While much of the Midwest is a bit plain, a drive from Chicago through Wisconsin and Minnesota yields some of the prettiest scenery in the country. Rolling green hills studded with lakes and rivers are a welcome finale to summer road trip season, especially when the destination is Minneapolis, whose food scene alone is worth the six-and-a-half-hour drive. With its surrounding farmland and steady influx of culinary talent, the city's restaurant scene is better than ever. Here are nine reasons to drive to this Twin City right now.
A restaurant, cafe, bar and boutique hotel in one, Alma is one of Minneapolis’ unique and beautiful destinations. Located a few blocks from the Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River, the property is the handiwork of award-winning chef Alex Roberts. Open since 1999, the elegant yet relaxed Restaurant Alma features an ever-changing lineup of seasonal fare, like summer lettuce salad enlivened with roasted figs and tarragon vinaigrette, wild nettle sformato with creamy and spicy coconut milk–jalapeño sauce, and lemony orzo pasta with rabbit confit and English peas. Across the lobby is Cafe Alma, a casual all-day nook offering pastries, creamed kale scrambles, freshly baked breads and whitefish tartines by day, followed by garlic-roasted prawns, buttermilk-fried quail and nutmeg-spiced white corn grits by night. Chef de cuisine Matti Sprague runs the show over here. Then there's the impressive cocktail list, which contains fresh creations like strawberry Manhattans and fennel pollen Sazeracs. Upstairs are seven hotel rooms, all beautifully designed by Talin Spring of Spring Finn & Co. with natural hues and elements like hardwood, brass, grass and leather. Each room also features soaps crafted by chef Roberts’ wife, Margo Roberts.
528 University Ave. SE; 612-379-4909
The thing to know about Cosmos, the New American restaurant inside Downtown’s Loews Hotel, is that it’s home to the best chef’s table you might ever encounter. While most chef's tables offer seats near the action, this one is right in the middle of the kitchen, which is spacious enough so that you don’t get in the way but can still enjoy the action-packed surrounds. Chef Tim Fischer puts his foraging and gardening skills to good use highlighting seasonal, local ingredients. At once whimsical and precise, degustations are a parade of flavors and photogenic presentations. From crispy skin salmon with marble potatoes and maple gastrique to wild mushroom risotto, housemade charcuterie and flowery herb salads served in deep wooden bowls, each course is a surprise. Wine pairings are expertly matched, service is intimate, and by meal's end Cosmos has revealed itself as a hidden gem.
601 N. 1st Ave.; 612-677-1100
Much has been said of Spoon & Stable, one of the city's most coveted tables and the work of chef Gavin Kaysen, who left New York City for a more peaceful, flexible lifestyle in the Midwest. He has since branched off with Bellecour, a French-inspired cafe/bistro in the picturesque lake community of Wayzata. Bellecour peddles immaculate pastries and breads in the morning, when locals fill the cozy courtyard patio for almond croissants, vanilla-stuffed brioche and crêpe cakes (pictured). In the afternoon, cravings shift toward ham and butter sandwiches or Bibb lettuce salad. By evening, Bellecour shines with French classics like bouillabaisse, duck a l’orange and rotisserie chicken with buttered baby leeks. The experience is as dreamy as the finest French bistro.
739 Lake St. E, Wayzata; 952-444-5200
Spiced fish ribs, dill-infused caipirinhas and crab empanadas are a few of the adventurous dishes to be found at Mercy Restaurant at Le Meridien Chambers. The new Downtown restaurant is an apt showcase for chef Mike Rakun, whose eclectic palate has resulted in an inventive menu. Toeing the line between comfort food (the fluffy, buttery garlic bread is hard to stop eating) and elegance, this is one of the rare restaurants that has something for everyone without overextending itself. Go with a small group and graze through the menu together, sharing small plates like empanadas and tender, buffalo-spiced fish ribs before moving on to burlier options like roasted lobster, hot pastrami sandwiches (pictured) or scallops with warm bacon vinaigrette and crunchy grits croutons. The cocktail program is just as strong, as evidenced by the aquavit-based dill caipirinha with lime and orange bitters.
901 Hennepin Ave.; 612-252-7000
The Six15 Room
Kimpton Hotels knows a thing or two about lobby bars. In Chicago, Vol. 39 is one of the hottest new cocktail bars in the Loop. The Six15 Room accomplishes a similar feat within the Grand Hotel in Minneapolis. This cozy, boozy alcove recalls lobby bars of yore with its romantic, dimly lit confines and steady hum of suit-wearing customers clinking glassware during happy hour. Wine, beer and cocktails are well represented here, with the latter featuring a tasteful balance of classics and novelties, like The Wise Monkey, a heady mashup of rye whiskey, apricot brandy, simple syrup, lemon and sage. Rounding out the food side, chef Kris Koch cooks up a perfectly snackable menu of upscale bar bites, from bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and bison–wild rice meatballs to walleye tater tots and habit-forming fingerling potatoes with blue cheese sauce.
615 2nd Ave. S; 612-288-8888
Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge
Long before the tiki bar revival swept the country, there was Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge. This riverside dreamworld is the real deal. The kitsch is legit, the fruity drinks are deceptively boozy, the thematic mugs are colorful and collectible (there's even a gift shop), and the patio is always packed. All the classic rum fixtures are present, from mai tais and Zombies, to Beachcombers and Miserable Bastards, and while the cocktails themselves won’t blow you away with innovation, it’s the ambiance that really sets Suzi's apart. The massive patio feels like an escape to a Polynesian paradise, complete with fire torches, stone statues and thatch-roof umbrellas. The vacation continues inside with carved pillars, waterfalls, lush plants and island-inspired art.
1900 Marshall St. NE; 612-788-9069
The Bachelor Farmer Cafe
Set in the increasingly hopping North Loop area, The Bachelor Farmer Cafe is a more casual, counter-service entry from Eric Dayton, owner of The Bachelor Farmer. Just as rigorously seasonal as its elder sibling, the cafe serves bountiful salads, open-faced sandwiches, hearty soups and pastries aplenty. The sandwiches are a highlight, going far beyond the call of tartine duty with uncommon toppings like salt-roasted beets, dill-cured salmon, roasted ham with preserved zucchini and duck confit with roasted cabbage.
200 1st St. N; 612-206-3923
Another essential destination in the North Loop, Marvel Bar is the subterranean cocktail bar beneath The Bachelor Farmer. The subtle, speakeasylike haven boasts inventive cocktails with well-balanced flavors, layered ingredients and precise attention to aroma, glassware and presentation. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Old Man and the Sea (pictured), a briny blend of Laphroaig 10 Scotch, distilled water and nori, or the Superdry, which combines herbs, vinegar, salt and lime for a pungent mix of vermouth, soju and seltzer. Arrive early (the bar opens at 5 PM) if you want to ensure a spot, as Marvel Bar gets crowded quick.
50 N. 2nd Ave.; 612-206-3929
Betty Danger’s Country Club
From the same quirky minds behind Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge comes this wonderland of Tex-Mex food, margaritas, mini-golf and Ferris wheel rides. Part bar and part amusement park, Betty Danger’s is the best way to cap off a Midwest summer. Because there’s really nothing better than a bright pink frozen prickly pear margarita with a round on the vintage Ferris wheel. You can take your drinks on the ride, which provides fantastic skyline views, and on the surprisingly challenging mini-golf course. The place gets packed, but it’s big enough both inside and out that snagging a seat is rarely an issue.
2501 Marshall St. NE; 612315-4997