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, stained-glass windows, and an antique, steam-powered elevator—the inn appeals to the modern traveler with world-class amenities such as 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.
Chez Daniel executive chef Wilver Sanchez interprets the cuisine of France with an eye for artful presentation, simple and fresh ingredients, and a creative sensibility. Attentive servers welcome diners with appetizing small plates, covering nude tables with plump escargot baked in garlic butter and house-smoked salmon toast. Lobster ravioli is tossed with sautéed mushrooms before making a dazzling midmeal entrance in a mantle of roasted artichokes and lobster-tarragon sauce, while filet mignon is served with potatoes and a classic béarnaise sauce. During lunch, a more casual midday menu features sandwiches such as an open-faced beef-tenderloin sandwich with cambozola-cheese fondue, and plates heaped with chicken fettuccine. Chez Daniel also features a list of weekly specials. The dining room's exposed-brick, lofty archways, and elaborately adorned tables entice customers with an atmosphere as elegant as a tablecloth woven from Charlemagne’s beard.
A silvery wand dips into a carafe of fresh milk, which will be used to form the foam that tops a steamy cappuccino. The smell of freshly brewed Arabica beans wafts through the air, countered by the buttery aroma of a crepe cooking on a circular griddle. Serving up sandwiches at lunch as well as sweet and savory crepes for breakfast, the staffers at Brix Coffee offer visitors a taste of Europe without the unpleasant aftertaste caused by chewing on a map. After meals, the café's daily-made custard can be blended into shakes and smoothies or scooped into sundaes or waffle cones.
Restaurant establishment is a Kozlak family tradition. Back in 1943, Joseph and Gertrude Kozlak purchased what would eventually become the well-known Jax Café. In 1977, their son Jax Kozlak and family embarked on a massive restoration project to beautify and expand a new large space that would become Kozlak's Royal Oak Restaurant, which has since been voted Best Ambiance, Best Service, and Neighborhood Gem by OpenTable diners.
Well known for its steaks, Kozlak's serves top-shelf cuts such as bone-in tenderloin, roasted prime rib, and tenderloin filet crowned with add-ons of rich blue cheese, Cajun spices, or fresh sauteed mushrooms. Single tails of steamed African lobster recline on plates with drawn butter, and Australian sea bass receives a stuffing of spinach and crab before being topped with a butter-tarragon sauce. Kozlak's Royal Oak Restaurant boasts a screened-in patio with a canopy.