Here's a highly selective guide to enjoying the patios, terraces, decks, verandas, rooftops, sidewalk cafes and other fresh-air venues at Twin Cities restaurants.
Classic, part 1
The walled patio at Jax Cafe (1928 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-789-7297, jaxcafe.com) includes a trout stream. An honest-to-goodness trout stream. And, yes, you can net your own catch, and chef Bob Foster and his crew will handle the rest.
Classic, part 2
The patio at W.A. Frost & Co. (374 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-224-5715, wafrost.com) has it all: historic setting, leafy canopy, well-tended gardens, seating galore and chef Matt Kempf’s seasonally focused, crowd-pleasing menu.
Downtown sidewalk, Minneapolis
Sadly, Nicollet Mall reconstruction has nixed the sidewalk tables outside Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, which means that downtown’s top sidewalk award now goes to Eastside (305 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-208-1638, eastsidempls.com). Bonus: the restaurant’s weekday lunch service starts June 6. Runner up: the sun-soaked tables in front of Spoonriver (750 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-436-2236, spoonriver.com), especially during Saturday brunch, given the restaurant’s proximity to the Mill City Farmers Market.
Downtown sidewalk, St. Paul
Is there a more urbane outdoor dining venue than the sidewalk cafe outside four-star Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, meritage-stp.com)? The open-air living room is bookmarked by picture-book architecture (French chateau-esque Landmark Center, for starters), and chef/co-owner Russell Klein’s seafood-friendly menu — which includes the Midwest’s most impressive oyster roster — is a treat.
Love is in the air
The city’s most romantic open-sky venue is, without question, the Montemarte-like patio hidden in the alley behind Cafe Lurcat (1624 Harmon Place, Mpls., 612-486-5500, cafelurcat.com). Adjacent Bar Lurcat operates its own outdoor venue, a pretty, garden-like space that feels like a food-and-drink extension of Loring Park.
In the North Loop
The city’s hottest restaurant neighborhood is loaded with al fresco options. The biggest attention-grabber is the well-landscaped patio outside Freehouse (701 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-339-7011, freehousempls.com), a fine perch for the kitchen’s breakfast-to-late night cooking. Can’t find it? Look for the 30-foot corrugated iron silo, storage for brewer Tim Piotrowski’s barley.
Be sure to check out the new alley patio outside the Bachelor Farmer (50 N. 2nd Av., Mpls., 612-206-3920, thebachelorfarmer.com), a semi-secluded perch for the restaurant’s fine daytime cafe. And look for the occasional brewery pop-ups (next up: Pryes Brewing Co. on June 23) during evening hours.
Private goes public
Weekdays through the summer, Campus Club, the private U of M enclave on the fourth floor of Coffman Union (300 Washington Av. SE., Mpls., 612-626-7788, campusclubumn.org), opens its bar — and adjacent terrace, with its breathtaking views — to the public for a 4-to-7 p.m. happy hour.
On the St. Croix
In Hudson, the patio to beat is the sunny deck-with-a-view at Pier Five Hundred (500 1st St., Hudson, Wis., 1-715-386-5504, pierfivehundred.com). In Stillwater, where outdoor seating proliferates, the top two choices are the gigantic, sun-soaked patio at the Freight House (305 S. Water St., Stillwater, 651-439-5718, thefreighthouse.com), or the shaded, water’s-edge terrace at the Dock Cafe (425 Nelson St., Stillwater, 651-430-3770, dockcafe.com).
Marine Landing b.o.t.m. (10 Elm, Marine on St. Croix, 651-483-4577) is so semi-secluded that it requires a well-drawn map or a confident GPS, but the hassle pays off in the form of a peerless on-the-water setting. The food? Basic short-order cooking (breakfast and lunch, with Friday dinner), at everyday prices.
The show off
When taking out-of-towners out on the town, fun-loving Betty Danger’s Country Club (2501 Marshall Av. NE., Mpls., 612-315-4997, bettydangers.com) belongs at the top of the itinerary, for its one-and-only bar: a 60-foot Ferris wheel, aka, “The Danger.” There’s mini-golf, too.
Owner Leslie Beck has another gotta-visit summer venue just up the street: Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge (1900 Marshall Av. NE., Mpls., 612-788-9069, psychosuzis.com), which sports what just might be the only tiki-adorned bar (with food and libations to match) on the Mississippi River.
Secluded in the city
The well-appointed patio at Moscow on the Hill (371 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-291-1236, moscowonthehill.com) isn’t visible from the street, making it a pleasant, semi-secret surprise. The hearty Russian fare is a treat, as is the seemingly limitless vodka selection.
