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.
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.
For nearly two decades, Chef Filippo Caffari mastered the skills of butchery in Rome. Since relocating to Minneapolis, the executive chef of The Butcher Block Restaurant draws upon that training to prepare a range of organic, grass-fed, and sustainable meats. On his authentic Italian menu, mashed potatoes and mushrooms accompany marsala made with veal liver, and house-ground pork sausage flavors a rigatoni in a truffle cream sauce.
Even without meat, Chef Filippo brings out Italy's flavors with items like ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach. He concludes meals with desserts such as tiramisu infused with housemade limoncello and zucchini cake. To complement these delicacies, guests can peruse a wine list that features bottles from around the world.
As night falls, the lights of downtown Minneapolis jump to life and ripple across the river. The view sprawls out beneath the floor-to-ceiling windows at Vic's Dining, St. Anthony Falls and Stone Arch Bridge extending naturally out before the dining room. There, silverware clatters steady arpeggios on plates laden with lump crab cakes and smoked ribs. Chefs baste the menu?s signature burgers in a rich demi-glace and marinate ribeye steaks in Cajun spices overnight. Glasses click together above these dishes, hinting at a lengthy wine list, which fuels romance more effectively than doves released in small-claims court.
Beyond its bricked entryway, Sarna’s harbors a cornucopia of comfort cuisine, from succulent steak and seafood dishes to home-cooked meals seemingly plucked from Grandma’s stovetop. Smothered in house-made beef gravy, slabs of pot roast temper carnivorous cravings alongside prime rib platters slow roasted in herbs and garlic, which, like an elementary school dance group, may only be served on Friday and Saturday nights. Tuned to local and national sports, a quartet of big screen TVs glint off a full-service bar cast in the lambent glow of the dining room’s flickering fireplaces. Tufted-back booths overlook an outdoor patio, where diners can clink Bloody Marys and enjoy a Sunday brunch as a burbling waterfall trickles to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Verdant foliage peeks over the stone wall encircling the courtyard, and in the evenings, a crackling fire pit creates a romantic atmosphere for those sipping on any number of daily specials.