A Couple Of Old Friends

    Meet Four Seasons Mall…

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    It’s a traditional 80’s style strip mall.  As a kid/teen, it was the closest “mall” to our house and somewhere my family spent a decent amount of time.  There was a grocery store, liquor store, dance studio, Synders, pizza place and countless other small businesses.  Today all that’s left is the pizza place and a Kaplan Professional School.  The talk is that the place will soon be torn down and a Walmart will go up.  I’m guessing that a Walmart will draw more cars to the parking lot than a pizza place and a Kaplan.

    Today with much trepidation and much excitement, I headed to that pizza place to enjoy a little “pizza party”.  Marcello’s offers up excellent cheese bread and pretty tasty pizza.  It was a favorite from my teen years and it’s still a favorite today, sorta like cheese.

    I ate cheese to my heart’s content and it was delightful, delectable, delicious, dazzling and deliriously good.  I was nervous going in that I would be like an alcoholic, once returned to my vice, helpless in its grasp.  So far though, I feel good about it.  I think my cheese and grease monkey has been satiated and should stay quiet for awhile and I’ve had no adverse stomach reactions.  After being away from cheese for 34 days, the thing I noticed most about it other than it’s deliciousness was it’s saltiness.  It’s some salty stuff.  Nothing like a little distance to make one appreciate cheese with all of its beauty and its one fault.

    Join me in a little 80’s nostalgia by looking at a few pictures of Marcello’s.

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    There it is, number 26, Marcello’s Pizza & Pasta.

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    Check out that 80’s decor.  Hasn’t changed, not one little bit since the first time I was there over 25 years ago.  If that’s not staying power, I don’t know what is.

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    It’s hard to find chandeliers like that now-a-days and the faux ivy painting all over the walls is to die for.  This place is a classic.  The booths are original to the joint as well.  Nothing in the whole space has been updated since the place opened.

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    The piece de resistance, Marcello’s garlic cheese bread.  It’s always perfectly cooked, perfectly cheesed and perfectly buttered.  Unlike ever other place where you get cheese bread and they use some pre-made garlic butter stuff that all tastes the same, here the butter is real and so is the garlic.  It’s a hand-made concoction that is nothing short of perfect.  Yum!

    Best Of The Road - Part 1

    On our recent family vacation, we did the most American of things…We hit the road for a week-long road trip.  Because of my general fear of flying, this is something my family is very accustomed to doing.  For us, it’s not some novel concept of returning to the family vacations of my and Jamie’s youth, it’s just the way we roll (I think I just did a pun; how cool is that?  I don’t pun often).

    This year we took a slightly different take on the all-American road trip:  We traveled the road less taken.  I mean that quite literally as most of our route directed us onto small, never heard nor seen before roads.  Roads that make you wonder why they exist, as they don’t lead anywhere except to some other nowhere.

    It was not grand nor exceptional, but it was peaceful and refreshing.  We began our journey at The Natural Gait, just outside of nowhere, somewhere in the middle of Iowa.  I don’t remember the name of the town we weren’t in and it’s not really important.  No one should go to The Natural Gait, unless maybe they have horses and want to vacation with them.  And then, it’s just a maybe.  We hung out with some good friends from Iowa City and that made The Natural Gait a much better place to be.  Enough said.

    From there our mini-van took us to Dubuque, Iowa.  Dubuque is not a hot-bed of tourism and I don’t remember how I decided we just had to visit, but visit we did.  There are a few cool things in Dubuque, so if you ever find yourself there, hit these places up…

    The National Mississippi River Museum - It was a pleasant surprise.  The section on steamboats was the unexpected highlight of the visit.  We spend a couple of hours, but if we had been without children, we could have easily spent a couple more.

     Fenelon Place Elevator  (it’s a funicular) - This thing was a trip (Are you noticing this; another pun!).  A small, old, rickety car takes you straight up a very steep hill on a small, old, rickety track.  Jamie and I both felt elated to avoid death or serious injury while riding.  The kids thought it was a blast.  The history behind the Elevator was interesting to learn as well.

