Bah Humbug!...A Christmas Carol in Minnesota, Part 1
As you may or may not recall, each year Rizzo and I find the time to see A Christmas Carol live on stage during the holiday season (take a read of some previous years by clicking here). Over the past few years we have stayed close to home because in 2014 Cece wasn’t even a year old and in 2015 Cece was still a little tyke so we only left for one night. Now that Cece has grown up to be a young whipper snapper of 2 ½ we felt that we could take a longer adventure. With that in mind, Rizzo and I hopped on a plane and headed up to the land of ten thousand lakes, Minnesota.
Before I dig into the daily details there is one general item of note that everyone should know about the good people of Minnesota. They are all good people. No, that isn’t right. They are all great people. Everyone place we went we were served by the nicest and most helpful group of strangers that we have ever encountered. Everyone was overwhelmingly helpful in giving us tips on where to go and what to see and what to eat. It was amazing.
You should also know that every single one of these good-hearted people either had (1) facial piercings, (2) major tattoos, (3) dreadlocks, or (4) a combination of all of the above. I’m not judging, far from it, I just found it increasingly interesting that everyone we talked to was a perfect combination of Marshall Eriksen from How I Met Your Mother and Kat Von D. I couldn’t figure out if it was because Rizzo and I are drawn to the kind of places that would be frequented by these loveable scamps or if Minneapolis is full of these fine characters. I tend to think the latter because, based solely on stereotyping someone based upon appearance, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a woman with nose and eyebrow piercings tending bar at a local brewery but I would be surprised to find that same woman serving breakfast at a family diner. It doesn’t really matter as all these people were great but I found it fascinating.
Friday, Day 1
Our day started early because we had an 8:45am flight to make our way out to Minneapolis. This wasn’t really a problem because we had dropped Cece off the night before at my parent’s house for the weekend. Since Rizzo and I are both early risers (Rizzo is usually up between 4:30 and 5:00 AM to work out and I get up at 5:00AM every day because I’m just that guy) we had plenty of time to get ready and obtain our Uber to get us to the airport by 6:45 AM (Yes, I’m that guy that must be at the airport at least 2 hours before my flight regardless of the destination).
As I have previously recounted in Fly Like an Eagle, I love spending time hanging out in the airport and our first stop was for breakfast in the terminal. I couldn’t even tell you the name of the restaurant we walked in to because I was too excited to see other diners with their plates covered in tater tots. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before but it makes perfect sense to have tater tots for breakfast. I mean, everyone loves hash browns, right? Well, why not just take those same hash browns and put them into tiny, bite size pieces? The result is, of course, tater tots! Tater tot breakfast forever!
Breakfast was followed by a short 2 ½ hour flight. I love flying when I get to fly with Rizzo. I can understand why some people may not enjoy flying. If it wasn’t as expensive as it is I would fly everywhere. It beats the hell out of driving because I get to sit back, relax, and read a book. I’m also short so I don’t have the legroom issues that some of you taller drinks of water out there have to deal with. End when I’m flying with Rizzo I don’t have to be self-conscious about my arm touching my fellow passenger because of the tight fight. We are in love (cue the cheesy romantic comedy music here) so it is wonderfully comfortable to fly.
We landed about 10:15am, took an Uber over to the hotel to drop off our bags (we couldn’t check in so we just left them for safe keeping until check-in time) and then set out to find our first brewery visit. Less than two blocks away was the closest, and in my opinion, the best brewery that we visited during our entire stay. It was 11:00am and we got Day Block Brewing Company right when the doors were opening.
The brew pub seems to be a much more popular option for a brewery in Minnesota than in Virginia and if you ever make it to Minneapolis make sure to take the time to visit Day Block. I’m not going to bog you down with details of every single beer consumed at every single brewery we visited but I will bring out a highlight of each brewery. Rizzo and I each got a flight of all six beers on tap that day and without question my favorite was the Coffee Kolsch.
If you are a craft beer drinker, even just a casual craft beer drinker, then you have certainly heard of brewers using coffee flavors in dark beer. A stout being described with flavors of coffee is a common occurrence in a local brewery. However, getting a coffee flavor in a light and crisp beer like a kolsch is something I’ve never heard of until Day Block. It was pulled off beautifully with the coffee flavors being very pronounced yet keeping the crisp, clean finish of a kolsch. This beer brings the best of both worlds combining a beer that can be consumed all day long with the full-flavor of a beer that would typically be higher in alcohol. A perfect beer at 5.7% ABV and only 18 IBUs. I gave this beer a perfect 5 out of 5. I wish I could have brought home a case but you can’t buy this beer in any store. That is the beauty and the burden of really great craft beer. You have to go to where it is brewed to get it.
Day Block also has some amazing food. We started off with a cheese plate that has a cheese that is paired with a beer like you would typically find with a wine and cheese pairing. All of the cheese were local and wonderfully delicious with the exception of the blue cheese. I’m sure the blue cheese was a great representation of blue cheese but to me blue cheese, no matter how good it is, tastes like the smell of a used diaper that has been filled with diarrhea from Indian food. You know, bad.
We each also had an individual pizza which is made right there on sight (I could see the brick oven from the bar) and was amazing! I had a pizza called the Leviathan which is made with harissa, pulverized ghost pepper, jalapeno, jerk chicken, onion, pepper jack, and sriracha mayo. The menu warns that the pizza is hot, which it most certainly is, but not at the risk of sacrificing flavor. I was getting some sweat forming on the top of my head (which happens when I’m getting into the spicy food) but it was totally worth the heat for this amazing pizza.
