Although many Minnesotans wish it would last forever, summer never does. Best to take advantage while we can and dine outdoors. Now.
The open-air eating-and-drinking scene has come a long way from the dark days of the early 1970s, when Minneapolis ordinances did not permit sidewalk cafes. Now there are hundreds of al fresco options all over the metro area, with more opening on a seemingly daily basis. Here’s a rundown on some of my favorites.
I’m happy to report that the three patriarchs — or is that the matriarchs? — of the local dining scene are as enchanting as ever.
The highly civilized outdoor getaway at W.A. Frost & Co., framed by the 126-year-old, vine-covered Dakotah Building and shaded by countless mature trees, remains the gold standard in Twin Cities outdoor dining. New chef Matt Kempf’s (the Mill Northeast, Cafe Maude at Loring) menu runs the gamut, from drop-in snack (including an impressive cheese roster) to full-on special occasion. Bonus: Reservations accepted.
The Black Forest Inn is marking its 50th anniversary this year, a perfect occasion for slipping into its slip of a well-appointed patio for one of a dozen German or Austrian beers and the hearty house-made sausages.
Yes, that’s a trout stream — well, a charming facsimile of one, anyway — running through the walled, pine-scented garden at Jax Cafe, so grab a net and catch your lunch or dinner.
On the water
With the region’s abundance of lakes and rivers, you’d think that waterside restaurants would be a dime a dozen. Not so. Still, they’re there, if you know where to look.
Stillwater is the epicenter of sun-soaked patios near the St. Croix, including P.D. Pappy’s Music Bar & Grill (which is exactly what it sounds like) and the Freight House (burgers, pizza, sandwiches), but for those who want to get up close and personal to the river and enjoy some shade, consider the tree-lined respite outside the Dock Cafe. Meanwhile, in nearby Hudson, Wis., sun-seekers in the know head to the sprawling patio-with-a-view at Pier Five Hundred.
For something a bit more rustic, head north to Marine on St. Croix. At Marine Landing b.o.t.m., the short-order cooking is as advertised, but the views are not to be believed: a nearly 360-degree vista of unspoiled wooded gorgeousness, paired with cool, off-the-water breezes. Two other notes: crazy-affordable prices, and a staff that could moonlight as spokespeople for a Minnesota Nice campaign.
Over on the Mississippi, it’s blue ribbons all around for the tiki-adorned deck at Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge, a one-of-a-kind venue that more than suits the bar’s playful cocktail list and the kitchen’s fun-loving pu-pu platter-and-pizza fare.
Or head about 20 miles upstream to the parklike confluence of the Rum River and take a seat on the roomy screen porch at the Mad Hatter Tea Room. Unfortunately, the multicourse tea service is only available indoors (by reservation only), but the breeze-friendly porch — the prettiest part of Anoka’s gracious, 158-year-old Woodbury House — is a relaxing venue for lunch and dinner (quiche, Swedish-style meatballs, a daily risotto) and a sandwiches/salads weekend brunch.
Italian-focused Acqua has two scenic lakeside locations, one on Forest Lake, the other (with a pair of patios) on White Bear Lake.
The deck at Lola’s Lakehouse overlooks a bustling Lake Waconia marina; all meals should commence with one of the kitchen’s liberally topped flatbreads.
6Smith places Lake Minnetonka diners dockside as well as up on a rooftop perch, both vista-friendly perches for chef Angel Luna’s steaks-and-seafood format.
Neighboring Cōv Wayzata isn’t quite on the water — a railroad line (thanks, James J. Hill) is a barrier — but the slow-moving trains provide occasional drama for patrons of the Nantucket-inspired restaurant.
And kudos to the park bureaucracies in both Minneapolis and St. Paul for luring first-rate operators into casual lakeside dining venues, including Sandcastle (Lake Nokomis), Bread & Pickle (Lake Harriet), Tin Fish (Lake Calhoun) and Como Dockside (Como Lake).
Rooftops? There are so many that it’s easy to lose count. Two that stand out are Union Rooftop, with its retractable glass roof and a crowd-pleasing menu overseen by chef Stewart Woodman, and moto-i, for its panoramic south Minneapolis views, the house-brewed sake and appealing Japanese menu.
In the southern suburbs, both Vivo Kitchen and Porter Creek Hardwood Grill boast sprawling, handsomely appointed patios. As for chains, nothing beats the considerable outdoor efforts of patio-centric Redstone American Grill.
In Bayport, next-door neighbors L’Etoile du Nord and Bayport BBQ both offer diners sweet little back-yard getaways. Go to the former for chef/owner Olivier Vrambout’s lovingly prepared pizzas and savory waffles, and drop in on the latter for pit-smoked brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs and chicken. Meanwhile, in cute downtown White Bear Lake, the Washington Square Bar & Grill rules for its crowd-pleasing breakfast-lunch-dinner offerings and its handsome corner patio.
Downtown Minneapolis diners in search of an away-from-it-all escape should scoot into the calm courtyard at Marin Restaurant & Bar. Or to get in the thick of it, dive into the always-jammed beer garden at Butcher & the Boar, where the smoked Cheddarwurst and the fried green tomato BLT are must-orders.
On the people-watching front, nothing currently surpasses the beer garden — and its fantastic postindustrial surroundings — at the potent people magnet otherwise known as Surly Brewing Co. Along with nearly two dozen house-brewed beers, don’t miss chef Jorge Guzman’s excellent suds-friendly fare, including smoked pork and brisket (served with a host of like-minded side dishes), and one of the city’s most alluring burgers.
For sheer novelty, don’t allow the summer to evaporate without a 20-minute spin (complete with libations) on the Ferris wheel-like “vertical revolving patio” at Betty Danger’s Country Club. Back on terra firma, there’s also miniature golf.
The picnic table-blanketed patio at Tiny Diner enriches diners in countless ways. A one-of-a-kind overhead solar array shelters visitors from the elements, a surrounding working garden provides fresh ingredients and plenty of eye candy, and rainwater catchment systems inspire homeowners. Chef Taya Kaufenberg’s diner-inspired fare also delights.
Because it’s owned by its across-the-street neighbor, Tangletown Gardens, it should come as no surprise that Wise Acre Eatery has one of the region’s most lavishly landscaped patios. Chef Beth Fisher’s modern farmhouse cooking — and wine buyer Caroline Glawe’s affordable, offbeat and expert wine list — are other definite draws.
Cafe Lurcat and Bar Lurcat offer a pair of novel outdoor dining experiences. The bar’s patio overlooks the green sweep that is Loring Park, and the cafe’s romantic alley getaway might be the city’s premier summertime pop-the-question venue. Lurcat doesn’t hold a monopoly on atmospherics, however; witness the indoor-outdoor nature of the sidewalk tables at Loring Pasta Bar.
Speaking of uncommon experiences, take a counter seat at the outdoor grill at Broders’ Pasta Bar, sip your way through the all-Italian wine list and watch while your dinner is prepared.
As for honest-to-goodness sidewalk cafes, the cream of the crop are the Birchwood Cafe, Lucia’s Restaurant, Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant and Meritage, all notable for their food and drink as well as their commodious streetside settings.
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