The lack of a goodÂ restaurant in the suburbs
is not something I am proud to admit exists.Â Although I am not a restaurant snob, in fact I am the furthest thing from that, I do not particularly like the chains that pop up everywhere in America.Â You go and travel to different places and you see more of the same.Â When I took my kids on a baseball trip a couple of years back the only rule I had for them was that we could not eat at anyplace we could eat at home.Â This had the desired effect of getting rid of TGIFsÂ and Applebees or McDonald’s as options.Â The kids found there was more to life than happy meals and bad food.Â Thus, when I look around my neighborhood I always see the same old places you can find in a hundred different cities and they are all adequate.
The best restaurant on earth is actually a chain
but it is family owned and exists only on theÂ West Coast in a few states.Â It is called In-n-OutÂ Burger and they are fantastic.Â They have no freezers in the store at all and everything is made fresh.Â They cut their fries by hand with every order.Â Their buns are made locally and shipped to them daily.Â They have a very limited, but excellent menu, consisting of hamburgers, fries, shakes, and soda pops.Â They began the same time as McDonalds but they did not go the McDonald’s route and homogenized everything, buy their fries in bulk and freeze them, use frozen meat, etc.Â The highest praise I ever heard about them came from chef extraordinaire, Julia Childs.Â When Julia Childs retired she said she was moving to California to eat In-n-Out Burgers.Â I don’t think higher praise has ever been heaped upon a restaurant.
So what makes a great restaurant?
First off I would say not a chain.Â Although there are exceptions, please see above.Â I also do not like places where you pay $40 a plate and get something the size of your thumb that was deconstructed by a chef who is 20 years old and who just learned the technique in class.Â I do not like foo-foo restaurants.Â The clientele that eats at those places are always on the lookout for the latest and greatest food places to eat and in the end they really do not go for the food but rather the experience.Â If you are going to a restaurant for the experience then you are fucked from the word go.
I also like places that have been in the same location for decades, not years or weeks.Â I like places that have not changed with the times because they know that great food and good places to eat are always in style.Â I tend to like family run places as well and kind of look down my nose at people who own 7 of the trendiest places in town.Â I do not need to eat organic, I do not need to eat precious local fare, although I am not against it, and I do not need to eat at places filled with people wearing nerdy glasses and trying to look trendy.Â If it is trendy I most likely do not like it.
I know.Â Â Enough withÂ what I don’tÂ like.Â Here are the actualÂ restaurants I love to eat at in the Twin Cities.
1.Â Mattt’sÂ Bar 35th and Cedar in Minneapolis.Â This is the home of the JucyÂ (sic) Lucy and some say it is the original JucyÂ Lucy.Â Â It does not matter to me.Â When you walk into Matt’s bar you know it has been there for decades.Â It looks as though the grill has not been cleaned for decades.Â They used to be a 3.2 shop (an archaic law in Minnesota that said places could only sell beer with 3.2% alcohol content) but they got their long pants a long time ago and now sell some fine beers on tap.Â When you finally find a seat, because it is always crowded, you are served by one of the two waitresses working there.Â You order from a place card and you shouldn’t even look at it and just get the JucyÂ Lucy.Â Â Â Just get one order of fries to share because it will be enough for two or three.Â They are like crack on a stick you may not be able to stop eating them.Â You let the burger sit a bit because there is lava-like cheese between the two patties of perfectly seared meat.Â You munch on fries.Â The fries are half done and you open the wrap around your burger and smell the fried onions.Â You take a bite and the cheese oozes all over the place.Â You leave full, fat and happy like the couple hundred other people that will be there that day.Â Phenomenal.
2.Â Mama’s Pizza on Rice Street in St. Paul.Â I used to work near Mama’s and this is an old school pizza restaurant.Â They had a fire a few years back and had to remodel, but Tony still runs the place and they still make great pies.Â Before the remodel, you walked into a room that was decorated like the 1960’s.Â Cheap tables and plywood adorned the place.Â There were black and white TVs at every booth where you could feed quarters to watch your favorite shows.Â The pizzas were piled high with cheese and quality ingredients and when you were done gorging yourself on the fantastic food you got a little ice cream cone at the end.Â Nirvana!
3.Â Cecil’s Deli on Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul.Â This place is an old Jewish deli in Highland Park (a little subsection of St. Paul).Â There is a Deli up front where you can order bread or meats along with any number of kosher foods.Â When you go into the restaurant you are again transported in time back to the 1960’s.Â Cheap tables and old decor are the order of the day.Â I always loved the “Just Like New York” sandwich which was pastrami on an onion roll covered with their home-made cole slaw.Â They have the old-fashioned frozen crinkle fries but I give that a pass because the rest of the menu is so damn good.Â They have been around forever and the food, not the decor, is the reason why.
