The local patio/rooftop scene has improved greatly in quantity and quality, so options for alfresco sipping abound.
Here are some of my favorites, presented in pairs:
The screamin’ bargains: The best value, by far, can be gleaned at Vic’s and Spasso. The former is a St. Anthony Main mainstay with a serene vibe, even when crowded, and wines at or under retail prices. Spasso’s comfy-cozy outdoor space brings with it a wide range of friendly-priced options, thanks to its affiliation with the splendid store next door, the Wine Shop in Minnetonka.
The neighbors, Minneapolis: Few wines are as different as sake and Greek whites, and few outdoor spaces are as different as Moto-I’s wide-open rooftop and the intimate patio at It’s Greek to Me. But both offer singular experiences across the street from each other.
The neighbors, St. Paul: W.A. Frost & Co. is probably the Twin Towns’ most esteemed patio, reminiscent of Europe atmospherically and New Orleans architecturally. Go on Mondays for some killer deals via the restaurant’s half-price list. Less than a block away and much less conspicuous, La Grolla’s “backyard” haven offers environs worthy of the well-crafted food and stellar wine list.
Up on the roof: A pair of transformations have created expansive, welcoming, above-it-all milieus. In the former Joe’s Garage, 4 Bells offers a look-see at the goings-on in Loring Park, with low-country Southern food and some cool wines (try the riesling from Idaho). Back in the State Capitol, the burgeoning space atop Cossetta — Louis Ristorante & Bar — has an unsurpassed by-the-glass (BTG) menu and, of course, some tasty Italian dishes.
The newbies: St. Paul might have surpassed Minneapolis in outdoor destinations, and recent additions are a big reason why. Como Dockside offers up a small but nicely chosen BTG selection, peace and quiet (except when a band is playing) and a seriously swell view of Como Lake. And while the offerings at the Ox Cart Ale House are nothing to write home about, the views of CHS Field are terrific.
Going downtown: In Minneapolis, the outdoor sanctuary at Marin Restaurant & Bar is more renowned as a winter hangout, but it’s quite the urban oasis in summer, with cool fermented-grape-juice offerings. Meanwhile, Freehouse has nailed the North Loop vibe/friendly wine selection tandem (check out the McManis cabernet).
Down by the river: A few miles apart along the semi-mighty Mississippi, Aster Cafe and Craftsman delight. The former is right next to Vic’s and features healthy bites and a deftly chosen BTG list. The latter doesn’t actually afford a river view, but matches Aster’s peaceful, easy feeling and food/wine quality.
Down by a different river: A few miles apart on opposite sides of the St. Croix, the Green Room in Stillwater and Pier 500 in Hudson, Wis., have nailed that whole vista thing and that whole vino thing.
Southward ho: The southern suburbs are not, contrary to urban opinion, a wasteland for food and wine lovers. Vivo in Apple Valley boasts one of the area’s most stylish, relaxing patios, and Barley + Vine in Lakeville has upscale bar food and nifty bargains like Dry Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc for $6 a glass or $22 a bottle.
Lake land: Maynard’s in Excelsior combines a decent wine list with surpassing views of Lake Minnetonka. And while it might not technically be a lake, the Mississippi River is called Lake Pepin where Nosh Restaurant & Bar resides in Lake City, Minn.; more important, it might have the best combination of watery view, fine cuisine and wine in the state.
The rear guard: If there is a more romantic spot at happy hour than the alley behind Cafe Lurcat, I’d love to hear about it. And the St. Paul outpost of the French Meadow Bakery & Cafe is both dog- and wine lover-friendly.
Size doesn’t matter: Cafe Ena in south Minneapolis doesn’t have a ton of tables, but does have yummy morsels and perhaps the area’s best sangria. Over by Lake Nokomis, Sandcastle has a tiny but spot-on wine list (Hobo on tap!) to pair with Doug Flicker’s stellar casual food.
Could be better
Finally, here are some great outdoor retreats that deserve better wine lists: Jax Cafe, Brit’s Pub, Union Rooftop, Monte Carlo and Psycho Suzi’s in Minneapolis; Sweeney’s, Patrick McGovern’s and the Liffey in St. Paul; Cov in Wayzata; the Freight House in Stillwater; Lord Fletcher’s in Spring Park, and Acqua in White Bear Lake and Forest Lake.
Granted, wine is not the focus of some of these places, but they do sell wine and could do better by their customers. Not to mention that the Happy Gnome and the Black Forest Inn prove you can have a few dandy wine selections in a brew-centric locale.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.
Aster Cafe, 125 SE. Main St., Mpls., 612-379-3138
Barley + Vine, 17516 Dodd Blvd., Lakeville, 952-683-1765
Cafe Ena, 4601 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-4441
Cafe Lurcat, 1624 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-486-5500
Como Dockside, 1360 N. Lexington Pkwy., St. Paul, 651-666-9491
Craftsman, 4300 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-722-0175
4 Bells, 1610 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-904-1163
Freehouse, 701 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-339-7011
French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, 1662 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-789-8870
Green Room, 215 Main St. S., Stillwater, 651-342-0215
It’s Greek to Me, 626 W. Lake St, Mpls., 612-825-9922
La Grolla, 452 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-221-1061
Louis Ristorante & Bar, 211 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-222-7378
Marin Restaurant & Bar, 901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-252-7000
Maynard’s, 685 Excelsior Blvd., Excelsior, 952-470-1800
Moto-I, 2940 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-821-6262
Nosh Restaurant & Bar, 310 S. Washington St., Lake City, Minn. 1-651-345-2425
Ox Cart Ale House, 255 E. 6th St., St. Paul, 651-756-8909
Pier 500, 500 1st St., Hudson, Wis., 1-715-386-5504
Sandcastle, 4955 W. Lake Nokomis Pkwy., Mpls. 612-722-5550
Spasso, 17523 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka, 952-224-9555
Vic’s, 201 SE. Main St., Mpls., 612-312-2000
Vivo, 15435 Founders Lane, Apple Valley, 952-891-8808
W.A. Frost & Co., 374 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-224-5715