Twin Cities eats: Start at Hell’s Kitchen

Fine wines and places to dine are not in scarce supply in downtown Minneapolis, but I’ve decided that the first meal of the day is the best.

Breakfast at Hell’s Kitchen – just off Nicollet Mall, at 89 S. 10th St. – is far from ordinary, yet not pretentious. What a pity to limit yourself to eggs and bacon at a place like this.

I went ala carte and got my hands on a trio of unusual choices: one Lemon-Ricotta Hotcake (refreshingly light and mildly tangy), a cup of Mahnomin Porridge (wild rice, nuts and dried berries, with cream and warm maple syrup) and a side of Toasted Sausage Bread (heavy – think banana bread – but with bison sausage, currants, pecans and coffee.

It all was a joy to indulge, for about $10. Tried the peanut butter, too, a homemade specialty that also is sold by the jar. Biggest regret: Not eating there on a Salvation Sunday, when brunch in Hell comes with gospel music from Salvation Army musicians.

For more:, 612-332-4700. Having reservations is not a bad idea.

Another precious breakfast stop is Mickey’s Diner in downtown St. Paul, 36 Seventh St. West. – for the atmosphere more than the adequate-but-ordinary food. The 1930s diner is on the National Register of Historic Places. For more: 651-222-5633.

Other Minneapolis restaurants that are winners:

Nye’s Polonaise, 112 E. Hennepin Ave., is an odd-looking Polish-American supper club that has been around since 1949. All ages of adults polka, order pierogi and sip martinis. Reasonable prices. For more:, 612-379-2021.

Nearby, Vic’s, 201 Main St. Southeast, has lovely terrace seating in the St. Anthony Main neighborhood, with views of riverfront joggers and city skylines. Live jazz to blues to rock/pop accompanies diners on weekend evenings. The menu is eclectic: duck to portabella puffs. For more:, 612-312-2000.

Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21, 1750 Hennepin Ave., is inside the Walker Art Center’s addition. It is a classy-casual spot; figure $50 per evening meal, plus alcohol. The tasting and entrée menus have an artsy, Asian flair. We left full, after splitting two “first flavors,” two entrees and one dessert among three people. Named after the 20th and 2st century art that dominates the Walker collections. For more:, 612-375-7600.

Light rail makes it easy to travel between Bloomington and Minneapolis. No need to worry about traffic or parking. It’s a half-hour ride from Mall of America to Nicollet Mall, and the fare is $1.50 to $2 per ride (or $3.50 for a six-hour pass with unlimited use).

This means fewer hassles for sports fans or airline passengers who head to the Twin Cities (the airport is a rail stop). St. Paul eventually will get its own branch of rail service; now it is a 25-minute bus ride to St. Paul from either rail end point.

For more about local bus service and the light rail (which began in 2004):, 612-373-3333.

Light rail makes it easy to recommend the new Grand Lodge and its indoor Water Park of America, 1700 E. American Blvd., Bloomington. Suite rates are as little as $169 per night for a family of four, which includes water park passes. (There is a sofa sleeper and bunk beds for the kids).

Don’t want the water? Then the rate dips as low as $99. At the high end are larger units for $599. The rooms are nicely appointed and family-friendly (microwaves, refrigerators). Spa services, a cozy lobby fireplace and bar make it good for adults. Promos call the water park “America’s biggest,” but that won’t fool anybody who’s stayed in Wisconsin Dells. The claim is about cubic feet of water in this Minnesota-themed playground, which has a surfing area, lazy river, hot tubs and twisty, indoor-outdoor slides.)

Mall of America and airport shuttles are free. For more:, 866-GRAND LODGE,, 877-75-SLIDE.

Impressive Minneapolis lodging options include:

The 24-room Nicollet Island Inn, 95 Merriam St., almost fills a small island on the Mississippi River, between St. Anthony Main and the Guthrie/Metrodome/Mill City Museum riverfront. So it’s a prime location for sightseeing, and this charming inn’s restaurant has a sophisticated wine list. In-room amusements include a Comfort Sleep Number bed. The Sunday house rate is $140, including wine. Highest rate online: $265. For more:, 612-331-1800.

Radisson Plaza Hotel, 35 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, is another place to try a Sleep Number bed. Room rates scoot past $250, but you’re in the heart of the city, a block from Nicollet Mall, Block E (nightlife/restaurants) and that funny Mary Tyler Moore statue. May as well spend an extra $50 for the Club Level, which includes a helpful concierge, a fine continental breakfast, early evening cocktails and bedtime treats (like just-frosted brownies). For more:, 800-333-3333.

When sleek surroundings matter, head to Graves 601 Hotel, 601 First Ave. North. It is a boutique property that feels rich; décor is accurately described as high fashion. Directly across from the Target Center, but it seems most appropriate to dress to the nines than in sports-fan or rock-concert garb. Consider the Restful Comfort Package: $890 per couple for a three-night stay with breakfast, parking, unlimited in-room movies and a one-hour massage per person. For more:, 612-677-1100.

Last, when staying in St. Paul, nothing beats the grand and historic Saint Paul Hotel, 350 Market St. Think five-course teas and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The mood is European, and the location is convenient: near the Ordway theater, Science Museum of Minnesota, art galleries and shops. Rates are as low as $159. For more:, 800-292-9292.

Some arrangements for this trip were subsidized by the Greater Minneapolis Convention & Visitors Association (, 800-620-1958).