University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Intro & Landscape

This past weekend I was invited out to the Twin Cities' western suburbs, Chanhassen to be exact, to check out the University of Minnesota's Landscape Arboretum. Now, being a man of the world, I have been to arboretums before, namely one of the world's best, the Chicago Botanic Gardens located in Glencoe, IL. So, I'm no slouch when it comes to looking at trees and I know a good arboretum when I see one.

Let me tell you, this UofM version is nothing to sneeze at. They have all kinds of neat stuff, for people of all ages, including: main building/learning center with restaurant, wedding accommodations (at least two were underway the day we went), live turkeys (that's no joke, Turkey!), 3 mile car-route, pedestrian walkways galore, hedge maze, kids stuff and even a seemingly recent addition of sculptures/artworks incorporated into the grounds.

Here's a look at some of the better landscape shots I snapped:

Really wonderful rolling hills and pathways are main features of the grounds

Lots of movement and sounds from the water features on the property too

This is a great shot framed by artwork on the grounds... which I will showcase in a subsequent post
Now you maybe thinking, "What about the trees?!" Don't be alarmed, they have tons of those too... and flowers as well. It's all well-marked and labeled to your hearts content. You could learn a lot about the natural world at this place, no problemo.

Don't forget to come back for two more posts on the arboretum too.


Excelsior Brewing Company, Excelsior, MN

Like the brewery tour of the Northeast neighborhood here, Excelsior Brewing has a very popular tasting room at their beerworks. It's modest, but full of kitsch, merchandise, and most importantly, beer.
The beers were excellent and the staff very friendly. Though we only had time for a quick pint and to grab a couple growlers, I could easily staying longer or making it a long day for a beer event.
 (L) A brew they call "NuNMorblak", great for fall. (R) some hoppy, bitter IPS thing... I don't like them, can you tell?
Reasonable prices for local brews
Paul Bunyan's 6-pack...er, case


If you love the city of Chicago, like I do...

... you have to listen to this radio taping.

Goto: http://www.stitcher.com/s?eid=27695211&refid=asa

Von Hanson's Meats, Bloomington, MN

There really aren't many butcher shops anymore, at least that I notice. I know a few in MN and one happens to be near my office, Von Hanson's Meats. Going into this place (located in a gas station) reminds me of childhood trips to Schmeiser's Butcher Shop in IL, though without the Alpine cowbells hanging above the counter.

Von Hanson's has some differences too, mostly because it's in MN. For one, they have a whole menu board of meat packages. Pick your favorite, like "Trim & Lean", "Any Day Grill", or "The Hundred Pounder", and buy a package. Also, at least two of their locations will process your hunted game, make an appointment during deer season though. They put this expertise to use with a large offering of game sausages  too. Finally, they have some of the best jerky I've ever eaten. I picked turkey jerky, but get what you like...I don't think you'll be disappointed.


Should I not have said something...

...when I saw a grown woman wearing two different shoes? I see her somewhat regularly, so just blurted it out. But, she had no idea and had been walking around unknowing for the start if her day. Ah well. The darkness overtaking MN this time of year can make it hard to get dressed in the morning. There will likely be more of this to come...


*Update* The Blue Door Pub, St. Paul, MN

So, if you've been reading the last few weeks, I had a pretty disappointing trip to Blue Door's location in St. Paul. If you haven't been reading, go HERE and catch up... c'mon, quick like a bunny!

In a nutshell, the Juicy Lucys we were served had no "juicy" inside them, as-in, they had no cheese in the middle. Ever have a S'mores without marshmallow? No thanks, that's just graham crackers and chocolate... booo!

So, I was excited after contacting their management that they were very apologetic and promised to make it right. They stated in emails to me that they would send me a giftcard to cover my first visit and enough to cover a second visit, to give them another try.

This is a direct quote from my Gmail:
"If you don’t mind, it would be greatly appreciated if you could provide us with your address so that I can mail you a gift card not only compensating you for your last experience, but also enough to take care of your next meal as well in the hopes that you’ll give us another chance to prove that your first time was a fluke."

I opened the envelope in my mailbox later in the week, holding my breath wondering how much food I would get to gorge on.... only to find the giftcard was for $40. I had spent $36.29 on my first trip there (and that's just 2 beers & 2 burgers, mind you + tip... I know, I still tipped that night, my bad).

I emailed the management one more time and they never replied back. Well, that's all I needed to know... a restaurant that doesn't care much about its customers (aka, the reason you open the doors). I suspect they have too much business and are actively trying to get less customers. This also fits with what I hear about wait-times, even on a Monday night a co-worker was told he could expect to wait 45 minutes.

So, I did what any self respecting restaurant goer would do. I sold the giftcard at a discount so I don't have to go back and try this lame burger spot again. There are many other, more-worthy Juicy Lucy spots in the Twin Cities that would be happy to have my business.

Good day to you, Sir. I say good day!


Waconia Winery Tour, Waconia, MN

Much like my previous post about the Northeast Brewery Tour, I was recently invited to a winery tour in the cozy, 11,000 person hamlet of Waconia.
This is easily undertaken in a solid afternoon as it only includes three stops (in the order I went) - Parley Lakes, Schram, Sovereign Estates. Each winery is distinctly different:
Parley Lakes - this one seemed the most family/destination oriented to me. Part of that is due to the bucolic setting and farm buildings, but also because you can also go apple picking on site. You can also purchase apples, cider, art work, gifts, foods, sweets, even food truck pizza out of an old fire truck. They even have a free portrait station and live animals, no joke. In total, it does seem a bit commercialized to me, but it gives families many options. One odd note was an older gentleman working a pouring station that refused repeatedly to recommend our next taste. He wouldn't tell us what we should try or what his favorite wine was. Yeah, I didn't understand his job then either. However, overall I give the winery a solid 3/5 glasses rating.
Schram - the newest and smallest of the three, it's only been open about a year (from what I heard), but don't let that stop you. They brung it! (or "bung", get it?!) Amenities include bocce ball courts and a distinct quaintness the other two places just don't have. The owners live on the property and not only can you speak directly to them about wine, but you may also meet their small children. Plus, the tasting area is perfectly situated to enjoy sunsets against the rolling hills. I give the winery a hearty 4/5 glasses rating...I could have been happy sitting here most of the afternoon.
Sovereign Estates - I will state from the outset that we arrived here after dark and at the end of our tasting. This seemed even more commercialized than Parley Lakes, and hosts weddings, has a good-sized gift store and a very slick feel to the tasting area. They also seemed to be understaffed and at least one of the staff members serving us was totally worn out. He needed a night off. In spite of that, the wine is good. I give the winery a 2.75/5 glasses rating.
What these wineries have in common is that you just show up and taste for a nominal fee (yes, they hope you buy some to take home too). You can pick from 3-5, 1oz. pours or 10-12, 1oz. pours at each place. If you're going to hit all three at once, I'd suggest the lower number of tastes per stop. You can also usually get water and a snack at each spot. The wines were all very drinkable. They even have an award bestowing organizing, the ICCWC...the International Cold Climate Winery something. They use these awards liberally on their menus.
See that quilt-like pattern? There's a whole barn/farm tour centered around finding those too... maybe next fall
Not too many people, and enough things to check out to keep it feeling fun
Get your wristband here at Parley Lakes first, then walk in and start boozin it up
Streetzza! They have a 3500lb wood-burning oven in the back of this fire truck. You can see the embers in the pic, though we did not try the 'za
"Honey, did you bring our crucifix money?"..."Well, how am I going to pay the $7,000 for this one?!"... "How many times have I said, 'Bring the crucifix money when we go wine-tasting'?!... "Honestly! I mean, he did turn water into wine!!!"  
Beat that Schram view!!! Oh, wait, are those bocce ball courts below... later
You see lots of this kind of kitsch, be prepared
This place, bathed in black/white and some bright shade of pink, seemed to scream only one thing, "BUY MY WINE!", and to only one customer group, older women who spend boatloads of money on wine... I'm not sure I can fault their demographic study either
If you saw the smile on this kids face, you would also know definitively that his parents made him sit there for a portrait and that he had to smile, or else!

Hopper's Bar & Grill, Waconia, MN

If you want to experience a little slice of America in a small town, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more perfect place. Hopper's is filled with plenty of beers on tap, burger choices on the grill (plus sides!), and really nice people out for a good time with their friends. If you're in the neighborhood, why not?
And if that's not enough, they have a food challenge! If you can eat two of their "Belt Busters" burgers and fries in under an hour, without stopping or leaving your chair, it's free. Having tackled a single patty, 1/2lb burger on my visit, I see two pounds of meat (4 patties) and a mound of fries to be a formidable challenge...but don't take my word for it, try it and let me know.
Pretty lights all aglow... like a becon in the night... though you can't really get lost in downtown Waconia
See, nice people having a nice time
"Wish I had a double burger..." But this single patty bacon cheese will do just fine. Get the steak fries too!
I don't think I'm ready for this jelly, er, burgers
Now that's a mascot!


