Ask Peggy Rasmussen how many meals she's served from her kitchen at Peg?s Countryside Caf?, and she'll wager around three million. That's roughly one million meals for every decade the cozy, 55-seat cafe has been in business. Try breaking that figure down into orders of buttermilk pancakes, corned beef eggs benedict, and cinnamon roll french toast, and you'll likely work up an appetite. Which is great, since you can simply eat your way into the lunch rush, when Peg's cooks get busy making hand-breaded tilapia sandwiches, grilled reubens, tuna melts, and a from-scratch, rotating selection of soups and pies.
If you happen to meet Peg between bites of pork schnitzel sandwich, don't be surprised if her face triggers a flash of recognition or a hankering for brownie batter. In 1996, she was one of 75 women chosen by General Mills to form a composite image of the new Betty Crocker. Look around the dining room, and you might find the finished image hanging on the wall alongside photos of thousands of Peg's Countryside Cafe's regulars, taken throughout the years.
Along with the end of Prohibition, 1933 brought sweeping changes across the country. It definitely changed the building at 1928 University Avenue NE in Minneapolis, which had been functioning as a hardware and furniture store for nearly a quarter-century. Proprietor Stanley Kozlak immediately went out and obtained a liquor license, transforming his retail shop into a bar and restaurant.
It would prove to be a smart decision?more than 80 years and two generations of Kozlaks later, Jax Cafe stands as a Minneapolis institution whose reputation has spread throughout the Midwest. This is thanks in part to singular touches such as reserved tables set with personalized matchbooks for expected guests and a stream on the lush covered patio from which diners can net their own rainbow trout for dinner. It?s no wonder Travel Channel foodie Andrew Zimmern has gushed that this restaurant is ?dripping with character.?
Part of that character comes from a certain adherence to traditions. Jax is furnished with patterned carpet, white linens, a grand piano, and a phone booth?yes, a phone booth?and the menu has the classic supper-club meals to match. Fresh Maine lobsters are kept in a saltwater tank said to be the first of its kind in the state, and the selection of award-winning Angus beef includes an 8-ounce filet the restaurant calls ?the steak that made Jax famous.? That?s not to say Jax is stuffy or old-fashioned?the menu also includes beer-can chicken, kids' meals, and craft beers served fresh from the tap, bottle, or keg-sized water balloon.
The culinary team at Common Roots Cafe believes that the best way to create a welcoming restaurant is to fully embrace local flavor in every sense of the word. Even the interior speaks to this mission?reclaimed barn wood makes up the dining room's floorboards and tabletops, the counter is composed of recycled cardboard, and the air is one-hundred percent Minnesotan. The overall effect is one of casual warmth, an atmosphere that makes the cafe an ideal spot for guests to chew on eclectic, yet accessible, cuisine and relax with a choice of 10 local craft beers.
The menu itself also bursts with hometown pride, highlighting local organic and sustainable ingredients. As much as half of the restaurant's food comes from farms located within 250 miles of Minneapolis, while some produce is picked right outside the door at the cafe's urban garden. And since the selection of ingredients alters with the seasons, the chefs adapt their dishes each month to showcase their fresh flavors. Previous offerings have included redfish tacos with jicama slaw, mac 'n' cheese with local cheddar, and house-made tagliatelle pasta topped with a hearty bison bolognese sauce. Bites are complemented with sips from a drink list featuring wines?many made from organic grapes?and local beers. And, in the unlikely event that diners leave any food on their plates, the scraps are carefully composted to continue the cafe's green production cycle.
If the limestone walls of the Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant could talk, they would have riveting things to say. They would relate recent memories of romantic weddings and elegant special occasions, filled with the popping of champagne corks, laughter bouncing off the water from an outdoor patio and garden, and soft music wafting from the piano lounge. But the inn's more distant past is what distinguishes its true character; the building is one of the few that survived an island-wide fire soon after its construction in 1893. The site was rehabilitated in the early 80's. Double-hung windows have transformed the industrial exterior with welcoming turquoise awnings, and the old loading dock was glassed in to create a dining room with scenic views of the Mississippi River.
Though steeped in historical charm?including hand-carved woodwork and stained-glass windows?the inn appeals to the modern traveler with world-class amenities such as Pharmacopia organic bath products and plasma TVs.
The aroma of brewing organic, fair-trade coffee from Brazil wafts through the air at 50th Street Cafe during breakfast and lunch. Behind the breakfast counter, cooks work to reinvent classic breakfast dishes. They flip pancakes made with cookie dough and drizzle them with chocolate or add fresh mozzarella and basil-pesto hollandaise to unorthodox omelets. Farm-fresh eggs and housemade hash browns, early-morning staples, arrive alongside less traditional panko-battered walleye fillets. The griddle sizzles like a knight in shining armor left in a hot car, laden with half-pound patties of Cattleman’s Selection ground beef, which end up on thick-cut sourdough toast with Old Smokehouse bacon and melted swiss cheese. That heat is also reflected in the bright hues of yellow tile and orange accents as well as whimsical calico-patterned carpets. The staff at 50th Street Cafe works to reduce its collective carbon footprint by using recyclable materials.
Since the end of the 20th century, patrons have regularly flocked to Conga Latin Bistro to dine on Nuevo Latino cuisine and dance the night away. The multilevel venue houses three main areas decorated with various themed design elements, including murals of colorful congas, conga-shaped floor patterns, and massive congas that stand well over 6 feet tall.
While munching on unique combinations of Latin flavors in the bar-equipped dining area, patrons may gaze deeply into the eyes of a stranger or upon one of many 60-inch plasma TVs. Home to a dance floor and booming sound system, Conga Latin Bistro's downstairs lounge hosts nightly dance sessions fueled by salsa, merengue, bachata, reggaet?n, and cumbia music. The venue also invites flamenco dancers to stomp and twirl about during shows on the last Thursday of every month.