Some neighborhoods are just so walkable. The streets wind around hills and swales, past architecture varied enough to keep you strolling. Shops tempt. Benches beckon. St. Anthony Park is such a neighborhood.
But first, a clarification: St. Anthony Park, a St. Paul neighborhood, is about three miles from a completely separate locale called St. Anthony, a suburb that abuts northeast Minneapolis.
Moreover, that St. Anthony also is known as St. Anthony Village, a designation more suited to St. Anthony Park, with its Tudoresque business district. Moreover, two Minneapolis neighborhoods called St. Anthony East and St. Anthony West are nearby, just north of the Falls of St. Anthony.
Everything was named for Anthony of Padua, patron saint of Father Louis Hennepin. Anthony also is the patron saint of lost people. Insert punch line here.
Just remember this: The heart of St. Anthony Park lies between Hwy. 280 on the west and the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on the east.
The neighborhood has the feel of a small town, right down to the cornfields visible at the end of a few streets, thanks to the “living laboratory” of the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.
The historic core has a small grocery store, full-service bank, library, beauty salon and barbershop, gas station, post office, bakery, bookstore and dentist offices, all within walking distance. The only thing that doesn’t feel small-town is the parking situation. Most streets are marked with “two hour only” signs, so keep your head up when pulling over.
Walkers have the perfect rationale for consuming one or several pastries from the Finnish Bistro, where Como and Carter Avenues cross paths. The cafe, all Scandinavian wood and birchbark baskets, shares the building with a Dunn Bros. coffee shop, which provides the beverages. The place is a shrine to sliced almonds, shingled over most of the pastries. Kolache are filled with apricot or lemon or cream cheese or the gotta-risk-it poppy seed, rich with the infinitesimal crunch of the tiny seeds. (A trusted friend or a small mirror is a necessity.) This is a breakfast-all-day place, with sandwiches, “salaatti” and other entrees, including pizzas with reindeer sausage. Remember, it’s not food; it’s fuel.
Kitty-corner from the bistro is the St. Anthony Park Branch Library, one of the architectural gems built across the country as philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s campaign for civic enlightenment. Built in 1917, the library follows Carnegie’s convention of placing the entrance atop a flight of stairs, to symbolize how a person is elevated by learning. Its ornate Beaux Arts exterior belies the intimate scale within. In 1999, a children’s library was added to the rear and it’s the coolest room — a window-lit rotunda that creates both a sense of hunkering down in a tent and being poised to launch into space.
For those who like to keep their books, Micawber’s Books, 2238 Carter Av., looks like the sort of bookstore that Charles Dickens might have ducked into, with its timber-and-stucco facade. It’s an independent shop struggling to keep from becoming a ghost of bookstores past.
The shapes beckon from the southeast corner of The Lawn, the grassy landscape of the St. Paul campus along Cleveland Avenue. Three massive bronze bulls — the largest is 13 feet long — lounge beneath a ginkgo tree. Sculptor Peter Woytuk, who was born in St. Paul in 1958, installed the bulls in 2001 and 2002. Woytuk has said he was inspired by the nearby fairgrounds, struck by the “number of enormous reclining bulls inside the livestock barn” and “the contours of their backs and their great, almost sprawling mass.” The installation is untitled, which perhaps explains the bulls’ brooding expressions.
Bills of fare
The neighborhood’s “town square” is bookended by two fab restaurants. Muffuletta has anchored the east end for more than a quarter-century. Named after the meatcentric sandwich invented in New Orleans, it showcases local purveyors of produce, meats and cheeses, some of which are featured in its signature beer cheese soup. In summer, its outdoor patio offers coveted seating.
To the west lies the Colossal Cafe, which isn’t size-wise, but lives up to the name in innovative menu items with a bent toward breakfast. (It serves lunch, but no dinner.) Waiting in line to order at the counter lets you peruse the pastry case, notably the “flip,” its signature dessert of yellow cake folded like a half-moon around a filling of whipped cream and fruit.
On the campus of Luther Seminary is the first Norwegian Lutheran Church built in the United States. The Old Muskego Church actually was built in Wisconsin in 1844, but was dismantled and moved to the seminary in 1904. The church is locked, but a peek inside the windows reveals a low-ceilinged room supported by heavy logs, looking like the hold of an old sailing ship, not unlike one who likely carried the first immigrants from Oslo’s harbor. The pews are as narrow and straight-backed as a spinster aunt, facing a spare altar graced by a large panel of Hardanger lace. A bench at the front door invites visitors for a moment of contemplation beneath a tall cedar.
If the weather is cooperative (no rain, little wind) and it’s the right day (Mondays or Wednesdays through Saturdays), you may get to witness folks from the Raptor Center exercising their winged patients on The Lawn along Cleveland Avenue. Attached like a bobber to a fishing line, a Cooper’s hawk was boosted into the sky, flapping its wings across the grassy expanse. As it neared the trees, a staffer applied pressure to a fishing reel device, gently bringing the bird to earth for a co-worker to retrieve. The exercisers welcome an audience — no doubt a great way to attract volunteers to the center — providing an opportunity to see spectacular birds up close.
Along the northern border of St. Anthony Park in Falcon Heights is a striking assemblage of homes known as University Grove, designed to attract top-drawer professors to the U. Notable among them are the ultramodernist residences with Mondrian color-block facades, low-slung profiles and a Dean Martin vibe. Even today, a psychedelic VW Beetle with “groovy” painted on its sides looks right at home in one driveway. The homes, some designed by famed architect Ralph Rapson, still are offered for sale first to university faculty and staff.
Bits and pieces
The Asian man gathering berries from the ginkgo trees, a determination made with smiles and nodding … the flock of turkeys that roam the neighborhood, holding their ground on the sidewalks … the bench in honor of longtime residents Igor and Agnes Razskazoff overlooking the deep meadow of College Park … the occasional gravel alley … the narrow concrete “canals” on the Luther Seminary campus that must, in the wake of a cloudburst, beg for a launch of paper boats … the endless browsing among the beautiful and rare trinkets in the Bibelot Shop, whose name means beautiful and rare trinkets … the Minnesota craftspeople represented at Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care with cloth diapers to wooden trucks made of local pine … the joys of a small town.