    The Hotel Julien - This is the type of hotel that I am always happy to find.  A lovingly restored downtown hotel with all the modern amenities including a pool, spa and lots of character from the past.  The rooms were clean, spacious and attractively decorated. We had breakfast at the restaurant two mornings and were impressed with our food.  The hotel also had a separate bar that was handsome in decor and hopping with people and good times, but we didn’t have a chance to check it out.

    L. May Eatery -  Our meal here was the best we had during the trip.  Outstanding food was in short supply during our trip, but this place was pretty darn good.  It’s a small, upscale restaurant with a charming atmosphere that focuses on the local, sustainable food movement, and both Jamie and I eat that kind of thing up (Is it another pun?  I’m flabbergasted.).  They didn’t have a kid’s menu, but they were accommodating and welcoming to our little crazies.  Jamie’s meal of lobster lasagna was particularly good and we all, kids included, had a charming time.

    From Dubuque we hit the road and drove a short distance (about 19 miles, hardly a drive to us city folk) to Galena, IL.  I’d never heard of the place until I was looking for accommodations in Dubuque, but it’s a touristy little spot.  The town has a quaint, expansive downtown that most women would love to spend a day or two perusing.  It screams, “Come, shop, dine!”  Turns out I am like most women in this regard and could see spending a weekend enjoying the historic blocks of downtown Galena.  The area also had things more manly to attend to, but in our short stay we did not participate in any such offerings.  We walked the downtown, had a sub par lunch, and jumped back into the mini-van to head to our next destination.

    This is turning into a much longer post than I’d intended.  Hopefully, I haven’t bored the ten of you to death.  I think I’ll break here and pick up with the rest of the trip in another post.  Till next time…

    Mill Valley Kitchen

    The latest in a long line of new restaurants to hit the Minneapolis dining scene is Mill Valley Kitchen on the corner of Excelsior and France Avenue in St. Louis Park.  They’ve been open just over a month and I’ve tried the place out twice.  It’s a very nice restaurant and there are three things that I really appreciate about the place:  they list the calories and nutritional breakdown of their menu items including designations for vegan and gluten-free, they use local/sustainable ingredients in most of their food, and contrary to most restaurants, when you look around the room everyone seems to have nutritious, “real” food on their plates.

    This is not a place for people who like large portions and the feeling of getting good value for their money.  I think you do get very good value for your buck here, but it’s more in the way of eating nutrient dense food that tastes good in the right sized portion than in the traditional there is a crap-load of food on my plate and it only cost me $9.95.

    They have a kid menu and I was impressed with the food they serve the kiddies.  The mac and cheese was homemade and yummy.  The chicken fingers were real, moist pieces of chicken breast, panko-breaded and baked.  The real test is the kids and they both chowed down.  Kid’s meals are served with edamame and fruit; what’s not to love.

    Prices are reasonable with most menu items around $10 and most entrees between $15-$20.  This is a place where you can enjoy your meal and feel good about enjoying your meal.  Both times I left pleasantly full, enjoyed my food, and didn’t feel guilty about indulging with either portion size or food selection.

    Speaking of indulging, dessert is another nice twist, with desserts served in a shot glass.  Perfect for an individual and at $2.50, not a big ding on the pocket book.  I found service both times to be warm, knowledgeable, attentive, and not over-bearing.

    My only complaint about this place isn’t really fair, but it’s my complaint so I’m going to lodge it.  The place is just too perfect.  Everything is pretty and safe and nice and all of the people are the same way; it’s missing an edge.  It feels very suburban, which isn’t inherently bad, but it’s not a place I could fall in love with.  So, I’m very much in like with the Mill Valley Kitchen and I’ll be back, but until things aren’t so pretty and perfect I won’t be able to give it my heart.


    The name conjures up all type of images, but probably not a hip new eatery in South Minneapolis.  Two women who met in the kitchen of Birchwood a decade ago and have since been involved in the local, sustainable food scene decided to open a place where you can get bar food and not feel bad about where it came from.  I love the idea of farm-to-table food moving past the fine dining experience and settling in to the regular restaurant scene.

