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Best of Twin Cities dining, 1964 edition

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: February 27, 2014 - 9:22 AM

How great is this?

Librarian John Wareham pulled this fascinating clip from the Star Tribune's archives -- materials for a project for another colleague, Bill Ward -- and he also shared it with me.

As a kid, I was a dedicated follower of Will Jones' entertaining and sharply observant "After Last Night" column in the Minneapolis Tribune. He was the ultimate man-about-town, and in his column, which ran from 1947 to 1984, he covered an astonishingly wide range of entertainment subjects.

He called this Dec. 20, 1964 edition of his column "A Month of Good Eating."

"Here's a list of 31 good dining-out suggestions in the Twin Cities area," he wrote. "Why 31? Because I've sometimes been caught boasting, in a Chamber-of-Commerce way, that it would be possible to take a visitor to a different place for dinner every night for a month and send him away well-fed and impressed. So this is a put-up-or-shut-up kind of deal: a concrete list of 31 places to go; a long month of good eating."

Of the 31 restaurants on Jones’ "guide to gastronomy," six impressively remain, in one form or another, a half-century later.

Normandy Kitchen, in a 1960 Star Tribune file photo.

In the those-were-the-days department, there’s the Normandy Village (now Normandy Kitchen, pictured above in a Star Tribune file photo). Get this: “They put you in a good frame of mind here by presenting you immediately, not with the usual relish or hors d’oeuvres tray, but with a pot of caviar, some crackers and a cheese board with a wedge of Roquefort,” Jones wrote. “Presently, they pass hot popovers, and if you think to ask the waitress for the sour cream that would normally be delivered later with the baked potato, you can concoct a magnificent delicacy: hot popover, sour cream, caviar.”

For Murray’s, Jones offered a gender-specific observation and some sage advice: “There are women who have been known to eat all the Murray’s garlic bread at their own table and then steal garlic bread from other tables to put in their purses and take home,” he wrote. “Don’t give a waitress any lip here unless you’re prepared to get some back; they’re no-nonsense pros.”

After visiting Lindey’s Prime Steak House, Jones was taken with the “beautiful and uncomplicated eating.” Note the average price for dinner: $2.85 to $4.35.

It’s lovely to see how many Jax Cafe traditions have endured in the half-century since Jones visited the restaurant, which dates to 1933. “Consistently good moderately priced steaks and live Maine lobster (you can pick your own from a saltwater tank if you like) have made Jax a Nordeast institution. Sundays there’s outdoor dining by a trout pond with flamingos strutting about.”

At the time, Fuji-Ya owner Reiko Weston (pictured, above, with her daughter Carol) operated two locations: One on LaSalle Av. near 9th St. in downtown Minneapolis (pictured, above), the other in Alley 29 in downtown St. Paul. “Here you get your choice of two good places run by the same management,” Jones wrote. “Both places have private booths where you sit with your shoes off; there are low Japanese tables, but with foot wells underneath so Westerners don’t have to squat during the meal.”

For sheer midcentury cattiness, my favorite might be his description of the Lowell Inn (pictured above in a 2001 Star Tribune file photo): “Nothing’s usual in this midwestern replica of Mt. Vernon. In the Matterhorn Room, there’s one meal and one meal alone: Dinner begins with snails and sherry, continues through a do-it-yourself salad and a sampling of white wines and then fondue Bourguignonne (chunks of cook-it-yourself tenderloin which you frazzle in hot oil) accompanied by countless choice relishes and sauces and a sampling of red wines and ends with a dessert of chilled grapes in brown-sugared sour cream. All this in an aggressively Swiss setting dominated by intricate woodcarving.

“In the regular dining room, it’s more like eating in an elegant antiques shop; the table service is antique too. Maddeningly inflexible waitresses will recite the menu, or you can read it from a china plate upon which it’s inscribed. There are steaks, trout from the premises and a superb fried chicken. Assorted warm sweet breads are passed with jams and the special house chutney. It’s all presided over by the resident white-haired grande dame, Nelle Palmer, who wouldn’t be caught dead outside a Parisian gown and about three-quarters of a pound of jewelry.

“In the cocktail lounge, cocktails are served in birdbath-sized bowls; martinis are made with an atomizer for vermouth; women get rhinestone-studded highball glasses. Food and booze, amazingly, live up to the show-biz trappings.”

As for the long-gone restaurants that sound most time-travel worthy, I'd say they include:

Harry's Cafe, Star Tribune file photo from 1960.

Harry’s Cafe (11th St. and Nicollet Av., Mpls., pictured above in a 1960 Star Tribune file photo): “Three floors of sustained cheerfulness mark this Minneapolis institution," Jones wrote. "There’s a long and substantial chophouse menu, and I’m afraid I’ve developed far too many favorites for my own good. It’s one of the places I think of almost automatically when I yearn for a good steamed live lobster. The English mutton chop with kidney center, the mixed grill and the prime rib sandwich are always good. So is the extra-thick broiled liver, which you can actually get rare upon demand. I’ve given up on the Harry’s Salad, which is something special, for the coleslaw, which is unique. The giant Harry’s martini is the original Minnesota White Death."

Blue Horse (University Av. near Hamline Av., St. Paul): “A Beverly Hills matron’s notion of what a French cellar should look like. Fingernail-tiny Pacific-coast Olympia oysters a specialty, flown in in fresh, in season. Caesar salad is a big production, Hollywood-style, from a cart.”

Cedars of Lebanon (Hwy. 10, between University Av. and Central Av. NE., Spring Lake Park): “If you’re doubtful about the Arab names on the menu, they’ll stuff you with a full sampling of everything in the house for $5 a person. There’s always Middle Eastern music on the record player, and sometimes relatives and friends drop in with Arab drums and pipes.”

Donaldson’s North Shore Grill (Nicollet Av. and 6th St., Mpls., pictured above in a 1948 photo, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society): “Minnesota walleyed pike and lake trout get simple but loving care here; the place has been noted for fish since the turn of the century. Dessert? Maple frango, what else? This is where it was introduced to Minnesota years ago. Donaldson's also introduced department-store drinking to Minnesota recently, with a nice little-old-ladylike cocktail list for those who aren't sure what they're about.”

Foo Chu (Excelsior Av. and Joppa Av., St. Louis Park), if only for the alarming pre-feminist recommendation: “There are new bamboo-curtained hideaway booths for twosomes, and a special list of far-eastern-sounding drinks to use for plying susceptible ladies therein. All that notwithstanding, it’s a popular family place.”

And, for the name alone, the Poodle (Hennepin Av. and 8th St., Mpls.): “It’s not a restaurant but a bar with a well-catered lunch counter. Since the remarkably thick hot pastrami and corned beef sandwiches are served until 8 p.m., and since you can accompany them with all the herring and hot peppers and other relishes you can eat, it’s possible to feed a visitor extremely well for 50 cents and call it dinner.”

Jones wrote about food with some frequency. Three years prior to this edition of his column, he published a cookbook, "Wild in the Kitchen," and in 1979 he famously described the method for cooking dog, part of a Hong Kong-based series (and yes, "the leftovers went home in 'a literal doggie bag,'" noted his obituary writer, Trudi Hahn).

He retired in 1984, two years after the morning Tribune and afternoon Star merged to form the Star Tribune. He died in 2004 at age 80.

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