I adore this part of winter; the Beginning. The contrast of green to white with the first snow, temps cold but not yet bone-shatteringly so, storefronts festooned in swags, wreaths, globes and garland, luring you with their candy coated promises. In this moment even the mundane of my closet becomes appealing. Last year’s winter clothes a novelty now hang from my still-summer body in good-humored accommodation. This very early winter time begs that I leave the confines of my home to find my friends and follow enticement. “Eat, Drink & be Merry” has never had more meaning than in December. Find a place for me to sit beside an expansive window and watch the world from inside.
Recently I spent an evening at Barrio Tequila Bar whose street side facade vaunts a wall of glass overlooking Mears Park in lowertown St Paul. Such decadence taken for granted, to be surrounded by this energy-infused warmth with nothing more than a simple pane of glass shielding me from the algidity. It’s here friends and I sip bar concoctions with meaningless names; “The Trinity”, “Macho Camacho” and “Enter The Dragon”, each softening the edges of our day with their velvety smoothness. My attention vacillates between the alcohol steeped chatter at my table and the winter life outdoors. Pulsing gusts of snow race across the street heedless of cars, men and women walk past, strides confident in their Sorrel-clad feet. Food arrives at our table, mini-Mexican works of art; Mahi Mahi Taco, Red Snapper Ceveche, Amish Chicken Quesadilla and a Trio of Salsas. Nestled at the center of the Trio lies the Habanero salsa, co-dependent lover of my tequila, task master to my taste buds; nothing brings me to present like my incendiary compadre, daring me, swearing no harm while bringing tears to my eyes.
And so the evening proceeds, friends wrapped together in the raucousness of the Barrio, a crazy confluence of tequila and capsaicin sharpening the contrast of what awaits outdoors. I know the freshness of December will pass, eventually my clothes will conspire to strangulate me and I will curse each and every snowflake that falls from the sky. But for now I will sit toasty warm indoors and enjoy the newness of my winter relationship.
No, seriously, get out as in Outside. Need I remind anyone as to what lies around the corner? Starts with a W and is followed by white stuff & frantic calls from your mother about ‘driving conditions’. So with that in mind, I decided to amble about in St Paul, choosing the Selby Dale area.
First things first; a hit of caffeine at Nina’s Coffee Café, on the corner of Western & Selby. Nina’s serves up just about everything I want with my latte; great space, fab service and an interesting mix of people. On this particular day I met Doug, a frequent patron who chatted me up while I waited for my skinny. Turns out Doug is the one who keeps the water & biscuit bowls filled for the four-legged companions. (Bonus pts; Nina’s street side tables are dog friendly!) So instead of staring off into space while my latte was in production, I met someone new and got a tiny glimpse of another person’s life. Plus, he showed me his tattoos. I know. Sounds weird but trust me, it was interesting. And you know what else? The barista brought my coffee out to me. With a smile. Very nice!
Now properly caffeinated, I headed down Selby to check out Allee Metro Chic. Allee’s, formerly located on Snelling Ave, is now at 493Selby. Allee defines itself as a ‘European inspired boutique’. It is indeed quite groovy. Housed downstairs of the boutique (which happily is light and bright due to the building design!) is a selection of antique and vintage home accessories. Whether you are shopping upstairs or down, there’s nothing ordinary here. Definitely worth a look.
Next I bopped into Fleur de Lis flower shop. Besides the obvious, Fleur de Lis stocks an interesting array of gift items way beyond the usual kitsch of most floral shops and many designed by local artisans. This I will be sure to remember once the snow starts to fly. Not only are there some great gift ideas (think Christmas or Hanukah!) but to get a whiff of that fragrance of fresh flowers in the Winter . . . how wonderful!
Time for my lunch date with Q at Cheeky Monkey Deli. Being just a bit too cool to sit outside, Q & I nabbed a table over by the fireplace. (Note to self; fireplace = great girlfriend/wine drinking/ cool weather spot.) I like the feel of Cheeky’s indoor space; better in so many ways than your average ‘deli’. Q & I split a roasted mushroom sandwich & a bowl of tomato soup. Yum! Oh, and that glass of sauvignon blanc wasn’t bad either!
Needing just a little something sweet after our lunch, Q & I hit up the bakery A Piece of Cake. Q had a chocolate cupcake, giving it a high review. I had a decadent little sugar cookie piled high with frosting. The cookie was very tasty but it was the frosting I fell in love with. They could sell that frosting alone in Dixie cups!
Regretfully, that’s all the time I had for Selby Ave that day. I left with plenty of reasons to come back, though. So GET OUT & either explore some of the places I’ve mentioned or find some of your own while it’s still nice enough to walk around!!
