In my many years of restaurant reviewing I've never written so many avoiding-the-weather stories, but, hey, this was one of the top-ten worst winters of all time in Minnesota, and the official coldest in 30 years.
The only solution to what ails us is to get outside and see some green, blooming things, which, by the way, still might not happen for like a month. Till then, I’ve figured out a work-around: Get inside and see some green and blooming things . Then go out to lunch, because you deserve a nice lunch after this crazy winter.
Here’s my best advice on the best indoor flower display/ lunch doubleheaders:
5. Cowles Conservatory followed by lunch at Gather
The only problem with the Cowles Conservatory and its big, gorgeous glass fish, is that you can tour the entirety of it in 10 minutes. So go through twice! Then cross the street for lunch or dinner (Thursdays only) at Gather. The last time I was at lunch I had the salmon crudo, it was beautifully seasoned and gorgeously light and fresh, my date had the fish and chips, it was so crisp you could bounce a quarter off it. At dinner, Gather brings in fancy guest chefs. For the month of March it’s TV and cookbook star Amy Thielen from The New Midwestern Table. In April the guest chef is Tyler Shipton, known from his day job at much ballyhooed Borough and now, Coup d’Etat. And if you’re lucky enough to be there on a Thursday night when a spring thunderstorm rolls in you’ll never forget the sight of the whole Minneapolis skyline being socked and rocked by lightning bolts.
4. Bachman’s Lyndale followed by lunch at Patrick’s Bakery
I’m feeling a lot of Bachman’s love right now ever since they made their bid to go neonic free, but it’s also become a happy place for my kids and I because of Patrick’s Bakery. I get a latte and a little cake, the kids share a pot of tea with two cups, the boy gets a plain croissant, the girl gets a chocolate croissant, and we usually buy a tulip bulb to sprout in a jar on the windowsill. There are birds inside, and as you sit at the table eating your cake you can look for their nests. I won’t tell you where they are, you’ll have to find them on your own.
Question: What’s better than pretty tropical flowers? Answer: Pretty tropical flowers set among cute fuzzy animals and pretty feathery birds. The humid (in a good way!) and jungle-like (in a good way!) Tropics Trail at the Minnesota Zoo will leave you feeling like you went through a teleporter into some random equatorial land. Once you teleport back to reality, program your GPS and hit of the best Malaysian restaurants in the state, Satay 2 Go for lunch. (Get the laksa; their version of the coconut curry noodle soup is swoon-worthy.) Also not far from the zoo is Hoban, a fantastic Korean home-cooking spot with the region’s best man-doo which’re meat-filled dumplings (kind of like Korean pierogies) and just delicious. (I also love their big spicy soups.) Due west of the zoo is the Valley Tap House, which has a lot of micro-brews and a solid pit beef . . . I had the Hot Italian a couple weeks ago and it met with my strong approval.
The Como Conservatory is the big daddy of local flower exhibits, and a national treasure. If you’ve never been I pity you . . . Rise from your chair and take solace in the fact that there are flowers in a crystal palace for you to admire! Also, it’s a hop skip and a jump from some of St. Paul’s best Asian restaurants, including farm-to-pho and fancy craft beer specialist Ngon Bistro; Mai Village, the luxurious Vietnamese spot with the $19 dollar, 7-courses-of-beef-feast; Little Szechuan, the restaurant which started Minnesota’s spicy-as-all-get-out spice revolution; and Royal Bangkok, where you can actually get a full and excellent lunch for $3.99.
The Flower Show! It opens Sunday March 23 and runs through April 6. In addition to being beautiful and flower-filled, the top-floor of Macy’s is convenient to many of the most buzzed about (get it!) local restaurants. Just a short stroll from a fancy margarita and tacos at Barrio or Masa, or the legendary Vincent stuffed burger at Vincent. For a more traditional experience hit Macy’s Oak Grill—I stopped in a month ago and that famous popover with a personal chicken pot pie is quite the comfort. Also, do you remember that the Oak Grill has a full bar? If a gin and tonic will make you feel that spring is actually here, you can have that thing.