Restaurants can be like music albums: it often takes a bit of familiarity to go beyond the title track and into the deeper cuts.
Rachel Hutton, editor of Minnesota Monthly, shares with MPR News some of her favorite under-the-radar, or B-side experiences at well-known local eateries.
STEVEN JOHN: So how many visits to a restaurant does it take to discover its deep tracks?
RACHEL HUTTON: It depends. You might luck out on your very first visit. Or, you may visit a place a half a dozen times and still not make the discovery. That's what happened to me in the case of Sea Change's secret patio. Several times I had dined on the small patio out front, until one of our bloggers finally turned me on to the restaurant's back patio, which is often empty but has a beautiful view overlooking the river.
JOHN: Are there other secret seats you've discovered?
HUTTON: I have managed to find a few myself. At Domacin in Stillwater there's a little annex that you might easily walk past on your way to the main dining area. Turns out it's a cozy, private dining room that's lined with wood and wine bottles and its vaulted ceiling makes it feel as if you're sitting in a barrel.
At Republic in Uptown, there's a two-seater table that's behind the neon sign on the corner of Calhoun Square -- it's a great place to people watch.
JOHN: How about ordering off-menu, is that something regulars do?
HUTTON: Yes, I'm a big fan of Dogwood Coffee . And I became an even bigger one when another one of our writers turned me on to an off-menu coffee drink they make called the "Gibraltar." It's espresso, steamed milk, chocolate and vanilla -- a less-sweet mocha, served in a little glass tumbler.
JOHN:Are chefs often willing to accommodate off-menu requests?
HUTTON: You can always ask. It never hurts. It's a little bit of extra work for them sometimes, so I think if you are a regular they might be a little more inclined to accommodate you.
JOHN: Because these specialties are not well known, that probably affects their availability?
HUTTON: I think that's exactly why the pretzel croissant has stayed under the radar at Sun Street Breads when they're available, they are often snapped up by mid-morning. For months, I'd been enjoying Sun Street's breads, their biscuits, and scones, until one of our food writers introduced me to their best pastry of all: a Bavarian-style croissant that has the buttery-flaky texture with the savory, tangy flavor of a pretzel.
JOHN: Have you come across any other mash-ups of two familiar foods to create something totally new?
HUTTON: Travail restaurant in Robbinsdale first turned me on to a liquid mash-up -- Minnesota's version of a black-and-tan. They'll pour you a pint of equal parts Surly Furious and Bender to create what they call "Fender."
Ever since, I've been experimenting with other local beer blends, such as one invented by the brewers at Lift Bridge . They take their Chestnut Hill, a brown ale, and pour it with their signature saison, Farm Girl, to get a new beer with a somewhat cheeky name, the "Chesty Girl."