Reading and Eating: Finnish Bistro and Micawber’s Books

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Finnish Bistro

I happened to find myself waiting for the bus on Como last Saturday morning in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, not far from my last entry about Mim’s Cafe, with a little time to kill. I really like this neighborhood, situated in between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses of the U of M, where the borders between the cities seem porous, imperceptible.

As may be inferred from my blog so far, two things I really enjoy are eating and reading, so I will be starting up a new segment on MSP Adventure Time exploring these two oddly similar activities, Reading and Eating, to catalog some of my favorite local food adventures and places to pick up some good books. Still working on that title… oh well!

So, a couple of my favorite places are right across from each other in St. Anthony Park; the Finnish Bistro and Micawber’s Books, so, since I found myself in the neighborhood, I stopped by.

The Finnish Bistro has been a favorite of mine for a few years now, and it is a particularly delicious choice for breakfast, offering a wide variety of really good pastries in addition the delicious “pulla” french toast, spiced with cardamom. I also recommend the daily quiche selections, which is what I chose on my last visit. to Nordic food is a pretty nice way to get a taste of Twin Cities culture. The breakfasts feel lighter, fresher, not as heavy as the typical American-style breakfast, which can make a refreshing difference. There are quite a few tables for such a small place, but it is pretty popular and so can get a little crowded, so it might be a good idea to arrive early. Well worth a wait, though!

After breakfast, I walked across the Carter Avenue to Micawber’s Books, one of St. Paul’s most venerable independent book dealers. Micawber’s is an intimate, cozy little shop crammed full of books that offer a lot of browsing potential, and if they do not currently have what you are looking for, they are happy to order it. I never go into bookstores looking for specific titles, though, but just see what I find.

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Micawber’s Books

Micawber’s usually has a couple of sale tables offering discounts on some interesting, unusual, and cool finds- this time, I happened to pick up a back issue of the great local lit zine, Paper Darts Magazine and a compilation of Gavin Maxwell’s “Scottish otter” stories, Ring of Bright Water, which I had been meaning to read (and neither of which I had been expecting find). Pretty happy with both of them!

After making my purchases (a couple more books for the hoard), I headed out and hopped onto the bus, heading towards downtown Minneapolis and read some of my new purchases. It was a good morning.

Finnish Bistro, 6:30 am to 8:30 pm daily, 2264 Como Ave, St. Paul

Micawber’s Books, 11:00 am to 7:00 pm M-F, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Sat, 11:00 am to 5:00 pm Sun, 2238 Carter Ave, St. Paul

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Mim’s Cafe

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Mim’s Cafe

Hey, time for a quick recommendation for some culinary adventure; my favorite place for falafel in the Twin Cities!

When I attended the University of Minnesota, a few years back (getting to be nearly a decade, dammit), I spent most of my time over on the West Bank, where the history majors hang out, though I did take plenty of classes on the East Bank as well. However, I only once had a class at the St. Paul Campus, or as my mom calls it, the “Cow Campus.” It was one of my science classes, the Biology of the Plant Food System, and I took the campus connector over to this mini-campus, nestled in the hills of the St. Anthony Park area.  It has a totally different feeling from the Minneapolis campus, but complementary, and one that reflects the differences between the Twin Cities as well. It just seems a lot cozier, a lot quieter, than the bustling Minneapolis campus, as much as I love its vibe, I am glad that I got to experience a little student life over there. So, the other day when I stopped by to crash the Found Footage Festival and ’90s Night at the St. Paul Student Center (whoa, nostalgia) it was only natural that I also stopped by best discovery I made here, Mim’s Cafe, my favorite falafel in Minnesota (even better than learning to grow my own soybeans).

In the months I shuttled to and from Minneapolis and St. Paul on the campus connector, I noticed one of the local neighborhood fixtures of the nearby community, Mim’s Cafe, a tiny hole in the wall middle eastern place on Cleveland, right across from the St. Paul campus. It took me a few months of passing by on the connector, late for next class over in Blegen Hall, saying, “wow, that looks good, I really should stop by for lunch next time” before I finally made it in. It was, if I recall, my first experience with the delicious world of falafel, and I could not have chosen a better place for this hot, crispy, crunchy street food. I quickly recommended Mim’s to the rest of my family and we have been making regular falafel runs ever since.

Over the years, they have slowly expanded from their original single room to several expansive dining rooms and a lovely outdoor seating area, great for a warm summer evening or brisk fall afternoon, watching students go bustle by and missing your college days. The friendly, quick service and a casual ambiance add to experience , attracting not only students and faculty but a lot of local community members as well; it’s great to stop in for take out or just hang out. In the growing falafel community in the Twin Cities, I still feel that Mim’s holds its own as some of the best falafel in the metro. Their fries are also, in my opinion, pretty far up there, too, hot, fresh, you watch as they are sliced and fried up right in front of you! The baba ganoush and hummus are also delicious, worthy of being craved after. In addition to these Middle Eastern staples including korma, schwarma, and chicken murash, they offer burritos and burgers as well, though to be honest, I have not tried these. The falafels always call out to me, though the veggie kebob wrap is delicious as well. As if all this was not enough, the prices are geared for student budgets too, always good for the wallet!

