For our last full day in Minneapolis, I finally managed to steal Ben away from his conference for a riverfront stroll. We aimed for brunch at the Nicollet Island Inn, which is on Nicollet Island in the middle of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, the historic inn with a menu that sounded divine was booked up, so we continued to the north side of the riverfront.

View of the river from Nicollet Island

There are a great many opportunities for picturesque photos on that side of the river, and we happened across a heritage trail that parallels it. What that means is I spent lots of time reading plaques and Ben spent lots of time concentrating on not rolling his eyes every time I stopped.

I don’t know what type of trees these are, but I dug the white coloring.

Downtown from the north side.

We ended up having brunch at Pracna instead, which fit in with my quest for the historic as it’s Minneapolis’s oldest restaurant on its oldest street, having been around since 1890.

Pracna in the St. Anthony Main district.

St. Anthony Main District.

Pracna’s had a traditional pub feel with a couple of surprises up its sleeves. Surprise #1? The Big Pickle.

Why yes, that is a bloody mary with a giant pickle sticking out of it! It came with that souvenir button pierced in it (that now resides on my laptop bag) and with a beer chaser—first time I’d heard of a beer chaser for a bloody mary! Between Ben and I, we managed to devour the pickle, and the bloody mary was delicious with plenty of kick. I did try the beer chaser, and whatever it was went really well with the bloody mary, though I couldn’t drink more than a few sips with all that pickle! I think it’s definitely a fun drink to order, though. Food came out next. I had the eggs benedict special, and the kitchen was nice enough to scramble my eggs for me—I’m against gushy eggs in all their forms.

It was simple and tasty. The giant potato wedges were seasoned wonderfully—I definitely recommend those. Ben’s choice was the 1890, named in honor of the pub’s founding.

It was a turkey sandwich on caraway rye with melted swiss and cranberry cream cheese, and he engulfed it. It’s a favorite at the restaurant, so try that, too, while you’re swilling your Big Pickle.

Now that we were fed, the river walk could continue. We headed onto Hennepin Island and followed a short trail toward the St. Anthony Falls. Along it are signs full of information on how the Falls generate energy and the like. Now, St. Anthony Falls is not picturesque, per se,

because it’s been preserved through a concrete apron that stopped it from eroding further up the Mississippi. Minneapolis wanted to keep its energy-making machine, you see, as the Falls have had much to do with Minneapolis industries since its founding.

Ben looking out at the falls.

The river rushing toward the Stone Arch Bridge.

Regardless, they are still impressive in their might even if they lack a bit of beauty! I’m mesmerized by any and all rushing water.

We headed back to the riverfront to continue the trail, passing the Pillsbury flour mill on the way.

And Pillsbury Park, once we began to cross the Stone Arch Bridge. It looks quite lovely.

The Stone Arch Bridge offers fabulous views of downtown.

It’s also the best spot to get pictures of the fascinating Guthrie Theater building,

Doesn’t that look crazy? Don’t miss the observation platform in the middle.

Wedding photos are a must in this area of town, or at least I’d say so from the 4 different wedding parties we passed. The Mill City Museum also looked pretty cool from this vantage point with its half-ruined outer walls exposing the glass walls of the museum.

There were beautiful ruins being restored beneath us as we neared the end of the bridge.

At this point, Ben and I parted ways yet again, as he was needed back at the conference and I was intent on visiting the Mill City Museum and learning more about Minneapolis history. The Museum is housed in the ruins of the Washbourn A Mill, which used to be the world’s largest flour mill. For $10, you can take the Flour Tower journey, which gives you great background on how a mill works by moving guests up and down a large tower with views of what different parts of the mill used to look like intermixed with millers’ memories of working there. Once complete, you arrive on the 9th floor, where an observation deck gives an awesome view of the north side of the river.

The mill ruins from on high.

Guthrie Theater’s billboard from the mill’s 9th floor.

After I had my fill of gaping and being blown by the wind, I headed back to the museum’s main floor. In addition to an interactive baking room (hit it if something’s coming out of the oven) and a short film on Minneapolis history (miss it unless you love cheesy productions), there are many displays on old flour, grain cereal, and baking mix advertisements.

The giant pancake table.

There were also a number of interesting old harvesting and milling tools about.

A thresher.

I believe this was just called a separator—whatever it is, it’s one of many steps toward creating fine flour.

An old millstone before machinery took over.

The ruins themselves are quite beautiful and open to the public without a ticket.

I headed out again, taking in a few more sights before meeting up with Ben and several other con-goers for dinner.

Guthrie Theater’s observation platform.

Wall of music.

Dinner was at Nick and Eddie’s just off of Loring Park, and I thought it was fantastic. They have a quickly changing menu that ranges from Scotch eggs to Persian-inspired dishes to BLTs. Ben and I split a middle-eastern chicken dish that I really enjoyed, even the chickpeas!

The vegetables and the sauce were perfect. We also had a pasta dish with thick pasta made in-house that involved spinach, egg yolk, goat cheese, and I’m not sure what else.

That dish wasn’t as amazing but it might have been if the pasta was cooked a wee bit longer. The sauce could have used some livening up also. The dessert, however, pleased me on all levels.

It was their standard butterscotch pudding, served with four unexpected cookies, one that was anise flavored and the other a bitter, sublime dark chocolate. The cream nicely cut into the thick pudding and everything went well together.

After that fun dinner out, Ben and I left the others behind and managed a few more sights on our way back to our hotel.  Finally, I meet St. Mary’s Basilica face to face, the country’s first basilica.

Evening fell as we wondered down Hennepin Avenue, allowing the street to show off its neon.

The Orpheum Theater at night.

Thom Pham’s Wondrous Azian Kitchen, the definition of authenticity, I’m sure.

And thus, our first trip to Minneapolis concluded. I must say, it definitely changed my expectations of Middle American life. Consider my bicoastal blinders removed!

If you’d like full-size versions of these pics or want to wander through all my images from the trip, head to our photo website.

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