Q: I need a good “guys’ dinner” idea. I’m trying to think outside the box of a place that offers solid atmosphere, good food (probably protein-heavy) and a good scotch/bourbon selection. Butcher & the Boar (1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.butcherandtheboar.com) is not allowed as the answer.
A: The Strip Club (378 Maria Av., St. Paul, www.domeats.com) might be just the ticket. Chef JD Fratzke grills what is easily one of the best steaks in the Twin Cities, and anyone who has a daily “meat on a stick” menu item is OK in my book. The bar crew is another strong suit. You might also want to try Burch Steak (1933 Colfax Av. S., Mpls., www.burchrestaurant.com), Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre’s excellent modern steakhouse.
Q: We’re looking to celebrate a little. We love Manny’s (825 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., www.mannysteakhouse.com) and Pittsburgh Blue (3220 W. 70th St., Edina, and 11900 Main St., Maple Grove, www.pittsburghbluesteak.com), but we’re looking to branch out to other steakhouses. What’s most important is a great wine list. Thoughts?
A: Burch Steak, as mentioned above. One smart element of their menu is that you can purchase different cuts in different sizes across three varieties of beef: Grass-fed, naturally raised and prime. What a great idea. You should also consider the Capital Grille (801 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.thecapitalgrille.com), which has always maintained a pretty strong wine list.
Q: You’ve mentioned Burch twice but how about a place that you can actually get reservations for? All of Becker’s places are a battle to actually get in. For procrastinators like me, it’s just not possible.
A: Agreed, none of Isaac and Nancy’s restaurants — which include 112 Eatery (112 N. 3rd St., Mpls., www.112eatery.com) and Bar La Grassa (800 Washington Av. N., Mpls., www.barlagrassa.com) — are easy walk-ins. But here’s a tip: When you go to Burch, head downstairs to the pizza portion of the restaurant and sit at the bar; the upstairs (steakhouse) menu is also served downstairs.
Q: I love raw oysters. Where can I find the largest and freshest selection?
A: It’s definitely at four-star Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, www.meritage-stpaul.com), where chef Russell Klein fully immerses himself in the oyster-eating culture. It’s a phenomenal operation, and I highly recommend it. If you prefer to stay west of the Mississippi, you should check out chef Jamie Malone’s beautiful oyster presentations at Sea Change (806 W. 2nd St., Mpls., www.seachangempls.com). Or for something very casual, consider Sea Salt Eatery (4801 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls. www.seasalteatery.wordpress.com) in Minnehaha Park.
Q: Do you know any good drive-ins worth checking out this summer?
A: I love drive-ins. Here are two ideas: The Galaxy Drive-In (3712 Quebec Av. S., St. Louis Park, www.galaxy-drivein.com) reopened earlier this month under new management (the Green Mill folks). I’m also a huge fan of the Drive-In in Taylors Falls (572 Bench St., Taylors Falls, Minn., www.taylorsfalls.com), in part because heading to the St. Croix is such a great day trip, and in part because the drive-in is handled with care; the food is terrific, and the place is spotless. Two others worth mentioning: the Peppermint Twist (115 Babcock Blvd. W., Delano, www.thepepperminttwist.com) and the classic Italian-American Dari-Ette Drive-In (1440 E. Minnehaha Av., St. Paul).
Q: Any knowledge of local farmers growing hazelnuts this year?
A: There’s a farm in Lake City, Minn., that cultivates hazelnuts, Hazelnut Valley Farm (www. hazelnutvalleyfarm.com).
Q: Is there a directory of food trucks that are around this summer?
A: There are several Twitter accounts that follow the current whereabouts of local food trucks. One that I find particularly useful is @tcstreetfood.
Q: I saw you recently had a story about Kramarczuk’s (215 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., www.kramarczuk.com). What do you like to eat there?
A: What don’t I like? Sometimes it’s a matter of running into the deli and picking up the French apple sausages or what I believe are some of the Twin Cities’ best hot dogs (and the Twin Cities’ best hot dog buns) for our back-yard grill, sometimes it’s dropping in for my poppy-seed-kolache craving. In the restaurant, I’m a fan of the cabbage rolls, stuffed with pork and smothered in a tomato-cream sauce. They’re awesome.
Q: When it comes to Tilia (2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., www.tiliampls.com), what do you recommend?
