Ethnic and otherwise, East Lake Street is becoming a major food destination

BY STEPHANIE FOX

Travel the three-plus miles from the new “International Gateway” banners near 35W to the banks of the Mississippi, and you’ll find a colorful melting pot of eating and shopping, a culinary world in miniature. You can shop and eat cuisines from Latin America to Scandinavia to Somalia and some new, hip food and drink as well. Here are six places you’ll want to try.
1) The Good Grocer, 122 E.   Lake St.
At the edge of the Central neighborhood, at the corner of East Lake Street and just west of I-35W, is a tiny, tidy little grocery store, an answer to what was once a food desert. The Good Grocer has been offering low-cost but high-quality food to local shoppers for a couple of years. The store is operated by The Upper Room, a local activist church, their response to the area’s food insecurity problem and an alternative to food shelves. But everyone, rich or poor, is welcome here.
Modeled like a co-op, there are two prices listed. One, for the general public, is still below regular supermarket prices, but if you volunteer for a couple of hours a month, the cost gets cuts another 25%.
High quality products are the same seen in regular supermarkets and include a large cooler of fresh produce, meats, healthy frozen foods, desserts (birthday cakes!), breakfasts and even cleaning products, as well as foods popular with the area’s Mexican, Latin American, Somali and Middle Eastern communities.
2) Mercado Central, 1515 E. Lake St.
To see Mercado Central and its bright blue awning, located at the corner of Bloomington and Lake Street, you’d hardly think that the small collective is home to more than 30 tiny Mexican, Cuban and Central American shops and restaurants. Go there any day and the place will be crowded—and it’s elbow to elbow on weekends. The lines at the restaurants can be long, but the food is worth the wait.
The restaurants include Taqueria La Hacienda (“House of the Authentic Tacos al Pastor”), Maria’s Restaurant, La Loma Tamales and others. There’s a candy shop, Panaderia El Mexicano and Reyna de los Jugos (Reyna’s Juice Bar), serving made-to-order healthy juices, frappes and shakes.
The Mercado also includes a small grocery, several clothing stores, a jewelry store, a beauty salon, a travel agency and many other shops.
Parking in the side lot can be a nightmare. Park on a side street and walk, if you can.
3) Ingebretsen’s Scandinavian Foods and Gifts, 1601 E. Lake St.
Family run since 1921, Ingebretsen’s is a Minneapolis institution. Enter through the gift shop and make your way to the deli and mini-grocery and you’ll find foods you don’t see elsewhere, except maybe in Sweden and Norway. Their busy season starts just after Thanksgiving, when the line for holiday specialties can snake out the door and when they sell more than seven tons of Swedish sausage to hungry customers.
For herring fans—and we know you’re out there—there are seven kinds of bulk herring including mustard, dill, cream, sherry and matjes (pronounced “matches”), some imported, some made locally and others produced right on the premises. It’s the new health food since herring is high in probiotics and omega 3 fatty acids.
Ingebretsen’s also carries caviar in a tube, lingonberries, lutefisk sold year round, rows of imported fragrant cheeses, sausages (Polish, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian), spekekjott (dried meats) made with tongue, mutton, pork or beef, leverposte, varieties of ready-to-cook meatloaf, pea soup, breads, cookies and candy. Yew betcha!
Have questions? Ask anyone behind the counter. Some, like master butcher Steve Dahl, have been there more than 40 years—and they know their stuff. Come with cash or checks since the deli takes no credit cards.
4) Urban Forage Winery and Cider House, 3016 E. Lake St.
On a Thursday afternoon at the Urban Forage Winery and Cider House, volunteer Tim Berurman is busy bottling 135 gallons of the House’s newest dry cider creation, a limited production made with gin botanicals. In a few days, the bottle will be ready to sell out of the winery or at Elevated Wine, Beer and Spirits, Zipp’s Liquor, Minnehaha Lake, East Lake Liquor and 29 other locations.
Jeff Zeitler, the owner of Urban Forage opened the place the last day of 2015, after months of navigating strict state and city rules—parking, health department, and others. The production area, in the lower level, is just the beginning. There are plans for opening up a 1,200 sq. ft. taproom upstairs sometime this summer.
Zeitler, a landscape architect by training, had been brewing cider since attending college a couple of decades ago, but unlike more orthodox cider and wine makers, he’s trying out non-conventional ingredients like dandelions, rhubarb and carrots. He’s still experimenting, testing to find which concoctions customers like and which ones they don’t.
The brews are seasonal, but current favorites are cherry-apple, pear, a semisweet, a dry and a dry-hopped cider. (Note: Like many of their ingredients, they grow the hops in their backyard.)
Coming soon—a limited production of dandelion wine, maybe carrot, and in June, specials on cider.
5) Merlins Rest, 3601 E. Lake St.
Merlins Rest was voted last year as the Best Pub in Minneapolis, a little cozy and comfortable neighborhood bar, bringing in friendly customers from the local geographical area. It’s also popular with Twin Cities DFLers and with members of the local Pagan community.
The drinks are good, with a large selection of beers, wine and specialty mixed drinks. For an authentic British experience, ask to see the most extensive Irish and Scotch menu in Minnesota. Not imbibing? Just ask for a pot of English tea.
Order something from the menu of British comfort foods, with some of the best fish and chips around. Try out the steak and mushroom pie, the meat pie of the week, Cornish pasties or their burgers and other sandwiches.
The place is busy every evening, but crowds increase during seasonal happenings—a June block party with traditional Morris Dancers, the party on St. Patrick’s Day and their New Year’s Eve masquerade ball.
There are also special weekly events, including Wednesday’s quiz night, where the answers are more likely to be “Chaucer” or “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg” than “Justin Bieber.” Irish musicians (with Highland pipers) might show up on Friday for an open jam. And, of course, kilts are welcome.

6) Longfellow Market, 3815 E. Lake St.
Joel Ahlstrom, the owner of the Longfellow Market, hoped to create an “anti-Cub” experience when he opened his neighborhood grocery store in 2014, in a space that had once housed a car dealership and a machine shop. The theme is an old-fashioned grocery store with modern, healthy food. The produce section is 60% organic and there is a large choice of locally sourced foods. The approach has created a lot of shopping fans from around the neighborhood.
At the deli, you can watch the cooks create the ready-to-eat hot meals. They make their own beef sticks, pulled pork, sausages and beef and turkey jerky using locally sourced meats, which are organic and free of antibiotics and hormones. There is a large parking lot, but the store is on the bus line and you can bike there to shop, as well.

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