s first official Twin Cities outpost is a branch of its industry-leading sports medicine group and focuses on everything from injury rehabilitation to comprehensive sports science–based performance training.
Best Country Club That’s Not Really A Country Club
Always wanted to be part of a club, but have never been invited to join one? Enter Betty Danger’s Country Club in Northeast Minneapolis—a hybrid bar/restaurant/entertainment complex replete with mini golf and a rad Ferris wheel. Though you don’t have to be a member to hang there, joining has its perks. The “country club for the 99 percent” is open to all walks of life in three membership tiers: supporter ($25 initiation, $6/month), defender ($99 initiation, $32/month), and protector (undisclosed initiation fee, $125/month). All members get everyman versions of access to members-only parties and tram tours to owner Leslie Bock’s other restos, Psycho Suzi’s and Donnie Dirk’s Zombie Den. The two highest membership tiers get lockers, access to a member’s lounge, and “tasty pudding privileges,” which sound excellent, whatever they are.
Best O.G. Angling Shop
Just east of St. Paul in Lake Elmo sits this haven for the area’s small-but-fanatical fly fishing community. When longtime owner Bob Mitchell decided to retire to Montana in 1993, he sold his shop to a guy named Mike, who eventually sold the store to another Bob—a younger one named Robert Hawkins. Hawkins (pictured above) took over in 2013 and has added cosmetic upgrades to the store, which sells rods, reels, waders, and everything you need to tie your own flies. Word has it if you ask him nicely (and, you know, pay him American dollars), he’ll set you up with a lesson or guided trip.
Best Multicultural Fashion Lens
Fresh Traditions Fashion Show
This year was a big one for St. Paul’s Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT). Thanks to underwriting by the Knight Foundation, the nonprofit dedicated to the propagation of modern Hmong art and culture hosted its biggest Fresh Traditions Fashion Show to date. The event highlighted a stable of Hmong designers seeking to evolve the colorful, whimsical elements and patterns already at play in traditional Hmong clothing into sleek, fashion-forward outfits.
Best Small School Getting Big Props
Each year when U.S. News & World Report issues its national high school rankings by state, local top honors tend to go west in the metro. But this year, a small, little-known high school in St. Paul was named best public high school in Minnesota. Located in the Como-Midway neighbor-hood, Great River School is Minnesota’s only Montessori high school and one of only a handful nationwide. It started with a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant as a charter school 11 years ago and is still relatively small—423 students in grades one through 12. There’s a waiting list of nearly 650, drawing from around the metro and as far out as Red Wing, Chaska, and Rogers. The tuition-free school now offers first through 12th grade classes, and enrollment is based on a lottery system. Sam O’Brien, head of school operations, says when he and several colleagues first learned about the award, they thought there must have been a miscalculation. “My surprise was, based on being a school at our scale, we often don’t get unsolicited awards,” he says. “But I was not surprised when I looked at the metrics.” The newsweekly weighed International Baccalaureate high schools based on math and reading test scores, college readiness, and student-teacher ratios. O’Brien is quick to point out that those metrics do not take into account that the school’s mission is to guide students’ character development and not to focus only on academic performance. Part of the Montessori philosophy is to educate with a “whole student approach.” “None of that is included in this rating,” he says. “But it’s wonderful to get this attention.”
Design Obsession Of The Year
There’s a midcentury art and architecture renaissance happening in the Twin Cities—but why now? “Every generation sort of rediscovers its grandparents,” says Thomas Fisher, director of Metropolitan Design Center at the University of Minnesota. The Minnesota History Center’s Suburbia exhibit spotlights the Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle from the ’50s, while the Walker’s ongoing Hippie Modernism examines counterculture from the mid ’60s to ’70s. The shows, says Fisher, “indicate how we continue to exist in this dichotomy economy that encourages us to buy, buy, buy, with a sense of, how sustainable is that?” Two new locally published books further illustrate the trend: Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury and John H. Howe, Architect: From Taliesin Apprentice to Master of Organic Design. “There’s always been an appreciation of modern design here in part because of the Scandinavian influence here,” he says. “We’re open to new ideas, to people coming here and trying out new things.”
