In Minnesota, we hold our summers precious. The long, Siberian-like winters mean we make the most of our temperate days, the likes of which So-Cal and Florida take for granted.
Of course, those days are far fewer than the long winter, which gives rise to phenomena like shorts-and-flip-flops during the February thaw and the anxious wait for the opening of outdoor seating at area bars and restaurants. For some, it can never come soon enough.
By August, the summer is in full swing and al fresco dining has taken over the city, from the humble chairs and table parked on the sidewalk outside the mini-market to the sprawling patios and unique spaces designed to pay homage to the fleeting sunlit days and breeze-cooled nights of summer.
A brief tour of outdoor dining in Bridgeland must start where the city did: along the Mississippi riverfront. While the newly redeveloped, more urban Downtown side has a few remarkable standouts — such as Spoonriver and Harry’s Food and Cocktails — it is the east bank that takes the cake for scenery with your seating. A stroll down Southeast Main Street — from the upscale Nicollet Island Inn to the hit-the-spot, beer-and-burgers fare of Tuggs Tavern — offers a full range of dining and drinks with views of the river, St. Anthony Falls and the Downtown skyline beyond.
Just blocks to the north, the bustling East Bank neighborhood offers an even wider range of options. With another outdoor seating area around just about every corner, from tucked-away garden patios — like the one shared by Rachel’s and Punch Pizza — to sidewalk tables complemented by flowering planters, low fences or simply the street scene itself.
Of the Bridgeland neighborhoods, however, Cedar-Riverside wins the prize for sheer volume (thanks in no small part to Sgt. Preston’s), and the unique character of the neighborhood is reflected in the creativity of its outdoor dining. Several designated patios fill in spaces along Cedar Avenue, from the picnic tables out back of Palmer’s to the side-stretch of tables across the street at the Nomad World Pub, where on cold nights a
fireplace has been known to warm the assembled smokers.
To the north, Seven Corners is a Midwestern slice of the European café scene, while, south of the freeway, the street that holds The Cabooze and The Junction is like a Harley-crowd block party on summer weekends. Just a bit further down the LRT line, Bedlam Theatre’s rooftop patio offers an excellent view of passing trains and Downtown Minneapolis.
Seward sports several nodes of outdoor dining. There’s the nexus of Franklin Avenue and 22nd Street South, highlighted by the back-to-the-garden goodness of Seward Café’s Green Space; there’s the old Hub of Hell-area bars and bowling alley; and, famously tucked away in the neighborhood, the twin relaxations of the Birchwood and Cliquot Club along East 25th Street.
Near the southern border of Bridgeland, Lake Street features street-side seating near Minnehaha and the wonderful backyard patio at El Norteño, with other notables peppered along the finally paved street — including the original summertime stop, Dairy Queen.
In all of Bridgeland, however, Overflow Café on University Avenue gets the award for most ambitious outdoor seating area. Tables and chairs sit on the upper deck above — and around the grassy lawn beside — a pool (complete with a waterfall and fountain) that is larger than the café itself. It’s just one of the finds along the long hill of that Prospect Park thoroughfare. Further west on campus, students study at sidewalk café tables during the day — and don’t study at bar patios in the evening.
Only the largely residential Southeast Como neighborhood seems to be lacking in outdoor dining and drink. Manning’s has outdoor seating; otherwise, we found only a couple of tables outside the Subway on East Hennepin and Mississippi Market at 1828 Como.
But then, it’s not the patio itself that’s the point, is it? It’s the chefs, servers and bartenders that make Bridgeland’s al fresco dining more than a well-ventilated smoking section and our wealth of great restaurants and bars worth visiting — inside or out.