This summer, make a lunch or dinner date with the Twin Cities’ best asset of the season: water. With lakes, waterfalls and a mighty river carving their way through the metro area, there’s a body of water for everyone to while away long summer days — and a restaurant patio, rooftop bar or even a vineyard to provide the provisions.
Ask a Minneapolitan to choose his or her favorite urban lake retreat from among the city’s vast shorelines, and you’ll get answers that variably might have to do with the beach scene, boating or proximity to one’s home. But foodies will consistently land on Lakes Harriet, Nokomis and Bde Maka Ska. On Harriet’s lapping edge, enjoy a pitcher of local craft beer and a lobster roll from restaurateur Kim Bartmann’s Bread & Pickle (4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls., 612-767-9009, breadandpickle.com). Chef Doug Flicker is behind Sandcastle (4955 W. Nokomis Pkwy., Mpls., 612-722-5550, sandcastlempls.com) on Lake Nokomis’ beachfront, where you can grab ceviche and a kimchee-topped hot dog between dips in the sun-drenched lake. Sadly, the pavilion housing Lola on the Lake on Bde Maka Ska (3000 E. Calhoun Pkwy., Mpls., 612-824-0516, lolascafemn.com) was destroyed in a May fire, but the restaurant plans to serve its menu of wings, tacos, jerk chicken and more from food trucks on the site.
The vein that pulses through the Twin Cities also happens to make an energetic backdrop for an al fresco bite, and several establishments along the Mississippi River (and its offshoots) take full advantage of their waterside locations. For a touch of old-school glamour on a dollop of land in the river, Nicollet Island Inn (95 Merriam St., Mpls., 612-331-1800, nicolletislandinn.com) has patio eats and drinks with a skyline view. On the opposite shore, grab a cone at Izzy’s Ice Cream (1100 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-206-3356, izzysicecream.com) and take an amble on the riverfront’s Gold Medal Park. The wildly popular seasonal eatery Sea Salt (4825 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., 612-721-8990, seasalteatery.wordpress.com) draws crowds for a reason: Po’boys and breaded fish baskets, raw oysters and pickled herring (how Minnesotan) are served in a pavilion at Minnehaha Falls, where Minnehaha Creek drops 53 feet only to get swept out to the Great River.
Lake Minnetonka might be only a short drive from Minneapolis, but it feels like a world away. The onetime rustic retreat-turned-glam-getaway for city dwellers retains its “Vacation, all I ever wanted” vibe, thanks to numerous places to eat and imbibe around its expansive aquatic heart. In addition to its idyllic dock patio, Wayzata’s 6Smith (294 E. Grove Lane, Wayzata, 952-698-7900, 6smith.com) boasts Lake Minnetonka’s only rooftop perch above the boating milieu. Also taking advantage of that sparkling bay view is the patio at Wazyata Brew Works in the same building (294 E. Grove Lane, Wayzata, 952-737-1023, wayzatabrewworks.com). Bringing a touch of the Wisconsin supper club scene to Minnesota is brewpub and piano bar Birch’s on the Lake (1310 Wayzata Blvd., Long Lake, 952-473-7373, birchsonthelake.com). Its deck overlooking Long Lake is the perfect spot to munch on smelt fries and smoked Lake Superior whitefish.
Further afield from the usual waterfront haunts, Lake Waconia is a destination in one of Minnesota’s own wine countries. While three wineries draw oenophiles to the area, the Winery at Sovereign Estate (9950 N. Shore Road, Waconia, 952-446-9957, sovereignestatewine.com) has ample outdoor seating and fire pits, picnic tables and occasional live music, along with rows of grapevines headed toward the lake. Do a tasting inside, then take a bottle of your favorite outside, with a plate of cheese for snacking, and enjoy the view. While in the area, boat over to Lake Waconia’s opposite shore, where Lola’s Lakehouse (318 E. Lake St., 952-442-4954, lolaslakehouse.com) offers pizzas, seafood stew and fresh oysters, marina-side.
St. Croix River
Head to Minnesota’s eastern border for more riverside dining, this time along the St. Croix. Though Stillwater’s charming Main Street is packed with restaurants, its waterfront has fewer options. Enjoy the view of the Stillwater Lift Bridge from the brick patio and dining room of the Dock Cafe (425 E. Nelson St., Stillwater, 651-430-3770, dockcafe.com). Just upstream, live-music joint P.D. Pappy’s (422 E. Mulberry St., Stillwater, 651-430-1147, pdpappysonline.com) is so close to the water, the restaurant has at times found itself not just on the river but in it — making its two patios a thrilling spot to grab a burger or tacos. Cross to the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix and take a seat on the deck of Hudson’s Pier 500 (500 1st St., Hudson, Wis., 1-715-386-5504, pierfivehundred.com) for walleye cakes, steaks and Sunday happy hour — and a stunning view of waterfront-wonderful Minnesota.
Sharyn Jackson • 612-673-4853 • @SharynJackson