Best Way To Trick Movie Stars Other Than Josh Hartnett Into Hanging Around The Twin Cities
The Minnesota Film & TV Board’s Snowbate Incentive Program
After a decade-long de-emphasis on luring Hollywood productions to our state, Minnesota’s film board launched “Snowbate” to give film companies a 25 percent rebate of what they spend while shooting here. You can thank it for Wilson, the new Woody Harrelson vehicle that filmed around the Twin Cities this summer (and allowed Harrelson to have a super fun time while he was here; hands in the air if you spotted him at Rock the Garden). And if what we hear about some upcoming projects is true, Harrelson is just the tip of the movie star iceberg headed our way.
Best Reinvention Of The Neighborhood Music Venue
The only full-time music venue on Eat Street has quietly made its mark as the local go-to for eclectic, well-curated shows. Also a bar and full-service restaurant, the former ice warehousing facility’s strength is its variety and delivery of weekly standbys such as its Revival Brunch, extended residencies, and ticketed shows for the likes of Ike Reilly and Actual Wolf.
Best Excuse To Ditch Your Car
Since 2011, the nonprofit Open Streets Mpls has organized temporary neighborhood events that kick cars off city streets in favor of pedestrians and human-powered transit. What started with one Minneapolis street—Lyndale Avenue South—ballooned to eight in 2015.
One Of The Least Obvious But Most Important Drivers Of Our Local Food Scene
The Delta Hub at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
Ever wonder why we have a better food scene than similar-sized metropolitan areas like Phoenix or Cleveland? One reason is all those direct-from-Europe flights that taxi in to MSP thanks to it being a Delta hub. Importers like Great Ciao and Classic Provisions (both bring in meat, cheese, pastas, and fine oils and vinegars, among other things) and Coastal Seafoods and The Fish Guys meet flights nearly every day of the week and deliver ingredients straight to our local restaurants. “My red prawns come off a plane from Spain,” says Mike DeCamp, chef of new Italian hotspot Monello. “They only last a few days— we wouldn’t be able to get them at all without those direct flights.” He says the same is true for the branzino, a fish Monello serves whole, deboned, and stuffed with kale, hazelnuts, turnips, and golden raisins. “Could I do my restaurant in Kansas City? I suspect no. We’re lucky to have it.” What happens this spring when Delta begins direct flights to Rome? Keep an eye on local menus. Even if you don’t take advantage of the direct flights yourself, odds are good you’ll get a chance to eat something that did.
Best Team At Actually Winning Championships
The Minnesota Lynx
Fresh off their third WNBA championship in the past five seasons, Cheryl Reeve’s Minnesota Lynx are the outlier in Minnesota pro sports for the simple fact that they do something every other local team consistently proves they can’t: win championships. Powered by Maya Moore, one of the best players to ever play in the WNBA, and hometown basketball hero Lindsay Whalen, the Lynx had an average attendance of 9,276 per game during the 2015 season—tops in the WNBA (though a distant fifth among the five local professional sports teams—a fact we think stynx).
Friendliest U Of M Amenity
The U of M can seem intimidatingly gargantuan some days—with some 50,000 students enrolled, how can you find a friendly face? Cornercopia, the U’s student-run organic farm and farmstand, has always been an oasis of friendliness, a place in St. Paul to ride your bike to and get a pint of strawberries while chatting with the student who grew them. Hats off to the U for expanding Cornercopia to Gateway Plaza this year. The tents in front of the McNamara center were a happy place for students to break from their usual paths and mingle over heads of lettuce and baskets of raspberries. Not only was it a welcome change from cafeteria food for many, it succeeded in making the U feel friendlier and more attached to a landscape and a community—one that grows melon, squash, mint, and so much more.
Melanie BenjaminChief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
“When my mom was in a nursing home recently and wanted to leave, she told me that we (Anishinaabe) are the kind of people whose feet need to touch the earth and live close to the water for our spirits to be happy. She was describing the ‘north’—that is what it means to me.”
