Rib-eye sandwich at the Butchers Deli

What is essential? For the Wallises, it's meat.

Brandon and Ashley owned a restaurant in downtown Victoria for 16 years, called School of the Wise. During COVID's first year, they had a fire which, combined with constant delays for the reopening of nonessential businesses, had them taking "a hard look at our future," Brandon Wallis said. They pivoted to something essential, at least by those early pandemic standards, and created a butcher shop.

The Butchers Deli is a combination liquor store, grocery store and meat counter, plus a few tables to dine in for sandwiches and burgers. Do get the burger, with aggressively seared edges that form an overflowing skirt of crispy meat that encircles the outside of the bun. A side of seasoned fries is a very good idea.

And don't overlook the rest of the menu. An Italian meat-and-cheese hoagie with a heap of top-it-yourself giardiniera was one of my favorites. The other was this rib-eye sandwich ($13.95). Wallis thinly slices Minnesota-raised prime rib-eye into curls that stack up in a tangle with caramelized onions on a toasted Denny's 5th Avenue ciabatta roll. Housemade horseradish and custom "better butter seasoning" pack a punch, and both are available for sale in the store. "We love to teach people how to make what we produce behind the counter," Wallis said. "Long story short: Don't look at a steak as just a steak." (Sharyn Jackson)

1550 Arboretum Blvd., Victoria, 952-361-9463, thebutchersdeli.com

Somm Board at Milly's Wine Bar & Bistro

Don't think that you have to be a wine connoisseur to enjoy a wine bar; it's actually the perfect place to learn. Milly's is a prime example. Knowledgeable and pleasant servers will guide you through the expansive menu curated by sommelier Timothy O'Neil.

O'Neil also curated this beauty, appropriately called the Somm Board ($38), and is happy to discuss its intricacies while making his tableside rounds. Designed to pair with the current wine list, it includes cheeses from all over the world, the best being a creamy wedge from Northeast's Alemar Cheese Co. Accompanied by premium breads, crackers, olives, honey, fruit and more, it's a master class in curation. (Add charcuterie for $10.) The board, one of a handful on the menu, complemented three very different wine orders, and was filling enough that we didn't need the bacon-Gorgonzola flatbread ($15), but ordered it anyway.

Opened last summer, Milly's is a two-story stunner located in the Mill District. There's a patio out back, but our perch by one of the massive second-floor windows, watching day turn to dusk, made for a most memorable evening. The lemon tart nightcap didn't hurt, either. (Nicole Hvidsten)

1129 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-223-8934, millysmpls.com

El Dorado at Mito

What do you get a podiatrist for her birthday? If she has the same sense of humor as my friend, how about a bronze cocktail glass in the shape of a foot — anklet and all?

You'll find that, and plenty of other over-the-top glassware, on the cocktail menu at Mito. The restaurant with a wide-ranging Latin American menu, which opened last year in the former Grumpy's in Roseville, is clearly tickled by silly drinking vessels. There's a skull that comes with a glass globe of poison (well, a tequila and hibiscus cocktail) you pour into the cranium. An IV bag hanging from a stand opens to let a blood-red prickly pear and gin drink into your glass. For a group? Mito Airlines is a miniature airplane with two lit sparklers and eight colorful fruity shots across the top of the fuselage.

The foot was the El Dorado ($18), a sweet and quenchable mix of cognac, coconut liqueur and citrus. The photo opps were endless, and that seems to be what Mito is going for. There are several nooks that appear to be made for Instagram backdrops. The place is meant for groups, especially those who are celebrating. Our fun continued through dessert, when we ordered my friend a slice of tres leches cake doused in a Bailey's shot; it came under a dangling piñata.

She loved her cocktail glass so much that we bought it for her. It was $50, but the hilarity of that foot? Priceless. (S.J.)

2801 N. Snelling Av., Roseville, 651-330-8677, mitolatincuisine.com

Cardamom Bun at Fika Café

In my memories, my birthday always tasted like cardamom. While most kids are more likely to jockey for a rose made of frosting, my sticky little fingers were pulling apart a braided loaf of bread to expose a buried river of sweetness and warm spice to eat first. In our house, cardamom bread was a holiday tradition, when my mom would labor over a sweet bread dough studded with roughly cracked cardamom seeds just liberated from their green husks. The dough was braided then brushed with tacky syrup that would seep deep into the crevices, creating the most prized perfect bite.

Despite her valiant efforts, I have never been able to master this recipe, but it's a flavor I crave. That's why whenever I'm anywhere near Fika at the American Swedish Institute, I pick up a cardamom bun ($4.50). That distinctive, almost peppery floral aroma brings me right back home. Unwinding the layers of dough reveals that caramel-like gooey goodness, just like I remember. It's perfect. And with the buns readily available, any day can become a special occasion. (Joy Summers)

2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., 612-524-5108, asimn.org/visit/fika-cafe

Fish and chips at Elsie's

My memories of bowling alley food, from when I was in an elementary school bowling league (yes, really), is all well-done burgers and floppy pizza. Not that I'm complaining; I loved bowling alley food. But it's been a while since I bowled with a 6-pound ball. Now, my elementary-school-aged kid is the one bringing me back to the bowling alley. And the food? It's gotten way better.

The menus are much more elaborate than what I remember. A couple of examples: a great big basket of fried dill pickle chips and some unusual pizzas (like spaghetti and meatballs, or poutine!) at Garage Bar & Bowl in Waconia. The sweet and celebratory cocktails at Bowlero in Brooklyn Park.

And what I had last weekend: three huge hunks of flaky, beer-battered cod with a pile of hot, hand-cut fries ($16.50) at Elsie's, the classic northeast Minneapolis bowling alley and bar (with an excellent karaoke night, I hear). In between frames, my kid and I shared bites, and made new memories. (S.J.)

729 NE. Marshall St., Mpls., 612-378-9701, elsies.com