Family fun in the Twin Cities

Each summer my husband’s side of the family gets together somewhere in the country. Sometimes they find a location in the Midwest; other years they’ve gone as far away as California, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., South Carolina, and Colorado. I haven’t made it to all of the gatherings, but this year we all went to the Twin Cities for a few days.

We rented a large house about a mile from the University of Minnesota campus. My husband, Dave, found the house through HomeAway, a vacation rental company. The house was in an older neighborhood. It was set up like a duplex: You went into the front door and then there were two more doors. Each side was a mirror image of the other. Each had a living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom on the main floor. Downstairs were an additional bedroom and bathroom, plus a laundry room. A third bedroom was on the second floor. So, all together we had six bedrooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens, two dining rooms, and two living rooms. Plenty of space for 12 people and all their stuff.

Dave and the girls and I had driven up early on a Friday, our first day there, because we wanted to meet a friend for lunch. Afterwards we spent a couple of hours in Ikea (because, how can you spent LESS than two hours in Ikea?) Then we headed for the house that would be our headquarters for the next three days.

We spent the first night – after a grocery, beer, and pizza run – just getting settled in.

The next morning, after finding coffee and muffins in nearby Dinkytown, we all headed to Mall of America, the most blatantly American commercialization place on earth. I hate to admit it, but I think it’s kind of fun – in small doses.

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I had a blast in the American Girl store, shopped at the Lego store for my little nephew’s birthday, and went with the girls to H&M, Nordstrom Rack, and Forever 21. We ate lunch at a Tony Roma’s (note to fellow vegetarians: This is not the restaurant for you), and the more adventurous in the group rode a bunch of rides at Nickelodeon Universe, the theme park located in the middle of the mall. It never ceases to amaze me how they can cram that many rides – including a full-sized roller coaster – in a shopping mall. While they were riding rides, my sister-in-law Joyce and I went to L.L. Bean (disappointing) and then ate gelato. Most of the family (not me) wanted to play miniature golf at Moose Mountain Adventure Golf, also located inside the mall, but the wait was too long so we left.

We ate dinner at Town Hall Brewery. We were lucky on two counts: The restaurant had room for a table for 12, and the weather was so nice that we sat on the patio. I was surprised by both, especially since it had been so warm and humid the previous few days. But it was a lovely evening in Minnesota. We ate (I ordered a bean burger, and we shared avocado fries), drank, and made merry before heading back to the house, tired from a long day of fun.

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The next morning we started out with a trip to the Midtown Global Market, a terrific public market that offered produce and other groceries, plus lots of prepared foods and shopping – all with an international bent as the name implies. It was Sunday, and we got there before many of the shops opened, but most of the food vendors were up and running. We went to the Salty Tart Bakery because I’d seen this place mentioned in several “don’t miss” lists of Twin Cities attractions. It did not disappoint. I ordered the sugar-topped, crème-filled brioche, and it was heavenly. I paired it with a latte from Mapps, a food vendor around the corner. Others in the family found eggs, French toast, and other breakfast foods from nearby shops. We all met in a large seating area, where we could listen to salsa music coming from a dance group performing around the corner.

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Our bellies full, we headed to Minnehaha Park and Falls, a popular Twin Cities destination, especially during the summer. We viewed the falls from upper and lower vantage points, and at that point the group decided to go in separate directions. Some went to the Mill City Museum – something I’d definitely like to do one of these days. My group stayed at Minnehaha just a bit longer, because some of us thought it would be fun to rent a bicycle surrey and ride around the park. For $32 an hour, you can rent a bicycle built for four, with room for a couple of little kids, and lots of people were riding around on these things. Why not?

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Well, making the contraption go forward was harder than we expected. Making it stop was nearly impossible. The terrain was mostly flat, but when we encountered a slight incline, we couldn’t make the damn thing move at ALL, so we all got out and walked it up the hill. It was humiliating. Other families were laughing at us. Well, maybe not, but it seemed like it. We didn’t keep the surrey for the full hour, and we were glad to turn it back in at the rental stand. Daughter Lauren, who had loudly voiced her opposition to renting in the first place, was right. The Giesekes are not a biking family.

That bit of embarrassment behind us, we sought solace in lunch. Katie had heard about a dive called Matt’s, home of the original Jucy Lucy, a delicacy I’d never heard of. We found the place easily, and it was packed. We stood in line, watching as the cook cranked out burgers (the Jucy Lucy is a hamburger with cheese melted inside) and fries and not much else. It’s a pretty limited menu.

Once we got a table, we ordered two Jucy Lucys for three people, one basket of fries for all of us, plus a grilled cheese for me. The food was greasy but really good, and it was a fun.

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From there, we went to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, home of the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry and filled with lots of other artwork, all in a park-like setting.

Afterwards we went to another popular local food hangout: Sebastian Joe’s. This place was crazy crowded, with a huge line waiting to order ice cream in flavors like chocolate amaretto, dreamsicle, and cappuccino heath. I had a scoop of honey cinnamon crisp in a handmade cone, and it was delicious.

Our final family dinner was at Republic (“A Pub for the People”), recently named one of the Top 100 beer bars in America by Draft magazine. I don’t know about that, but we had a good time and everyone seemed to enjoy their food and drink. I ordered a variation of the BLT, with a fried egg, tomato, and lettuce on thick white bread.

We spent the evening watching TV together, packing, and hanging out on the back patio. Our family vacation in the Twin Cities was maybe not the easiest in terms of traffic and parking, but it was a nice place to gather, and we all left the next morning happy, relaxed, and ready to get back home.

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