Good restaurants in the Minneapolis skyways

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2013 - 8:59 AM

Food trucks have definitely raised the creativity standards for quick-service lunches. But with warm weather on the horizon, don’t give up on downtown’s second floor just yet.

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The wish-I’d-said-that quote of the month comes from Andrew Zimmern, he of cable television’s “Bizarre Foods” and the initials in AZ Canteen, a food truck that debuted late last summer.

Zimmern was discussing with Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin the friction between food truck operators and downtown Minneapolis skyway restaurant owners.

“I understand the fear-based reasoning, because this business has been taking it in the shorts,” said Zimmern. “But the fact is, half the restaurants in the skyway are serving some of the worst food in the city. They are coasting on convenience.”

Ouch. And, true. Actually, it’s probably more than half.

But after recently ducking through skyways in a 20-block area adjacent to downtown’s most popular food truck locations, I also encountered a welcome number of gems. Here they are, in no particular order.

Family tradition

The Brothers Deli is always hopping during prime lunch hours, and with good reason: Pastrami, corned beef, brisket and other deli classics, all well-prepared, fill out a lengthy menu that’s peppered with careful touches (excellent baked goods, top-drawer condiments) and served in a flash. Jockeying for a table is something of an art, and the kitchen serves breakfast, a skyway rarity. The place is also steeped in Minneapolis history. Diners with long memories will recall an earlier Brothers Deli, a popular mini-chain owned by brothers Leonard and Sam Burstein. It closed in 1983, and 10 years later, Leonard’s son Jeff Burstein opened his version of the Brothers Deli; it’s been a skyway lunch magnet since. Seating: Yes.

50 S. 6th St., 612-341-8007, www.thebrothersdeli.com

The real deal

Why settle for Subway (five skyway locations) or any of its franchised brethren when there’s Real Meal Deli? The locally owned mini-chain started in a St. Paul skyway before jumping across the river with two Minneapolis locations. The house specialty is creative made-to-order sandwiches (turkey with goat cheese and a cranberry-apricot compote, meatballs dripping in red sauce and dressed with Parmesan, roast sirloin finished with red onions and Dijon-honey aioli), plus salads that don’t taste as if they came off the supermarket grab-and-go shelf, a minor miracle, at least on the skyway net. The 2nd Avenue location features a daily $7.93 blue plate-style special (turkey with cornbread stuffing and mashed potatoes on Monday, sausage lasagna with garlic toast on Wednesday) and also serves egg sandwiches, scrambled egg bowls and oatmeal in the a.m. Seating: No at Marquette Avenue, yes at 2nd Avenue.

733 Marquette Av. S. (Baker Center) and 331 2nd Av. S. (TriTech Office Center), 612-436-0114, www.realmealdeli.com

The sweet spot

How many downtowners know that one of the Twin Cities’ best bakeries is parked on a skyway? It’s Cocoa & Fig, and the tiny Gaviidae shop is the source for a slim but wickedly tempting array of imaginative cupcakes (pick up C&F’s luscious riff on the Hostess fudge classic), cookies (it’s easy to fall for the scalloped-edged faux Oreos) and festive cake lollipops. The four-packs of bouchons, intensely chocolate-ey cork-shaped brownies, are ideal $5 gifts, or, better yet, as a midafternoon indulgence. Fun fact: The shop got its start as a popular booth at the Thursday Nicollet Mall farmers market. Seating: No, but nearby atrium seating.

651 Nicollet Mall (Gaviidae Common), 612-333-1485, www.cocoaandfig.com

Hold the sushi

Wandering through Secondfloorland can sometimes seem like a stroll through Bad Asian Fast-Food World (and make a person wonder about the efficacy of air ventilation). A happy exception is Zen Box, a sushi-free refuge specializing in familiar Japanese quick-service fare, freshly prepared and reasonably priced. Menu items include chicken-filled gyoza, potato-carrot curry over white or brown rice, grilled tofu with steamed vegetables and cold buckwheat soba noodles tossed with edamame and splashed with a sesame-miso vinaigrette. Seating: Limited.

601 Marquette Av. S. (Six Quebec), 612-341-3313, www.zenbox.com

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