For a lot of Minnesotans, Bloomington begins and ends with the Mall of America. But this suburb has a lot more to offer than a Hooters and a parking lot. Bloomington is the fourth largest city in Minnesota, and though it is dominated by huge, national chain restaurants, if you move a couple of blocks away from the big-box food stores you can find some hidden gems. Here are seven of the high points.
In last week's installment of Suburban Bites, we raved about the plain and perfect sandwiches at Maverick's in Roseville. This week we discovered another cult-classic roast beef spot: Wally's. It's a little more old-school and a little more blue-plate special than other one-off spots in this category, which makes sense because Wally's owners haven't strayed too far from the menu they opened with in 1969. Smoky, thinly sliced, medium rare roast beef is the star of the show here, tucked away in the Southtown Office Park on Penn. Go for the deliciously messy French dip or the classic Philly beef, loaded with peppers, onions, and cheese. Super special bonus: Almost everything on the menu is under five bucks.
D'Amico-owned Parma 8200 is easily the best Italian restaurant in Bloomington. Treat your group to a lounge experience of cocktails and mix-and-match plates of high quality salumi and imported cheeses, pleasantly sour green grape gazpacho decorated with buttery Marcona almonds, and tuna carpaccio with shaved lardo. More ravenous diners and traditionalists will be very happy with Italian regional staples like arancini, penne alla vodka, and linguine with clams and white wine. The spacious dining room accommodates larger parties well and on Sundays they offer a killer date night special: three courses plus a bottle of wine for $50 per couple.
98 Pounds is the only Asian buffet location in the Twin Cities that gets the green light from our sushi snob friends. Right away it is clear that 98 Pounds is not treating the sushi offering as an embarrassing afterthought dropped right next to the heat-lamped egg foo yung. The rolls are frequently restocked by sushi chefs and situated prominently in the very center of the restaurant. Try to get a seat near there so you can see if the sushi chefs are making something delicious before they drop it in the serving area; the good rolls disappear moments after creation. The standard Chinese buffet in the back won't change any minds about Chinese buffets, but it doesn't disappoint either. Unless you are a crab leg enthusiast, skip dinner on the weekends -- the price point isn't worth it unless you eat a third of your body weight in seafood.
If you need motivation to get up and out of bed to drop someone at the airport for an early-morning flight, plan to treat yourself to a post-airport run on Sunrise Donuts, a bare-bones bakery that churns out textbook versions of donut shop greatest hits. Their old-fashioned donuts, the crunchy, charmingly misshapen, extra-rich cakey kind, are perhaps their best work, but Sunrise makes a fine raised glazed twist, cinnamon-scented apple fritters loaded with filling, and tart cherry bismarcks. We'd recommend getting coffee elsewhere, but for less than a dollar a donut, definitely plan to load up on everything else in the pastry case.