city food guides

Three Days of Food in Minneapolis, MN

I spent the long (President's Day) weekend in Minneapolis with family per my annual tradition and of course we had a fantastic time. The Minneapolis food scene has just exploded in recent years and every time I visit I have such a positive experience. After having talked with a co-worker yesterday, we agreed that there is often a misconception about this - it's a totally underrated city at times! I wanted to recap everywhere I ate and drank so if you have plans to visit the twin cities any time soon, you have a resource to reference for some good eats. 

 Hygga 

Hygga 

St. Paul Farmer's Market

A low-key and partially indoors winter market that includes a nice variety of vendors who sold everything from cheese spread to barbecue to strudels and infused juices. The market was smaller than we were anticipating but it could have just been the day (edited to add: the market is much more extensive in the summer!). The "Lowertown" location is great - it shares a building with OCTO fishbar and James Beard Award winning bakery Salty Tart (see next) so you can hit a few different places in one stop if you want.

Salty Tart

After perusing the market, do not miss the chance to visit this bakery on your way out. Our group split the sour cherry chocolate chip cookie and a croissant (obviously) and both were insanely good. I am no croissant expert by any means but this was for sure the best one I have had. The seating is limited but they also have a lunch menu that I would love to try out on another day. Side note: on my way out of town I noticed one of these in the airport as well! 

Hygga

Just down the block from the market is Hygga, a charming cafe with a very community feel to it. By the way if you are unfamiliar with the term, "hygge" it seems to be all the rage lately and refers to acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special. My mom and I split a BLT, cup of broccoli cheddar soup and a beet salad. Everything was tasty but I was most impressed with the atmosphere. I could see myself hanging out here for hours with some coffee and a book. 

Bread & Chocolate

A solid coffee shop on Grand Avenue in Saint Paul, Bread & Chocolate was the perfect place to grab something warm to drink while browsing some of the local shops. I ordered their apparently well-known Swedish coffee (which was served with milk and spiced with cardamom and cinnamon) and it was the perfect amount of sweetness after lunch. 

 Urban Growler Brewing

Urban Growler Brewing

Urban Growler Brewing & Bang Brewing

We visited two breweries on our trip but only ordered a beer at the first. Urban Growler was hosting a Bock release party and the weather was nice enough to have fire pits going outside for the celebration. My group split a couple of their pre-selected flights and really enjoyed all of the tasters (I especially liked the Midwest IPA). They also have a lot of indoor seating and a food menu which is a nice treat for a brewery. We popped into Bang next door to check out their space but unfortunately ran out of time and were not able to stay for a drink in there. Next time!

The Curry Diva

One of the highlights of this trip was a pop-up Sri Lankan dinner hosted at Our Kitchen (a diner that serves breakfast and lunch) in Minneapolis. Due to the Valentine's Day holiday we were treated to a five-course meal and it was such a unique experience. Heather Jansz (also known as The Curry Diva) hosts these dinners on Wednesdays and Saturdays on a weekly basis. You have to make a reservation in advance but I would highly recommend trying this out for a special non-traditional night out. We were served butternut squash soup, a beef/chicken cutlet over vegetables and yogurt sauce, a lamb dish, vegetable roti, then a warmed pear dish for dessert. Everything was seasoned just perfectly and was layered with so many amazing flavors. It was delicious food and a great dining experience all rolled into one. 

Lawless Distilling

We visited Lawless for an after-dinner drink and while I was not a fan of the drink I ordered (a variation of a gin and tonic that tasted watered down) a few people in our group ordered hot buttered rum and it was served with a s'more! So creative and fun. You even get to roast your own marshmallow and assemble it yourself, which definitely makes a visit here worth it. 

 Young Joni

Young Joni

Young Joni (Back Bar + Restaurant)

If you are looking for a restaurant with amazing food without the pretentious vibe, look no further than Young Joni. In fact they describe their atmosphere as "both welcoming and sophisticated" and I think that about nails it. 

To start, they have a speakeasy attached that more than makes up for the long wait times with creative and boozy cocktails that you can enjoy before sitting down to dinner. If you like peanuts you must try the Good Grief (just trust me on this one). Once in the restaurant, my group immediately commented on the stellar service. This is one of those places where family style dining is recommended and the plates come out as they are ready, so if you feel comfortable enough to share amongst the table I would go for that option. We went with the cauliflower, short ribs (the one thing I probably wouldn't order again although tasty), Japanese sweet potato and La Parisienne pizza which was just perfect. This is a place I would definitely want to hit again the next time I come back to town.

