BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Fortunes on the part of Chicago Avenue south of 44th Street have been varied during the COVID-19 pandemic and the period of civil unrest in late May through mid-June. This area is mainly residential, with a concentrated commercial hub between 46th and 49th Streets. There is one grocery store toward the southern end of the strip—Kowalski’s at 56th Street. There are lots of personal services businesses—hair care, nail care, health care, car care, and pet care. In massage services alone, there are far too many to cover them all. Also, quite a few banks and one movie theater.
We’re going to switch the order of coverage here, starting with restaurants, bars and eateries, but moving swiftly through to cover a lot of businesses, and ending with a soothing nature walk suggestion.
An early casualty in the restaurants was El Burrito, next to the Parkway Theater, which closed permanently in late April. El Burrito was the Minneapolis “branch” of a popular St. Paul place of the same name (which remains open). It had replaced the longtime neighborhood favorite and also a family concern, Pepito’s, in 2018.
Another, quite nearby, was R. A. MacSammy’s cute little spot at 735 E. 48th St., Elbow Room. MacSammy’s was a food truck before they got a brick and mortar outpost, and continued to run the food truck as well after opening in 2018. They closed effective July 30, and will keep the food truck going into October, honoring any unused gift cards there.
Places where you can actually go inside and dine, even without a reservation, are still kind of thin on the ground here in Minneapolis, where we take pandemics seriously. In the recent heatwave, and when my daughter and granddaughter came for a brief visit from the more laid-back Portland, Ore., I had occasion to seek these out. But use them sparingly! Because if they start to get full, they will have to close or restrict. And, of course, wear your mask except when actually eating or drinking.
One such lifesaver—yes! You can use our restroom!—was Turtle Bread. Turtle Bread, Pizza Biga and Pumphouse
Creamery (if you can eat a whole pint at one sitting—not recommended) share a sidewalk patio. But Turtle Bread also has some limited indoor seating. They are also doing a brisk business in takeout oven-ready meals, dishes and pizza dough, as well as deli selections, and, of course, cake, pie and pastries. Pizza Biga is takeout or patio dining only.
Pumphouse Creamery became a favorite of mine through Bite Squad. I particularly adore their lemon olive oil and sea salt ice cream. I went with “my girls” to get ice cream there but found they are only selling pints, not scoops. (That was how we ended up going to Turtle Bread, for coffee and cookies.) Pumphouse also has a highly flavorful though decaffeinated coffee flavor (from a local roaster)—something I have been clamoring for for years.
Another popular patio dining option is Town Hall Tap. They have both indoor and patio dining with reservations, which you can get through Tock, via the THT website at townhalltap.com. Also view their menu there. If you want to go with the takeout option, they have their own brewery’s beer to go! See this PDF document for details. townhalltap.com/wp-content/uploads/Beer-To-Go-Tap-7.17.20.pdf
Across the road from Turtle Bread et al, Bagu Sushi and Thai also has a dining patio, but it’s in the back and secluded.
Unlike a lot of restaurants that had to desperately pivot to delivery services at the beginning of the pandemic, Bagu was already established with Bite Squad and it’s a great option for a low-stress delivered dinner. They have scaled-back hours though; delivery or reservations to dine on-site are available Monday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.
The remaining place for food, and for excellent coffee, in the Chicago-48th Street hub, is Sovereign Grounds, a longtime favorite. When owner Hakan Sezer opened the cafe in 1995, the intention, quickly realized, was to have a community and family-friendly gathering space. It even has a playroom for moms and active kids to run around in. So, it’s unfortunate in the light of COVID-19 that it’s fairly small and super-popular, and lacks a patio. They have remained open, but only for takeout (grab and go). Their food offerings are a cut above even Minneapolis’ high standards for coffee shops.
South of the hub, there are two more eating establishments. The farthest south is Huie’s Chow Mein, at 5358 Chicago Ave. I have never tried their fare, but they’ve been there a long time so it must be good. They are very old-school! They only accept cash, and have no pre-orders, no delivery, no social media and no seating. Their menu is on the wall, and the only way to view it online is here tinyurl.com/y3t3ez94.
