Showing posts with label Minneapolis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Minneapolis. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Heading to the American Queen on the Mississippi

Like most of the world, I haven’t taken any big trips the last few years. Getting on an airplane or a cruise ship has not seemed like a good idea for someone who is immunocompromised. An opportunity came up that made me rethink this.

American Queen Voyages is not your usual cruise line. The majority of their cruises are wholly within the United States (a few stop in Canada). Their ships are all small and they have four riverboats with wide open areas so you are not ever waiting on lines for food or disembarking with thousands of people.

I was offered a cruise that was entirely in the Midwest, so if there were any health issues, I could be home within a few hours drive. I have to confess that it was also nice to not have to worry about tropical storms and rough waters as we would only be on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

The ship I was heading to is the America Queen, christened by godmother Priscilla Presley in 1995, and refurbished 12 years later. It’s the largest of the AQV ships. Despite having only 213 staterooms, it’s considered the biggest steamboat built.

My cruise would take me from Red Wing, Minnesota, to Alton, Illinois, stopping in five different states. I asked my friend, Lynn, to accompany me. She is one of my favorite travel companions, whom I’ve known over 30 years. We have traveled together to four countries and throughout the U.S.

Lynn came to Champaign two days before the trip so we could get ready for our first adventure since before the pandemic. We were driving to St. Louis, leaving my van at the airport, and flying to Minneapolis the next day. We’d then head one way down the Mississippi on the boat.

American Queen Voyages includes an overnight hotel stay the night before the cruise to make sure everyone is there and not feeling rushed.

We were early arriving in St. Louis and decided to stop at a favorite barbecue spot for lunch. Pappy’s Smokehouse. This popular spot has been named “Best BBQ in Missouri” by Southern Living and “Best Ribs in America” by the Food Network. We didn’t have the ribs, but the brisket was as good as I remembered.

T he flight to Minneapolis was short and uneventful. It took us much longer to find the bus to the Radisson Blu Mall of America in nearby Bloomington. I had actually stayed here the last time I was in the area and looking forward to returning.

The hotel was as modern and comfortable as I remembered. Our room had everything we needed, including welcome snacks, but it had been many hours since that brisket sandwich and we were hungry.

Unfortunately, the hotel restaurant, Firelake Grill House,  having some staffing issues and we had a wait. The manager warned us the service that night was overwhelmed, but we found them to be polite and we didn’t wait long.

I knew right away what I wanted to start: Minnesota Wild Rice Soup. I had discovered it on one of my first trips to the state and made it a habit every time since. 

I ordered a large bowl and Firelake’s version was excellent, and it went perfectly with their warm out of the oven popovers — another treat I rarely get. I finished off my meal with tomatoes & burrata, while Lynn had the Mushroom Gnudi.

I also tried the hotel’s own tequila, which was smooth and semi-sweet. It was also all I needed to be ready for bed after a long day. We had another one coming, with a private behind the scenes tour of the Mall of America in the morning, and the beginning of our journey on the America Queen Steamboat in the afternoon.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Living Life Like Mary in Minneapolis

My friend Jaimee and I checked out early from the Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis.  We had a full day ahead of us to explore.

Our first stop was for brunch at Spoonriver, in the Mill District that runs along the Mississippi River. The food that chef/owner Brenda Langton offers here is local, organic and gourmet. She’s also come up with an interesting cocktail menu to bring into the restaurant.

The brunch menu at Spoonriver definitely had my attention and I knew right away it was going to be tough to narrow it down. I was especially impressed with all the vegetarian and vegan items, which all sounded good. 

We ordered the Bloody River (voted best by Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine) and the scone of the day cherry, banana and coconut. Both were wonderful and we were beginning to think we couldn’t go wrong with anything ordered.

I settled on a special omelet with wild rice, squash, leeks and Amish cheddar cheese. I had a side of their vegetable and potato hash browns with it. All tasted fresh and was excellent. Jaimee said the same of her ham, roasted potato omelet.

We were pretty stuffed, but I’m easily tempted with dessert. We decided on the Toffee Pudding and a heavenly looking chocolate cake, only we wished we were able to finish them.

From Spoonriver we went to the Walker Art Center. We walked around this modern museum for quite a while. I was especially enthralled with a Cindy Sherman photographic exhibition (the exhibits here change here often).

Jaimee and I still needed to work up an appetite so we left the car and walked to the Prairie Kitchen and Bar in the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis. It was late afternoon and we caught the end of lunch, but the food tasted just as fresh as it had in the previous place.
I had a delicious combination of the roasted chicken and herb soup with wild rice and a goat cheese and Lingonberry tart. Jaimee had the Walleye & Chips, a specialty since the fish is caught nearby. She really liked that too.  Andrew, the manager, and Eric, the chef, both came by to greet us and explain how the menu changes seasonally and they try to keep specials based on what’s available.

We were also convinced here to try some dessert and did so with no regrets. Another specialty of the house was brought out… Sweet Vanilla Pancakes, served with bananas and locally made cinnamon ice cream.

Before I left Minneapolis, I had one last stop to make. It was downtown in the pedestrian Nicollet Mall. The Mary Tyler Moore statue stands there and, just as she did in the opening sequence to her 1970s show, she’s throwing her hat up in the air and cheering the city.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Minneapolis Getaway

I had always thought of Minneapolis as a shopping mecca as it is home to the Mall of America, one of the largest malls in the world. I recently started hearing more about the cities food and cocktail scene and decided it was something I needed to check out for myself.

It’s about an eight hour ride from my home in Champaign, Illinois, to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I brought my friend Jaimee along for the ride and we were both surprised to see the change in landscape as we drove through Wisconsin to Minnesota. I made note that I needed to check out the Badger state on a future visit.

We were staying right downtown at the Hotel Ivy, a four-star hotel next to Orchestra Hall. The room won my favor with a large tub (I will never understand hotel rooms with only showers). I was also surprised to learn that this contemporary accommodation is actually on the National Register of Historic Places as the Ivy Tower was originally designed by architect Thomas R. Kimball for the Second Church of Christ Scientist.

Our first stop was to meet Kristen Montag from Meet Minneapolis for drinks. We were originally set to meet at Union Restaurant (which has a retractable rooftop on the upper level), but it was closed for a party so we instead had martinis at Zelo before heading to Eat Street Social for dinner.

Eat Street Social is quite an eclectic place. From the selection of house made bitters to the unusual menu, I was thoroughly impressed, despite what first looked like an overcrowded bar. This place is anything but a “bar” given the menu of food and drinks they offer.  

I picked the right cocktail to start – T & Tea. It was a smoked plum black tea infused gin with winter tonic (they make and change their own tonics as well as the bitters). Jaimee enjoyed sipping the Tropical Void with Milwaukee’s Rehorst Vodka, pineapple, Jamaican #2 Bitters and lime.

The drinks were delicious, as was dinner. We had a selection of dishes from Steak Tartar (Jaimee said it was tender and flavorful) to a juicy pork chop with wonderful sweet potatoes.

The dessert selection at Eat Street Social changes often, but if the Upside Down Apple Cake we had is any indication, you won’t want to skip the final course.

We took a cab back to Hotel Ivy for the night and stopped for a nightcap at the Ivy Bar (warm and inviting) before heading upstairs. We had one more day left in Minneapolis to sample some more food and check out some art.