    I’ve eaten at the restaurant twice.  I enjoyed my first meal a lot and while I had the same exact thing the second time around, it wasn’t as good.  I had a grass-fed burger and fries both times, yes I know I am a vision of healthy eating.  My first burger was juicy and flavorful, and cooked just right.  The bun and cheese were both a nice accompaniment to the burger, and the fries were the skinny kind and quite good.  The burger is a nice size at a 1/3 pound.  The second time everything was about the same, but the burger was overcooked which took away the juiciness and zapped some of the flavor.

    My first meal was consumed with two hard ciders and there were no children in attendance.  My second visit I had no adult beverage and my two kids at the table keeping me company.  I’m sure that has something to do with my impressions of the two meals, but I do believe my first cheeseburger and french fries were far superior to the second.

    Keeping with my nutritious dinner choices, I also opted in for dessert on both occasions.  Lowbrow does dessert to a T.  They have an excellent dessert lady named Nancy and she makes some killer delights.  I’ve tried the Chocolate Oatmeal Stout cake and the Peanut Butter Pie and both were delicious.

    Prices are very reasonable.  My burger/fry combo was under 10 bucks.  The room can get loud quick as there are no soft surfaces to absorb noise and the space is all one, big room. Despite being disappointed by cheeseburger #2, I am eager to go back and dine again. I’ve heard that the chili and pulled pork sandwich are both very good and they have other options that I’d like to try.  I say, welcome to the neighborhood Lowbrow!

    Sun Street Breads

    My new favorite spot for breakfast or lunch is Sun Street Breads.  It’s owned and run by Solveig Tofte who baked for Turtle Bread for many years and was a sensation at the Kingfield Farmer’s Market last summer.

    The menu is simple, made up of biscuit sandwiches, a few pastries, these awesome fried potato balls called Gordas (not sure of spelling), a couple of breakfast staples and a smattering of sandwiches.  The food is simple as well, nothing fancy or highfalutin, but everything made with high-quality ingredients and with the hand of a talented baker.  The result is delicious, every-day food.  My three favorites so far are the gordas, the biscuit sandwich with scrambled eggs, cheese and sausage, and the raspberry cream scone.

    The space is light, bright and airy.  They serve dogwood coffee and I guess they have a full liquor license and intend to open for dinner some time in the future.  For now they are open from 6:30an-2:30pm daily.  They are on the corner of 46th and Nicollet in South Minneapolis.  Check them out if you have a chance.

    Small Can Build An Empire - The Third Installment Of Small

    In my continuing homage to small, we take a look next at Scot Pampuch. The man is a small force to be reckoned with. He owns a small restaurant, The Corner Table, and has for several years.

    He’s a local food guru who’s always shouting it out to whomever will listen. I’ve usually got my ears tuned to the local food scene and my head on a swivel and I’ve never seen or heard another foodie shout so often and from so many vantage points. Wherever you turn, there he is. It would be creepy if he was creepy, but he’s not, so it’s cool.

    This will be his third summer heading up Tour De Farm, a fully sanctioned copy-cat version of Outstanding in the Field, where dinners are held at local farms, out in the field with local chefs and local food.

    I just discovered his latest project, the Corner Table Community Supported Kitchen and it’s sheer genius. It’s like a CSA, but from a restaurant. If you don’t know what a CSA is, it’s short for Community Supported Agriculture and it’s basically a box of veggies, fruits, herbs and other random things that you get from a farm. Shares are available to purchase from many local farms and you pick a farm, buy a share, and pick up your box from a pre-determined location each week. The shares can last all year if you are located somewhere South of here, but in our frozen tundra most shares run 18 weeks or so. The CSK or Community Supported Kitchen that The Corner Table has started is a box that you pick up from their restaurant full of local meats, cheeses and the like, all prepped and ready to cook. He is also offering cooking classes bi-weekly at the restaurant in conjunction with the boxes and interesting, but gross classes where you can break down a whole hog with him. Ick, but probably a good thing to do if you eat meat. According to his website there is also talk of a CSK box for vegetarians. The dude is awesome and is living large the small way.

