Since 2001 I’ve lived in the nicest part of probably the most maligned part of Minneapolis, “North Minneapolis,” really a composite of two communities–“Near North” and “Camden.” More information than you need, probably, but “NoMi” as it has recently come to call itself is in a time of tumult. It was the hardest hit in the state, by far, during the foreclosure crisis. It’s hard to find a street without a “for sale” sign and boarded up windows. At the same time, I’m pretty impressed at how hard the locals are working to reinvent ourselves. “Get to NoMi!” the signs say.
Feeling now that my wife and I will likely ride out the recession without calamity, I’m focusing on local businesses. I’m using the new barbershop down the street, going to plays at the newish theater just across the street going the other way. And I’m happy to patronize the two corner joints, and not just with a sense of charity. It’s because I love having them there and don’t want to find out one day they’re gone, the way the only bookstore remotely near us went earlier this month despite me spending loads of money there.
First of all, there’s the friendly, family-owned coffee shop on the corner — Steamworks. Their coffee is better than it is at any of the chain coffee shops. It’s seriously my favorite coffee in Minneapolis, and the fact that all I have to do to get it is stumble out the back door is just dumb luck. I’m also a big fan of their cinnamon twists.
The coffee shop used to be owned by a couple of retirees. The guy was always Santa at Christmas Time and kids would have their pictures taken with him. When they decided to sell, they screened buyers pretty carefully to make sure the new owners kept up the same standards and the same commitment to the neighborhood. The new owners have done just fine. They didn’t even tamper with the coffee or the cinnamon twists. If I lost this coffee shop, it would be like losing a friend.
The restaurant next door to the coffee shop has been more turbulent. When I first moved here, it was a burger joint with a stunningly good gallery of baseball memorabilia on the walls. I always chose the booth where I could gaze at Yogi Berra’s childhood catcher’s uniform. The food was unremarkable, and the menu rivaled that of the one in the SNL sketch where all you could get was a cheeseburger, chips, and Pepsi.It later became Rix, an upscale burger joint that was solid but not especially memorable (I just remember that the meatloaf sandwich was good but always came back to haunt me.) Following Rix was Sauced, a nice enough restaurant that had good food but was a little too big for its britches–it was the kind of place where soups came in triads in little cups and the bread pudding had mushrooms in it. We’re just not that kind of neighborhood, if you ask me.
I think the newest place is firing on all cylinders. Victory-44 (it’s in the Victory neighborhood, on 44th Ave) is more of an upscale burger joint, again, with chef-imagined burgers, fish and chips, etc. The food is outstanding, and now that the service has caught up (it took a few weeks), I honestly can’t think of a single reason not to go there.
If you live in the Twin Cities, give it a shot. It’s the perfect place to eat before catching a show at The Warren. Try the pork belly and have the banana thing for dessert. You won’t regret it.