Do you like surprises? Let me be more specific…do you like good surprises (not like the time when I drove away with the gas pump still in my car…but that’s a story for another day…or never). After my time in Minneapolis, I’m happy to report that it’s one city chock full of amazing surprises.
I’ll start with what was, to me, the most surprising of all: Minneapolis is one heck of a bike city! Really! Why was I surprised? Well think about it, for most of the year, it’s cold. Like, really cold. The kind of cold where you might not want to expose skin some days, right? It’s safe to say only three to four months out of each year are optimal biking weather and yet the city of Minneapolis has made tremendous investments in its biking infrastructure. The city truly is a benchmark for innovative urban planning.
Bike lanes are found on just about every major thoroughfare and they’re given as much maintenance and attention as main roadways. Paths have been carved out along the Mississippi River for what was easily one of the most beautiful rides I can remember. In fact, Minneapolis has done such a spectacular job that even when temps take a nosedive into the frigid realm, you’ll still see bikers – quite a lot of them – taking advantage of the paths their city has so thoughtfully laid out.
Ok, ok – you get it – if you’re a biker, Minneapolis is rolling out the red carpet to make your visit an incredible one! Now, about the food!
It may not have been a surprise (since we arranged it months in advance) but I was especially excited to visit Minneapolis for a chance to see an old friend of mine, owner and chef, Gavin Kaysen. I first met Chef Gavin years ago in New York when I was producing food content about the next Iron Chef.
He won the James Beard award in 2018 and is among the most talented chefs I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. When he decided to move back to his hometown of Minneapolis, in addition to opening fine dining establishments, Gavin also opened a bakery – actually three of them – and that’s where I met up with Gavin at his Bellecour Bakery in downtown Minneapolis.
Even though we hadn’t seen each other in over 3 years, we picked up right where we left off. Take my advice, you MUST go to Bellecour when you’re in Minneapolis. It’s as close to feeling like being in a Paris café as you’ll find in the US. You’ll indulge and then hop back on your bike and burn a few calories for a guilt-free experience.
From Bellecour, I made my way along the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway to Minnehaha Park for a chance to catch my breath while enjoying the breathtaking views.
Moments later, I arrived at my next stop, Tiny Diner, where executive chef, Stephanie Portillo is not only preparing wildly flavorful dishes inspired by her grandmother, she’s also doing so sustainably, making use of a solar-powered canopy that offsets roughly 30% of their carbon footprint, a garden that grows what they serve, along with rainwater collection and beehives onsite!
Minneapolis’ commitment to the environment continued at our next stop, Wise Acre Eatery where Chef Dan Schmidt is also blazing a sustainable trail for restaurants to follow. His sustainable efforts are evident from the moment you walk through the door, “We grow all of our own vegetables, carrots, potatoes, greens, we do all of our own chicken, all the eggs come from the farm, we have Scottish Highland Cows – we value local over everything,” explained Chef Schmidt.
And the only thing better than where they source their food is how it tastes! When you’re there, be sure to try the Carnitas Cubano sandwich – you’ll thank me later.
At the end of my tour of Minneapolis, a delicious yet unexpected surprise awaited me at an unsuspecting place. Located in our hotel is a gem of a restaurant called Giulia. It’s earned quite a loyal following of fans for its authentic take on Italian cuisine.
Here, I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Steven Brown who also happens to be a bike enthusiast himself. In fact, he and a friend once biked the entire Pacific Northwest! That might have been a few moons ago, and sadly, has seen the passing of his friend and fellow cyclist, but Chef Steven still spoke with such love and fondness over his cycling days that he and I became fast friends.
Understandably, I was eager to taste whatever Northern Italian specialty he was going to cook up – and between you and me, at first, I was skeptical: Cacio e Pepe. Why such a skeptic? Because there’s a spot in my hometown of New Jersey that serves the best Cacio e Pepe I’ve ever had – and, well, because it’s a simple dish, right? Pasta, butter, pepper, and cheese – how complicated could it be? Lesson learned. Chef Steven blew my mind with his technique. He creates an egg and cheese mixture and whips it into a cream – then – when the hot pasta comes out, it goes straight into this mixture and cooks the sauce! Brilliant! And when I say it’s creamy – seriously – you can’t even begin to imagine it – so don’t even try – just go and order your own, trust me.
Hey, did I mention the surprising blow-torch-meets-ice cream technique at Bebe Zito Ice Cream?
Yep, setting ice cream on fire – it’s a Minneapolis thing. Or that two of the restaurants grow most of their produce themselves and locally source the rest? Let’s just say you’re in for a big surprise – lots of ‘em – when you visit Minneapolis!