4.Â Murray’s Steak House in downtown Minneapolis.Â When I was growing up I never knew a place like this existed.Â It’s decor, up until recently, was a 1950’s Miami mobster kind of appeal.Â It had the high back booths and all the waiters and waitresses were around a hundred.Â I never went there when I was young because it was so expensive.Â I grew up poor.Â However, once I could afford it, barely, I took the wife down there and we shared the Silver ButterknifeÂ Special.Â It is a 28ozÂ strip sirloin that they cut at your table.Â It is enough to feed three or four people.Â The meat has been aged so long and to such perfection that it simply dissolves in your mouth like it is made of Listerine Breath Strips.Â The taste is heavenly.Â It comes with the garlic toast which reminded me of the hard pieces of toast my mom used to eat when she was on a diet.Â The service is top-notch, the service is top-notch, and their prices are top-notch.Â Well worth it if you want to eat at a very nice place with some history.
5.Â Al’s breakfast in Dinkytown.Â There are maybe 13 stools in this place.Â The line is always out the door even when it is ten below zero.Â The room is long and skinny with just enough room to waddle my fat ass and wait in line behind all the people sitting at the bar eating.Â The decor his Animal House fraternity but the breakfast food is great food done right.Â I think it has been around since the 1920’s and I am pretty sure all the decor is like an excavation site and if you just dig long enough you will find the original decor at the bottom.Â Cheap and tasty and oh so good.
Now for the restaurants around my neck of the woods, the suburbs.
1.Â Chipotle.Â I know, it is a chain.Â Well the first place I mentioned was a chain as well.Â This place is amazing.Â They use fresh ingredients, have a very small but high-quality menu, and their prices are on the low-end of cheap.Â They try to use organic products, who gives a rat’s ass, but everything is simply delicious.Â The hot sauce is actually hot and not Minnesota Ketchup hot.Â The salsa’s and guacamole are made fresh daily and they make a burrito the size of a head.Â It is fantastic food at fantastic prices.
2.Â The T-Box on highway 65 in Ham Lake.Â I begged my neighbor, the food snob, to go there with me and she poo-pooed it.Â She went with another neighbor and then raved about it and I was pissed.Â That is how she is.Â I finally got to go there for lunch with her one day and I was not disappointed.Â Do not go there for lunch now because you will be disappointed.Â They are only open for dinner.Â The menu selection was small but the food was top quality and top rate.Â There were not many people there and the person running the bar was the waiter and I think there was a cook.Â I heard mention he went to culinary school and it shows.Â Very good food, OK prices.Â Knock yourself out.
3.Â Carol’s Calico Kitchen.Â This place used to be in a dump in Lino Lakes and we went there all the time.Â A month after a fantastic review in Bon Appetite (who the hell do they think they are!) the place mysteriously burned to the ground.Â It took Carol a long time but she reopened years later in a brand new building on 65 by 242.Â Everything here, and I mean everything including the dressing, is made from scratch.Â While the ambiance has improved (in most people’s eyes anyway) the food has stayed the same.Â Top notch.Â If you want a fantastic home cooked meal this is the place.Â My mom loves it too.Â It is an upscale version of Perkins type food except everything is made from scratch.
4.Â Q-Fanatic on 169 just over the river from Anoka in Champlain.Â this is a new place that friends told me about and then I saw on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”.Â When you walk in this place be prepared for your knees to buckle in the presence of greatness.Â The food her is out of this world and you can tell the owner loves to barbecue.Â The smells are terrific but more importantly the food is out of this world.Â You order at the counter like a fast food place and then take a number and put in on your table.Â When the food comes out there is a ton of it.Â The meat is smoked and fall off the bone perfection.Â It is an inexpensive place to eat.
5.Â Finally, a place further afield.Â Val’s in St. Cloud Minnesota neat highway 10 and 23 (I think).Â Look it up, you’re on the internet now.Â This place is a perfect dive.Â It is small, small, small.Â There is no eating indoors.Â There is only seating outside, in back, by the dumpster where a forlorn picnic table sits.Â Everyone else is parked in their car eating the greatest little greasy hamburgers in the northern suburbs.Â The place has a minimal menu and when you order fries you get the package filled along with the bag with your order.Â They also have flavored milk shakes which are very chemical-like and also very good.Â This old tiny gas station has a fantastic 50’s feel to it and I hope they are around forever.
That is it.Â My suburban and metropolitan, restaurant review.