A: I feel like you can’t visit the House of Steven Brown without ordering one of his soups, which are always extraordinary exercises in creativity and deliciousness. Also, if you don’t love the grilled shrimp with peas, well, there’s something wrong with you, at least in my skewed mind’s eye. But really, there’s so much to adore at Brown’s always-crowded Linden Hills restaurant, from the ever-changing potted meat, the beautiful gravlax, that pretty Gem lettuce salad, those amazing roasted chicken thighs, his outlandishly dressed hot dogs and the incredible roast pork with poached eggs at weekend brunch.
Q: What are your thoughts about Acqua (4453 Lake Av. S., www.acqua-restaurants.com) in White Bear Lake?
A: I think it’s pretty swell, and if I lived in that part of the metro area, it would be on my regularly-scheduled dining-out roster. They’ve just opened a second restaurant in Forest Lake (8241 North Shore Trail N.) — it’s another lakeside location — and I’m looking forward to checking it out.
Q: Anything new that has impressed you?
A: Yes. I dropped in on Cossetta Alimentari (211 W. 7th St., St. Paul, www.cossettas.com) and was really impressed by the final portion of that landmark’s remake, the complex’s (lavishly beautiful) sweets shop. The bakery is turning out beautiful and addicting Italian-inspired cookies, cakes and other well-executed pastries, and the gelato was pretty darned good. Great coffee, too.
Q: I just moved to the Longfellow neighborhood in Minneapolis. Do you have any recommendations — vegetarian-friendly is a must — for current or forthcoming places to eat?
A: Count me a huge fan of Craftsman (4300 E. Lake St., Mpls., www.craftsmanrestaurant.com), and while it’s fairly animal protein-centric, chef Ben Jacoby’s dinner menu always has at least two compelling meat-free entrees and a similar number of appetizers. Just down the street at Parka (4021 E. Lake St., Mpls., parkampls.com), the Rustica bakery counter can’t be beat, and there are a number of vegetarian items worth exploring, starting with the incredible broccoli salad. Both the Turtle Bread Co. (4205 E. 34th St., Mpls., www.turblebread.com) and the Blue Door Pub (3448 42nd Av. S., Mpls., www.thebluedoorpubmn.com) have outlets in the neighborhood, and — while it’s not exactly in Longfellow, it’s close — if you’re a beer lover you should definitely check out the Northbound Smokehouse (2716 E. 38th St., Mpls., www.northboundbrewpub.com).
Q: Can you remind me where the best patio seats are?
A: Where to begin? Old-school selections would include W.A. Frost & Co. (274 Selby Av., St. Paul, www.wafrost.com), Cafe Lurcat and Bar Lurcat (1624 Harmon Place, Mpls., www.cafelurcat.com) and the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant (1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., dakotacooks.com). I also recommend Loring Kitchen & Bar (1359 Willow St., Mpls., www.loringkitchen.com), Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, www.meritage-stpaul.com), Porter Creek Hardwood Grill (14201 Burngarten Dr., Burnsville, www.portercreek.com), Tavern on France (6740 France Av. S., Edina, www.tavernonfrance.com) and Lucia’s (1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., www.lucias.com). But that’s just for starters.
Q: We have found it tough to find some places with gluten-free options. Any suggestions?
A: A number of restaurants are making the effort to emphasize gluten-free menu items. You should start at Mill Valley Kitchen (3906 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park, www.millvalleyktichen.com). I’m looking forward to the restaurant’s downtown Minneapolis sibling; it’s called Marin Restaurant & Bar (901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.marinrestaurant.com), and it’s scheduled to open Sunday in the Chambers Hotel.
Q: We’re going to Chicago next weekend, any dining suggestions?
A: Lucky you. On the traditionalist side, I find it difficult to visit Chicago and not drop in on Rick Bayless’ restaurants, whether it’s Frontera Grill or Topolobampo (he also operates two quick-service spots, Xoco and Frontera Fresco, and they’re great; www.rickbayless.com). I’m a big fan of Sepia (www.sepiachicago.com) and Mindy’s HotChocolate (www.hotchocolatechicago.com), the sweet/savory spot in Bucktown. For an outdoor room with a view, why not drop a few bucks at Sixteen (www.sixteenchicago.com) in the Trump Hotel on the Chicago River; as venues go it’s outstanding. One of the most romantic restaurants in the city is North Pond (www.northpondrestaurant.com), chef Bruce Sherman’s local-local-local spot in a gorgeous arts-and-crafts warming house in the center of Lincoln Park. Newcomer Grace (www.grace-restaurant.com) is garnering tons of buzz. And be sure to have a cocktail at the Violet Hour (www.theviolethour.com) or the Aviary (www.theaviary.com). But really, you could visit Chicago for the next 20 weekends and barely put a dent into its dining-out riches.
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib