A shooting star on Hwy. 7How to explain the bumper-to-bumper craziness outside the Galaxy Drive-In? Maybe it's that Minnesota summers seem to fly by in about an hour and a half, leading us to maximize every second of outdoor enjoyment. Or perhaps the interest is anticipation-driven, as curiosity seekers have eagerly watched new owner Steve Schussler slap a dramatic, hey-look-at-me makeover on the formerly modest Wagner's Drive-In.

Whatever the reason, it's a good thing that my friend and I arrived a good 10 minutes before the gate opened. A line quickly formed behind us and, by the time we were scarfing fries, the place was a mob scene.

Let's be honest here: Wagner's was a dump. A lovable dump, one held together by paint and a prayer, but a dump nonetheless. Schussler, the eatertainery brainiac behind the Rainforest Cafe, has transformed schlumpy, unassuming Wagner's into an Event. The grounds are as pristine as Lakewood Cemetery (and peppered with almost as much statuary) and the building, gleaming with its shiny new purple, orange and aqua paint job, is a jazzed-up George Jetson-meets-vintage Howard Johnson. It's as if Schussler struck a Faustian deal with the surrounding residents: I'll make this joint sparkle like a cubic zirconia solitaire if you put up with the ensuing traffic. The place has "prototype" written all over it.

So does the menu, which covers the drive-in basics. First and foremost are a few hand-formed quarter-pound burgers (as well as double and triple variations), made with buttered and toasted buns and finished with grilled onions, thick bacon, a few cheeses and tangy pickles. There's a grilled chicken breast-bacon sandwich, a hoagie stuffed with sirloin and provolone and several variations on the all-beef hot dog theme. A few kids' meals, too.

The fries are cut long and lightly seasoned, the onion rings are enrobed in a light beer batter, the thick malts have a tangy malt powder bite and the crispy, barely sweet cole slaw is made in house. The whole shebang is cutely packaged in Space Race language: "Lunar Eclipse" grilled cheese sandwiches, "Cosmic" chicken dinners, "Blastoff" milk shakes. You get the idea.

The carhops are so enthusiastic you wonder if Schussler limited his recruitment efforts to cheerleading squads. The Galaxy is also canine-friendly, right down to a pair of inexpensive dog treats on the menu. It's tough to find a price over $5, and, unlike Wagner's, plastic is welcome. My advice: Arrive early, and mind your manners. After all, would you want a busy drive-in next door to your house?

3712 Quebec Av. S., St. Louis Park, 952-277-7777,

www.galaxy-drivein.com. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

The Guthrie's latest debut"We have a celebrity here tonight," said Tim McKee. Turns out he was talking about a "Top Chef" contestant in town for an Aquatennial cooking event. But in my mind, if there was a celeb in Sea Change on Saturday evening, it was McKee. Not that the modest James Beard Award winner ever acts like one. Please. There he was, working the line at the raw bar with the rest of his crew. "I just want to do what I do," he confessed.

Fine by me. For those who have been residing under a rock, McKee -- the marquee name above the titles at La Belle Vie, Solera, Barrio and Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque -- has spent the past few months remaking the Guthrie Theater's principal dining venue. Cue is out, and Sea Change, which has been in previews for the past few weeks and officially opened Tuesday, is in.

It's been more than a decade -- far too long -- since the last major seafood-focused restaurant, the Oceanaire Seafood Room, rolled into town. Given McKee's fertile imagination and contemporary sensibilities, Sea Change might well be the next-gen seafood destination we didn't know we were waiting for.

The raw bar is a good start, with visually striking presentations ($7 to $15) of alabaster scallops, ruby red tuna, delicately pink shrimp and more, an all-seafood spin on the small-plates craze. For those who steer to the teriyaki chicken end of the spectrum when dragged to their local sushi restaurant, McKee also offers beef skewers, tempura-battered chicken, pork pot stickers and a deconstructed Caesar salad. The kitchen's quick turnaround feels tailored to pre-curtain appetites.

At dinner, eight sustainably-minded seafood entries ($18 to $26) are served alongside a "not fish" section that includes roast chicken, grilled duck and braised beef- short ribs. Lunch (sandwiches, salads and a few entrees) prices average $11.

Some minor design tweaks take aim at visually compressing the enormous room formerly known as Cue. "Well, it's still five shades of blue," said my friend, rolling his eyes. True -- a wall-to-wall paint job probably would have blown the budget -- but seaweed-green accents break up the color monotony. The vast floor space has been segmented by handsome wood cabinets topped by glass partitions and cone-shaped lights, which also help to human-scale the ceiling's overwhelming height.

Cue's exhibition kitchen has been repurposed as a showy raw bar, and large graphic murals -- their designs representing sea current maps -- add visual energy. A major improvement is the new patio just outside the restaurant's front door, which softens the building's hard industrial edge; a second outdoor dining venue, with river views, is opening soon. Chatty chalkboard menus highlight a half-dozen raw oyster choices, and there's also a mix-and-match, three-course pre-theater dinner menu for $34. The bar pours 21 wines by the glass, with an average price of $11. Who knows? It could all be another star vehicle for the Twin Cities' most reluctant star chef.

818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis, 612-225-6499, www.seachangempls.com. Open for lunch 11:30 to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (11 a.m. on matinee days), and open for dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Talking change in BlaineFor reasons I've never quite understood, the northern suburbs aren't exactly fluent in the foodie language that speaks "raw bar," "locavore" and "tasting menu." That's about to change. At Restaurant Cru, owner Corey Burstad and chef Rob Moore are out to beef up the area's culinary vocabulary, one meal at a time.

Both have track records to back up their ambition. Burstad is the driver of a fast-growing liquor store/restaurant business, and Moore has spent five years behind the stove at Heartland. Their new enterprise brings a particularly accessible approach to food trends, a kind of Fine Dining 101 without the formality, the off-putting pretense or the attendant Gold Card prices.

Half of Moore's locally sourced dinner menu is devoted to meticulous small plates ($6 to $15): a fruity pork terrine with roasted cipollinis and mustard, frisée with a poached egg and bits of bacon, a small-scaled lamb chop paired with tender flagolet beans, deeply flavorful beef tenderloin with a rich polenta. He also features a design-your-own cheese plate, raw oysters at $3 a pop and a trio of raw-fish preparations ($9 to $12).

Larger appetites can feast on eight entrees ($10 to $20) that include red snapper with risotto, a pork chop, a rabbit-duck confit plate, even a fancy patty melt, along with a handful of $4 side dishes (do not, under any circumstances, miss the divine potato croquettes). For just $19, Moore tosses off a three-course dinner option, and desserts ($7) include a mini-smorgasbord lusciously devoted to chocolate.

The wide-open setting takes its cues from Abercrombie & Fitch (minus the ear-pounding music and the billboard-sized, near-naked eye candy), employing plenty of red brick, dark woods and shutter-covered windows, along with a glass-fronted storage area to underscore Cru's wine-centric ambitions. (Regarding the wine list, my first impression is that the selection could use a bump). If they haven't already, Anoka County's branch of the Welcome Wagon ought to be rolling out the carpet for Burstad and Moore.

10340 Baltimore St. NE., Blaine, 763-717-2235, www.restaurantcru.com. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.