Over break I was able to get away for a couple days, head south to a warmer climate, and party like a freshman. Well, not really. My big spring break trip was to the Twin Cities to visit a friend. Not exactly an exotic location, but it does qualify as a warmer climate, and the partying like a freshman thing – let’s just say I’d make a pretty sorry freshman these days. There were no plans for a hunt or even late season ice-fishing, just a chance to get together and visit some of my old haunts and reminisce. Therefore I had some reservations about adding this story to my blog, after all, it’s not really outdoors oriented. But due to the requests of friends who had heard of the pilgrimage, I thought that there might be a way to spin the story towards that outdoors slant. I mean even a self-proclaimed outdoorsman enjoys a trip to the big city, I can clean-up not too shabbily, and these were my old stomping grounds.
I had earmarked visits to a few places I had been known to frequent back in the day. Where better to start than breakfast? A good day in the field or on the water involves a starting with a hearty breakfast. So our first stop was Al’s Breakfast, a Minnesota icon, in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis, just off the East Bank of the University of Minnesota campus. Fourteen stools on 10 feet of 14th Avenue real estate. I’ve probably spent time on all 14 stools at one time or another during my years at the University of Minnesota. Hey, it was on my way to class, and I’ve never been known to turn down the “perfectly poached egg” over hashbrowns. This was my quest this day along with a couple rafts and links in the alley and a cup of joe (or a blonde with sand to be more exact). My breakfast companion opted for a deadeye over dogfood and a couple of yummy whole wheat rafts. Plus, we couldn’t turn down a short stack of blues to share. Al’s version of diner slang didn’t go to that extent on this day, but the soup jockey did use the dogfood and short blues references (the corned-beef hash and blueberry pancakes, respectively). That, along with a drawing of “The Last Breakfast” that hangs behind the counter, prompted this diner lingo search.
A trip to the Seven Corners area of the West Bank led to the discovery that the legendary Five Corners Saloon no longer stands as such, and is now something called the Nomad World Pub. Disappointing – we did not stop. Back in the day, we packed into the Five Corners weekly to dance the night away with the Spaceheaters, a Grateful Dead cover band, who were packed equally as tightly into the cubbyhole of the Five’s improvised stage. There was also the weekly rendezvous down the street at The Cabooze with The Big Wu. Weekly, back-to-back nights of jam bands and cuttin’ a rug – good times.
Taking a stroll through Nordeast Minneapolis we revisited some old favorites like Nye’s and The Terminal, where I was introduced to my first perfect pint of Guinness, and ran up past the Gasthof/Mario’s Keller Bar and Jax Cafe, truly one of the finest dining experiences in the city. Ultimately we decided to stop in to Tony Jaros’ Rivergarden for a Summit and a Greenie. So many good times – I was glad to see the rest of these were all still kickin’.
I did get a chance to stop by my old urban hunting grounds, an area in Dayton on the banks of the Mississippi across from Cloquet Island. The massive oak tree I use to spend fall weekday evenings in after a day’s work was still holding its ground. I’d dash out of work to beat rush hour traffic and the sunset to gain a weekday escape from the city life with bow in hand. Unfortunately the city has now turned the area into a park, complete with overlooks, paved trails, park benches, and a parking lot. The island whitetail refuge seems to be, for the most part, undisturbed, but how long can that last with Home Depot’s being built in the shadow of suburban farms.
I wrapped up the trip the same way it started, with a trip to a favorite old diner. This time it was Eggie’s Cafe in Crystal (seen here as #9 – Al’s is #8). I hadn’t been a regular at Eggie’s in at least a dozen years, when, while living in neighboring New Hope, Eggie’s Eggs Benedict My Way and a side of their famous American Fries became a staple part of my diet. The My Way is Egg’s Benedict, substitute bacon and cream cheese for the ham, add an order of their specialty fries to sop up the extra hollandaise, and accompanied by a never-empty cup of joe — oh my — comfort food heaven! The best part of this return trip, Carol, the same waitress that worked the counter when I was a regular a dozen years ago, was still there with a smile and a quick refill. Carol remembered me as I placed my order and let a dozen years slip to a what seemed like, for a moment, a week. She called for Ray as he appeared to schmooze with his patrons. Ray Hawk, the second generation owner of Eggie’s, came around the counter to tell us a few stories and offer a handshake and a “thanks for coming back.” Class.