Italian, times two
When I want to impress visitors, I like to start with a nosh (a morel-topped pizza, bruschetta with pistachio pesto and ramps) and a pinot bianco at the eight-seat kitchen counter outside Broders’ Pasta Bar (5000 Penn Av. S., Mpls., 612-925-3113, broders.com). With the advent of the small, stylish patio outside the Broder family’s excellent Terzo (2221 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-0330), I’ll be making it a 50th-and-Penn twofer, often. Celebrate the restaurant’s third birthday this weekend with a five-course, $60-per-person dinner, served Friday through Sunday.
Yes, the string of summer-only restaurants that are improving the fortunes of Minneapolis parks are all first-rate, family-friendly venues: Sandcastle (4955 W. Lake Nokomis Pkwy., 612-722-5550, sandcastlempls.com), Bread & Pickle (4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls., 612-767-9009, breadandpickle.com), Tin Fish (3000 E. Lake Calhoun Pkwy., Mpls., 612-823-5840, tinfishmn.com) and Sea Salt Eatery (4825 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., 612-721-8990, seasalteatery.wordpress.com). Across the river, don’t forget picturesque Como Dockside (1360 N. Lexington Pkwy., St. Paul, 651-666-9491, comodockside.com), also noteworthy for its appealing New Orleans-inspired menu, inventive cocktails and live music.
The second time around
At the second location of Yum! Kitchen and Bakery (6601 Shady Oak Road, Minnetonka, 952-933-6001, yumkitchen.com), owner Patti Soskin has ramped up the previous tenant’s roomy patio, allowing din ers to order beer, wine, appetizers and desserts (including, of course, her famous Patticake, a chocolate layer cake that has to be tasted to be believed) without having to wait in line inside.
On the big lake
Lake Minnetonka is loaded with patio options. Enjoy the views — either dockside, or rooftop — at 6Smith (294 E. Grove Lane, Wayzata, 952-698-7900, 6smith.com), whether it’s during weekend brunch ($12-and-under on Saturday, a more elaborate $25/person Sunday affair) or lunch and dinner. With its something-for-everyone menu, the massive patio outside Maynard’s Restaurant (685 Excelsior Blvd., Excelsior, 952-470-1800, maynards-excelsior.com) draws (and handles) summertime crowds. One body of water over, drop in on Birch’s on the Lake (1310 W. Wayzata Blvd., Long Lake, 952-473-7373, birchonthelake.com) for house-brewed beer and All-American fare.
Gravlax and fresh air
Summer means that the stunner of a courtyard at the American Swedish Institute becomes the outdoor dining room at chic, affordable Fika (2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-4907, fikacafe.net). It’s a lunch-only operation, except on Wednesday, when chef John Krattenmaker serves dinner. Go.
On the roof
At last count, there are more than a half-dozen rooftop patios in downtown Minneapolis, but they’re also popping up elsewhere. In Uptown, consider Libertine (3001 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-877-7263, libertinempls.com), Stella’s Fish Cafe (1400 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-824-8862, stellasfishcafe.com) or Amore Uptown (1601 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-823-0250, amoreuptown.com), and in downtown St. Paul, check out Ox Cart Ale House (255 E. 6th St., St. Paul, 651-756-8909, oxcartalehouse.com) and Louis Ristorante & Bar inside Cossetta Alimentari (211 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-222-7378, cossettas.com).
A few more
Don’t forget the lively beer garden behind Butcher & the Boar (1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-238-8888, butcherandtheboar.com), the working kitchen garden that surrounds the sheltered patio at Tiny Diner (1024 E. 38th St., Mpls., 612-767-3322, tinydiner.com), the sunny deck outside Hola Arepa (3501 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-345-5583, holaarepa.com), the great-looking (and gigantic) patios at Porter Creek Hardwood Grill (14201 Burngarten Dr., Burnsville, 952-698-1888, portercreek.com) and Tavern on France (6740 France Av. S., Edina, 952-358-6100, tavernonfrance.com), the indoor/outdoor verandas at Patrick McGovern’s Pub & Restaurant (255 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-224-5821, patmcgoverns.com) and Al Vento (5001 34th Av. S., Mpls., 612-724-3009, alventorestaurant.com), the blooming garden that is the outdoor seating at Wise Acre Eatery (5401 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2577, wiseacreeatery.com) and the beer garden outside standard-setting Surly Brewing Co. (520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com).