Archive for January, 2009

This Is Why I Love the Skyway Redux and Official Skyway Etiquette Primer

I’ve already written at length about why the Skyway is one of downtown Minneapolis’ greatest assets and I wrote that before I even lived in a Skyway connected building. I have since spent half a winter in a euphoric, Skyway-enhanced Shangri La and the reverence I once had for the Skyway lifestyle has now fiftipled (a word meaning ‘an increase by a factor of 50’ that I made up just now).

Remember that stretch of shitty-ass weather we endured a few weeks ago? You wanna know how many times I went outside during that period? Zero. At one point, I went five full days without putting on a jacket. I can’t remember the last time I was so happy (in January).

In any case, I think I’ve already made my Skyway Love feelings pretty clear, so what I’d like to do now is post a short primer for people who are entering the Skyway for the first time or have just been too dimwitted to figure out the obvious after years of walking through Buddha’s gift to inclement weather avoidance. An etiquette primer, if you will. Just a bit of me giving back to the community like I have selflessly done so many times in the past. And away we go…

•    Never, ever stand in the middle of the Skyway for any reason. If downtown is a human body, then the Skyway system is its arteries. Now what happens when an artery gets blocked? Say, by some doofus standing in the middle of a junction, trying to figure out how to get to Macy’s? Well, ideally, I sweep the doofus’ legs with my Target bag and kick-roll them into a corner where they can reflect on their doofus ways. So let’s review: If you have to stop walking, move to the side. Need to answer your cell phone? Move to the side. Wanna say something really important to a passing colleague? Move to the side! Just reunited with your twin after being separated at birth 40 years ago? MOVE TO THE BLOODY SIDE!!!

•    Ladies, it’s your prerogative if you decide to leave the house in ridiculous shoes that have heels that force you to walk in tiny, six inch strides, but if you’re going to move that slow on purpose, you need to stay to the right. And walk in single file – no more of this three and four abreast BS – so people who have lives and/or are carrying 30 lbs in booze and groceries can get by your merry band of the deliberately handicapped.

•    Just because you don’t have nerve endings in your shoulder bag does not excuse you from banging it into me.

•    Crazy people, ya’ll have to stop talking to me.

•    Drunk people, the Skyway isn’t your private lounge. If you’re too wasted to keep moving, and it’s too cold outside for you, go hang out at the library like everyone else.

•    Simultaneously eating and walking through the Skyway makes you walk too slow and will potentially muss up someone else’s clothes when you lose control of the 24 ounce beverage you have cradled in your elbow. So, from this point forward, simultaneous eating and walking in the Skyway is banned. Because I said so, that’s why.

•    Just because you’re cops does not give you guys license to swagger reaaaalllly slow, shoulder to shoulder. Have you ever tried looking behind you while you do that? All those people piled up back there? They’re not there because they’re admiring the tight, sinewy, spring-loaded cop asses that got you sent to Skyway Patrol in the first place. Pick up the pace or yield to passing traffic.

•    If you’re going through a manual door and there’s someone one beat behind you, hold the door for them. If you let the door slam shut on that person, there’s an even chance that the person will catch up to you at the next door and then won’t it be awkward when they accidentally roundhouse kick you in the throat?

Thank you for reading and strictly adhering to these simple rules. Anyone else wanting to add sage words of Skyway behavioral wisdom, please leave a comment. But mostly, just stay out of my way.

Downtown, Rants | 29.01.2009 17:57 | 7 Comments

This is why I love the Capital Grille’s cheeseburger (and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl)

daraLet’s tackle this in reverse order. There’s a good reason that, like many other locals, I love Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl (DMG), seen at right disguised as a poorly disguised food critic. The fact that she’s palpably awesome notwithstanding, genuinely talented food writers are disturbingly uncommon. DMG is to food writing as Lebron James is to basketball. She can single-handedly turn a mediocre team into championship contenders by merely walking into the locker room.

Like travel writing, the food writing industry is overrun with hacks, fakes, shysters, dipshits and the clinically insane. Lazy metaphors, heartbreaking clichés, serial mediocrity and editorially sanctioned overuse of the word ‘swathed’ plague food writing. So that DMG has not only cultivated the skill to consistently produce expert and refreshing text, but has also orchestrated the editorial freedom to write the way she does is a vanishingly rare and precious thing in her industry. As such, I’ve often doted on her words as if they were written by Buddha himself and was secretly heartbroken when she married William Jefferson Grumdahl, Esquire, local cowbell player, chalk artist, heir to the great Grumdahl Thumb Tack empire in Farmington and well-fed, lucky bastard.

Then came the July 2008 issue of Minnesota Monthly and the “Definitive, Ultimate, Be-All, End-All, List of the Greatest Burgers in Minnesota.” I was out of the country at the time and due to even more travel and dangerous amounts of time spent alone and feverishly writing in my condo since then, I only just got my hands on this copy last week.

