Just Kidding

Bring the family or don't bring the family: that is the question.

FIRST COURSE
5607 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.825.6900

BOB'S WEST BANK PIZZA
1501 Washington Ave., Minneapolis; 612.339.4333

HIGHLAND GRILL
771 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul; 651.690.1173

First Course chef/owner Travis Metzger keeps a good supply of wine for the grownups--and Wikki Stix for the kids
Craig Lassig
First Course chef/owner Travis Metzger keeps a good supply of wine for the grownups--and Wikki Stix for the kids

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First Course

5607 Chicago Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55417

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Nokomis

Highland Grill & Cafe

771 Cleveland Ave. S.
St. Paul, MN 55116

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Highland Park

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Did everyone hear the news about how Americans nowadays are having more children than we have for 30 years--a whopping 2.13 offspring for every woman of childbearing age? That news was quite a relief to me, as I've been slaving over my list of Hot Trends for 2002, and right at the tippity top was this whole continuing-the-species thing, which I think is going to be just super-big, all the way through 2005, when children will be replaced with peasant blouses in fun-filled tropical shades. But until that saucy, saucy day arrives, kids are In.

They're certainly in at several Twin Cities restaurants; why, I had a gratin of children in a marvelous Cheddar-infused--oh, wait, that's next week. My apologies! This week we'll be looking at cooking for children. Specifically, two new restaurants that offer surprisingly extensive children's menus and, while I'm at it, a remodeled spot that doesn't offer a kids' menu but is legendarily family-friendly.

At First Course, a new neighborhood bistro in the Diamond Lake neighborhood of south Minneapolis, aggressively grown-up dishes--littlenecks and mussels in a white wine and garlic broth, mahi-mahi with mango salsa--are listed side by side with a kids' menu: 12-and-unders get their choice of a quesadilla and vegetables; peanut butter (with or without jelly) and vegetables; pasta with Parmesan and butter or with tomato-basil sauce; chicken nuggets with vegetables; or a corn dog with vegetables; along with vanilla ice cream and (optional) sprinkles, or a Twinkie. For three bucks!

The first time I went to First Course, owing to the no-reservations policy I waited at the door for about a century before I was seated. But I didn't mind a bit, because right in front of me was a table of six: two parents and four boys ranging in age from infancy to about ten. Admittedly, Mom did have that spooked look you mostly only see on someone hanging horizontally onto a pole in the middle of a hurricane, but what I liked most about the scene was how the eldest boy had made a menagerie of pipe-cleaner animals and arranged them around his plate. Once the two youngest had fallen asleep, Dad paid the bill and the two hustled the little 'uns off to the car, leaving the boy to gather his pipe-cleaner critters with the most exquisite expression on his face, one that was a perfect blend of exasperation with the hurry-up world of adults and absorbed concern with the rounding-up and protection of pipe-cleaner creatures. He had tucked various ones in various pockets, and when he finally rushed out the door, the last one held aloft, caged with his fingers in the palm of his hand as if it were a live butterfly, I thought First Course was the most charming place I'd ever been.

With that sort of intro, I guess it wasn't too surprising that I continued to feel positive about the place. Most of the food isn't fancy like mahi-mahi; it's basic stuff like salad, bruschetta, antipasto, grilled salmon, and pasta. But the kitchen seems to have an intuitive sense of how to do these simple things cohesively, and with concentrated flavor. A bowl of angel-hair pasta with a simple tomato sauce was cooked past al dente but perfectly tasty; a salad topped with chunks of grilled portobello mushrooms and charred asparagus was earthy and attractively plain. And that mahi-mahi special was perfectly done, the simple tropical salsa on top neither too sweet nor too dull.

Rotating specials like that fish keep the menu lively (prices range from $4 to $9 for appetizers and salads, and from $7 to $15 for entrées). The list of two dozen mostly Californian wines is fine. The room, finished in rich, dusky colors and warm-looking laminated plywood, has a casual but pleasant pulled-together edge to it. As far as neighborhood spots go, if you're in the neighborhood, go.

I wasn't in the neighborhood, but I went to Bob's West Bank Pizza anyway, because somehow I had got it into my head that I was going to a restaurant. Instead I found myself at a sports bar. I can't imagine why I thought I was going to a restaurant. Something about how the place is the new project of Bob Faegre, onetime owner of Faegre's, which I've been hearing about since I was knee-high to a peasant blouse--hearing that it was such an important pillar of the early Minneapolis dining scene. So I imagined that the pizzas at Bob's West Bank Pizza would be wood-fired, cracker-crusted, composed of figs and dried tuna, something. Nope! Bob's is just your average college-kid-crowded Seven Corners sports bar with lackluster food.

But it does have some pretty good chicken wings--salty, crisp, anise-touched "Susie's 5 Spice" wings, for $7.95 a pound or on a platter with another pound of good Buffalo wings for $12.95. Which is probably how they should be consumed, along with a million beers to quench the salt. Bob's also has a good, straightforward burger (from $4.95) with a good bun and pleasantly charred-tasting meat, and fries. Which go great with television, and also beer.

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