    Three cheers for Scot Pampuch!

    The Good Woman

    Me and the Mister were in Bayfield, Wisconsin for a little R&R in July of 2009. Since then, there has been a new baby and a move, but otherwise much is the same. I started to write this blog post all those many moons ago and never finished. A mere year and a half later I am here to continue what was started…

    The evening of our arrival, we stopped in to the local candy/ice cream shop and noticed that it was also a bakery in disguise. A woman stood behind plexiglass with a daughter and husband in tow, making a pie. She was extremely unassuming. We also noticed a couple of carmel rolls hanging out behind the plexiglass. After inquiring we were told that each morning at open there were fresh caramel and cinnamon rolls available for purchase.

    The next morning like good little monkeys we arrived. What met our eyes was the loveliest of sights. Big, beautiful rolls fresh from the oven. The “Good Woman” that makes these delicacies was bathing each in a bounty of divine frosting. After acquiring the massive goodness and uttering a few more times about what a good woman this lady was, we headed outside to partake.

    This creature was the finest cinnamon roll I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. The Good Woman has a gift and should be honored. Oh Good Woman you are such a good woman. You sit in your little shop all day and night and bake, bake, bake. You are very good at baking and very good at being a good woman. Me and the mister honor you, your gift, and your dedication to your craft.

    The Good Woman bakes all day every day at the little candy/ice cream shop in Bayfield, Wisconsin. If you are in Bayfield, Wisconsin you are advised to seek out the Good Woman and her baked goods. You will thank yourself, myself and most emphatically the Good Woman’s self all while licking the ooey-gooey goodness off of your dirty, sticky, frosting-laden hands.


    It struck me that while we were on our trip I spent a lot of time writing about restaurants and food. Here at home I also pay a lot of attention to restaurants and food and so it seemed only fair that I yap a little bit about some of my favorite places to dine here in the cities*. I am devoting this post to my number one, top dog, king of the jungle, favorite restaurant, Yum Kitchen and Bakery. It’s casual food, done right. The place is always hopping, but it’s not hard to find a table. It’s set up counter-style, where you order and they bring the food to you. Everything is good (except the burger), some things are really good, it’s affordable and the food is made from scratch. It’s the kind of place where most anyone can find something they like, including the kids. In fact, it’s Mazie’s favorite restaurant by a landslide. She can’t get enough of their macaroni and cheese. The place is frequented by little old ladies, hipsters, business types and lots of families. The only group that I’ve yet to spot is the little old man club. They are located on the verge of Minneapolis in St. Louis Park, so both suburbanites and city folk feel at home. If you’ve never checked the place out, give it a try and let me know what you think.

    • I guess I should preface my food writing with a few caveats: I am a picky eater. I don’t (in general) like chain restaurants. I try to dine in places where they offer organic, local, and/or sustainable food choices. I wish more restaurants offered grass-fed beef!

    Pizza, Pizza

    My taste buds were in complete shock and awe this evening (in a good way). We dined at the New Jersey Pizza Company in Flagstaff, AZ and it was amazing. It’s the best pizza I’ve ever had. It was a simple cheese pizza, but it was sheer heaven. The crust was just right, soft, chewy, thick, thin. The pizza was ooey, gooey, delectable goodness. These people make fancy pizzas and we tried one of those too, but it had nothing on the plain ole’ cheese pizza. It was off the charts spectacular! If you live in Flagstaff and you’ve never tried this pizza, please put down your computer and in honor of my Ironman brother-in-law Hector, run, bike or swim to this place. If you don’t live in Flagstaff, you should consider hopping a plane cause it’s really that good. Jamie doesn’t agree with me, he says it was really, really good, but for him it fell short of “best pizza ever”, but then who are you gonna believe, me or him? Alright, so you don’t need to drop everything and go there right now, but if you happen to be in Flagstaff stop by and order up a cheese pizza. You won’t be disappointed. Oh and I almost forgot, they do the whole local, organic thing too, added bonus.