In all, I probably stop by at least on a monthly basis and would recommend this as a great place to grab some quick, cheap eats. My mouth is watering already. Sadly, they are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, but they are open Monday through Friday 11:00 to 8:00.

1435 N Cleveland Ave

Prohibition and Beer: Minnesota History Center and Enki Brewing

While sadly I could not make it to the Capital today to participate in History Matters Day this year, I did make a visit to the Minnesota Historical Society recently and wanted to discuss this history adventure. I actually have a masters degree in history, so needless to say, I am a bit of a history nerd. I am not sure what it was about history that drew me into it, but it probably had something to do with a love of stories. Back in my undergraduate days, I was a bit overwhelmed by how much history there is, never could make up my mind to limit myself to one certain region or period, and my studies crisscrossed the globe and the entirety of human existence. Later though, I began to appreciate all of the history, good and bad, that roils just under the surface of modern Minnesota. I love putting together a bunch of disparate threads to make up one whole story. How do little things from years back effect the present? How will minor changes today affect the future? I am fascinated both by things that stay the same and by radical changes that have made the modern world. I am intrigued, in particular, how our perceptions of the past, and its meanings, change historically as well.

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State Capital from Minnesota History Center, nice view!

So, of course, I wanted to check out the “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” exhibit currently being shown at the Minnesota History Center. I love this place, and look back with fond nostalgia at the hours I spent in the library there, requesting old documents, the sweet perfume of aged paper making me feel like a true researcher as I flipped with care through these old, yellowed documents, looking for neglected primary sources for my thesis topic, or scanning through reams of microfiche, looking back over a century of news, discovering that the past and the present are more alike than we often know. The weird tale of the 18th Amendment, as presented in this fun, hands on exhibit, is a case in point.

While put together by Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, the American Spirits exhibit was a topical for the Twin Cities, St. Paul in particular. While Prohibition, enacted between 1920 and 1933 to ban the production, sale, and transport of “intoxicating liquors,” it was Minnesota’s own Republican Congressman Andrew Voldstead who had his name attached to the National Prohibition Act which enacted the 18th Amendment. It was pretty interesting to see some of the letters he got from his “pleased” constituents. In addition to Volstead, St. Paul was a well known hot bed for bootleggers and other shady types to hide out from the law in other towns, thanks to an agreement dating back to the 1900s between St. Paul police and certain underworld bigwigs. It was a pretty weird, unlikely tale that brought this law onto the books, and then, 13 years later, repealed. It is interesting to think how quickly things can change; will one of the Minnesota’s vestiges of Prohibition stick around or will we be able to buy beer on Sundays this time next year?

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Hey, it’s half the cast of Boardwalk Empire!

In spite of my love for a good craft brew or glass of wine, it is interesting how the exhibit pointed out in a fun little quiz that I, most likely, would be most likely be square in the “dry” camp when it came to prohibition, though unsurprisingly my sister weighed in at almost as dry as you can get! As one who supports such “progressive” ideas as universal suffrage, government services aiding the poor, and public schools, it would be likely I would be on board with Prohibition as well. It was interesting how groups as divergent as unions, the International Workers of the World and the KKK, in addition to suffragettes and Christian fundamentalists came out in support of the banning of liquor, all for very different meanings- and its not like it was a crazy notion; this was a country in which back in 1830 people drank an average 7 gallons of hard liquor a year, or four shots a day.  In the end, Prohibition did succeed in cutting the alcoholism rates in the US, though of course it also led to the poisonings of thousands as the government itself tainted industrial alcohol with poison in an misguided attempt to keep it out of the speakeasies; I think that’s all I’ll say, and leave some of the fun stuff to the exhibit!*

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A growler, circa 1890s

What better thing after an afternoon of learning about prohibition and its ultimate end than to visit one of our metro’s many growing small craft breweries that have been popping up of late. Reviving some of the traditions of locally produced beverages damaged by the 20th century, microbreweries producing innovative and interesting varieties of craft beer can be found all over Minneapolis, St. Paul, and it’s surrounding communities.

I went out to a craft brewery called Enki Brewing out in the little community of Victoria on the edge of the western suburbs, not too far from where I grew up. Opened in 2012 and named after the Sumerian god of Running Waters, the brewery sits in a cool old building from 1914, a former creamery (though who knows, maybe they brewed up some stronger stuff during Prohibition, too?). Enki Brewing offers a tap room open from Thursday to Saturday 4 to 10, opening at 12 on Saturdays. I decided to order a flight which samples all six of the current beers on tap, and enjoyed each. It is a good enough size to share with a couple people as well.