To be perfectly frank, I was initially disappointed and suspicious of the list when I saw that the Jucy Lucys at Matt’s Bar had been rated Number One. I’m going to edge out onto an unpopular limb here and voice my opinion that the burgers served at Matt’s are the most over-hyped, underwhelming, physically dangerous and all around nasty non-fast food burgers I’ve ever had. I’ve eaten them twice. The first time I scalded myself so bad that I couldn’t taste the burger, or anything else for the next 48 hours. The second time I became physically ill later that day. I don’t believe that the burger caused the physical illness, but the two events happened in such quick succession that I now have association trauma with regard to Matt’s burgers.

More than anything I was struck both times as to how unattractive and ho-hum they were after all the psychotic, reverent, babbling build-up I’d endured. As such, I’m convinced that the whole Matt’s Jucy Lucy phenomenon is due to the blind, mindless acquiescence of countless rubes and the practical joke stylings of a few knowing conspirators, including it pains me to point out, our own DMG.

That said, I read the remainder of the article anyway and was more than a little taken with a few of the runners-up. In particular, the Signature Cheeseburger with Truffle Fries served at the Capital Grille. Despite Minnesota Monthly’s apparently serious “Burger Inherent Awesomeness Quotient™” (a messy equation that includes non-taste factors, like ambiance and ‘ultra-Minnesotanness’ of the venue) burying this bit of burger perfection in the #7 position, DMG called it ‘stupendous’ and ‘thunderously beefy’. I can’t help it – I get excited when any foodstuff is affixed with a Force of Nature superlative.

Gaining momentum, DMG launched into one of her signature, exuberant cascades of delirious metaphors (“lush as a berry,” “profound as an exceptional Barolo”). I’m thinking, no way is it that good. And being the consummate writer that she is, DMG followed immediately with “Could it seriously be that good? Yes.” Oooeeeoooeee!

As always, I was easily won over by DMG’s playful and eerily intuitive copy and duly trekked through the Skyway two days later to the Capital Grille’s dinning room for lunch. Sadly, the witness that accompanied me doesn’t eat beef or truffle products, so the pressure was on for me, the travel writer whose primary expertise is in the culinary wasteland of Romania, to make a credible and thoughtful judgment. I came to the following conclusion: stupendous and thunderously beefy (travel and food writing is also overrun with plagiarizers).

Seriously, this cheeseburger was precisely what I imagine my first burger, after months in a non-burger-appreciative-part-of-the-world, should look like. Thick, juicy and ready for major magazine photography. Moreover, by merely looking at this burger, even a Food Dummy like myself can tell that there are no unnatural, mystery, non-food-foodstuffs in there. And get a load of DMG’s description: “The grass-fed beef is from Thousand Hills Cattle Company in southern Minnesota, ground-up with a certain amount of bacon from Fischer Farms in Waseca. The meat is mixed with Walla Walla or Vidalia onions, grilled, and served on a housemade brioche bun”. Even without the words “Dear Penthouse Forum”, that’s about all I need read to kick off a spontaneous, redistribution of blood.

But that’s not all. In between bites of this handheld, edible piece of foreplay, you supplement the already depraved release of endorphins with “French fries, graced with truffle-oil and gran padano cheese.” That I had no idea what gran padano cheese was before that moment didn’t lessen the impact of those words and the final product was no less stimulating.

Cumulatively, I’ve lived and traveled in Italy for nearly a year. I’m ashamed to admit during that time I became a little spoiled over the availability and affordability of things like shallots and truffle products. Having been back in Minnesota for well over a year now, and bringing in the kind of subsistence income that travel writers earn (if they’re lucky), I now regret not eating an entire bowl of shallots, fresh vegetables, mozzarella and prosciutto swathed in truffle oil every single, privileged, Buddha-blessed damn day I was there. Now the mere whiff of truffles causes a dopamine spike that stuns my brainstem. You can literally hear the ‘beeeeuuuoooo’ as all my brain functions cease like a failed power coupling on the Starship Enterprise.

My natural impulse was to take the wax paper that held my truffle fries and rub it all over my face and hair and then not bathe for a week so as to enjoy the maximum effect of the fumes, but my level-headed companion pointed out that people around us might construe this behavior as “screwball”. My counter-offer of simply secreting the paper in my pants pocket was frowned upon as well. This is why I usually eat alone.

Needless to say, it was the best burger-based meal I’ve had in years and probably in the top three of all time. In fact I went back for seconds not even 48 hours later. It’s only been 24 hours since then and I’m already shopping for medication that will stem the tide of these cravings. As long as the pills cost less than $14 a serving (before tax and tip), I come out ahead.

And Dara, I realize that you probably have 57 devout friends that accompany you on your various restaurant visits, and I further admit to knowing precious little about food in general, but I think after reading the above you’ll agree that I have a singular physical response to food that transcends so-called ‘expertise’ and therefore makes me eminently qualified as an illiterate food taster guy that you need at your table for observation purposes alone. Call me.

Also, do you have a sister?

The Capital Grille
801 Hennepin Ave

Eating | 8.01.2009 15:27 | 6 Comments