“Fly-over land” no longer, this progressive and friendly city is an oasis for special-diet travelers.ýDowntown MinneapolisýThe LakesýSt. PaulýSouth of the CitiesýGetting Around
Here’s some delicious irony: Minneapolis was once dubbed “Mill City” and considered the flour capital of the world. In the 1880s, the city’s west bank boasted over two dozen flour mills.
This flour-laden legacy is now a part of history. The towering mills that used to cast their shadows over the streets of Minneapolis are now a unique backdrop for museums and tours. Today, gluten-free visitors to Minneapolis can find dozens of restaurants whose menus are filled with flavorful choices for diners with special dietary needs.
Minneapolis is a hotbed of creativity, with a vibrant arts and music scene and a revered dining culture fueled by its farm-to-table ethic, proliferous farmers’ markets and multicultural culinary traditions.
It’s no surprise that the semi-finalists of the 2015 James Beard Award (Oscars of the food world) included 14 chefs from Minneapolis and St. Paul. This level of culinary expertise, infused with the city’s teeming innovation and artistic pulse, results in an exciting dining adventure for those seeking bold new flavors and a multitude of selections. Many of the city’s restaurants feature gluten-free or allergy-friendly menus, and often chefs are happy to visit tableside and craft a customized creation.
Don’t let the stereotype of frigid temps and Scandinavian modesty fool you. Minnesota knows how to warm its way into your heart—and into your belly!
The first thing visitors notice when they visit downtown Minneapolis is the elaborate skyway system that connects 52 blocks (nearly five miles) of downtown, making it possible to work, shop and eat without ever having to go outside.
A sense of adventure and exploration is rewarded, however, with many architectural and cultural landmarks waiting around every corner. Notable places are the Basilica of Saint Mary (mary.org), the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (new.artsmia.org) and the Walker Art Center (walkerart.org), home of the largest urban sculpture garden in the country and the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture.
On the west side of the city in the mill district, you can tour the legendary Guthrie Theater (guthrietheater.org) or learn about the city’s flour milling history by visiting The Mill City Museum (millcitymuseum.org). If you have time to check out the city’s live music scene, be sure to swing by First Avenue (first-avenue.com), made famous by legendary Minnesota native Prince or drop in to the Fine Line Music Café (finelinemusic.com).
One doesn’t have to travel far to find safe and delicious gluten-free food downtown. The award-winning Brasa (brasa.us) is located a mile northeast of downtown on Hennepin Avenue. This dining spot serves up Creole-inspired comfort food. Everything on the menu is gluten-free, with the exception of rolls, sliced bread and cornbread. From pulled chicken smothered in peppered gravy to smoky beef simmering in barbecue sauce, the food is made in house from scratch by knowledgeable staff, which makes it a popular choice for locals with food sensitivities.
For a more upscale dining experience, make a reservation at Crave (craveminneapolis.com). This notable hotspot features a 6,000-square-foot rooftop patio and a gluten-free menu containing more than 30 items from appetizers to entrees. Its staff is well educated on all food sensitivities and will work with you to find an entrée that caters to your tastes and your needs.
If you’re looking for a casual pizza place, check out Pizza Lucé (pizzaluce.com), located in the heart of downtown. With a trained staff and commitment to gluten-free diners, its menu includes gluten-free stuffed pasta shells, as well as a variety of specialty pizzas. If you just need to buzz in to pick up some allergy-friendly snacks, visit the Wedge Community Co-op (wedge.coop), which carries a diverse selection of wholesome foods. It’s located only a few blocks away from the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The Lakes (Calhoun, Harriet, Lake of the Isles, Cedar, Nokomis) Minneapolis literally means “city of lakes” and several are contained within the city limits, just a few miles south of downtown. Dozens of miles of paved pathways provide an excellent outlet to get in some exercise, as well as people watch. Just be sure to choose the walking path and watch out for in-line skaters who have their own path and zip by very quickly!
If you’re in the mood for a more leisurely stroll, check out Lyndale Park (minneapolisparks.org), which is located on the northeast side of Lake Harriet. This picturesque park contains four gardens, including the second oldest public rose garden in the country. No trip to the lakes would be complete without stopping at the Lake Harriet Bandshell, where you can pick up a decadent root beer float, among other safe treats at Bread & Pickle (breadandpickle.com) while watching colorful sailboats set sail.
Top off your visit to the lakes by hopping aboard the Como Harriet Streetcar Line (trolleyride.org). The historic Minnesota trolley car follows a one-mile track through the Harriet and Linden Hills neighborhoods.
After a lap or two around the lakes, you’ll have worked up an appetite! Fortunately, safe and delicious food is only a couple of minutes away. Just east of Lake Calhoun, you’ll find French Meadow Bakery and Cafe (frenchmeadowcafe.com). Boasting the proud title of the first organic bakery in the United States, this local favorite features not only decadent gluten-free cakes and tarts but also a variety of gluten-free entrees, including blackened fish tacos and jumbo scallops with wild mushroom risotto.
For a more casual setting, be sure to visit Bryant Lake Bowl (bryantlakebowl.com). Don’t let the name fool you; along with providing $2 bowling shoe rentals, they serve up an impressive menu, filled with gluten-free and vegetarian selections. Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, this local hangout also whips up an impressive gluten-free breakfast and has inspired quite a loyal following.
