High Cuisine

A search for Minneapolis's best rooftop dining

With just a few months of parka-free frolicking to be had in Minnesota, we take to doing everything al fresco while we can, including eating and drinking. Sure, the habit has its downsides: losing napkins to breezes, blood to mosquitoes, and sanity to the roaring engines and toxic fumes of passing cars and buses.

The restaurant roof deck protects patrons from at least some of those street-level distractions, which may be why it's becoming the next frontier in local outdoor dining. With so many restaurateurs raising them up—we've seen at least five new ones in Minneapolis in about as many years—the patio seems almost passe. So last week, two girlfriends and I went downtown to hit every roof deck between Loring Park and Block E. The plan was to evaluate each in terms of food, drink, ambiance, and views, and then proclaim one "tops."

In planning our itinerary, I set high standards. I ruled out the second-floor deck above the patio at Sneaky Pete's because A) it's tiny and looks out over a nasty parking lot, B) the raw plywood underside didn't give me confidence in its structural integrity, and C) the place shares a wall with Dreamgirls. I also nixed the perches at Drink and Stella's in Uptown, despite their amazing views. I wanted to keep the crawl within walking distance, and besides, I didn't care to subject anyone to Night of the Living Frat Guys—those places are a total broverload, if you know what I mean.

Brit's Pub's lawn-bowling green? Great. Drinks? Wonderful. Food? Uh, how about that bowling green!
Jana Freiband
Brit's Pub's lawn-bowling green? Great. Drinks? Wonderful. Food? Uh, how about that bowling green!

Location Info

Map

Joe's Garage

1610 Harmon Place
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

JOE'S GARAGE
1608 Harmon Pl., Minneapolis
612.904.1163; www.joes-garage.com

BRITÍS PUB
1110 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
612.332.3908; www.britspub.com

SOLERA
900 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
612.338.0062; www.solera-restaurant.com

CHAMBERS
901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
P 612.767.6900; www.chambersminneapolis.com

R. NORMANÍS & 7 SUSHI LOUNGE
700 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
612.238.7770; www.rnormans.com
612.238.7777;
www.7mpls.com

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First stop, Joe's Garage, whose second-story rooftop patio has been a Loring Park landmark since 1996. The enclosed section in front provides shelter from the elements and offers the best views of the park—though it sadly blocks the vista for diners on the patio. Still, the place is as comfortable as a backyard barbecue, with its plastic chairs, umbrella-topped tables, and strings of white lights. And it draws all types: white-haired ladies' groups, male-male couples clad in flip-flops and shorts, and even the occasional lap dog.

The crowd doesn't mingle much at Joe's, as it's more of a happy-hour and dinner place. The kitchen is best known for its funky burger menu—patties made with lamb, Asian-style spicy pork, or "Scandahoovian" salmon, topped with cucumbers and dill sour cream. It's also one of the rare places that offers a mashed potato bar, a goofy concept that actually tastes pretty good.

While Joe's is a great place to start the evening, the scene seems stuck in second gear. Sure, the bar serves a drink called the Sleazytini, but could we really let loose in the Basilica of St. Mary's shadow?

So we made our way to Brit's Pub, which has been pouring pints on Nicollet Mall for nearly two decades. With its flapping Union Jacks, red telephone box, and showpiece lawn-bowling green, the two-tiered rooftop looks so English the servers' Midwestern accents seem jarring. The crowd at Brit's tends toward guys in suits and women dolled up in summery skirts and heels. A corporate ID badge is as necessary an accessory as a big designer bag and oversized sunglasses.

We nursed a few Tetley's, a flat, bitter ale with a creamy head, and stayed as long as we could stave off our hunger. Brit's fare doesn't do much to dismiss the idea that the English aren't known for their cuisine. The fish 'n' chips pairs a flavorless fillet with too-thick fries, and the bangers and mash are as bland as the side of peas—just like they serve 'em in nursing homes. The thing to order—stay with me, now—are the Scotch eggs: hard-boiled eggs encased in sausage and breadcrumbs, and fried. Cut in half, they look like something you'd eat in preschool. While most of Brit's female clientele wouldn't dare let the eggs or their gloppy mayonnaise sauce so much as touch their lacquered lips, my friends and I threw caution to the wind and enjoyed every last bite.

Five stories above Hennepin Avenue, the rooftop at Solera feels as gritty and urban as a fire escape, albeit one furnished with wire tables and designer plastic chairs and blaring funky music. It also offers the rare opportunity to examine the inner workings of the Powerball billboard, which doubles as a screen for Monday and Tuesday movie nights, when films are paired with drink specials (buckets of beer for Borat, vodka Red Bulls for Fight Club, champagne cocktails for Wedding Crashers).

To me, the sangria at Solera has always seemed weak on the fruit flavor, little more than watery wine. But the $29 tapas-for-two, geared toward the mostly coupled-up crowd, is a tasty little bargain. The dishes arrive in quick succession: potato wedges served with a spicy tomato sauce and aioli; a tangy bread salad with tomatoes and capers; short ribs with harissa, sliced as thin as jerky; fried shrimp with garlicky romesco sauce; mini chorizo burgers dripping with creamy remoulade.

My only gripe with Solera is this: If the kitchen makes tapas-for-two, but you can't get someone to serve it to you, are you really in a restaurant? Can the tapas exist if the staff doesn't realize you do? My girlfriends and I stood near the bar for more than 20 minutes, until we left without ever being acknowledged. (On a second trip, I snagged the last empty table, and, after several servers flitted past without so much as eye contact, was finally able to get one to take my order.)

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