Historic Buildings on the Menu

by Erin Hanafin Berg, Field Representative
January 29, 2009

Isn’t it nice to read that someone shares your opinion? And especially when that person articulates it more eloquently than you do?

Rachel Hutton, restaurant critic for City Pages, recently lauded two historic bank buildings that have been wonderfully restored as restaurants (“Five Signs the Minneapolis Restaurant Scene is Growing,” City Pages, December 30, 2008). BANK and Max, located within blocks of each other in downtown Minneapolis, are housed in “gorgeous, impeccably restored historic bank building[s]”–the former Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank and the Security/Midland Savings Bank, respectively. Although I have not yet dined at Max, I will vouch for the beauty, elegance, and deliciousness of BANK. (I recommend the blueberry mojitos.) And, as the site of the Preservation Alliance’s first sneak-peek fundraiser in 2007, the rehabilitated F&M Bank (now the Westin Minneapolis) is near and dear to all our hearts. Hutton mentions several other Twin Cities-area restaurants in her list of successful preservation projects (read about them in the section entitled “Restaurants reclaim historic spaces“) and concludes that “a restaurant’s primary function is to feed us, but it doesn’t hurt the city to have them as partners in historic preservation.” Now that is a phrase I can sink my teeth into.

As it turns out, all of the Midwestern chefs nominated for this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards run restaurants that are located in historic buildings–Tim McKee of La Belle Vie, Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery, Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma, and Lenny Russo of Heartland. The Midwestern nominee for Outstanding Restaurant, Lucia’s, is in a historic building in Uptown Minneapolis. Is this just coincidence? Or does food actually taste better in a space that is aromatic with history?

I’m no foodie, as my family will attest, but I have had a few recent fine-dining experiences worth noting, many of those in restaurants that would qualify as historic landmarks in and of themselves. The Hubbell House in Mantorville, for example, has been serving “superb cuisine since 1854,” and the sandwich I had there in October as a guest of the Mantorville Restoration Association was as good as sandwiches get. The Pickwick, in Duluth, has been in operation since 1914 and was a 2007 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award winner. Another one of my favorites is the Sherwood Forest, at the Grand View Lodge near Nisswa, which has the coolest stone fireplace I’ve ever seen.

We do low-brow, too. A family favorite is Carbone’s, at Randolph and Davern in Saint Paul, which serves old-timey flat pizza with d├ęcor that would be considered retro if it wasn’t 100% original. My husband grew up in Northfield and every once in a while has to satisfy his craving for a Fullback burger at the Quarterback Club. This summer I got my first taste of Conny’s Creamy Cone, another Saint Paul institution at Dale and Maryland. Too bad it is closed for the winter, because a peanut butter-dipped cone sounds pretty good right about now.

Please let me know about the historic restaurants in your neck of the woods so I can visit them while I’m out in the field. You can e-mail me at PAMfieldnotes@gmail.com

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