I had the pleasure of dining at Owamni in Minneapolis earlier this year, before it received the James Beard Award for best new restaurant but after it had already received accolades. The unique concept ensures a menu that you’ve likely not encountered before: all ingredients must have been used by indigenous people prior to the colonization of the Americas. No dairy, no beef, no chicken, no egg. Non-vegetarians can order fish, bison, turkey, or elk. For the bulk of the menu, Owamni uses ingredients such as berries, corn, wild rice, beans, and maple syrup, making it largely vegan-friendly. Wines come from Mexico and Central America because of the regions’ use of non-European grapes.
My review of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis highlights an excellent farm-to-table restaurant. Don’t be fooled by the casual atmosphere. This trendy establishment, located in the Warehouse District, offers innovative dishes for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Its companion bar, Marvel Bar, hides around back and, in true speakeasy style, can be found by only those in the know.
Recommended dishes: Duck breast, housemade cheese with smoked honey, popovers.
Most surprising: The “secret” Marvel bar and its back staircase into the restaurant
Dress: Business casual
Décor: Vintage warehouse combined with country
Price: $27-38 for entrées
While technically a separate establishment, any review of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis should include Marvel Bar as a prelude to dinner. If you go around back of the restaurant and down a few stairs to what looks like a delivery entrance, you’ll find it. Unmarked, of course. Open the heavy metal door and step inside. You’ll likely have to blink a little to adjust to the dark, beamed interior. If you’re lucky, you can score one of the booths, but you can also cozy up to the bar or set your drink on one of the barrel tables.
Specialty cocktails are unusual and delicious. Of course, you can always order traditional cocktails. If you have reservations in the restaurant above, your server will show you to the back staircase after you settle your tab. You are free to carry your drinks upstairs.
The Bachelor Farmer
As much as I love to begin dinner with a cocktail from Marvel Bar, I look forward to the real attraction, dinner at The Bachelor Farmer. We almost always start out with one of the toasts. The housemade cow’s milk cheese with smoked honey, warm apricot “mostada,” and pine nuts makes a great appetizer to share or to keep for yourself. We always order popovers as starters as well. During my last dinner there, my husband and I shared a foie gras appetizer that came with a radish and peashoot salad.
The vegetarians who dined with us ordered the wild rice, soft-boiled egg, shiitake mushroom, and hazelnuts entrée. I’m not an egg person, so I take their word for it that it tasted delicious. The walleye with pancetta and argula cream and the grilled lamb with wilted greens were both excellent. Because the menu changes seasonally, you can’t always expect to see what you ordered the time before. On my first visit, I ordered duck breast, and it was the best duck breast I’ve ever had. The second time, I didn’t see duck breast on the menu.
In a city with many great dining options, The Bachelor Farmer remains one of the best. Its emphasis on local ingredients and “Northern food” makes it an apt restaurant for visitors and residents alike. Make sure to check out Marvel Bar either before or after dinner.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann
World Oyster in Minneapolis compiles several trips I’ve taken to the upper Midwest city. Minneapolis is a mix of gritty and modern, leafy and stark, urban and suburban.
Most iconic thing to do: Visit the Mall of America
Distinctive feature: The Skyway
Best restaurants for foodies: Alma and The Bachelor Farmer
Most surprising: The thriving arts scene
Most disappointing: Constant road construction
Although less obvious a Midwestern destination than Chicago, it rivals that much larger city in many ways. Whether you are a supporter of the arts, nature lover, or sports fanatic, you’ll likely find a lot to do.
Neighborhoods and Layout
Most people visiting Minneapolis will stay in the downtown area amid high rises connected by the glass-walled Skyway so that you can walk from one to the other without going outside. Its twin city, St. Paul, lies to the east (and slightly south.) The Mississippi Rivers meanders through both cities. Unfortunately, constant road construction often makes it difficult to drive or even walk in some areas.
Areas of interest include Nicollet Mall, a street where you can find restaurants and stores. The Theater District is one or two blocks over, on Hennepin Ave. The Warehouse District, a.k.a. the North Loop, has shops, theaters, and restaurants in older, converted factory buildings. Look for the famous Bob Dylan Mural painted by Eduardo Kobra. Dinkytown, on the eastern side of the Mississippi, is the home of the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.
During my most recent visit, I stayed at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel. Other downtown options include the Grand Hotel Minneapolis (Hyatt), the Radission Blu, the Hilton, and the Crowne Plaza.
The Mall of America
When someone says, “Minneapolis,” most people think of either Mary Tyler Moore or The Mall of America. For better or worse, the mall has become an iconic stop for all who visit the city. It’s located near the airport, making it a great first stop if you arrive too early to check into your hotel.