Another casual café recently cropped up in the Lake Nokomis neighborhood, five miles southeast of Lake Calhoun. The Sassy Spoon (sassyspoontruck.com) now has a permanent home for its innovative food truck business in a cozy, brightly decorated café. Everything on the menu is gluten-free. Owner and dietitian Tamara Brown is proud to feature locally sourced proteins, clean fats and plentiful portions of vegetables. Sweet and savory crepes are just one of the many staples that attract foodies looking for wholesome, locally sourced food.
No visit to Minneapolis is complete without a visit to its twin city, St. Paul. Separated by a few short miles and the mighty Mississippi, St. Paul may be smaller in size but it is home to the state capitol building and 104 historic landmarks, including the Cathedral of Saint Paul (cathedralsaintpaul.org), which was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome. Take in a closer view of the cathedral as you explore historic Summit Avenue, where dozens of Victorian mansions have been proudly restored, including the James J. Hill House (mnhs.org), the largest single-residence home in the state.
Along the bluffs of the Mississippi, there are noteworthy sites, such as historic Fort Snelling (historicfortsnelling.org). Built in the early 1820s, it served the U.S. military for 120 years. Further along the bluffs, some of St. Paul’s more notorious history can be revisited by touring the Wabasha Street Caves (wabashastreetcaves.com). Tour operators recount the fascinating ways the caves have been used over the last 150 years, including as hideouts for legendary gangsters.
With so much to see, it may be hard to break away for a bite to eat but there are plenty of safe and amazing gluten-free options to tempt you. Grand Avenue is home to some of St. Paul’s best restaurants, including Dixie’s on Grand (dixiesongrand.com). This cozy, local favorite features Southern-style comfort food and carries many unique gluten-free selections, such as Kentucky Bourbon pot roast and shrimp-n-grits. It’s a popular spot, so make sure you call ahead for reservations.
Another popular and unforgettable destination is the award-winning Pazzaluna (pazzaluna.com). This upscale eatery, featuring authentic Italian fare, is located in the heart of St. Paul, across from picturesque Rice Park. The twinkling lights of Rice Park cannot rival the interesting décor and festive atmosphere found inside Pazzaluna. Brightly colored murals provide an eye-catching, floor-to-ceiling backdrop while plates of decadent gluten-free pasta are served in the freshest of sauces. Wait staff has been educated on gluten-free preparation and serving, and executive chefs trained in gluten-free cooking oversee the cooking of your entree—all of which means you can truly relax and enjoy a safe, delicious meal. Reservations are recommended.
As long as you’re in St. Paul, take a quick spin a few miles north and visit St. Paul’s first gluten-free craft brewery, Burning Brothers Brewing (burnbrosbrew.com). Founded by a celiac, Burning Brothers opens its tap room Thursday through Sunday, and also invites in a gluten-free food truck on select Fridays.
Drive just a few miles farther to a northern St. Paul suburb, Vadnais Heights, where you’ll find Mad Jacks Sports Café (madjacksportscafe.com). Chef Tyler Jandrey’s commitment to the gluten-free community is evident in the variety displayed on the menu. Do you remember the days when you could order appetizers such as potato skins, walleye fingers or fried calamari? In this lively sports bar, you can again, gluten free!
A few additional gluten-free hotspots are worth mentioning in the southern suburbs, not more than a 15-minute drive away from downtown.
Just to the south of the cities, off the main highways of I-35W and Hwy 62, you’ll find the suburb of Edina. If you’re looking for a great place to have breakfast, visit The Original Pancake House (ophmn.com). It serves up a delicious variety of pancakes using Pamela’s baking mix and the staff is well trained in avoiding cross contamination. Be sure to call ahead or you’re guaranteed an hour wait at the door.
Jump back on I-35W and travel just a few miles south to the suburb of Burnsville. Here you’ll find locally owned Ernie’s Pub & Grille (erniespub.com). This cozy, little hideaway was recently featured on a local news program for its commitment to the gluten-free community. Ernie’s offers an easy-to-navigate, extensive gluten-free menu, with separate fryers and prep areas.
As you circle back to the cities, there’s one other destination you may want to see. The legendary Mall of America (mallofamerica.com) attracts 40 million visitors annually and is located just 15 minutes south of downtown, off the I-494 loop. While you may think this shopping mecca is too huge to tackle, it truly is worth a visit, no matter how short. Not only does it house the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park, as well as over 500 stores, it also offers a good selection of places to grab a gluten-free meal, including sit-down fare at Twin City Grill (twincitygrill.net), Tucci Benucch (tucci-benucch.com) and Crave (cravemoa.com).
Julie Salato is the founder and executive director of Celiac Center of Minnesota, celiaccenterofminnesota.org.
On Foot Minneapolis’ 5-mile skyway system protects visitors from the elements. However, much of the city is better experienced by hitting the pavement. The town is mapped on a logical grid system, making navigation a snap.
Rental Car The most convenient location to secure a rental car is at the MSP airport. The level of traffic is not intimidating and the drivers are Minnesota-nice.
Light-Rail This metro transit system is relatively new and is a reliable resource for those needing a lift to and from the Mall of America and downtown. It costs an average of $2 (depending upon the hour) and tickets can be purchased at an automated station before boarding.
Taxi There are several taxi providers in the city. While it’s possible to hail a cab from downtown, you’ll be better served phoning ahead for pickup.
Bike Nice Ride is a non-profit bike-sharing system that allows users to check out bikes for a minimal fee and return them to several stations located throughout the city.