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Agra Culture Kitchen & Press

On my last day, we ate lunch at this bright and clean fast casual place and I really loved the Buddha Bowl dish that I ordered. It was a good size (especially since I couldn't take leftovers with me), the presentation was nice and the flavors really worked together. They also have soups, sandwiches, fresh squeezed juices and even some beers on tap if that's what suits your mood. This would be a nice option for a faster, yet still delicious lunch while bumming around town. 

I Love Colorado: Steamboat Springs

One of my favorite things about living in Colorado is the amazing weather. We always brag about having 300 days of sunshine every year but it’s also quite amazing how quickly the weather can change from one day to the next and that, my friends, keeps things exciting. I remember texting my Mom a picture of myself in my winter coat with a blizzard in the background last November. The message said something along the lines of, “it was 80 degrees yesterday”.

This weekend Jacob and I experienced something similar when we ventured up to Steamboat Springs to celebrate his 30th birthday. Steamboat (or “the boat” as locals like to call it) is a small-ish mountain town that has the most adorable main street, fun outdoorsy activities and a great restaurant scene.

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We headed up mid-morning on Friday to beat traffic and get an early start to the day. We were up there within a few hours and made our first stop outside of town at the Steamboat Golf Club to play nine holes. Funny thing is, we drove by skiers coming down Loveland Ski Area on the way up, but it was nice enough to get out and golf too. Reason number five hundred that I love Colorado. The golf course was a little pricey and neither of us played very well, but it was still so much fun to kick off our vacation outside in the sun. 

A Friday Night In

After we finished at the course we made our way to our "home" for the weekend (a condo we rented through Air B&B) and got settled in. Our place was absolutely perfect for what we needed and I would absolutely recommend it and stay there again in the future. It had a full kitchen, a hot tub, an outdoor patio for enjoying morning coffee and the host even left us a bottle of wine (it's easy to "woo" me). We had planned on going straight out to dinner but opted for ordering in from Soda Creek Pizza, watching a movie and drinking said wine instead. The pizza we tried was really unique and had elk sausage, mushrooms, red onion, garlic, roasted cashews and mozzarella cheese. It was so nice to not be on a schedule and just relax. Side note: we watched Nocturnal Animals and it was dark but interesting at the same time. Have any of you seen it?

Saturday: Shopping & Swimming

On Saturday we had a slow morning and woke up to fresh snow! Like actual, accumulated snow on the ground and not just a small dusting. Our plans of doing a hike got scrapped and instead we went for a late breakfast downtown and shopped around for most of the afternoon. We ate at Winona's which seems to be a local staple, and for good reason. In addition to a sit-down restaurant they also have an impressive bakery case and apparently their cinnamon rolls have been featured in both Gourmet and Bon Appetit. I think I ordered one of these before the server could even introduce herself and it did not disappoint. We did order some other food in addition to this but no photos were taken because, let's be honest, this was really the main event.

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Thankfully even though the weather was on the cold side, we had enough layers to be comfortable while strolling around town and it was actually kind of refreshing. Mountain air is tough to beat. I really loved the uniqueness of all of the stores on main street and commented several times that every store we visited had a completely different feel and a variety of stuff. Instead of the usual t-shirt and souvenir shops you typically see in touristy mountain towns, these had all sorts of interesting gift-worthy items and really nice clothing. Basically I wanted everything and could have browsed here all day. 

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When we got tired of shopping, we switched gears, went back to our place to re-group, change and headed up to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs which is a must-visit if you've never been. This was actually our second time here, but it's a really pretty drive up and fun to sit in natural hot springs, in the middle of the woods. I kind of liked going when it was chilly outside too, but this makes it harder to sit outside of the actual pools so we didn't stay for quite as long this time. 

By this point in the day we were both getting hungry so after getting showered and ready to hit the town, we ventured out to find dinner. One of the many cool things about Steamboat is that they have a free bus service that runs around town which is perfect if you plan on having a couple of drinks and don't want to rely on Lyft or Uber when there's probably very few drivers in town. Our condo was right near one of the bus stops, so we used that to get to and from dinner which worked great. 