Unbeknownst to most outside Minnesota, the mall is located not in Minneapolis proper but rather in Bloomington. Its fame derives from its central amusement park, with its roller coasters, kiddie rides, and other attractions, in addition to its wide range of stores. Worth visiting beyond the stores and amusement park: Flyover America for its immersive, thrilling tour of the U.S. from the air and CMX Market Cinema Experience for its assigned recliner seats, gourmet popcorn lab, pizza station, and full bar. Kids will beg to visit the Lego store and the enormous Lego display outside of it.
If you’re hungry, don’t worry! FireLake Grill House, inside the Radission Blu, offers sit-down service and menu items from flatbreads to salads to Alaskan Wild Salmon to bacon-wrapped quail legs. They have their own apiary on top of the mall where they harvest their honey. Burger Burger not only offers burgers and fries but also Impossible Burgers in five different styles for vegans; the spiked shakes and full bar surprise at this “fast casual” restaurant. If you have kids in tow, try the Rainforest Café. For snacks, you can find edible cookie dough, French macarons, chocolates, and espresso/cappucino. You’ll find the likely mall suspects as well as chains such as Bubba Gump. This blog doesn’t have enough room to list all the food possibilities.
World Oyster in Minneapolis must feature the arts in the city since they are some of the best in the Midwest. The city’s active arts community thrives throughout the year.
Productions at the Guthrie Theater, one of the premier regional theaters in the United States, include everything from musicals to experimental plays. A tour of the building includes the Amber Box and the cantilevered Endless Bridge. Even if you don’t see a play, you’ll get spectacular views of the Mississippi River.
The world-class Walker Arts Center houses contemporary art with changing exhibits. The museum embraces multimedia pieces such as film of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and work by composer John Cage. You’ll find well-known contemporary artists such as Rauschenburg, Frankenthaler, Hopper, Warhol, and Calder among lesser-known but nonetheless compelling artists.
Nearby, don’t miss the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and its famous Spoonbridge and Cherry by Oldenburg and van Bruggen.
If more traditional or cultural art is your style, visit the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The collection ranges from Asian art to the decorative arts to European art to photography and more.
The live music scene is equally vibrant. Whether you like rock, jazz, or classical, you can find it in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Orchestra, located on Nicollet Mall, performs from mid-September through the first week of August, with more popular music played in the warmer months. Huge pop and rock stars appear in concert at the Target Center.
If you are a Prince fan, you shouldn’t miss a tour of Paisley Park where the Artist Formally Known As . . . lived and recorded/produced his hits.
World Oyster in Minneapolis would be remiss to discuss the city without including its sports. The Minnesota Twins (MLB) play in Target Field. The Timberwolves (NBA) and the Lynx (WNBA) play in Target Center. The Minnesota Wild (NHL) play across the river in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center. And the Vikings (NFL) kick off at the U.S. Bank Stadium. Most of these venues are located in downtown, close to a variety of hotels. With the exception of the Vikings’, most sports tickets are easier to acquire than they are in larger cities.
Mill City Museum
You’ll see the competing flour company signs on opposite sides of the Mississippi: Pillsbury on the east bank and Gold Medal on the west. Although these buildings are no longer in use for the actual milling of flour, they harken to Minneapolis’ past. The Gold Medal Building houses the Mill City Museum, a fascinating look at the city’s industrial history, including the Washburn A Mill Flour Explosion. The rooftop observation deck offers a fantastic view of the river and the falls. Works by local artists adorn the walls throughout.
Nature and the Outdoors
The residents of Minnepolis and Minnesota more generally love the outdoors. The Land of 10,000 Lakes provides numerous opportunities for cycling, boating, walking, and, in the winter, skating. Parks within the borders of the Twin Cities include Minnehaha Park, Powderhorn Park, Lake Harriet, and Loring Park.
The Majorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul’s Como Park is well worth the visit for plant and flower lovers. It houses indoor and as well as outdoor gardens. The adjacent Como Park Zoo entertains children and adults alike. The park itself is great for picnics, cycling, or just walking around. Parking can be a challenge on busy days — we had to park along the road and walk a distance to the botanical gardens.
Outside of the City: Lake Towns
Excelsior, a quaint town located on Lake Minnetonka, is only a 25 minute drive from downtown Minneapolis. The town has many cute stores and restaurants. Be forewarned, though: These businesses can be closed on holidays.
From Excelsior, you can book a steamboat cruise on Lake Minnetonka to Wayzata. If you end up in Wayzata, make sure to eat at 6Smith, a fabulous casual restaurant. In addition to their regular menus, they have menus for vegans and kids. They have a full bar and an excellent wine list.
