Television personality, food writer and former celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain claims that food tastes better when eaten barefoot, preferably outdoors in a tropical setting. Of course it does. Almost everything is better on a breezy veranda in, say, Jamaica. Minnesotans needn’t travel so far afield; we benefit from the joys of fresh-air feasts with verandas and waterfront views to spare. A Minnesota summer is thick with patios, and a proper Minnesotan knows just how to enjoy them, mainly by eating well. Summer patio food is more vibrant, more sensual and absolutely essential to the maximum enjoyment of our fleeting, beautiful summers. Try these alfresco spots and the food that makes them great before our favorite season retreats.
Admiral D’s Waterfront Tavern
Admiral D’s claims that “it’s just like being on the lake, without the life jackets!” Only if the lake in question had fireplaces, heaters, tropical flowers and live music. This lively scene calls for a good burger, especially one like the Mesa, with summery notes of spice, heat and the tropics. The burger patty is formed by hand, grilled to order and presented on a pillow-soft white bun; the Mesa is further gussied up with pepper jack cheese, chipotle-chili seasoning and sweet mango salsa. Settle in with this beefy beauty and while away a boisterous evening on the waterfront patio. $10.95.
4424 Lake Ave., White Bear Lake; 651.330.3101
FRIDAY FISH FRY
4 Seasons Restaurant
This nostalgia-rich joint in Mahtomedi is a lone physical reminder of the Wildwood amusement park, and contains a mini historical society full of ephemera and decorated with a mosaic mural depicting the park’s good old days. When you sit outdoors, try to grab the special booth built to look like a Tilt-A-Whirl car (this one won’t make you lose your lunch). Friday night is a good time for a family outing; it is also an evening for fried fish. The 4 Season’s weekly fish fry is an old-fashioned tradition that has held fast here; the lightly battered, crispy-fried fish is fresh and abundant. The patio tables huddle together under festive red canvas umbrellas and the staff wears cute uniforms. Don’t forget the homemade root beer. $10.
114 Mahtomedi Ave., Mahtomedi; 651.429.2201
You’ll find deluxe nachos on Washington Square’s late-night menu; it’s a tasty and exciting pile of goodies to nibble on while chilling on the brick-paved expanse of outdoor seating. This restaurant is known for its south-of-the-border cuisine; this dish is built from fresh-cooked tortilla chips supporting a tower of lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, chives and melted cheese. Served with sour cream and chunky, slightly hot homemade salsa; you may add a protein of choice, including black beans, chicken, ground beef, shredded beef or chorizo. $9.95, with added protein, $12.95.
4736 Washington Square, White Bear Lake; 651.407.7162
Rudy’s Redeye Grill
This isn’t just a patio—this is a rooftop, the ultimate in fair-weather dining. A rooftop meal is superior to all others in that it is away from the irritants of the street like car exhaust, noise and pedestrians staring at your food; meanwhile you, the diner, get a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area. Lounge by the fireplace, sip a fancy cocktail, and tuck into the mightily impressive, outrageously delicious, Sea-o-Plenty. This water-born extravaganza combines shrimp cocktail, coconut shrimp, crisp walleye fingers, calamari and raw oysters. $33.
4940 Highway 61 N., White Bear Lake; 651.429.5393
The Nguyen family also owns restaurants in France, evident by the delicate aesthetics and flavorful details in the food. The French also know that eating en plein air, (what the Italians call alfresco) adds to the gustatory pleasure exponentially. A Vietnamese-style salad is a lovely dish to enjoy on the patio: It’s light and bright, full of shrimp and chicken, sliced carrots, daikon radish, lotus roots and fresh chopped cilantro. It’s garnished with peanuts for a salty crunch and served with more salt and crunch in the form of shrimp chips. $9.95.
1190 County Road J, White Bear Township; 651.426.3558
THREE-COURSE TASTING MENU
There are a couple outdoor dining options at the beautiful eatery known as Acqua, a magical setting of elegant comfort under a twinkly canopy of stars. Choose the three-course tasting menu for a theatrical culinary experience that will stretch out your terrace sojourn. Choose from one of four dishes in each of three courses: starter, main and dessert. A singular outdoor feast here may start with the lobster bisque with fresh lobster and cream sherry; move gracefully into a hearty braised pork shank with sweet-potato purée and port demi-glace, and finish with a dazzling peach and blackberry crisp with butter pecan ice cream. Tasting menu (subject to change according to season and the whim of the chef), $40; supplemental wine flight, $20.
4453 Lake Ave. S., White Bear Lake; 651.407.7317