Foodies in the Twin Cities regularly buzz about 50th and France, Kingfield's new prominence as a dining destination, and of course Piccolo. I, like everyone else, love those latest and greatest hotspots, and yet there are times when I find myself yearning for a meal that eschews flash and simply delivers on taste, in a low-key and warm environment.
To that end, allow me to reacquaint you with the intersection of Penn Avenue and West 50th Street, just two blocks south of Lake Harriet. It's on that stretch of road you take to go back and forth to work or when you indulge in some boutique shopping. Straddling Lynnhurst and Fulton, it has a selection of restaurants and take-out joints that will warm your belly on those days when you are looking for delicious food, ease of parking and a neighborhood feel.
Sure, Bruegger's is a Vermont-based chain, but an everything bagel ($2.58 with cream cheese) on the patio or while tucked into a window booth is a very comforting thing. The crisp outside covers a tender chewy core which is the result of being boiled and then baked on a stone hearth, in house. There are tons of varieties of bagels, cream cheeses, egg sandwiches and more to choose from, if you're feeling peckish. Even better, the vibe is casual and the prices are cheap.
Don't wait for noon to either lunch at Broder's Cucina Italiana or grab and go on bikes and take off for a Lake Harriet picnic. The pizzas, paninis, cheeses, olives and daily specials at this Italian deli and shop have been pleasing Twin Citians for over 20 years. I'm personally a fan of the stromboli ($6.95), the tiny cookies (around $.80 apiece) direct from New York and New Jersey bakeries and anything they do with fennel. They do eat-in, take-out, delivery and catering, so you can get Tom and Molly Broder's pepper shooters, which are pickled and stuffed with proscuitto and provolone ($2.50 for two), no matter what your plans entail.
If 4 p.m. rolls around and you've got a hankering for some good, basic pizza — you're in the right 'hood. Lake Harriet Pizza, serving since 1979, has pies that range from 9 to 20 inches, depending on the size of your hungry crowd. This stuff is what you have with beer, soda or milk — scrumptious standard issue pizza with oozy cheese, marinara and the toppings you grew up with. They pride themselves on their sauce and are mainly a take-out enterprise, although you can pay for your 'za, garlic toast, wings or what-have-you and then park it on the patio out front. My pick is the Rebel ($9.25 - $25.60, depending on the size), with pepperoni, mushrooms and dry garlic, but as you can see in this fine picture, the cheese ($7.60 - $19.95) does the trick as well, especially for kids. Clip coupons from their website before you order.
Still hungry? How about a visit to Broder's Pasta Bar? Right across the street from the Cucina, executive chef Michael Rostance turns out 21 kinds of pasta in this adorable and consistently delectable restaurant. During the summer, the patio offers a separate antipasto menu of small plates that change frequently and range from a Batali salumi selection ($10) to grilled shrimp with basil oil and chickpea aioli ($10). Inside and out, the dishes represent a melange of local and traditional Italian ingredients and will please vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Tuesday through Thursday evenings, early birds (5-6 p.m.) can get a choice of two pastas with breadsticks, a salad for two and a half bottle of a selected Italian wine for just $30 (see website or call for details).
If the sun is setting and you desire a bit of Paris for your palate, hit up Pierre's Bistro for all the classics and a fully French environment (yes, that's La Tour Eiffel in the window). Tear into some escargot ($7.25) or the baked brie ($8.50) in puff pastry as you enjoy their reasonably priced and drinkable $4 house wine. For a main, the Black Angus, New York strip steak in green peppercorn sauce ($24) which comes with a baked tomato and of course, pommes frites, is a solid choice. The atmosphere is appropriately continental in the dining room, or sit at the bar and watch the action near the kitchen as Chef Pierre runs the show.
AN ADDITION TO THE AREA?
With any luck, Chris Yeager, a former chef at Saks Fifth Avenue, will get his Adagio Cafe and Espresso open this summer in the old Dragonfly space. The addition of B&W coffee and local baked goods to Penn and 50th will definitely bring more hang-out value to the neighborhood.
Bruegger's Bagels/4953 Penn Ave. S. - 612.929.6634
Broder's Cucina Italiana/2308 W. 50th St. - 612.925.3113
Lake Harriet Pizza/5009 Penn Ave. S. - 612.920.7717
Broder's Pasta Bar/5000 Penn Ave. S. - 612. 925.9202
Pierre's Bistro/5005 Penn Ave. S. - 612.928.0582