MERCY 

Airy, warm, cozy Minnesota days like today deserve a beautiful place to spend them. Enter MERCY at the Le Meridien Chambers hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Nestling into the former home of Marin Restaurant & Bar, and D’Amico Kitchen before that, Mercy is named after youngest daughter of co-owners Abby Rakun and Chef Mike Rakun’s. The stunner opened just over a month ago with a focus on casual and comfortable. From the surf board high top near the bar, and the perfect-for-a-shoe-photo mural on the floor upstairs to the ever-popular downstairs Hemingway-meets-Fitzgerald Library Bar that is wrapped in warm wood tones and backlit books, Mercy is the place to go.

Whether you come for a special occasion in the Chef’s Table, a 5-course interactive experience in the kitchen, the Art Ballroom or the Gallery; or for the outdoor ambiance with spots like Mercy’s Rooftop, complete with downtown views or the coveted Courtyard… let me tell you about the Courtyard. Spacious, semi-private, with a huge full bar and fire pit. You wouldn’t guess you’re sitting on one of the busiest city streets.

While I could go on and on about the atmosphere, I’ll just go straight to the food. King crab grilled cheese on a brioche, old school cheeseburgers with special sauce and gouda, oyster po’ boy sliders, hot pastrami sandwiches or beer can chicken with dirty rice, I mean, wow. The plating alone deserves an award!  They also serve copious amounts of seafood, so it’s no surprise there is a full oyster bar in the main room, where you can watch them being shucked. Oh, and their garlic bread, don’t even think about passing it up.

When it comes to drinks, I have a few I’d recommend. For the adventurous herb lover, I would try the Dill Caipirinha, a blend of dill Aquavit, lime, and orange bitters. If you want to stay classic, try the refreshing land of the palm trees filled with lime and Earl Giles pomegranate passion fruit. For the trendy hipster, try the urban sombrero made with Minnesota’s own Bauhaus Wonderstuff, served upside down in a clear tiki glass. Finally, you really can’t go wrong with a strawberry cosmopolitan with hints of lime, orange and cranberry.

Cafe Maude 

If you are in need of night filled with Mediterranean-meets-French food, warm lighting and waitstaff with a keen eye on detail, look no further than South Minneapolis’ Cafe Maude off Penn, just north of the Crosstown Highway. A neighborhood gem if there ever was one, Maude rests in the Armatage neighborhood which is named for Park Commissioner Maude Armatage, born 1870 to a family of civic leaders whom founded the library, school, church and parks. Maude, elected to the Park Board in 1920 – just one year after women got the vote – was one of the first women to run for public office in Minnesota and the first woman to serve on the Minneapolis Park Board. A pioneer who helped Minneapolis to come of age in the 20th century, along with leaders such as Theodore Wirth, she founded our park system. While linked to the local history, Maude is the only restaurant in South Minneapolis with a full liquor license allowing it to offer a unique craft cocktail menu. Said to have the best burger in Minneapolis since 2007, people also rave about Maude’s taco Tuesday’s. I loved the homey bistro ambiance and the outdoor patio but I would go back for the Mexican street corn alone.

Burch Steak and Pizza Bar


Sitting as the welcoming entrance to Uptown with street-side plate glass windows and a thick script backlit sign, the Burch Steak and Pizza Bar has become a fast favorite for special occasions and late night pizza dinners. Part high end steak house, part basement pizza parlor, Burch has been hailed as one of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities. In the former Burch Pharmacy building, a 100-year-old landmark, the new venture bears the same moniker but is now thoughtfully creative and vibrant, inviting and accommodating. Known for their prime beef and Wagyu dishes in the steakhouse, and Neapolitan-style pies in the pizzeria, the uniquely crafted creations are carefully prepared and expensive, but worthy of the price tag. The steaks are done to perfection and the wood-fire pizzas are warm and comforting, truly excellent. The entrées were what stood out to me – my favorites being the laced potato pave, topped with parmesan and butter; the roasted carrots with thyme and chèvre; finally, the grilled asparagus with a poached egg and house béarnaise. They also have an incredible cocktail selection, although I stayed with my typical glass of Risata Moscato d’Asti, adding to the grandiose but casual ambiance and gentile, elegant atmosphere (ie. romantic and warm). Because the airy, open kitchen melts into the dining area, you can expect it to be noisy on a Saturday night. That being said, it gets busy, so be sure to make a reservation. They also own Bar La Grassa and 112 eatery.

Wild Mind Artisan Ales

With the insurgence of local breweries, many seemingly the same, one stands out for its use of “carefully chaotic” wilds and sours. Wild Mind Artisan Ales, a brewery in southwest Minneapolis opened at the end of July this past summer bringing the concept of wild fermentation using funky local yeast (their words). Head brewer and Wild Mind founder is Mat Waddell, who worked at Badger Hill Brewing and Capital Brewing giving a local focus to the new place. They have all kinds of beer including Table Beer, Hoppy French Saison, Hoppy Rye Wild Ale, Dark Farmhouse Aged in Pinot noir barrels with currents, House Farmhouse Ale, and Wild Pale Ale. Each with different combinations and notes of cocoa nibs, honey, toffee, citrus, pineapple, peach, dates and hay. While sometimes an acquired taste, wild and farmhouse-style beers are more variable than your traditional beers. Aging their beer in in traditional wooden foudres, large wooden vessels where mixed-fermentation beers age and can be seen from the tap room. The atmosphere adds to the unique aura with bold colors against the clean whites of the open garage tap room the airy outdoor concept with industrial floor to ceiling windows. They are open select hours and only sell beer in house.