Places to Eat in Minneapolis
Probably the best restaurant I’ve tried is Alma, located near the University of MN, but the Warehouse District’s The Bachelor Farmer runs close behind. Both feature seasonal ingredients and innovative dishes. Service is uniformly excellent, and dress is business casual. For a fun bar experience before or after dinner at The Bachelor Farmer, try the speakeasy style Marvel Bar. Walk around the back of the brick building and down the stairs. The bar has no signage, but once you step through the door, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
I also love Barrio, a Latin American tapas restaurant and bar. Due to its small size, you will want to make reservations for dinner. The Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant serves traditional food in a white tablecloth inn setting. If you like quirky cuisine, try Hell’s Kitchen. We love our breakfasts at the Henhouse Eatery, although they serve all day and have a full bar. The bakery is awesome — try their gooey cinnamon buns served with a gratuitous dollop of butter. Make reservations or else plan to wait up to an hour for a table. If you are in the Northeast neighborhood in search of breakfast/brunch, try Hazel’s Northeast.
Minneapolis offers tremendous range, especially when it comes to the arts and sports. World Oyster in Minneapolis attempts to give readers highlights of the city, but it’s by no means comprehensive. I’d be happy to hear other suggestions of what to see.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann
I recently stayed at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel in downtown Minneapolis for an extended weekend. The hotel itself was comfortable with a modern décor. Theoretically, the location was also good, across the street from the Target Center, two blocks from Target Field, and a five-minute walk to Nicolette Mall. Unfortunately, what we experienced inside this hotel did not match what we experienced outside.
Favorite in-hotel experience: Cocktails at Relevé
Location Advantage: Walking distance to event centers and restaurants.
Location Disadvantage: Weekend night crazyiness
Fun part of stay: Sharing a hotel with the Milwaukee Brewers
The Property Itself
Although the Loews Minneapolis Hotel has a small lobby, the area offers some low, upholstered, bench-type seating for ten or so people. Off the lobby, the Apothecary Bar offers drinks and snacks until 5 pm, when the bar upstairs, Relevé, opens. A Starbuck’s is just outside the hotel’s side door and across the hall.
The architect for the Loews Minneapolis Hotel came up with a strange design, probably for security. To access your room, you must take the elevator to the fourth floor where you exit and proceed to a different bank of elevators. The second bank of elevators require you to use your card key to get to your room’s floor. Since the fourth floor is public space both for the Relevé Champagne Bar and the dining room, people can’t gain access to your floor without a key.
Although Relevé specializes in sparkling wines, it is a full service bar with a limited Happy Hour menu. Check the hotel signs for hours. You may choose to sit at the bar or at a chair next to a small table.
We did not eat in the dining room because we chose to patronize Minneapolis’s excellent restaurants. Also on the fourth floor, you’ll find a grab-and-go market.
We booked a room with a king-size bed at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel. Although not huge, we found that it had ample room for two. My husband always claims the desk for himself, so I was glad to have an upholstered chair with a side table for myself. The calming grays-and-white went well with the accent wall of blue and green.
The bathroom had a contemporary green glass sink and a walk-in, tiled shower. The bath towels were small and rough. I’ve had bigger, softer towels at a Spring Hill Suites, and so thought the bath linens did not match the quality of the rest of the hotel.
The room contained plenty of power outlets, particularly at the long desk. The large screen TV, Keurig coffee maker, and bedside lamps completed the amenities in an otherwise spare room. Except for the rough towels, the room fit the chain’s “luxury” self-branding.
We were greeted every time we entered by a friendly and efficient staff. They opened the door for us, both when we left and when we returned. When we had a question, they had an accurate answer. The largely unseen housekeeping workers kept the room clean and well-stocked. In terms of the staff, Loews Minneapolis Hotel couldn’t have done better.
During the day, we found nothing undesirable about the hotel’s surrounding area, but on Saturday night, all hell broke loose just a half-block away. The sidewalks filled with partying and often drunken (or high) people. A fatal stabbing occurred that night just two blocks away. While the stabbing may have been an anomaly, the rowdy pedestrians probably were not. We had previously stayed at the Grand Hotel Minneapolis several blocks away, and we had experienced none of this.
We loved the short walk to Target Field and local restaurants but not the Saturday night madness. After serious consideration, we decided that we would probably not return to the Loews Minneapolis Hotel in downtown Minneapolis solely because of the neighborhood at night. Even though the Grand Hotel has changed ownership from Kimpton to Hyatt, we may return there next time.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann