MINNEAPOLIS -- When will you get another chance to see your favorite team in the Super Bowl. That question drove fans of the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots to my home state of Minnesota to watch Super Bowl 52 in person.
It's pretty cold. Are you regretting your decision yet?
One day after the Minnesota Vikings found their newest way to break the hearts of their snake-bitten, fatalistic fan base, we had a blizzard. It's February, people. This is not a place you choose to vacation in February. There was about a foot of snow in my backyard. Snow was coming down sideways. I took my 1-year-old son outside to play in it, and he disappeared in the snow bank.
Did I mention it's cold.
Like a different kind of cold. Bone-chilling, face-freezing cold. This is what you've signed up for, because you're hoping to soak in a bit of America's greatest spectacle. Perhaps you dropped thousands of dollars to watch your beloved Patriots win another Super Bowl and make the rest of the country hate Boston more. Or you're an Eagles fan and needed some new streets to riot on. Whatever your reason to come here, it's not that different than my reason to move here three years ago: We all came for love. You came for the love of your team. I came because I married a Minnesota girl.
But we're all here just the same, in this place where nose hairs freeze, and car batteries do too. And I want to let you in on a little secret. Minnesota in winter is … actually … kind of … cool … in some alien sort of way.
There, I said it. I know you'd rather spend February in Florida or Mexico, but you're here, and as long as you bundle up, you can have fun in the cold. There's a mentality in Minnesota that every winter is going to be brutal, so you might as well get out and enjoy it. And my fair city has a longship full of stuff to do during Super Bowl week, no matter your preference.
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Questions for me, your senior Minnesota correspondent? Fire away!
So, uh, what do the locals eat? Lutefisk?
Not usually! If you ask anyone in Minnesota under the age of 80, there's a 20 percent chance they've tried lutefisk, and a 100 percent chance that they did not go back for seconds. But if you're dying for some lutefisk (you're not – it's dried whitefish soaked in lye), check out Ingrebretsen Scandinavian Foods & Gifts (1601 East Lake Street in Minneapolis' Powderhorn neighborhood). You can get lutefisk, but better yet, you can get lefsa (thin potato-dough flatbreads best eaten with butter and brown sugar) or julekake (Norwegian Christmas bread stuffed with fruit).
Yes! We're so American here. So American that we take hamburgers and instead of putting the cheese on top, we stuff cheese inside of them before we cook them. These are called a Jucy Lucy, and they are both delicious and dangerous; if you bite into them too quickly, molten cheese will squeeze out, and you'll feel like you're foot soldiers in an all-out attack on a Medieval castle. Try Matt's Bar (3500 Cedar Avenue S. in Minneapolis), which claims to have invented the regional specialty. or The Blue Door Pub (three locations, but try the one at 1811 Selby Avenue on St. Paul).
So I brought my mother on the trip. (She's a huge Eagles fan, it's her birthday, etc.) Where's a fancy spot I can take her for her birthday dinner?
Did you already get a reservation? No? Well, you're screwed. But if you want to give it a shot at lucking into a table at one of the hip downtown spots, here are a few choices: Butcher & The Boar (get the meat – all of the meat), Spoon and Stable (chef and owner Gavin Kaysen used to be the executive chef for famed New York City chef Daniel Boulud), or The Bachelor Farmer (a Minnesota take on the popular New Nordic cuisine). There's a vibrant foodie scene in this city.
Let's cut to the chase: It's the Super Bowl and I wanna get my drink on
Define "drink." Are you looking for the local version of Pabst Blue Ribbon? Well sidle up to any old watering hole and ask for a can (always ask for the can) of Grain Belt Premium. (Don't get Grain Belt Nordeast.) Grain Belt Premium is what Minnesotans drink when they go ice-fishing, or do anything else outdoors. A great outdoor beer, it tastes like a beer with Fruity Pebbles dipped in it. I mean that in a good way.
Did you say ice-fishing?
I did! This is another Thing Minnesotans Do. They drive their trucks onto a frozen lake, which sounds dumb and probably is dumb, then drill a hole in the ice and toss in a fishing line, which sounds dumb and probably is dumb. But it gives you a chance to sit in nature, drink beer slushies, and if you're lucky, catch a fish. You can do this on one of the lovely frozen lakes in the Twin Cities. But the better way to do it is up North. And the best way to do it is the way I did it last winter. We got a group of 10 dudes and rented two ice houses from Hunter Winfield's Resort from Lake Mille Lacs in Isle, Minn. These ice houses – they actually call them "ice castles" – look like trailers sitting the frozen lake. Inside, they are heated, with a stove, a sink, and DirecTV. You can throw your fishing lines in one of the eight holes in the floor. Drink too much Grain Belt Premium and you'll fall in one of them like I did. You'll also hear the ice occasionally crack, or "settle," which is very unsettling.
What kind of fish did you catch?