Northern Grade 

The Minnesota favorite and universally popular, “Heritage” lifestyle is in full effect this holiday season and what better way to start the gift shopping (or personal shopping, I’m not here to judge) than to visit the Northern Grade Pop-Up Market at the Machine Shop in Minneapolis! Chock full of local and American made clothing, decor, accessories, spirits and foods, this rover is always a hit. To quote the Star Tribune, “Minnesota’s lumberjack look — plaid shirts, selvage-denim jeans and work boots — had gone mainstream,” and there is no better place to add the outdoorsy, working-man (or woman!), Made-in-America basics than the like-no-other experience of Northern Grade. See the ever long list of the local companies attending, like Mill City Fineries, Stormy Kromer, byrd & belle, Elizabethjane clothing, Leather Works Minnesota, Itasca Leathergoods, Winsome Goods, Fulton & Roark, Hawk and Hatchet, Krammer & Stoudt, Great Lakes Clothing Company, Red Wing Heritage, Noah Marion Quality Goods, Locally Grown Clothing Co., Sanborn Canoe Co. and Urban Undercover ( personal favorite of mine!) In the past its been hosted at MIA (Minneapolis Institute of Art) and the Solar Arts Building, this time the Machine Shop in the St Anthony Main neighborhood. If you don’t get the chance to go to it while it’s in Minnesota, don’t fret – and, no, you don’t need to fly to New York to visit their flagship store either. Due to its enormous popularity, they will soon be opening an online store, making the products and makers even more accessible.

Since it’s only over the weekend, there are a few more short hours until they close.

Sparrow Cafe


Even though the air has a bit of a chill, I still had warm weather on my mind, which made my next #mnbucketlist stop a rather fitting one. Sparrow Cafe is the epitome of spring, no matter the season – complete with a big mural of sparrows, filed with teals and soft greens (not pictured, I didn’t want to disrupt the people sitting against it). Located off Penn Ave, it’s just across the street from Broders’ Pasta Bar in South Minneapolis. They are known for way more than their mural though. Coffee, tea, house-made chai, espresso, pastries from Chez Arnaud, doughnuts from Angel Food Bakery, you name it. Sparrow is everything you need in a local, neighborhood coffee shop. Have you stopped in yet?

Rustica


Rustica Bakery is up next on our coffee-laden, September adventure. Off west Lake Street in Minneapolis, I went there with my friend, Thang from Young Professionals of Minneapolis (ypminneapolis.org) and immediately fell in love with their bakery case. Eclairs, chocolate chip cookies, bread pudding, you name it. I nabbed their latte and I could rave about that alone all day long!Praised by Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The Today Show, James Beard Foundation and even Time Magazine. What accolades don’t they have? I mean, Rustica was named the Top 10 Best Bread Bakeries in America, listed as having the Best Baguettes in America, voted America’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies and America’s Best Bread Bakery, awarded Outstanding Baker in 2015 and Outstanding Pastry Chef 2014. Can’t be a coincidence… I suggest you stop in and try for yourself – if you haven’t already.

Cafe Donuts and Kaleidoscoops


While desperately searching for a quick pick-me-up, I found Cafe Donuts and Kaleidoscoops in Champlin, just a block off Highway 169. Although it was completely unexpected,  it’s more than worth stopping in. I mean, all kinds of variation in ice cream, 32 varieties of donuts, AND coffee – what more could you want, really. They even have something called KaleidoChills – a frappe with a scoop of ice cream. Since I went looking for caffeine, I went straight for their iced Redbull, um… so awesome. Which I’m surprised didn’t leave me twitching. More than the array of sugary options and the energy drink induced jitters, Cafe Donuts and Kaleidoscoops is great because of the service. I can only speak for the location I stopped at but the gentleman behind the counter was a delight to talk to, and made my day. They have three different locations; Champlin, Maple Grove and Downtown Minneapolis.

Urban Bean Coffee


September has always meant football, bonfires, shorter days, and the beginning of fall. It also means, for me specifically, the library and my nose stuck in a book. So, the ninth month of the year requires more coffee than I care to admit. With that, I had an idea. For the rest of September, I am taking you on a caffeine-filled adventure, all over Minnesota to give you some of my favorite java spots. Mud, ink, battery acid, varnish remover, Joe, fuel, or simply the hot beverage made from beans of a tree – call it what ever you like, its what’s up next on the #mnbucketlist. Bask in the newly-chilled air and follow along as I sip expresso, mocha, decaf, cappuccino, cold press and maybe even a few pumpkin spiced something-or-others.

First up: Urban Bean. I have a soft spot for open, quiet spaces when I study. Anywhere I can grab a really good pastry (especially from Patisserie 46 in Minneapolis) and a latte, I’m good to get started on my research. They even serve their lattes with an animal cracker! Complete with two locations, off Lyndale and West Lake, it’s a nice spot to dig into a good book while sipping on Intelligentsia and Four Barrel coffees. Urban Bean recently made waves based on their political stance and their tell-you-how-it-is attitude. The backlash has been heavy but they survived and lived to tell the tale!