    Big Sur packs a wallop

    Today has restored my faith in “the vacation”. I must admit over the last few days I’ve grown weary and last night as I was trying to fall asleep I really wanted to pack it up and go home. But today was a glorious day and I’m feeling the travel buzz all over again.

    We took it easy this morning, no showers, breakfast in our little house, and then hit the road around 9am. The van cruised us down Hwy. 1 to the Big Sur area and there was nothing but Spectacular each and every way we turned. There are scenic spots to stop almost continuously and lots of quaint motels, shops, art galleries and restaurants tucked into the hillside. The drive continues on to the Hearst Castle and beyond, but in the interest of Mazie and her sanity, we kept our distance from home base around 50 miles.

    We lunched at this fabulous spot called Nepenthe where patrons are seated at two long wood counters that overlook a sheer drop-off with hills on one side and the ocean on the other. I’ve never felt so calm and happy waiting for and then partaking in my meal. Even Mazie was a picture of near perfection, only showing faint signs of “two-ness” while sharing dessert with Jamie.

    After 3 hikes, an awesome lunch, lots of picture taking and even a little shopping, we plopped ourselves down for a refreshing ice cream cone in the prettiest state park lodge I’ve ever been to, then turned the van around and headed back to our temporary home.

    Paradise lost, paradise found, and the pictures to prove it.

    Would you like some plastic with that - Update!

    I’ve come across three more instances of biodegradable, starch-made plastic on our drive down the coast and I thought I should share. The West Coast is definitely far ahead of the Midwest on this front and it’s been exciting to come across these products. The proof is in the crappy iPhone pictures. [gallery]

    These are a few of my favorite things...Seattle

    I’d never been to Seattle before; now I have. We, me and the family had lots of fun traversing the city, mainly on foot. We checked out Folklife, Seattle Center, The Seattle Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo, The Children’s Museum, The Space Needle, Pike Place Market, the flagship REI store and lots of cool restaurants and shops littered throughout downtown. I’ve come away with a few favorites that I’m dying to share.

    1. The 5 Spot was hands-down my favorite restaurant we’ve eaten at so far on our trip and one of my favorite restaurants of all time. The place itself was cool, hip without trying, filled with interesting people and great servers. The menu was inventive without being too foodie (I can be a little under-adventurous sometimes). The food was great, tasty and fresh and the prices reasonable. They use grass-fed beef of which I’m a big proponent and that’s something hard to find in a restaurant. To sum it up: The 5 Spot rocked!

    2. The first half of the Woodland Park Zoo was amazing. I’ve never been to a zoo that didn’t make me feel at least a little sorry for the animals, but these guys are living it up at a 5 star hotel. The experience for the visitor was stunning as well. The whole place was heavily wooded with a trickle of a path running through. The path wound round and round and brought you to viewing spots where you had to think for a moment how it was that the animals were staying in their environment while you stayed in yours. The boundaries were non-conventional and effective in making you feeling like you happened upon the animals in the wild. They had a giraffe feeding experience that was top notch. Mazie and a bunch of other kids got to feed a giraffe a bunch of branches, leaves and lettuce. It was natural and unstructured and a big hit. Also, whereas most zoos have crap all about, the first half of the Woodland Park Zoo had no beverage carts, food stands, vending machines or souvenirs for sale. It was all cool zoo, all of the time. And if that’s not enough, their newest building is Gold LEED Certified; not an easy task. The second half of the zoo lost the magic and turned into a regular zoo. It was still nice, but nothing like the first half.

    3. My third favorite spot was Top Pot Doughnuts. The building had amazing architecture, with a mix of classic modern and deco. The facade was all windows and very unique. It had a metal structure jutting out which made me think vintage airport for some reason. The interior was great too. The ceiling was high, high, high with a loft up top for grand sitting and viewing of the downstairs. The sides of the place were bookcases, climbing all the way to the top. There were tons of old books lining all of the shelves. And the doughnuts…the doughnuts were top-notch!