On the runway
This year’s Most Idiosyncratic Patio honor goes to Holman’s Table. The restaurant, located in a limestone Moderne gem at St. Paul Downtown Airport, hasn’t housed a restaurant since 1999, an error corrected this year by Rock Elm Tavern co-owners Troy Reding and Brad Sorenson. The patio’s proximity to the tarmac will please aviation fans, and will make the breakfast-lunch-dinner restaurant even more convenient for diners arriving by air (644 Bayfield St., St. Paul, 651-800-5298; holmanstable.com). Be on the lookout for another takeoffs-and-landings perch: the penthouse-level “observation bar” on the top floor of the 12-story InterContinental Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (5005 Glumack Dr., Mpls., ihg.com), opening this summer at MSP.
A screen porch’s assets — bug-free, rainproof — cannot be overstated in unpredictable Minnesota. Which explains the appeal of the roomy version at Mad Hatter Restaurant & Tea House. Elaborate, fun-loving high tea service ($32, $22 and a $20 kid’s version) is the specialty, but a la carte brunch (French toast, quiche, sandwiches, eggs Benedict) is also on the menu. The setting is the gracious Woodbury House, an 1857 beauty, and its parklike surroundings on the Rum River (1632 S. Ferry St., Anoka, 763-422-4160, madhatteranoka.com).
Runner-up: the cozy stretch of sheltered tables at Zumbro Cafe, the Linden Hills breakfast and lunch hot spot (2803 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-920-3606, zumbrocafe.com).
The proliferation of craft breweries has spawned a miniboom of beer gardens. The most impressive piece of beer-loving real estate sprawls outside the massive Surly Brewing Co. (520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com), and yes, the star attraction at the new second-floor pizzeria can be enjoyed in the great outdoors.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the premiering-this-summer beer garden at Waldman Brewery & Wustery (445 Smith Av., St. Paul, 651-222-1857, waldmannbrewery.com), located adjacent to a meticulously restored 1857 limestone saloon and the place for expertly prepared sausages and traditional German lagers.
The Twin Cities is blessed with gifted ice cream makers, from the old-school experts at Sonny’s Ice Cream (3403 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-3868, sonnysicecream.com) and the creators of imaginative dairy-free delicacies at Crepe & Spoon (339 22nd Av. NE., Mpls., crepeandspoon.com) to the extravagant soft-serve at Minnesota Nice Cream (807 NE. Broadway, Mpls., mnnicecream.com). One relative newcomer is La La Homemade Ice Cream, where owner Jennifer Lisberg has fun with flavors like “Charlottes’ Web” (vanilla ice cream with toasted coconut and semisweet chocolate), a Mint Chip that dials up the natural mint flavor and packs a semisweet chocolate wallop, and a profoundly summery swirl of vanilla ice cream and garden-fresh basil sorbet (3146 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., Mpls, 612-824-5252, lalahomemadeicecream.com).
To the market
Several farmers markets facilitate impromptu weekend brunch. Top performers include the Linden Hills Farmers Market (2813 W. 43rd St., Mpls., lindenhillsfarmersmarket.org), the Fulton Farmers Market (4901 Chowen Av. S., Mpls., neighborhoodrootsmn.com) and the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market (629 NE. 2nd St., Mpls., northeastmarket.org). But the standard-setter is the Mill City Farmers Market (704 S. 2nd St., Mpls., millcityfarmersmarket.org), where shoppers can graze among a wide range of options, including 3 Bear Oats (oatmeal), Gorkha Palace (dumplings), Black Cat Natural Foods (egg sandwiches, omelets, hash), the Bolt and Cafe Palmira (coffee), the Chef Shack (sweet potato tacos, bacon brats, Indian-spiced mini-doughnuts), Northern Fires (wood-fired pizza) and baked goods from Heritage Breads, Solomon’s Bakery and the Salty Tart. Walk off all those brunch calories on the Stone Arch Bridge.
