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Q: I know I’m going to sound like an old person when I ask this, but where are the restaurants where grown-ups can actually conduct a conversation?
A: Trust me, I hear you, and apologies for that lame wordplay. Consider fun-loving Nightingale (2551 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-7060, nightingalempls.com), which earns bonus points for its late-night (full menu to 1 a.m.) hours. Or genteel P.S. Steak (510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-886-1620, psmpls.com). Or the aptly named Sanctuary (903 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-339-5058, sanctuaryminneapolis.com), a great pre-Guthrie destination. Or the well-tailored chic of Bellecour (739 Lake St. E., Wayzata, 952-444-5200, bellecourrestaurant.com).
Q: Have you been to Potluck? What did you think?
A: I was impressed by Rosedale’s remade food hall (1595 Hwy. 36 W., Roseville, potluckmn.com), which wisely taps savvy local operators and showcases from-scratch fare, two characteristics rarely seen in places where Auntie Annie’s and Orange Julius also reside under the same roof. Three newcomers — Betty & Earl’s Biscuit Kitchen, Obochan Noodles & Chicken and Chickpea will recalibrate expectations of shopping mall fare, and it’s great to see that Minnesota State Fair favorite Nordic Waffles has a permanent brick-and-mortar home. Creating quick-service counter renditions of Burger Dive and Smack Shack is a total someone-should-have-thought-of-this-before idea, and what shopping expedition isn’t improved with a double scoop of Black Hills Gold from Grand Ole Creamery?
A few quibbles: Too bad the doors open at 11, because morning mall walkers would make a habit of Betty & Earl’s Biscuit Kitchen and Nordic Waffles. The previous tenant, Revolution Hall, had a roomy second floor, but Potluck closed it off (phase two, perhaps?), cutting into the seating inventory. And prices can be a bit eyebrow-raising, at least at first. But that fantastic lobster roll at Smack Shack really is worth $19 on both quality and quantity matrices, and $9.50 isn’t asking too much for a cheeseburger, at least when it’s Burger Dive’s trendsetting double-patty iteration.
Q: We’re looking for a good Sunday brunch buffet. Do you have any suggestions?
A: You should check out the great-looking Baldamar (1642 County Road B2 W., Roseville, 651-796-0040, baldamar.com), another Rosedale newcomer; technically, it’s in the mall’s parking lot, in between the AMC Rosedale 14 cineplex and Von Maur. The spread covers a lot of ground, from peel-and-eat shrimp to carved-to-order prime rib, with salads, eggs Benedict, biscuits and gravy, a long list of side dishes, and plenty of freshly baked sweets. Cost is $24.95 adults, $9.95 for ages 5-12, and it’s served 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are accepted. Of course, the be-all/end-all of Sunday brunch buffets is probably at the Lake Elmo Inn (3442 Lake Elmo Av. N., Lake Elmo, 651-777-8495, lakeelmoinn.com), which runs $29 for adults and $14.50 for ages 3-11.
Q: I’m new to a gluten-free diet and can’t find anywhere to eat. Where should I go?
A: Here are two ideas. Both are casual, counter-service spots, and both pay attention to creative solutions to gluten-free cooking and baking: Sassy Spoon (5011 34th Av. S., Mpls., 612-886-1793, sassyspoonmpls.com) and Brim (2919 Knox Av. S., Mpls., 612-261-0506, brimrestaurant.com). Also, you should know about Sift (4557 Bloomington Av. S., 612-503-5300, siftglutenfree.com), a bakery devoted exclusively to gluten-free baking, and Burning Brothers Brewing (1750 Thomas Av., St. Paul, 651-444-8882, burnbrosbrew.com), a gluten-free brewery and taproom.
Q: Where should we go for breakfast on Black Friday?
A: If you’re planning on shopping at Mall of America, think about starting the day with a civilized breakfast at one of the mall’s two hotels. There’s Cedar + Stone Urban Table, the appealing first-floor restaurant inside the JW Marriott (2141 Lindau Lane, Bloomington, 612-615-0124, cedarandstoneurbantable.com), or at the great-looking FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar, on the mall’s second level, inside the Radisson Blu (2100 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, 952-851-4040, firelakerestaurant.com). Doors open at 6:30 a.m. at both restaurants. But if I were you, I’d skip the whole Black Friday rigmarole and do your breakfast-and-shopping outing on Saturday or Sunday at Plate & Parcel Holiday Market (6024 Penn Av. S., Mpls., lindenhillsfarmersmarket.org), which is running weekends through Dec. 22. It takes place in the shelter of the greenhouse at Wagner Garden Centers, and it’s full of local craft and food vendors, along with a number of stalls selling ready-made fare.
Q: Given the newspaper’s long-running holiday cookie contest, I know that you like to bake cookies. But where do you like to buy holiday cookies?
A: I do enjoy baking, and you’ll love the winners of this year’s 17th annual competition. We’re publishing the recipes on Dec. 5 in Taste. Bakery-wise, a favorite of mine is Sun Street Breads (4600 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-3414, sunstreetbreads.com), because every December, baker/co-owner Solveig Tofte and her crew always turn out pretty and festive holiday-appropriate treats. I’m forever falling for whatever John Kraus is thinking, holiday-wise, at his Patisserie 46 (4552 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-3257, patisserie46.com) and Rose Street Patisserie (171 N. Snelling Av., St. Paul, 612-259-7921; 882 W. 7th St., St. Paul, rosestreet.co). And I always appreciate the large selection of well-made cookies at A Piece of Cake (485 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-846-0016, apieceofcakebakery.net).
Q: Anything new in St. Paul to know about?
A: I’d start by sending you to Hot Hands Pie & Biscuit (272 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul, 651-300-1503, hothandspie.com) for one — or more — of the kitchen’s first-rate breakfast sandwiches. I have no idea of owner Tara Coleman’s actual age, but she’s definitely an old soul when it comes to biscuit-making. She puts split-and-toasted biscuits to very good use ($9.95 to $10.95), burying them in a thick, peppery sausage gravy, or piling on bacon or sausage, runny American cheese and pitch-perfect fried eggs. Do not leave without taking a few of Coleman’s peanut butter sandwich cookies for the road. “These cookies restore my faith in baking,” a friend of mine said to me. Mine, too.