Happy all of the holidays and New Year. There are many things to celebrate and many things to mourn.
This fall and winter have kept us busy with our transition from St. Louis back to the Twin Cities, a new home, and new jobs. This week is the first time Jake and I have had more than a long weekend off, together, since we moved, and it feels glorious.
Instead of a “best of” post to end this year, here’s a recap of seven favorite food experiences I haven’t told you about yet.
The Preston at the Chase Park Plaza, St. Louis, MO
Let’s go back to St. Louis. Soon before we moved, the ALIVE Influencer Network invited me to a dinner showcasing the new menu at The Preston in the Chase Park Plaza.
This was a sponsored experience in which I had no shame participating, because the Chase Park Plaze is simply really cool. The hotel is located in the bustling Central West End. It’s grand and luxurious. Besides the hotel, the plaza houses restaurants with varying price points, a movie theater, outdoor pool, and spa. Jake liked getting his hair cut at the men’s hair salon that offered easy online reservations and a beer or soda upon checking-in.
Plus, the Chase validates parking for dining and salon guests.
One of my favorite dishes from The Preston meal that I loved and you can still order is the charred octopus with sunchoke puree, brown butter gnocchi, and smoked paprika vinaigrette ($11).
It’s a small plate and you don’t want to share the tender bites of octopus. The pretzel croissants are also some kind of pastry witchcraft.
Cuppa Java was our closest coffee shop and so we visited often. The all occurred before we owned smartphones and we were too too cheap for home internet, so we visited Cuppa Java extra extra often. I also had one of my most awkward Match.com dates here. A guy gave me a can of SPAM decorated with a big, red ribbon.
My former roommate sold me on the tuna melt. It’s her favorite and now it’s mine. This is not your ordinary tuna melt. The bread is wholesome and grainy, the tuna salad is extra creamy, vegetables taste fresh. Best of all, the barista will list about six choices of cheese to melt on top upon ordering.
Afro Deli, Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN
Afro Deli is one of the restaurants I’ve always loved. The menu offers Halal dishes melding African, Mediterranean and American food traditions such as suqaar, samosas, gyros, and one of my favorites, the Chicken Fantastic. Imagine cheesy, creamy alfredo served over sweet and savory Somali-spiced rice.
The vegetarian version, below, includes carrots, bell peppers, onions, and zucchini.
The leftovers are possibly even better. Order a cup of Somali Sweet Spiced Tea and spicy basbas sauce.
Shish Cafe, St. Paul, MN
“Does it feel like we’ve made a full circle?” I asked Jake as we enjoyed a laid-back meal at Shish. I remember taking Jake to Shish when we were dating over five years ago. Now, it’s located just blocks away. I’ve already visited twice since we moved into our new house.
An old college housemate introduced me to Shish when it first opened. She often brought homemade Lebanese food to college, sharing raw lamb kibbe, a vegetarian kibbe made with potatoes, flat bread, fattoush salads with us. I especially remember treasuring the jars of punchy garlic sauce we dipped everything into. Her endorsement of Shish meant a lot.
The Maza Mix includes pita, salad, feta, hummus, tabouli, yogurt sauce, falafel, olives, and babaganoush. Everyone we know who’s tried the breakfast menu raves about it. I’ve never eaten anything here I didn’t enjoy, from soup to baked kibbie. On our recent visit, Jake described their gyro wrap as the best he’s ever tried (alongside Gyropolis).
Don’t forget to order garlic sauce! It’s really punchy and worth the extra $.75. Get two!
Han’s Bakery, Anoka, Minnesota
One week before the election, Rachel and I road tripped to Anoka where we visited the now-shuttered Anoka State Hospital and Han’s Bakery. The state hospital is supposedly haunted. I read a Citypages article where the owner of a local paranormal investigation organization said not to goof around here because a ghost will follow you home. Not “might,” but “will.” I chuckled after the election remembering how my biggest fear the week prior was a ghost following me home.
Whether or not it’s actually haunted is up to you, but what’s known is that much suffering occurred here. Rachel actually met a former patient while she volunteered at the election polls soon after our visit.
We visited on a perfect fall day. After wandering the grounds, we enjoyed pastries on the patio at Han’s Bakery located minutes away. This 40+ year old bakery offers classic doughnuts for $1, giant doughnuts the size of your face, and Beehive/Beesting (smaller version) pastries filled with Bavarian cream and candied almonds.
The Strip Club, Saint Paul, MN
One of the best things about going to the Strip Club is telling people you are going to the Strip Club. Twin Cities food enthusiasts will probably know you mean the restaurant, but everyone else won’t.
One article I read recently called it a “special occasion” restaurant. I don’t disagree, but I also don’t agree that one can visit casually. Pull up a seat at the bar and share cocktails and smaller plates from the appetizer or sandwich sections of the menu.
The bartender recommend the perfect cocktail based on my rpefernees for not-too-sweet. I ordered the lamb taco special and Jake ordered the chicken sandwich above. We let each other sneak a bite from our plates and pretty much ate the rest so we wouldn’t have to share.
We visited Youg Joni with a small group of friends and tried a lot of dishes. The dish that I think about the most is the Bibim Grain Salad with pickled vegetables, gochujang vinaigrette and a runny-yolked egg. For one thing, it features a grain called Job’s Tears (along with farro). When I first read Heavy Table’s review I thought that the author made up the phrase “Job’s Tears” to capture the profound otherworldliness of this dish.
Nope, Job’s Tears is a real grain with the coolest name in one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten.
Order anything with mushrooms. Revel in how spicy notes don’t hold back. Ponder what makes Young Joni’s Old Fashioned so compelling and why everyone doesn’t top pizzas with galbi.
Wishing you a happy and safe New Year. Feel free to tell us about your favorite meals, drinks, and travels during 2016 in the comments below.