Twin Pleasures: Eating, Shopping

Posted August 5, 2008 at 1:18pm

RNC goers: Here’s a tip. St. Paul and Minneapolis are separate cities. If you confuse them, locals are apt to give you the what-for. But politely, of course. This is still Minnesota, where drivers let buses cut in during rush hour and stop to sightsee in the middle of a street.

Though the cities straddle opposite banks of the Mississippi River, these twins are fraternal, not identical, and each has its own personality. Minneapolis is bigger, richer and the more dominant. St. Paul is older, provincial, the state capital — and where the convention is being held the first week of September.

Wherever you’re staying, you’ll likely be spending time in both towns, which are thick with places to eat and shop. Since hordes will be swarming about and security will be tight, finding the right places to spend your money could get stressful. Here’s a guide to some of the Twin Cities’ finest.

Where to Eat

Bank. A former bank is now home to one of Minnesota’s most elegant restaurants and bars. Go for dinner and stay for the nightlife. Westin Hotel, 88 S. Sixth St., Minneapolis; 612-656-3255.

Chambers Kitchen. The space is minimalist, the contemporary art is museum-quality and the pan-Asian menu is by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. But it’s the bars — first floor and rooftop — that make this a super-hip destination. Chambers Hotel, 901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-767-6999.

Cosmos. American cooking with global accents by a former chef at New York’s 21 Club. Try the confit of halibut. Graves 601 Hotel, 601 First Ave. North, Minneapolis; 612-312-1168.

Dunn Bros. This coffee shop is packed every morning. Those suits at the next table drinking double lattes are likely hashing out a deal. The beans are roasted on the premises so the coffee is good. 367 Wabasha St., St. Paul; 651-767-0567.

Keys Cafe. This greasy breakfast spot near the state Capitol is where local politicians go when they want to casually run into each other. 504 Robert St., St. Paul; 651-222-4083.

Kincaid’s Fish, Chop & Steak House. The bar is where you want to eat, not the stuffy restaurant. During happy hour, appetizers are half-price. 380 St. Peter St., St. Paul.; 651-602-9000.

The Lexington. One of the last bastions of good service in the city. The who’s who of old St. Paul still come here for the walleye almandine, chicken pot pie and bone-in tenderloin. 1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-222-5878.

Manny’s Steakhouse. The waiters can be rude and you’ll have to put up with their scripted tableside spiel, but this local institution has the biggest and best steaks in town. Hyatt Regency, 1300 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis; 612-339-9900.

Meritage. The trend now is to buy local. While many restaurant make the claim, this American bistro with a French accent, takes it seriously. And there’s sidewalk seating so you can people-watch while eating your moules frites. 410 St. Peter St.; 651-222-5670.

Mickey’s Diner. Open 24/7, this art deco diner car with lippy servers and eclectic clientele has been offering the same classics — Mulligan stew, omelets, potatoes O’Brien — since FDR was in the Oval Office. 36 Seventh St. West, St. Paul; 651-222-5633.

112 Eatery. This off-hours chef haunt on the edge of downtown is so cool that after almost two years and an expansion, you still feel lucky if they can squeeze you in. Isaac Becker’s food — lamb scottadito, sea urchin risotto, bone-in pork tenderloin, Chinese fried eggs — is worth it. 112 N. Third St., Minneapolis; 612-343-7696.

Pazzaluna. St. Paul’s best-looking restaurant serves up Italian food in the dining room and a big-city buzz in the bar. 360 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651-223-7000.

Sakura. Sushi, noodle bowls and teriyaki — all in a contemporary setting. 350 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651-224-0185.

St. Paul Grill. A primo business lunch spot, the grill offers big salads, sandwiches and well-grilled meats in a comfortable, clubby ambience. The adjacent bar is the best in town: dark, relaxed and with a proper dry martini and a long list of single-malt Scotches. 350 Market St., St. Paul; 651-224-7455.

20.21. Eat celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s Cal-Asian food at the contemporary Walker Art Center and then walk off your meal in the nearby sculpture garden, where the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry is the star attraction. 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-253-3410.

W.A. Frost. A landmark location on Cathedral Hill, a talented chef who turns out new American classics and the most gorgeous patio in the Twin Cities. 374 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651-224-5715.

Where to Shop

Artist Mercantile. Hats, jewelry, glassware and lots more — all handmade by local artists. 24 Seventh Place West , St. Paul; 651-222-0053.

Common Good Books. Local and regional authors fill the shelves at this independent basement bookstore owned by local celeb Garrison Keillor, the man behind Prairie Home Companion. 165 Western Ave. North, St. Paul; 651-225-8989.

Don’t Make Me Beg. This boutique has designer duds, beds and carriers for pampered pets. 792 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-222-0313.

Evoke Gallery. Well-edited line of jewelry, glassware and gifts, plus a featured art show of the month. 355 Wabasha St., St. Paul; 651-224-6388

Golden Fig. The shelves are filled goodies from local food artisans, including honey gathered by a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, dog biscuits made by a nun and buttery shortbread from an opera singer turned baker. 790 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-602-0144.

Grand Hand Gallery. A showcase for local artists. Look for Linda Christianson pots and Walter Piehl’s paintings. 619 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-312-1122.

Irish on Grand. Tweed caps, hand-knitted Aran sweaters and all things Belleek at this Irish general store. 1124 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-222-5151.

J.B. Hudson. The best jewelry and watches money can buy — Cartier, John Hardy, Rolex, Chanel. Swanky estate pieces, too. 901 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612-338-5950.

Mall of America. The largest mall in America has its own indoor theme park, aquarium and chapel of love. It also has stores for every taste — bargain hunters (Nordstrom Rack, H&M), fashionistas (Burberry, Nordstrom), athletes (Puma, Nike) and computer geeks (Bose, Apple). 60 E. Broadway, Bloomington;

Neiman Marcus. This store is all about fashion and the good life, but the real deals are on the top clearance floor. 505 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612-339-2600.

Off Fifth Saks. All three floors at Saks Fifth Avenue’s outlet store in the heart of downtown are filled with deep-discounted duds from famous designers. 655 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis; 612-333-7200.

Saga Living. The largest selection of Marimekko merchandise outside of Finland, plus more colorful, contemporary Scandinavian wares. 1055 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-290-8577.