Best Way To Conquer A Saturday
Hiking and drinking at Oliphant
Do this: Print a map of Wildwood Trail—a seven-mile former railroad track just east of Hudson, Wisconsin, that’s perfect for biking, hiking, or snowmobiling, depending on the weather. Now, go hike or bike or snowmobile. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, go to western Wisconsin’s newest brewery, Oliphant, and party, dude! The Somerset taproom is like no other. The beer is legit, complex stuff. But the taproom itself is all kinds of young ’Sconnie dudes playing video games, lolling on mismatched chairs, and eating cheese curds available by the pound in bags under the bar. It’s like going to the rec room of every sociable beer-nerd’s dreams—all killer, no frills. That’s why it’s the perfect place to go when you’re sweated-up from adventures on the Wildwood. Take that, Saturday! You’ve been conquered.
Best Reimagined Icon
The brand might be iconic, and its products certainly have heritage, but please don’t call Faribault Woolen Mill a “heritage brand.” “We’re a brand with heritage,” says Bruce Bildsten, Faribault’s chief marketing officer. “A lot of ‘heritage’ brands have honestly been made up, and we’re not.” This year, the textile company celebrated 150 years since it first opened. It’s an anniversary that might not have happened were it not for cousins Paul and Chuck Mooty, who bought the mill in 2011 after it closed in 2009. Faribault and Cargill, which also celebrated its 150-year anniversary in 2015, are the oldest manufacturing businesses in the state. “We like to say that we’re a 150-year-old start-up because the mill was reborn after going through five generations of family ownership,” Bildsten says. With more than 100 employees, Faribault is honoring its roots with its production of iconic blankets that are made modern with updated designs, fresh color palettes, and new partnerships with companies such as West Elm. The revitalization has won the company national attention, and it counts retailers such as Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware among its clients. In many ways it’s appropriate that Bildsten—who came to Faribault following 20-plus years as an ad agency executive at Fallon—is weaving the mill’s turnaround story. He was one of four panel participants at last year’s standing-room-only symposium on the North movement, which was held at Walker Art Center. He says part of that movement is about embracing this region’s cold climate. “There’s a lot of good things about winter and about where we live, but we forget about it because we’re too busy apologizing for our weather,” he says. Which may or may not be the reason Faribault’s Pak-A-Robe has become a recent best seller. The blanket is a limited edition of the mill’s 1949 classic stadium throw that Bildsten says is ideal for picnicking or taking on the boat or to the cabin. It comes with a matching carrying case, which doubles as a seat cushion “to keep your tush warm,” he says.
Best New Cheesemaker
The day before Rueben Nilsson opened his urban creamery in the heart of Nordeast Minneapolis, string cheese was a thing we all knew well: rubbery sticks of simplicity, that held up well in grammar school lunchboxes. Now, string cheese has been forever changed here: Using Minnesota milk from grassfed cows, Lone Grazer unexpectedly demonstrated that string cheese could be something more than a uniform rubbery tube—in this case, it could be adorably irregular ropes of cheese, sweet and fresh, much closer in spirit to a cheese-bar Italian mozzarella. What kind of cheesemaker would take string cheese seriously? One who had something to prove. “It actually makes more sense to bring the milk into the city and get the cheese to people the next day than it does to keep the cheese out in the country,” says Nilsson, who also makes squeaky-fresh, brightly briny cheese curds that show up in stores hours after they’re made, as well as soft washed-rind cheeses that have a little more oomph than the comparable Italian taleggio and go beautifully with white wines and beer. Foodies all over the state are anxiously awaiting Lone Grazer’s harder cheeses, which require further aging. While you wait, consider this: If Nilsson’s string cheese can be that good, how good will everything else be?
