Friday, August 03, 2007

From DCFUD - Lookin' California, Feelin' Minnesota


How strange that an innocent trip to the Twin Cities this past weekend would be bracketed two of the biggest news stories of the year.

A simple two-day mini-vacation to see some old friends in Minneapolis and get some good food seemed like a grand idea, and the affordable direct flights to Minnesota courtesy of Northwest Airlines would be a fine way to spend as much time away from D.C. as possible. That is, until Northwest and its pilots decided to come to loggerheads over work schedules the very weekend I would depend on them for transportation. As the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport is Northwest's major international hub, local and cable news crews descended on passengers stuck in the expansive facility, trying to capture the mess as flights were cancelled like bad sitcoms on the WB.

Once in Minneapolis, I was whisked away to the Mall of America. Apparently it's illegal to visit the Twin Cities without going to this overgrown tribute to America's love of commerce and indoor theme parks. For those who have never been to the MOA, it's basically both Arundel and Potomac Mills combined after hanging out with Barry Bonds' trainer. The Mall changes stores like Sean Combs changes stage names, so while I missed the awesome hot sauce store that was there on my first visit in 1999, I didn't mind seeing the P.B. Loco Cafe' and its selection of peanut butters, ranging from the sweet Raspberry White Chocolate to the spicy Asian Curry, take its place. Waffles served with maple/peanut butter sauce...smoothies packed with fruit, chocolate and incredibly delicious peanut butter...yeah, that place could be dangerous if they opened up a location in D.C.

One place I had to try was J.D. Hoyt's, a casual steakhouse in Minneapolis' Warehouse District, just a few blocks from downtown. The place is nice, though very unassuming. It reminded me of Baltimore's late McCafferty's in the Mount Washington neighborhood, though this place appears to pay its bills. Pictures of the owners, famous guests and happy people dining on steaks the size of pizzas adorn the walls. J.D. Hoyt's is known for their pork chops, ribs and steaks, and the intoxicating mix of Cajun spices and meats from the kitchen made it tough to choose just one entree'. Service as provided by Roberta (though call her Bobby, remember, this place is unassuming) was smooth, efficient and friendly. And, I was pleasantly surprised when a "small" sampler platter of prime rib, baby back ribs and spiced pork chop arrived. Important to note - this "half" rack was the size of a full rack; the prime rib was baked and then lightly seared to temperature, and the pork chop was nearly a pound of fresh-from-the-farm carnivorous pleasure. The meal was solid - the prime rib was not as good as you'd expect from a true high-end steak house, but definitely right for the price. The pork ribs and chops, however, were just about perfect.

The friendliness of the Minnesotans was shocking. Talk flowed freely between tables and the few folks at the bar didn't remain strangers for long. Most conversation revolved around the groudbreaking for the new Twins baseball stadium, just a couple blocks away from J.D. Hoyt's, which was scheduled for this week. Kevin Garnett, the Minnesota Timberwolves star player, had not yet been traded to the Boston Celtics, but the rumors were flying. The chef came out to talk to each table, Bobbi gave me dining and tourism tips, folks at another table asked me for dining and tourism advice in D.C. During the night, a small group of young men came in to toast their Army buddy, just scant days away from being called to active duty in Iraq. People who had just met moments ago bought drinks for the young man, barely 21 years old, and though it was clear some patrons didn't support the war, they all supported their soldier.

So while I was saddened to find out tragedy struck Minneapolis soon after I left, I wasn't surprised to hear stories of heroic actions by folks caught up in mess of tangled vehicles and bridge, tending to those less fortunate. Of people rushing from the shore to help those who might be trapped under steel and concrete. Of prayer circles and support centers for those who may have lost somebody in the Mississippi River.

I drove across that bridge on Monday.

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