As a travel writer, I’m on the road a lot. Here’s a quick synopsis of my latest getaway, a trek that led from a world-class art museum to chamber music concert to dinner divine in a sweet hotel, followed by a morning riverside jog and a cool-down stroll through a charming college campus.
Heidelberg? Nah. Bologna? Wrong again. Try Minneapolis.
This was a staycation right in my hometown, where I overnighted at Graduate Hotel on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank, in a room where walleye swam across the wallpaper. On another wall, a prof’s tweed jacket was framed as Art (along with a poster of Loni Anderson). Hockey players skated across the bedspread, and my room key posed as a student I.D.
The museum was the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman, the concert at the School of Music (both free), and the stroll took me through a campus upgraded from my student days in the Middle Ages with promenades banked by daffodils, inviting benches and public art.
One word about the Graduate? It isn’t “plastics.” It’s “Beacon.”
That’s where Mrs. Robinson, if she had a hankering for a locovore-focused menu, would be dining.
I confess that I’d expected chain restaurant fare, but no. Students aren’t dinner guests here, their professors are — plus visiting dignitaries, conference speakers and knowing locals before a Northrop performance. (Sure, there’s a section suitable to Feed Your Student for those whose parents pick up the tab, but here even the Bucket O Fries comes with house-made béarnaise, the onion rings with sriracha aioli and the cheese curds with curry ketchup.)
My starter of wild mushroom toast ($9) featured more morels on a plate than I’ve seen in my lifetime. They rest upon a deeply flavored olive tapenade and swipe of sweet tomato pesto under shingles of Pecorino cheese.
Add a beer ($4 at happy hour), such as my George Hunter Stout from Two Harbors, and smile.
Next I summoned a Caesar salad, embellished with hardboiled eggs, tomato wedges and kalamata olives (anchovies optional).
The Pub Grub entrees ($18–$27) are not what you might expect (unless you’re less naïve than I): coconut-lemongrass sea bass; pecan-crusted walleye; Amish chicken; bangers (from Kramarczuk’s) and mash (with roasted garlic); and — what’s this? — lemongrass-sweet potato moussaka. Bring it on! (Alas, the kitchen couldn’t; it was so popular that it had sold out.)
OK, then: the house-made gnocchi. They’re festooned with a banner of prosciutto and dollops of braised kale and herb-roasted tomatoes, but something got lost in translation (into Swedish?). The dumplings themselves proved bready rather than the airy balloons of Italian kitchens, anchored in a paste of melted Gorgonzola.
The Simply Grilled section ($24–$35) delivered on its promise, however. My generous, eight-bone rack of lamb proved a tender and rosy celebration, on the mild end of the meat’s usual flavor spectrum. It rested upon a mountain of grilled veggies: potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onions, asparagus, tomatoes and probably a few more I forgot to write down. Blame it on the side of béarnaise, that ultra-luxe use of good butter.
Desserts ($8) fail to include the usual molten chocolate cake — bonus points right there. Instead, a slice of bread pudding studded with morsels of deep, dark, ultra-delicious chocolate and intense, Grand Marnier-like jolts of orange, all clouded with actual freshly, gently whipped cream. Or choose apple pie a la mode with salted caramel-Bourbon sauce or house-made ice creams.
Then there’s breakfast.
Let’s just say that the restaurant’s tostada — poached eggs timed to the minute, huge hunks of perfectly-ripe avocado, lots of olives (kalamatas — what a swell upgrade) and more — was Best of Class.
615 Washington Ave. SE