And finally, Heather’s at 5201 Chicago Ave. I left this for last because it’s kind of a big deal. Heather Asbury, the chef-owner, was in charge of Lucia’s in its final incarnation before closing. The location had been neighborhood favorite Mario’s for many years before it closed. When word came out in late 2019 of the new pairing of a favorite chef and location, the dining community was excited. And the opening was a great success, though the timing was unfortunate. Heather’s had only been open two or three heady weeks when the COVID-19 shutdown came in early March.
But they have weathered it well. Business stayed steady and even growing during the takeout-only stage, with a new walk-up ordering window, a great website, and nimble pivots to appropriate meals. Now they have indoor and patio dining—reservations required—and also, they are available through Bite Squad, which is how I first sampled the fare.
If you are looking for grocery shopping options, there is pretty much only Kowalski’s in this area. Apart from the Nokomis Farmers Market once a week in season, that’s the only food store on this stretch of Chicago Avenue. They are
open their usual hours, basic hygiene measures are in place, and you can also order online for their own delivery service within the area specified. Their deli is available on DoorDash for delivery. The Nokomis Farmers Market is at 52nd Street and happens on Wednesdays, 4 to 8 p.m., and only runs through September. For your beverage needs, check out Ken and Norm’s, the liquor store at 4801 Chicago Ave. They also deliver, using a service called drizly.com.
Retail shops in the 44th to 56th Street stretch are a mixed bag in terms of how open they are. Within the 48th Street hub, 14 Hill, a gift shop, is both open to the public and highly available online via Shopify, with frequent posts on Instagram. Check out www.14hill.com. But Primp, the boutique outlet of a small Minnesota chain of women’s fashions, is closed completely. Their closest open store is in St. Paul at Selby and Dale. They also have a strong online presence at shop.primpyourself.com.
Another place at the north end of this strip is Minneapolis Granite. I always assumed, foolishly, that they sold headstones, but no, they sell incredibly gorgeous countertops. And they have a showroom, open to walk-ins with the usual hygiene restrictions. They’re also online. Pretty near the other end, at 54th Street, is Aqualand. They sell aquariums and all the contents and paraphernalia thereof. They also will deliver, set up, and clean and maintain your in-home aquarium.
At 5255 Chicago Ave. is Lakes Makerie, which started life as a social sewing salon and is now functioning primarily as a fabric store and online social resource due to COVID. And right bang in the middle, on the Parkway Theater strip, is Pedego, who sell and rent electric bikes. They’re open but not on Sunday or Monday.
The big thing in this particular commercial hub is personal services. Here’s a listified run-down of selected sites in geographical order. All of these are online and easy to find via Google.
• MN Kali Group – martial arts studio, now mostly online or by appointment
• The Braid Factory – custom braids and related hairstyling, open by appointment
• Center for Blade Arts – fencing and related skills, now by appointment only
• Perfectly Polished – nail salon in a massage spa, by appointment
• Bubbly Paws – self-service pet wash or pet grooming by stylists, now by appointment only
• Spa Sweet – facials, massage, waxing, appointment only
• Rue 48 Salon – hair care, styling and products, Aveda salon, appointment only and no waiting inside; bring your own drink and reading material
• Kimber Esthetics – facials and waxing in the Shenandoah Wellness Center, call for appointments
• Afternoon Printing – one customer at a time in shop, custom printing, offering BLM and other timely window signs and T-shirts, as well as your own custom designs on almost anything
• Minnehaha Animal Hospital – no contact drop-off and pickup, appointments only, call for emergencies
• Haircuts Unlimited – mom-and-pop reasonably priced family hair salon, still accepting walk-ins with social distancing
• Center for Intuitive Living – CLOSED as of June 30, online classes and numerous other remote services and programs continue
• Urban Refuge Church – non-denominational liberal Christian church, neighborhood outreach, with online plus outdoor (chairs provided) worship services
• Lakes Holistic Care – chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, by appointment
For your beautiful nature walk, get out to Minnehaha Creek Parkway and the strip of parkland alongside it. Quick, before winter gets here.