I set off last Wednesday with a specific goal in mind: no matter what happened, I was going to make it to Tut. I set aside plenty of time to get to the museum and like last time I had my trusty sister and mom in tow.Once again we made it all the way across the river to the science museum and without heat or traffic there was nothing that could stop us from discovering the depths of Egypt.
We bought our tickets at the box office, something that might be a bad idea as the exhibit comes closer to its end on September 5th, and made our way upstairs to the entry point. There are two ways to view the exhibit: with the audio piece and without it. If you have the time to spend, I would strongly recommend renting the phone like device that gives you details about some of the most stunning pieces that you can see. They sent us through the large double doors with a group of about 15 other people and we were on our way.
The series of rooms that you walk through get more and more intense as the layers of the tomb are uncovered. The treasures also get more fascinating and beautiful; however I wouldn’t rush straight to the end. While the artifacts from the grave are beautiful the story of King Tut’s life is worth spending the time to listen to. There are also pieces of Egyptian society that are explained, the relationship between teachers and children for example. The body language that is expressed in the pieces is very clear, but the translation of they hieroglyphics that you get through the head-piece makes it all the better. For the Egypt enthusiast the tour could take hours, I was out in just under two.
Some of the most incredible pieces were the pair of golden sandals that were found next to Tut in his tomb and the incredible gold jewelry that was scattered throughout the exhibit. There are some beautiful things that are made in the world today; however, they can’t compare to the things that you see at Tut. It is one thing to get a beautiful necklace at a store and a whole different thing to have something last for thousands of years and still shine. Following the tour, we looked at the Science Museum’s real mummy and did a little scouting around to see what else was going on.
With our time there done we decided to get dinner at Pazzaluna. A restaurant known for its fantastic Italian food, it didn’t disappoint three hungry diners in a quick, delicious meal. All of us had pasta, and we would all happily go back again, now if only we could get them to move to Minneapolis… We began the long trek back to Golden Valley after dinner and talked about Tut the whole way there.
-Guest Blogger – Colin McDonald
Yes, Bars Bakery, located in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood, sells cookies, scones, croissants, and, of course, bars. And yes, I’m sure, they’re great. But I’m going to concentrate on owners Sandi Younkin and Kara Younkin Viswanathan’s caramel rolls alone, in part, because I haven’t tried their Savory Tarts or Doughnut Muffins and, in part, because I can’t say that I ever will. By which I mean that I’m beginning to suspect it will take time before I’m able to drive down Selby and Dale, without all but tasting the real butter and brown sugar that somewhere in between each first and second bite, I swear, sends signals to your mouth that never make it to your brain. Like the memory of a failed relationship or missed connection, it’s everything I still don’t know, months now since my first encounter, including what about these rolls I fell for in the first place, that makes my drop-bys at Bars Bakery attendantly more aggravating and worth the trip.
“When can I see you again?” I think, pretending to need more time to decide over the assortment of homemade this and that’s prepared from scratch on any given day. While the rolls themselves seem to say, “Meet me in the front seat of your car in five, and bring a napkin…”
Probably, we can all agree it’s rare to find food items great enough to make you think irrationally and often of what “almost was.” But timing can, in fact, aid in planning or, by happenstance, stumbling upon your trip to Bars, en route to The Happy Gnome.
St. Paul, as I’ve said for years, is a wonderful city to eat like crap in. And with that reputation comes not a responsibility so much as a rotary of bakeries, sweet shops, and ice cream cafes to choose from and then lie about not having planned to stop in. The difference between Bars and them has everything to do with the quality of Bars’ ingredients (which is obvious, without fanning itself off in the altruistic manner of “farm to table” manifestos and frequently asked questions hanging from the toilets) and the ephemeral nature, assumedly of all their goods, but (not to get off-track) their caramel rolls.
And so, to get the most bang for your buck (and here I’m not about to tell you how to shove one into which side of your face or where the wax paper should lie in relation to your partner), eat your roll ASAP, even if you’re still in line. The staff at Bars is pretty friendly, and anyway it would be fun to see what happens if you “accidentally” drop it, while fumbling for your wallet. Also, try to get there in the morning or early afternoon, not because the rolls are bad by 5 o’clock, but they are usually gone. Of course, worst-case scenario, you can always sample something else, which should leave you just enough room and excuse for a return visit to find yourself living in St. Paul and eating in the past.
Open Tuesday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
For a full menu, visit www.barsbakery.com
For a comprehensive listing of St. Paul events and restaurants, please visit our website and/or download our app on iPhone and Android at all the usual places.