Salt & Lime

We chose Salt & Lime because we had heard positive reviews, and margaritas sounded good (when don't they?). Luckily we were able to get right in without a wait and we grabbed seats at the bar per our usual dinner routine. I have to say, the food and drinks were just excellent here. We both ordered tacos and loved everything, including the warm chips and tomatillo salsa that came out first. My favorite item was the Vegetale taco, which had cauliflower and tempura battered avocado among other things. It reminded me how much I love cauliflower on tacos. The other one I ordered was fish and had slaw and pineapple pico on top. We hung around for a while after finishing our food and really liked the atmosphere too. If I was a local, I think this would be my go-to spot!

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Sunday morning we started packing up our stuff and headed out on the early side so we could make it back to town in time for some other plans. We made a quick stop at the Colorado Bagel Company for sandwiches and coffees and then hit the road. It would have been nice to have one more day to explore and possibly do a hike or check out the mountain because the weather was absolutely gorgeous when we were leaving. Don't you hate when that happens? Either way, we both really enjoyed our time in Steamboat and agreed that we want to go back sometime soon!

Maybe next time we'll have to make it a 3-night stay.

Have you ever taken a mountain vacation and if so, where did you go and what was your favorite experience while visiting?

Two Days of Food in Asheville, NC

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I had the opportunity to visit Asheville, North Carolina for a few days last week to attend a wedding and stopped in to some very impressive food destinations while I was there. If you aren't familiar, Asheville is a cute little mountain town in western North Carolina that boasts an eclectic art scene, great food and some of the best beer around, which is why it's such a popular tourist destination. In addition to walking around downtown and exploring all of the adorable clothing and jewelry boutiques, here are the food-related spots I hit and recommend:

Sierra Nevada

My group and I were so impressed with the design of this entire property, specifically the tap room which had a beautiful bar and dining area plus a fire pit out back. We stopped in for an early lunch and loved our beer and food selection. Important note: the menu is small plate style, so expect to pay a brewery lunch price for a smaller portion. I had crispy trout on vegetable quinoa and it was excellent, but I regret not ordering a second dish.

Wicked Weed Brewery

We stopped at this brewery for a quick beer before some wedding rehearsal festivities. The atmosphere was great and they had some really interesting brews on tap - including a list of sours which always makes me happy. I tried the cabernet sour and loved it. There is also a nice outdoor seating area for sunny days.

Lexington Ave. Brewery

This was the location of the rehearsal dinner and I had also been here on a previous trip through Asheville, both times very memorable. It's smack in the middle of downtown, has a creative menu and a fun, cool atmosphere. This is a great choice for dinner if you plan to walk around town afterward because it's across the street from a convenient parking garage. Our meal was buffet style and included pulled pork, salad/slaw, beans, and cornbread and it was all fantastic.

Tupelo Honey Cafe

I chose this place for breakfast the morning of the wedding because it had great reviews and was described as an Asheville staple. It was really delicious and they accommodated our larger group (plus kids) without an issue, which is always a win. I went with the avocado toast (shown below) with their special tupelo style honey, red pepper flakes and farmer's cheese. I always appreciate some greens at breakfast when traveling too so those were a bonus. Sadly, they don't serve iced coffee but I had plans to find one after our meal anyway. 

High Five Coffee

This coffee shop was right around the corner from Tupelo, and I had received a recommendation via Twitter so I stopped in to check email and do some work while sipping this at the coffee bar. It's a cute little space that would be perfect for grabbing a drink for a walk around town. 

Buxton Hall BBQ

I had planned on visiting Buxton Hall ever since finalizing our trip to Asheville several months ago because it made Bon Appetit magazine's Hot 10 List of 2016. As a huge fan of BA's podcast and a magazine subscriber, I knew I wouldn't get the chance to visit many of the places on this list and Buxton Hall seemed right up my alley. I walked there from downtown for lunch (about 15 minutes) and it did not disappoint. I went with the classic pulled pork plate which was served with slaw, cornbread and one side (I chose the baked beans which were insane). Even though the beer list looked solid, I couldn't pass up the bourbon and cheerwine slushie because it was so unique, so I went with that and it was the perfect ratio of sweet and boozy. My friend and dining buddy also ordered the banana pudding pie (her absolute favorite dessert) and while dessert doesn't usually peak my interest, this was incredible. 

Asheville is a great place to spend a long weekend with a great food and beer scene, minus the traffic and crowds of a larger city. Hopefully if you have the pleasure of visiting, you find it as pleasant and refreshing as I did.

Have you ever been to North Carolina? What was your favorite part?