Best Ways To Survive January Without Amazon’s Help
Local Delivery Services
Your garage door is frozen shut and you can’t get your car out—not an uncommon occurrence during northern winters but a bit bothersome nonetheless. Thankfully, our delivery culture is booming. DrinkFly and Drizly bring your favorite bottles of booze to your door, while Local Crate and Fig to Fork deliver boxes of locally sourced groceries along with chef recipes. Instacart lets you pick items from different stores like Target and Whole Foods and brings them to you. And don’t forget bike-based services such as Taco Cat, Brake Bread, and the crazy riders of Rock-It Delivery, who will bring you whatever fits in their messenger bags.
Best Fodder For Our Mixed-Up Feelings About What The Rest Of The Country Thinks Of Us
Twin Cities–Themed National Media Coverage
What began as #grapegate last November when The New York Times named Minnesota’s state food as the grape salad was the tip of the iceberg for national coverage of the Twin Cities throughout 2015. Not that we care. But Flyover Country made numerous national headlines—mostly touting or taking to task others who touted our collective identity as The Place to Be. Not that we care. The Wall Street Journal’s January story, “Minnesota’s New Cool Image as ‘the North,’” kicked off the year with its focus on the Dayton brothers’ North hats and pontifications about our North-ness. Not that we care. The following month, The Atlantic asked what’s in Minneapolis’s secret sauce of affordable living and job opportunities. The magazine got one answer from Jeff Guo in his Washington Post story, “If Minneapolis Is So Great, Why Is It So Bad for African Americans?” Not that we care. Yet more national media lauded our food scene: See SAVEUR magazine’s June story, “North Country Fare. Discovering the Homegrown Talent of America’s Next Great Food City: Minneapolis.” Not that we care. Or do we? We like to say we don’t give a flying you-know-what if you don’t notice our Flyover Country, but then we have a hard time not reading about ourselves and reacting. See one Michelle Goedert, who was quoted in The New York Times last November in response to #grapegate: “Dear New York Times, What the hell is ‘grape salad’? Signed, All of Minnesota.” Now, will someone please pass the hotdish?
Kevin GarnettPower Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves
“To me, a Minnesotan is true to their word, loyal, and honorable. Their values and beliefs embody the honesty, dedication, and passion that is carried through their work every single day. I will always be one of us.”
Best Website Doubling As A Love Letter To The North
If local Instagrammers united in the form of a digital magazine, it would likely look a lot like The Midwestival. Launched in September 2014 by Woodbury native Annie D’Souza, themidwestival.com features photo-driven stories about people to know and things to do in the Midwest region, with a healthy dose of coverage focused on the Twin Cities and Minnesota. D’Souza launched the site shortly before returning to Minneapolis from a stint living in California. “I’ve decided it’s my job to make sure people know [the Midwest] is so much more than some tired Coen brothers caricature of a place,” she says. The site gained traction on Instagram, largely through its picturesque images of outdoor life. Now, more than 40,000 photos have been hashtagged with #themidwestival. “I sometimes call the site a blog or digital magazine, but it’s become clear that this is a community more than anything,” she says. “I love that people are embracing and owning our regional identity.”
Band Of The North
“Everything always confusion, things I could never explain,” sings Alan Sparhawk on Low’s new album Ones and Sixes, out in September on Sub Pop Records. It’s a fitting sentiment from a band that makes difficult, achingly beautiful pocket symphonies about flailing in the dark and never quite finding your way. Formed in Duluth in 1993, Low is the shared vision of Sparhawk and his wife, Mimi Parker (original member John Nichols was long ago replaced by a revolving door of bassists). Critics initially labeled the trio “slowcore” for the minor-key leanings and dripping-sap tempos of early works I Could Live in Hope and Long Division. But to say Low plays slow and sad is like describing sushi as raw fish. The more closely you listen—and do listen closely, as Low is the state champ of headphone records—the more elusive its alchemy becomes. You could say Parker is a spare and skillful drummer. Or that Sparhawk’s guitar playing seesaws between distortive roars and melodies so pure they’ll bruise your heart. You might also note that despite its many creative pivots, Low remains anchored by Sparhawk and Parker’s intimate harmonies, which reveal more about love and modern life in song than a Jonathan Franzen novel could ever hope to. Discuss Low’s tendency to blend but never bend to influences as varied as rock, folk, gospel, and electronic music. Argue that it’s the only prestige band from Minnesota that’s underrated at home and properly rated everywhere else (its fans include Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who invited the group on tour in 2003, and Robert Plant, who once recorded a cover of Low’s “Silver Rider”). Ask questions: How does Sparhawk and Parker’s Mormon faith inform their secular art? Is it better to speak about Low in abstract terms—as a candle in a cold, dark room or, occasionally, a squall ripping across that inland sea by its hometown? Say what you will, analyze all you want, but in the end Low is a mystery best left unsolved. Things I could never explain indeed.