Um … we didn't catch any fish, though I've heard some people catch walleye, and walleye are delicious. We were there for two days. Lots of beer, no fish.
Back to beer
Glad you brought it back. We're not all Grain Belt up here. I know when you think of top-notch breweries, you're probably thinking more Colorado or Portland. Fair enough. They have great breweries there. But I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the quality and the sheer quantity of breweries in this town. The highest concentration is in the hipster-friendly Northeast part of town; if you're looking for the most inventive beer in town, Dangerous Man Brewing Company (1300 2nd Street NE in Minneapolis) is your jam. Get the Peanut Butter Porter, then sample some of their other inventive offerings. But a trip to Minneapolis is not complete without a trip to Surly Brewing Co. (520 Malcolm Ave. SE in Minneapolis). It's a destination type of brewery, with floral and beautiful IPAs like Todd the Axe Man plus tons of seasonal and experimental offerings, such as Dumpster Fire, a smoked IPA with puya chiles.
So you guys actually go outside during these winters?
Most definitely. In fact, that's the best part of what the Super Bowl's local organizers have done is build up the enjoy-the-cold aspect of Minnesota. There's this festival called The Great Northern, which local folks this year made coincide with the lead-up to the Super Bowl. You can visit the St. Paul Winter Carnival, complete with a 70-foot tall ice palace. You can watch the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis. You can participate in a cross-country skiing festival called the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival.
You can go on a winter hike (Minnehaha Falls, which sits on the Mississippi River border between Minneapolis and St. Paul, is a good option), or rent a fat bike to go for a winter cycle on our many bicycle paths (Angry Catfish Bicycle and Coffee Bar is near Minnehaha Falls and rents fat bikes). You can even glide over the Mississippi River on an 800-foot zip line.
There's really only one other thing I know about Minnesota other than it's cold. And it's that Prince is from there. Where can I pay homage to The Purple One?
Paisley Park was Prince's compound and production complex. It's in Chanhassen in Minneapolis' west suburbs, and you can purchase tickets for a tour, where you can view Prince's concert wardrobe, instruments, rare recordings and his motorcycles. The iconic music venue where Prince recorded the film "Purple Rain" and where he frequently put on shows is First Avenue, a nightclub that's right near the Target Center on the opposite side of downtown from U.S. Bank Stadium. And the Electric Fetus (2000 4th Ave. S in Minneapolis) is a fantastic record store near downtown that Prince used to frequent. (Random Prince trivia: The last tweet he sent out included a link to electricfetus.com.)
So there's culture in Minnesota?
Um, yeah. I doubt if you came to the Super Bowl to visit museums and go to the symphony, but maybe I'm wrong.
There are a bunch of great museums in the Twin Cities if you're looking to avoid the Super Bowl crowds: the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Walker Art Center, the American Swedish Institute and the Mill City Museum are all great spots. My gut tells me Eagles fans won't be heading to the Walker to catch the tail end of the Nairy Baghramain sculpture and photography exhibit that ends on Super Bowl Sunday (though Eagles fans might be climbing the giant spoon with a cherry at the adjacent sculpture garden, so watch out).
The Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis is lovely; they currently have a play called "Indecent" that, according to the Guthrie's web site, "follows a Jewish brothel owner and the lesbian romance between his 17-year-old daughter and a prostitute." Don't bring the kids. Over in St. Paul, the Fitzgerald Theater is hosting singer-songwriter Josh Ritter the Wednesday night before the Super Bowl.
Embarrassed to admit it, but I like to do a little bit of shopping on my vacation
Well, there's always the Mall of America in Bloomington, which is near the airport in the south suburbs. I avoid that place at all costs – shopping's not my thing – but it's pretty impressive: America's largest shopping mall, with four floors, 7.9 million square feet, more than 500 stores and more than 12,000 parking spaces. There's also an indoor amusement parking called Nickelodeon Universe. People actually take entire vacations here just to shop there. But if you're looking for more boutique stores, and don't want to start aggressively elbowing the masses of awful humanity that crowd the Mall of America, try the North Loop, adjacent to downtown Minneapolis. There's all sorts of hip clothing and gear stores down there: Askov Finlayson is a Nordic-inspired clothing store focused on outdoor gear, MartinPatrick3 is a classy (and expensive) men's store while D.Nolo is the women's version. There's a Shinola store that sells hip timepieces, a Bonobos store that sells an array of jeans and other clothing, and an antique store called Jeromeo that improbably features both massage and yoga.
Just one thing. My favorite bar in town is a place that's tough to find, and a bit of a hike from downtown. Merlins Rest Pub (3601 E. Lake St. in Minneapolis) is an old-school British pub where you're as likely to be sitting next to a high-flying lawyer as a regular Joe plumber. The pub grub is great, the music is authentically British, and the Scotch selection is out of this world: More than 300 Scotches behind the bar, and complete with vivid description of each in what the owner calls his "Scotch Bible."