Shop Smart

A roundup of great places for fueling up before shopping, or for unwinding after finding the last gift on your list

Ah, holiday shopping season. A wonderful time for friends and family to come together and share the joys of giving and togetherness.

And of illegible, ill-conceived lists, overheated department stores, preemptive sniveling by potentially undergifted family members, and, in place of sugarplum fairies, next month's credit card bill dancing in the head. Why, given the rigors of the annual ritual, the food court drill seems even more punishing than usual.

We've got a better idea. Why not start off the day on the right foot with one of our shopping-district-friendly breakfast destinations? Or take a moment between the megamall and neighborhood specialty shops to relax with a glass of wine or chat with a shopping buddy over a shared appetizer. The mall, unoriginal and soon to be picked over, will still be waiting for you anyway. And really, isn't the best gift of all time spent with those you love?

Shoppers' real reward: The swank bar at Cosmos
Allen Beaulieu
Shoppers' real reward: The swank bar at Cosmos

 

 

If you're shopping on Grand Avenue in St. Paul

ST. CLAIR BROILER

1580 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul; 651.698.7055

Located at the busy corner of St. Clair and Snelling Avenues, the St. Clair Broiler's neon flaming sign is hard to miss--even first thing in the morning. A popular local landmark since it first opened its doors in 1956, this diner offers all the comforts expected of a classic Ma & Pa joint: fast seating and service, endless pots of coffee, old St. Paul photographs and maps decorating the walls, a jam caddy, and bouncy vinyl seats. Here they understand that breakfast, which is served all day, is an important meal. There's steak and eggs, buttermilk pancakes, and eggs served any way imaginable and accompanied by inch-thick toast. There's also a long list of omelets made just the way they should be: super cheesy and overflowing with veggies and meat, and served with greasy yet good-for-the-soul hash browns. Try the Mexican (fresh vegetables with peppery cheese, salsa, and sour cream), Juan's Delight (Swiss cheese, turkey, jalapeño, veggies, and salsa), or the Greek (feta and sausage).

If breakfast isn't really your thing, reward yourself for a day of shopping well done with a grilled Cobb sandwich, French dip, or classic Reuben. Burgers, with toppings like guacamole, blue cheese, and grilled onions, are served alongside thick potato wedges. Add a gigantic milkshake and suddenly it's time for another shopping bonanza.

 

 

If you're shopping in Uptown Minneapolis

BARBETTE

1600 W. Lake. St., Minneapolis; 612.827.5710

Colorful, French, and vaguely circus-y in decor, Barbette is a great pit stop while on an Uptown spending jag. Its interior is sunny, spacious, and not overwhelmingly noisy--all early-morning virtues never to be underestimated. Doors open at 8:00 a.m. for breakfast during the week and brunch on the weekends. Recommended dishes from the varied menu (which is expanded on weekends) include tender potato hash cakes with zucchini and yellow squash served with a side of lemon-chive sour cream; waffles with either fresh berries and whipped cream or blueberries and tart, buttery lemon curd; and a daily quiche. There are also breakfast standards such as fresh-squeezed juice, granola, and scones (try the ginger-lemon).

If it's an afternoon boost you're seeking, the beer and wine list is thoughtful and, though prices seem to have crept up a bit recently, this place is still one of Uptown's best values. Plus, appetizers like the pommes frites with saffron aioli or the fruit and cheese plate are ideal for sharing--which is truly in the spirit of the season.

 

 

If you're shopping in downtown St. Paul

A REBOURS

410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651.665.0656

Located in the historic Hamm Building, A Rebours easily lends itself to a dignified breakfast. The décor--stark yet elegant, light yet dark, with its dark wood, recessed mirrors, and large windows that let in morning sun--creates an Old World bistro ambience. Breakfast items are distinctly French. Try the satisfyingly rich omelets: fluffy eggs with such classic fillings as Gruyère and mushrooms playing hide-and-seek in the center. Also try the poached eggs and gravlax (thin strips of nutty-sweet salmon dry-cured and served with cucumber), or a variety of scones. For all its aura of decadence, A Rebours' breakfast is also reasonably priced, with many entrées in the $7 to $10 range. Breakfast starts at 7:00 a.m. weekdays; weekend brunch at 10:00 a.m.

Conversely, if you're in need of a break, stop in later for a glass of wine and mussels, delicate in their butterfly-shaped shells, lounging in a bath of herbs, butter, and broth and accompanied by a basket of the sweet and hearty bread from the bistro's Minneapolis sister, Bakery on Grand.

 

 

If you're shopping at Southdale

CAVE VIN

5555 Xerxes Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.922.0100

While mall parking can be hell even without the snow, it's nothing compared to the potential intestinal misadventures that await shoppers in the food court. So why not circumvent the experience entirely with a pre-shopping trip to the charmingly French Cave Vin? With its hardwood floors and sparsely decorated white plaster walls, it's noisy in a pleasant way that a mall could never be. Breakfast entrées include omelets and other tasty French fare. Brunch is served weekends from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

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