CP: What a beautiful day to be lunching in Maple Grove, where gravel pit meets P.F. Chang's, and to answer once and for all that burning question: Where do all those turquoise dress shirts sold with coordinating neckties find a home?

RN: First, meow. Second, the 763, obviously. But don't let that be your principal takeaway from our field trip to the Shoppes, Fountains and other various and sundry districts of this vast suburban showplace otherwise collectively known as Arbor Lakes.

CP: This squeaky clean, faux-front Main Street resembles a set for "The Truman Show."

 RN: I hate to break it to you, but this is what most of America looks like. We're in what's known as a "lifestyle center." I hear that and immediately think, "gay lifestyle" center. You know, gyms, trendy restaurants, an Apple store. In other words, Uptown.

CP: Yeah, but try finding a Yankee Candle in Uptown, or a bulk-buy warehouse. In "downtown" Maple Grove, the ample street parking comes with no meters, which appeals to my inner cheapskate. OMG, a Dunn Bros. Perhaps I could grow to like it here.

RN: I always get a little nervous when I can't see the IDS Tower.

 CP: There's that. Also, I might grow tired of the whole few-minorities thing.

RN: At least all of this sprawl is somewhat tempered by the legacy view of that gravel pit, which looks so much like a Martian landscape that I fully expect to see Curiosity come rolling over the horizon.

CP: The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes is the prefab-stucco capital of the Upper Midwest.

RN: Right? It's like a low-rise version of Block E, stretching as far as the eye can see. Listen to us, the snotty urban snobs. On the other hand, that MS&R-designed public library is gorgeous.

CP: I know. Even its two-story parking ramp is amaze-balls. The publicly funded aspects out here are the design standouts, from that library to the government building and the streetscaping.

RN: Our tax dollars, hard at work. The neighborhood's relentless strip malls, big-box retailers and freestanding chain restaurants aside, it's great to see Great River Energy plant its good-looking HQ here. It's designed by Perkins + Will. BKV Group did that handsome municipal building, and HGA is responsible for that cool lakeside bandshell. Is it a coincidence that downtown Minneapolis firms are responsible for all this notable suburban architecture?

CP: For me, getting here -- on a crowded four-lane ribbon of concrete -- would be the big downside of living here.

RN: We should have timed our excursion with the farmers market. It runs on Thursday afternoons through the 18th, and it's excellent.

CP: Maybe next summer. I don't imagine I'll be a making a second trip out here this year.

E-mail: witheringglance@startribune.com Follow on Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib