Avocado toast with egg at Cardamom
The Walker Art Center's Sculpture Garden continues to be one of the best free things to do in the city. Roaming among the huge structures, surrounded by other people each having their own experiences with the artists' works and mingling with the joy of a warm, sunny day in Minnesota: It's a solid shot of happiness. Plus, there's brunch nearby.
Cardamom, inside the Walker, is everything anyone could ask for in a summer weekend morning meetup. The stunning location overlooks the Sculpture Garden and is tucked into a hill where children roll down the grass in fits of giggles.
The menu is a Middle Eastern mix of fresh fare. And since there are hipsters and art, there must be avocado toast. Here it's so much more than bread and good, fatty fruit. Thick slices of rustic bread are topped with sliced avocado, pickled cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and green goddess dressing ($17). It's a whole hearty meal on its own, but because I'm extra I added an egg for maximum brunch appeal.
It was a beautiful way to kick off an art-fueled day with friends, crunching our way through toast, sipping on mimosas and sophisticated N/A beverages before hiking through an artistic wonderland. (Joy Summers)
723 Vineland Place, Mpls., 612-375-7542, cardamommpls.com
Tamale from Chef Shack at Mill City Farmers Market
The unofficial start of summer can be a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, it's the Mill City Farmers Market, which remains my favorite Saturday activity of the season. And a visit to the bright red Chef Shack truck is an almost mandatory part of the ritual.
Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson's Chef Shack is one of the market's founding vendors, and the chefs/partners/world travelers are celebrating their 16th season parked in front of the Guthrie Theater. Each year, they add dishes to the menu that reflect their winter travels, and new this year are tamales inspired by their last two winters in Mexico.
"I sought out every tamale maker I could possibly find and I ate a lot of tamales," Summer said. "I tried to unravel the mystery of corn masa and how to make them taste good." She studied under tamale makers she met there, which "piqued my creativity of how I could make them my own. They are the perfect vessel of street food."
The pair make several hundred a week, right now in two flavors: vegetarian and lamb. Stuffed with beans and cheese and topped with sweet potato mash and a smoked cheese fonduta (and shaved lamb roast if you go that route), this tasty steamed masa cake ($13-$15 for two) — along with Chef Shack's watermelon punch and gluten-free Indian-spiced doughnuts — made for a delightful brunch under the sun.
Don't forget about Chef Shack's other summer menu, at their seasonal home in Bay City, Wis. This year, the "Baan Sabaii" menu follows the proprietors' journeys through Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the southern Indonesian island of Lombok. The multicourse dinner ($99) is served Fridays and Saturdays. One more sign of summer? Road trip. (Sharyn Jackson)
The Novara Deluxe at Pizza Novara
Tucked away behind the Mall of America in Bloomington's South Loop is this newcomer, serving pizza, pasta, salad, wings and sandwiches for dine-in, carryout and delivery in a cheery space amid a sea of hotels. And it's worth seeking out.
The New York-style pizza caught our eye. Available in 12- and 16-inch sizes, the hand-tossed, scratch-made pies have everything I love in a pizza. The crust was thin, but not too thin; crunchy, but not too brittle; sturdy enough to stand up to loads of toppings, but flavorful enough to holds its own with minimal toppings; and a solid amount of cheese, but not too cheesy. We had the Novara Deluxe ($18/$24), which the pleasant worker said was the most popular: house red sauce topped with pepperoni, sausage, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, fresh basil and mozzarella. There are loads of specialty pizzas, or you can make your own. You can also buy cheese, pepperoni and sausage pizza by the (very large) slice, and an $11 combo gets you a slice, side salad and fountain drink.
But don't sleep on the pasta. The Vegetarian ($14) was a hefty stoneware crock of penne with housemade sauce, artichoke hearts, spinach, mushrooms, roasted red peppers and a heap of ricotta, served with garlic toast and a sprinkle of fresh basil. The leftovers are even better.
Part of the locally owned Nova Restaurant Group, Pizza Novara is a counter-service restaurant that also serves beer and wine. There's plenty of seating both inside and out, and there are parking spots reserved for takeout. It's a genius location (sister restaurant Hazelwood Food and Drink is next door) and provides a respite for nearby hotel guests, weary shoppers or those of us just looking for good pizza. (Nicole Hvidsten)
8170 26th Av. S., Bloomington, 952-206-7000, pizzanovara.com
Burger and KBBQ Brussels sprouts at Burger Paradox
I have a friend who has been known to drive from her St. Paul home all the way to Duluth for Brussels sprouts. Maybe not a normal way to set up a road trip destination, but we're anything but normal. Now I've found another pile of perfectly crispy, spicy and savory roasted Brussels that are totally worth a two-hour drive.
Burger Paradox just opened in the onetime Mitch's bar in Duluth's fast-growing Lincoln Park Craft District. The spot is eye-catching and fun for tourists, with prices that Duluth locals can appreciate. Open from 4-11 p.m., it offers a rare late night food opportunity, plus there's a bar with beer, boozy malts and a few cocktails.
The food is obviously centered around burgers, but there are also fries covered in cheese sauce, giardiniera and smoked meat — plus hearty salads for those trying to cut back on their liquid cheese intake.
We had the Royale with Cheese ($11), a double burger with raw onions, lettuce, pickles and American cheese. Each order comes with a sauce caddy, and the garlicky cilantro aioli is good on everything. It comes with an optional side, and I ordered sprouts instead of fries. I'm so glad I did.
They call them Korean BBQ style, with sweet-soy saltiness, accented by an almost tart ginger zip. This might be the first time I finished the sprouts before even touching the burger — which was cooked to medium and just as good as one would want it to be. But the sprouts! Crispy-fried and lacy-edged, they were perfect.
So if you're looking for a random road trip destination, this is my suggestion: Aim for the big lake and end with the sprouts. (J.S.)
2113 W. Superior St. Duluth, 218-606-1185, burgerparadox.com
Chocolate chip whoopie pie from France 44 Cheese Shop
France 44, with its joint liquor store and cheese shop, is always a shoo-in for a killer wine and cheese pairing, but their bakery is a sleeper hit, as well. I'm usually partial to the deeply fudgy Valrhona chocolate brownie, but this time, I went for the whoopie pie ($4). Fluffy marshmallow cream is stuffed between two tender chocolate cakes that have been folded with tiny crunchy treasures of chocolate chips. The not-too-big bit of decadence was a perfect after-meal treat. (S.J.)
4351 France Av. S., Mpls., 612-278-4422, france44cheeeseshop.com