While Rizzo and I were enjoying our food, we were talking with the barkeep about our visit and places to go. He was more than happy to oblige. The combination of craft beer people (who I’ve found are always happy to share the great places to go with other craft beer fans) and the general kindness that the people of Minnesota seemed to show abounded from this fine young gentleman. So much so that he gave us an extra pint of the Red Ale they had on tap that Rizzo and I shared. We left the brewery feeling very relaxed ready for our next destination: Open Book.
Both Rizzo and I truly enjoy finding a café to enjoy a beverage (coffee for me and tea for her) and read a book. Open Book was located just down the street from the brewery and even closer to our hotel so it was a great place to stop and relax. We noticed the place on our way to the brewery and decided to make it our next destination without really knowing what was inside.
The website states that “Open Book is a space for everyone, a meeting place or quiet sanctuary, a destination for all who are interested in or inspired by the literary and book arts.” That seems like a lot but to make it simple, Open Book is a place for people who love books and everything associated with them. When you walk inside you are greeted by a small café that is pouring great coffee, great tea, and even a few craft beverages. There are several tables about for you to sit back and relax with a book or to set up your laptop to get some work done. There is a small bookstore that is packed with local writers, books from boutique printers, and small release publications that are very interesting.
Open Book also houses the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. From our short visit the Center for Book Arts was a celebration not only of the literature of the word but the art of creating the tangible product. There were places to make paper and to bind books. There were exhibits regarding the making of books. There was a research library on the making of books and plenty of books to enjoy. If you are a lover of books beyond just the words on the page but the art of making, binding, and publishing a physical project then this is a great place to visit.
After spending some time with some coffee then taking a quick moment to get our room from the hotel, it was time to hit up brewery number two. Town Hall Brewery was located a little less than half a mile from the hotel and was a nice little walk to get some fresh air before walking into the establishment. I’ll admit that my first impression was that we were walking into a chain restaurant instead of a brewery. The initial attitude of the barkeep wasn’t helpful either when we were asking questions about the beer. I’m pretty sure she thought we were looking to drink some Miller Light because she gave us a bit of a cold welcome.
It didn’t take long for her demeanor to change (and keep up the good reputation of the fine people of Minneapolis) when we started ordering our respective flights. Once we ordered and chatted with her explaining that the non-chain brewpub isn’t very common in Virginia she warmed up to us and was more than happy to oblige. Between the two of us we ordered two different kinds of flights. We ordered one flight made up of the everyday tap beers and one flight of the seasonal beers.
The beers overall were respectable with my personal favorite being the Hope and King Scotch Ale. I enjoyed chocolate flavors and with virtually no hop flavor this beer really stands up. I suppose that is to be expected from a beer that has won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. While I didn’t find the beer as outstanding as I did at our first location, I will say that the beer beats anything you’ll find in a typical bar tap and there is a plethora of choices.
What really made the visit to Town Hall memorable was the help from the barkeep. Once she learned that we weren’t just a couple of rubes looking to try out this whole craft beer craze she became very helpful. We talked about beers in the area and on our way out, without us even asking, she wrote down a list of four other breweries that we should visit before ending our trip. She even gave us some advice on where to purchase some packaged beer to put in our luggage on the way back to DC. What great people!
All of this walking around and tasting beers worked up an appetite so our next visit was to a local restaurant called Republic. We got the recommendation from the barkeep at Day Block and the restaurant was located just across the street from Town Hall so it seemed like a good option for the evening. It turned out to be a great option because with 104 taps and tasting flights available we were able to try even more craft beer from the state and combine it with some great food.
Since Republic is a restaurant and not a brewery they have craft beers from throughout the state and the country. Rizzo and I both made sure to keep our flights focused on Minnesota beers. That was an easy task because there are lots to choose from and it is quick to fill up the four-beer flight.
One of the breweries on the tap listed was Bent Paddle Brewing Company out of Duluth, MN. Duluth holds a special place in my heart as I have stayed there a couple of times in my life during trips up to Northern Minnesota with the Boy Scouts. Duluth was always one of the last stops before getting to the camp to start the 100+ mile canoe trip and I remember it fondly. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a pull from a Duluth beer and it turned out the be the best one of the flight. The Cold Press Black is a dark ale that tastes just like a cold brew coffee you may find in your local coffee shop. It had the same bitterness you would find in the cold brew coffee which for me is a great thing. I gave this beer 4.5 out of 5 stars.
However, the main goal of our visit to Republic was to eat some food as well as to drink some beer. The food at Republic may be called high-end bar food. There are lots of burgers but they include such items as a duck burger and a quinoa-mushroom burger. I had an easy time picking my meal because they have a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich and if I ever have the opportunity to have fried chicken I always take it.
The chicken was fried to perfection and was served with an amazing spicy slaw and some sweet pickles. The chicken was very juicy and tender. The batter was perfectly spiced and I could literally taste the pounds I was gaining but it was worth every bite. The sandwich was served with a side of house-cut fries and what appeared to be house-made ketchup. Every bite was delicious and overly filling. I was so full that I couldn’t even order the pumpkin cheesecake and this is from a guy who has been known to eat an entire cheesecake in a day. It was a great meal and a place that is highly recommended.
The night was nearing an end after the slow walk back to the hotel. It took a bit longer to get back as we were battling the wind and our full gullets. It was still early (even though it’s hard to tell since the sun sets around 4:30pm) but we weren’t in the mood to go seeking out another new location. Luckily there was a pool table right in the lobby of our hotel next to the bar. Not only that, the hotel bar surprisingly served a pretty decent list of local craft beers so we decided on one more pint while we shot some pool. We didn’t stay up too late since it had been a long day so we finished our drinks and made our way to bed. Besides, we had plenty more eating, drinking, and merriment to come on Saturday.