On the waterfront
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, waterside restaurants ought to plentiful, right? Wrong. But enjoying a meal on the shore isn’t impossible. Lake Minnetonka’s most impressive outdoor venue is 6 Smith (294 E. Grove Lane, Wayzata, 952-698-7900, 6smith.com), with patios at the dock and on the roof. Counter-service Sandcastle (4955 W. Nokomis Pkwy., Mpls., 612-722-5550, sandcastlempls.com) and Bread & Pickle (4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls., 612-767-9009, breadandpickle.com) are role-model lakeside park refectories, thanks to the talents of chef Doug Flicker and restaurateur Kim Bartmann, respectively. Matty O’Reilly is turning St. Paul into a waterfront dining town, thanks to his work at Spring Cafe (1360 N. Lexington Pkwy., springcafestp.com) in Como Park and Red River Kitchen at City House (258 Mill St., redriverkitchen.com) on the Mississippi. Upriver in Minneapolis, funky Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge (1900 NE. Marshall St., 612-788-9069, psychosuzis.com) has fun with Polynesian themes on its riverside deck.
Twin Cities parks are loaded with prime picnic grounds. But here’s a must-try idea roughly an hour south of the metro area: the breathtaking landscape at Frontenac State Park. A widely spread-out group of tables offers seemingly endless (and endlessly Instagram-able) vistas of bluff-ringed water, where the Mississippi widens to form Lake Pepin. The scenery is well worth the $7 daily pass, or the $35 year-round state park permit. Campsites are reservable (Frontenac, Minn., 1-651-345-3401, mndnr.gov/stateparks).
Pizza on the farm
One of summer’s most enjoyable outdoor activities is visiting a pizza farm. No, pepperoni and Canadian bacon are not literally cultivated and harvested. Instead, farms draw in visitors with the promise of wood-fired pizzas, often prepared using ingredients raised on the premises. The gold standard is A to Z Produce and Bakery (N2956 Anker Lane, Stockholm, Wis., atozproduceandbakery.com), a Tuesday-only operation 90 minutes southeast of the Twin Cities. Closer to home, check out the enchanting Two Pony Gardens (1700 Deer Hill Rd., Long Lake, 763-473-0783, twoponygardens.com), which has 18 pizza brunches and dinners in 2018. Or the crowd-pleasing Red Barn Farm (10063 E. 110th St., Northfield, 1-507-664-0304, redbarnfarmofnorthfield.com), which serves Wednesday dinner and lunch on the third Sunday of each month.
There are more than 100 food trucks on the streets of the Twin Cities; track them on social media, since most are fluent in Twitter-ese. A welcome trend is the advent of vegan-focused operations, including Reverie Mobile Kitchen (@reveriempls), which has blossomed out of a temporarily displaced Minneapolis restaurant, and the Herbivorous Butcher (@THBFoodTruck), a meals-on-wheels extension of the northeast Minneapolis plant-based “meat” counter and “cheese” shop. Look for them at a farmers market, festival, brewery, distillery or downtown parking spot.
At the drive-in
Here’s hoping that the drive-in restaurant doesn’t become extinct. Do your part by patronizing the few that remain, including Dari-ette Drive-In (1440 E. Minnehaha Av., St. Paul, 651-776-3470) the Minnetonka Drive-In (4658 Shoreline Dr., Spring Park, 952-471-9383, minnetonkadrivein.com) and the Peppermint Twist (115 Babcock Blvd. W., Delano, 763-972-2572, thepepperminttwist.com). Within day-trip distance are the Drive-In (572 Bench St., Taylors Falls, Minn., 651-465-7831, taylorsfallsdrivein.com), the Lakeview Drive Inn (610 E. Sarnia St., Winona, Minn., 1-507-454-3723, lakeviewdriveinn.com) and Rudy’s Drive-In (1004 La Crosse St., La Crosse, Wis., 1-608-782-2200, rudysdrivein.com). Oh, and intrepid Wagner’s Drive-In (7000 W. Broadway, Brooklyn Park, 763-533-8262, wagnersdrivein.com) remains open year-round.
Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757 • @RickNelsonStrib