Even though we’ve lived in the Twin Cities most of our lives, there are many classic and much talked-about restaurants we haven’t visited.
The North Loop area in downtown Minneapolis has boomed since our first move to Fargo and we haven’t spent much time there. In fact, we rarely go to downtown Minneapolis on weekends. I love working there, but am eager to catch the early bus after work to beat the traffic and crowds.
It’s possible to find parking downtown, but you will have to navigate around all of the construction, meters, and pay lots/ramps, all typical downtown stuff. If you can take a bus, the light rail, or Lyft, it’s a breeze. And, you don’t have to worry about enjoying some drinks.
Last weekend, we made an evening of exploring the downtown area so that we could visit some of these places we’ve always heard about but never visited.
The Monte Carlo
I remember the Monte Carlo being old when I was young.
Growing up, going out to eat meant heading to Baker’s Square or TGI Friday’s. We ordered waters, maybe a soda, and no one ever ordered alcohol.
One of my high school friends in was much more sophisticated for our time. She invited us to sleep over one night. I was mind-blown by the contents of her fridge. She pulled out ravioli wrappers, Parmigiano reggianno and raw Italian sausage neatly packaged in butcher paper. I consider it an early foodie awakening,
She suggested our group of friends go to Monte Carlo before prom. “Isn’t that a. . .bar?” my mom asked. And in downtown Minneapolis, none-the-less! We probably ended up at a Macaroni Grill instead.
Monte Carlo is old school in the best possible way. Monte Carlo is actually older than our old house. And my grandma. It’s even older than the Titanic, as it was established in 1906. Friends noted this as a good place to order classic cocktails and dine at the bar. If I was a solo business traveler, I’d probably come here each night.
The wallpaper inside is grandly patterned. Bartenders wear white aprons and unfold a white napkin at your place along the shiny copper bar. Servers wear old-fashioned uniforms. You might feel like you’re inside that photograph at the end of The Shining. But not in a scary way!
The chicken wings here are often extolled as some of the Twin Cities’ best.
Jason DeRusha did a story on the Monte Carlo last January in which the restaurant’s (third) owner mentions that 80% of customers order chicken wings. Of course we had to try them, along with classic cocktails.
The basket of wings ($13.50) unraveled our plan to grab small plates of food along the way. Inside the basket were 12 large, meaty wings that arrived so fresh from the fryer that they stayed singed our fingers the entire time. We liked them so much we gave up saving room.
Here’s what makes Monte Carlo’s wings unique: The skin is rendered to a shatteringly crisp layer. Instead of a sauce, Monte Carlo tosses the wings with a dry rub seasoning that reminds me of a mild five spice flavor. I’m not sure if I broke the rules, but I ordered a side of blue cheese dressing and no one flinched. The blue cheese dressing is chunky and clearly homemade so order away!
The cocktails were made on the sweet side but very strong. This place speaks to my old soul.
We intended to grab small plates of food along our crawl, but got so full on wings at the Monte Carlo, we just ordered drinks.
The cocktails are expensive, but well-crafted and balanced. I enjoyed a frothy whiskey sour shaken with an egg white. Jake chose the Black Manhattan made with Bittercube Black Strap Bitters.
Butcher and the Boar struck me as having a vibe somewhere in between Monte Carlo and Parlour Bar. I wasn’t crazy about the rock music that was blasting, but Jake didn’t mind. The service was gracious and the smells coming from the kitchen were so enticing that we will return for a real meal, soon.
We ended our evening at Parlour for the burger.
Someone on Twitter (I can’t remember who, anymore) started a huge thread asking people to tweet their three favorite dishes in the Twin Cities. People mentioned the Parlour burger a lot.
I took no photos because the inside was so dark and wouldn’t have done anything justice. Just like at Butcher & The Boar, an animal head stared at us from the wall.
We would have walked past Parlour Bar if the man in front of us hadn’t asked his friend if he wanted to eat there instead of Borough (the street-level restaurant). We followed down the stairs and headed inside.
Ashanti’s “Foolish” blasted. I loved the playlist. So much.
On either end of the bar are lounge areas. We both agreed that this is where we would have met Match.com dates had this place existed eight years ago.
The Old Fashioned was excellent. Strong, not too sweet, and served in a glass with one of those giant ice cubes.
We split the Parlour cheeseburger ($14) and fries ($6). The Parlour burger stacks two smashed patties made from sirloin, ribeye & brisket on a toasted bun with white american cheese.
All in all, this was a very flavorful burger. It reminded me of Saint Dinette’s burger but less buttery. I liked it, though I’m still partial to single patties cooked medium rare. Jake loved it. The garlic aoli that came with the fries was especially good.
Tell me about your favorite restaurants and bars in downtown Minneapolis. What classic Twin Cities institutions are we missing out on?