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?
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
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
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
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.
For those looking for nourishment after loading the shopping bags into the car, there are meal-sized salads, such as the niçoise and Caesar, as well as more adventuresome dishes like frog legs (battered and sautéed golden brown with a bit of garlic) and plump, garlic-buttered escargot--both perfect for sharing. With a selection of wines by the glass in the $5 to $8 range, it's guilt-free, too.
If you're shopping in downtown Minneapolis
601 First Ave. N. (inside the Le Meridien Minneapolis hotel), Minneapolis; 612.677.1100
For those planning on hitting the skyways this holiday season, Cosmos, located on the fourth floor of Le Meridien in downtown Minneapolis, is certainly easy on the eyes first thing in the morning--or for that matter, any hour of the day. With its sleek, natural-meets-retro interior design it's hard not to feel as though you've stepped out of the Midwest and into the pages of InStyle. But all of this would be nothing if the food itself didn't deliver, which it does. Meals are presented in an artful yet not overly fussy manner. There are lovely fresh fruit plates served with a generous variety of berries, kiwis, melon, plums, and orange crème fraîche, which manages to nicely walk the line between sweet and citric. Those looking for something more substantial can try the perfectly cooked omelets made to order--with fillings such as spinach, goat cheese, and yellow peppers--and served with buttery fried potatoes and toast. The salmon Benedict--thick slices of cured fish layered with poached eggs and an impossibly light, lemony hollandaise--is also not to be missed.
Stop in later in the day and the lunch menu includes club sandwiches and burgers served up with crisp fries. Better yet, if it's around that magical time of day where it's acceptable to have a drink, Cosmos's lounge, with its geometric glass walls and backlit Plexiglas bar, is the perfect place to celebrate a checked-off shopping list while sipping a martini.
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