The last of winter's snow finally melted in St. Paul yesterday (really), and the tropical heat wave of the past few days seems to have abated, leaving us in a perfect window of patio-enjoying temps. The problem is that Minnesotans are so determined to savor our few brief weeks of summer that the big, popular restaurant patios across town fill up faster than a tea cup in a monsoon.
After standing dejectedly at the Psycho Suzi's patio host stand and hearing the words "two-hour wait for a table" for the second time in a week, we knew it was time to broaden our horizons. So long, Crave. Peace out, Seven. Catch ya later, Stella's Fish Cafe, Uptown Cafeteria, Brit's, Sweeney's, and W.A. Frost. Here are the top 5 under-the-radar restaurant patios in Minneapolis and St. Paul--ambient retreats that beat out a few tables on a sidewalk but are usually accessible without a half day's wait.[jump]
5. Keegan's Irish Pub This Nordeast pub's patio is so under the radar we didn't actually know it existed, even after eating at the restaurant several times. Lurking behind the building, Keegan's patio is the perfect spot to hide out with a tasty brew and a corned beef sandwich while the real world hustles by outside. Turn off your GPS device and hunker down--those subpoena papers will never find you here.
4. Ngon Vietnamese Bistro With its whimsical fountain and cheerful green patio umbrellas, the cozy, enclosed patio at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro is enough to make bustling University Avenue feel like a tropical holiday destination. Open from brunch through happy hour to dinner, this garden patio is the perfect spot to enjoy everything from eggs Benedict to seared Minnesotan elk medallions.
3. Aster Cafe When the wait at Psycho Suzi's has you down, just skip a couple miles downriver, where you'll find a more relaxed and spacious refuge to lay anchor at the Aster Cafe. This patio fills up quickly during such events as the Stone Arch Arts Festival, but for most of patio season a table is easy to come by, as is a tasty flatbread pizza and cold beverage to enjoy as you watch the Segway tours putter by.
2. The Happy Gnome We debated whether the Happy Gnome's back patio truly qualified as under the radar, but compared to other St. Paul list-toppers such as W.A. Frost or Sweeney's, we thought this hidden gem deserved a spot on our list. Table availability waxes and wanes, but with its ample seating (it accommodates up to 80 people when all sections are open), the wait for a table is never long. The strings of lights, large trees, and high walls give this patio a charmed, tucked-away feeling, and the food is worthy of the hungriest, choosiest locavore.
1. Mill City Cafe Located in the California building in the Northeast Minneapolis arts district, Mill City Cafe is one of the neighborhood's best kept secrets. It's a small, unassuming space that exudes simplicity, warmth, and a bright effervescence. The small patio offers only a handful of tables under a wooden pergola, up which vines and flowers creep and bloom. The lushness is so thorough, it's easy to forget you're in the upper Midwest. The menu, likewise, is small but excellent, and the obvious community spirit and creative exuberance of the artists whose galleries surround the restaurant leave guests feeling nourished mind, body, and soul.