Stephanie March is the food and dining editor at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. When not out searching for the perfect bite or best Sazerac, she can be found on her weekend radio show, Weekly Dish on myTalk 107.1, her Friday morning Fox 9 segment, and the weekly Beer, Wine, & Spirits show.
I feel, food-wise, that Mall of America and I have rather grown up together. When it opened in 1992, I was well past my teenage mall days (those were in the gloriously high-hair 80’s, thank you), but I was just beginning my young adult going-out days. And the Mall’s new offering of bars and restaurants, to me, looked like more of a giant playground than Camp Snoopy did.
Do you remember the audacity of Fat Tuesday? The Mardi Gras-themed slushie bar was a bright and colorful den of neon slushie drinks that promised a party every night. There were beads, there were brain freezes, we danced hard. When Planet Hollywood showed up, we thought it was the Big Time. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget those Cap’n Crunch coated chicken fingers.
But it was more than just trying to keep up with the line dancers at Gatlin Bros. or stalking Hulk Hogan at his Pastamania restaurant. I started dating a young man who worked at Journeys, and I would meet him after his shift for dinner sometimes. At Napa Valley Grill, I remember confidently ordering bottles of wine for the first time in my life. I knew what I wanted, and I could pay for it, which was new for me. (That Journeys boy, by the way, now owns multiple highly respected restaurants in the Twin Cities.)
Of course life turns, and the Mall fell out of my routine for a while, but I put it back in my rotation when I had kids. How hard I laughed at the little’s face the first time he heard thunder at Rainforest Cafe! Never mind that the animatronic monkeys had scared the bajeezus out of him, he was quite sure we were about to be rained on and expectantly looked at the sky for the drops. I never thought battling the corral of strollers at the entrance would be worth it, but it was. I used to meet a few other moms there and we’d let the kids run amok in the park, then haul them off to Twin City Grill where they could get big burgers and we could get our dirty martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives. We all deserved it.
Now, I bring the little (who is not so little anymore) to the Mall with his own pack of teens. I get to sit at Masu and eat ramen with sake while they roam free. Their food court gossip sessions are much better fueled than mine ever were; they get Melt Shop and Shake Shack. How fair is that?
I find that going out at MOA is totally different for me these days. With my current pack of ladies, recently we found ourselves at the FireLake Grill House + Cocktail Bar for bubbles and nosh before checking out the Downton Abbey exhibit that was going on at the time—something the younger Mall-going me would have never considered. (Though she never understood the beauty of foie gras, either.)
Honestly, I prefer to go to the Mall alone to do my shopping, then cop a squat with a giant salad and low proof cocktail at the plush and elegant Cedar + Stone, Urban Table. Totally different from the way I have eaten at the Mall in the past, but I guess we both grew up. Plus, you couldn’t pay me to drink one of those neon slushies again, so I’ll count it as a win.