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Enki Brewing, and a growler of Tail Feather IPA

While I am not really a beer connoisseur, I try my best. My favorites have come to the IPAs, as I guess I love the fragrant, bitter flavor of hops. Enki’s newest brew, Tail Feather IPA, is in my uneducated opinion a very nice one, with a good hoppy kick that I would recommend for fellow IPA aficionados. For those less into the hop, the Cacao Porter was very nice as well, with a pronounced chocolaty kick. In the end, I decided to pick up a growler of the Tail Feather in order to support a local brew and commemorate my delving into Prohibition history with some good stuff!

 This is the exhibit’s last week, so get out to the MNHS and check it out! It’s open until 8:00 tomorrow night, so that would be as good a time as any to go, I think! I’d recommend taking the Metro Transit route 94 to avoid the hassle of parking. Minnesota History Center: 345 W. Kellogg Blvd.St. Paul, MN, admission $11, Tue 1-8 pm, Wed-Sat 10-5 pm, Sun 12-5 pm Enki Brewing Company: 7929 Victoria Drive, Victoria, Minnesota, Thu-Fri 4-10 pm, Sat 12-10 pm * Okay, okay, as a history major and librarian, I feel obligated to provide a short list of recommended reading; The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah BlumMinnesota 13: Stearn County’s Wet, Wild Prohibition Days by Elaine Davis; Twin Cities Prohibition by Elizabeth JohanneckJohn Dillinger Slept Here: A Crook’s Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936 by Paul Maccabee; Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent.

Midtown Global Market

ImageI must apologize for the lack of adventure over the last week. Had a pretty uneventful weekend, not leaving the house much, just staying in with some hot tea, a few books, and a laptop, surfing the ‘net, not doing much of anything else. It is hard to believe that it is March already, and still temps have barely crawled up out of the single digits. Now, it has gotten warm enough to snow a bit! As long as its not freezing rain, I guess I’m good, but  I have to admit that even I am ready for a change of season, and I love snow and cold.

So, I couldn’t even drag up the will to take a twenty minute cross country ski trip around the lake, not when the blankets were so warm. So, it was probably for the best when I was roused from my nest to head out for some dinner with my parents and experience a new restaurant at a well known favorite place of ours; the Rabbit Hole at the Midtown Global Market.

Since it opened in 2006 in the old Sears building on Lake Street where my Mom often went shopping in her youth, I have loved visiting the Midtown Market. A great mix of 1920s architecture and today’s vibrant cultures, it always seems like there’s something new going on every time I visit. A great place to visit in the dead of winter for a taste of warmer climes, or on one of those blistering hot summer days for a cooling hit of gelato. There is just so much choice. According to Wikipedia, the building is second only to the Mall of America “in terms of leasable space.” Wow. I’d take the Midtown over MOA any day.

So, you find yourself on Lake Street, but you’re having trouble deciding what you want to eat that day? Try the Midtown, there’s something for everyone (though you may find yourself indecisive as to what you are the mood for). Celebrating the Twin Cities vibrant and diverse populations,  you choose from a wide array of delicious choices, catering to any taste; Manny’s Tortas, Los Ocampo, the Holy Land, pizza, tamales, bahn mi, or just dessert at the Salty Tart. Maybe you just want to take some lutefisk home for later. Maybe. It makes a particularly good stop over for a New Years party, I’ve found, the markets and stalls offering a lot of treats for a nice, decadent evening ringing in the new year. At least, that has become a tradition for me. The cheap, interesting food counters also provide a place for culinary experiments; one such was the Left-Handed Cook, which recently expended into a full restaurant in the market, the Rabbit Hole, a curious, almost hidden place that is definitely worth checking out. Just look for the sign of the rabbit!

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Sign of the Rabbit

The Rabbit Hole does some very interesting and tasty Korean-inspired street food, with a lot different fusions. While the offer a nice collection of craft brews, it was the kind of evening that called for a hot beverage. We tried the hot teas, sweet syrupy concoctions different than anything I’ve tried before. My parents went for a couple of the signature Goober burgers, which they enjoyed thoroughly while my sister went with the crispy chicken strips and was very impressed. I splurged with a pot of peppery crawfish steeped in a spicy, pungent garlic infused pepper tomato sauce. Delicious! Everyone shared some nice truffle fries, and some awesome charred green beans. The only issue I would have is the vegetarian/vegan offerings are little sparse. I am definitely looking forward to stopping by to try lunch.

Parking can be a little hairy, though I have never encountered a real issue on any normal day and you can get validated parking from shopping or eating at the market. Still, I recommend biking or taking public transit, makes things much less stressful. The Hiawatha trail runs right by the Market. You should totally check it out!

920 E. Lake Street

The Rabbit Hole, Mon-Thu 4-10pm
Fri-Sat 4-11pm, $9-17