So Many Bests, So Little Space
Best sanctuary for the gluten-averse: The fully gluten-free Sassy Spoon
Best handheld-eats-that-left-the-streets-for-the-skyway story: Currito (curry burrito) at Vellee Deli
Best stealthy menu item in a dark place: The burger at Constantine
Best comeback of a locally obsessed-about cheese: Rush Creek Reserve from Uplands Cheese
Best culturally approved reason to slurp your dinner: Weekly ramen special at Zen Box Izakaya
Best Irish bar with a kale salad: Paddy Shack at Half Time Rec
Best reinvention of a lobby bar: Apothecary at Loews Minneapolis
Best rooftop happy hour for the holidays: The year-round rooftop at 4 Bells, facing the Basilica
Best taproom with an epic hop mural: Bad Weather Brewing
Best catnip for local mixologists: Fernet made by Tattersall Distilling
Best way to converge your sweet ’n’ savory worlds: Kimchi and bacon pancakes with maple syrup at Nighthawks
Best Instagram account: @hankandtaylor, featuring Photoshopped images of T. Swift hanging out with a local kid named Hank
Best public pool that uses plants to treat the water instead of chemicals: Webber Natural Swimming Pool
Best baby step in the right direction: the legalization of smoke-free medical marijuana in Minnesota
Best expansion of a local coffee shop: Spyhouse’s new North Loop outpost
Best cold press that drinks like a stout: Quixotic Coffee’s Blackeye
Best salonspa: HAUS North Loop
Best record producer on the rise: B.J. Burton
Best Kanye-certified rapper on the verge of blowing up: St. Paul’s Allan Kingdom
Best reimagining of the defunct artists’ quarter: St. Paul’s Vieux Carré
Best bar renovation: The glamorously refreshed Commodore
Best reason to bust out the Dr. Martens: Babes in Toyland’s Reunion set at Rock the Garden
Best new jazz quartet: Nachito Herrera and the Universals
Best creative workshops for DIYers: LAB
Best argument for beer being the breakfast of champions: Fulton’s HefeWheaties (Wheaties-themed hefeweizen)
Best mission-tightening name change: Minneapolis Institute of Arts becomes Minneapolis Institute of Art
Best soccer news: MN United FC becomes a Major League Soccer franchise, then lands a stadium deal in St. Paul
Best FM radio trend: The launching of two old-school hip-hop stations: Hot 102.5 and 105.1 The Vibe
Best massage therapist: Maura McCarthy-Kroehler at Studio 411 Salonspa
Best showing by a local novelist: Marlon James’s huge Man Booker Prize win for A Brief History of Seven Killings
Best pork chops: YKer Acres’ pork chops at St. Paul Meat Shop
Best artisan bread baking company: Heritage Breads
Best advocate of native cooking traditions: The Sioux Chef
Best crazy-good, kickstarted, bean-to-bar chocolate company: Meadowlands Chocolate
Best gift registry featuring local art: GatherArtRegistry.com
Best random hang: Mocking (i.e., temporarily hanging a hammock at random places around the city)
Best urban beekeeper making honey bonbons: Mademoiselle Miel
Best beauty trend: Big brows, as documented and created by Arch Addicts, a collective of local brow pros
Most absurd annual sporting event: Red Bull Crashed Ice
Best host: Prince, who in 2015 opened Paisley Park to the Lynx, the National Association of Black Journalists, and, occasionally, the plebes