Terzo / T3RZO Winebar, Minneapolis, MN

Another gem from the Broder family and this one seems particularly jewel-like, not only for the size of the intimate and well-appointed space, but also for the care they take in the dishes. Don't forget the drinks - they have small batch tap beers that constantly rotate and 50 wines by the glass, plus 1,000 bottles in the cellar. Not just having something for everyone, but finding *your* perfect pick is clearly something they take seriously.
Knowing only how busy the pasta bar is on weekends, I would recommend first trying T3RZO on a weeknight (as I did). It will serve as a great break in your week.
One of the most artistic back-of-menus I've ever seen
They have some really great lighting fixtures throughout the space... see those clear glass ones way back?
No shortage of wines at a wine bar, smart
I'll take a $8, 10oz. pumpkin beer, thank you very much (get off my back, it's Fall!)
Roasted fall squashes, goat chees flan, basil foamy thing, crispy prosciutto = damn good


Café Levain, Minneapolis, MN

I'm not sure I've had a better, heartier, Italian-American comfort food meal in the Twin Cities...and not anywhere else in a long-time either. I would highly recommend this place for a special night or as a special treat.
Mmmm, nothing tastes like fall like roasted brussel sprouts and cauliflower
A deceptively simple wedge salad with fresh tomatillos, very unique and delicious
Something like a short-rib beef stew with a horseradish creme fraiche, very hearty and comforting
Garlic attack! Roasted chicken with creamy garlic polenta - so good!
Vanilla Panna Cotta with dried cherries and toasted granola - almost too much after the items above


Pumpkin Power Saw (?!)

Has this power tool been created because Americans are too lazy to even cut up a pumpkin once a year? Or do some people carve so many pumpkins they need the cutting implement powered up? In any case, it's cheap enough to find out for yourself.

This was spotted at an Omaha, NE Hy-Vee (that means grocery store)...


Nebraska University Football, Game Time

On to the game itself.

NU's stadium holds a close knit 91,000 of your closest friends. It is 12th largest football stadium in the US, and, I was told, just added some more seats after last season. No doubt, it is a big stadium and holds a lot of rabid football fans.

In spite of that large mass of people, every NU fan that talked or interacted with us the whole day was nothing but nice. Many "good lucks" and high-fives were sent our way during the tailgate an even in the stadium. It was a great reception for the Illini faithful. 

And the stadium, while very packed in, seems to have it down to a science in terms of entry and egress. At half-time, you're even allowed to scan your ticket to go back to your tailgate, just be back in the stadium before the 4th quarter begins.. very "progressive" (plus, I suspect if you spend thousands of dollars on a tailgate parking space, you want to get your money's worth in the 6-8 home games per season).

Highway to the danger zone
More red than a blood bank
Pretty great seats for about $50/ticket. I'm sure you could pay a lot more too
No denying that NU has a rich and storied football tradition, long before being a member in the Big10
These look like the cheap seats, to some extent, but boy does the "horseshoe" afford a lot more seats for revenue
Well done, Sir. Well done (and another Illini fan)

Nebraska University Football, Pregame

The beginning of cool weather and shorter days make many Americans think of one thing, football!!! I happen to enjoy a good tailgate and drinking beer in the morning (on occasion), so when my brother invited me to the University of Illinois @ Nebraska football game on October 5th, I jumped at the chance. 

Of course, before attending any Big10 football game, since the stadiums have been mostly dry since their inception (not true any longer on all campuses), a tailgate is a requirement... heck, it's America! Luckily for us, Nebraska doesn't have an NFL team and most of the state's football efforts are concentrated on the NU football team and its tailgating season.

People start early. Parking lots are reserved just for tailgating activities, and fenced in to keep randoms out. Parking spaces are reserved (and paid for) in advance for an entire season, which means you go to the same place each gameday. They set-up some pretty amazing assortment of options and the requisite accouterments for the activity, behold:

Begin the day with a healthy breakfast

Grab something packed with vitamins and minerals to wash it down

One of the many SUVs and trucks used as the foundation for a great tailgate parking space. Wisely, this tailgater has set-up the back of his/her SUV with a full bar. What happens if they're ever pulled over? I have no idea, but it can't be a fun stop
Grill, meet Hitch. Hitch, meet grill. Viola! (in the NU colors of course)
Tailgate paddock, Partner. And a great use for an old bus, I might add...
I'm going to presume that you can buy a hotdog station like this one at CostCo now.
And now it's time to venture into the "enemy's lair"... NU's Memorial Stadium.


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