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I used to think Minnesota was for masochists. Why else would someone live in a place that's freezing cold eight months of the year and so far removed from an ocean? Over the past few years, I've visited Minnesota a few times with my boyfriend, Josh, who went to school in St. Paul. Of course, I've learned that it's not all that bad; in fact, I kind of like it--there's excellent food and people are alarmingly, er, refreshingly nice.
My affection for Minnesota was tested during a visit to Minneapolis last weekend in below-zero, nearly record-breaking COLD weather. But one of the great things about Minnesotans is how they embrace the winter and come up with all kinds of fun ways to keep warm. One of our friends, Eric, keeps barrels of hand-pressed apple cider fermenting in his cellar all fall so he has plenty on tap for winter parties. This year, Eric and his friend Suzy decided to turn nuts from their pesky black walnut trees into the Italian liqueur noccino. They harvested the nuts in July, while they were still green, cut them into quarters, and mixed them with vodka (although noccino is traditionally made with grappa), sugar and sweet spices. Then they steeped the mixture for 40 days and bottled it in time for fall. The result: a heady digestif that has a pleasantly bitter aftertaste and an instant warming effect. Josh and I were thrilled when Eric and Suzy handed us a bottle to take home, homemade label and all.
Where I kept warm in Minneapolis last weekend:
Bryant Lake Bowl A hip bowling alley with decent bar food, great beers on tap and even a respectable wine list. Bonus: You keep score the old-fashioned way, with paper and pencil.
Restaurant Alma A cozy local favorite where chef Alex Roberts serves an Italian-inspired menu that uses regional, organic ingredients when possible. The rich parsnip and braised duck ravioli were incredibly good.
The Chambers Kitchen Jean-Georges Vongerichten created the menu at this restaurant in the sleek new Chambers hotel. I loved eating spicy chicken samosas in the stark white lounge on plush white leather surrounded by amazing art.
Barbette This convivial French bistro owned by the Bryant Lake Bowl people serves satisfying comfort food, like beef tenderloin with glazed shallots and mushrooms, at reasonable prices. The place is also supertoasty.
Town Talk Diner The perfectly greasy pulled pork hash with eggs over easy and a sweet tomato marmalade was the best way to start a below-zero day.
Isles Bun & Coffee Co. The puffy, yeasty cinnamon buns at this tiny, butter-yellow shop rocked my world when I first had them three years ago. No visit to Minneapolis is complete without one of their "puppy dog tails" (long, twisted cinnamon buns) smeared with thick, sugary icing.