aloft Minneapolis: A Nice Hipster Hotel

Front entrance of aloft Minneapolis

I don’t know Minneapolis at all, so I had no idea where to stay when I was planning my trip for MinneBar. I posted a question on Twitter asking for hotel recommendations and got two for aloft Minneapolis; one from Ben Edwards (one of the MinneBar organizers) and from @aloftMlps, the person or persons behind the aloft Minneapolis Twitter account. I’d never stayed at an aloft before, but I knew they were the hipper, more casual, less pricey cousins of W Hotels and was curious about them, so I went along with the suggestions.

@aloftMlps asked me when I would be checking in and out via Twitter, telling me they’d take care of the reservation for me. Better still, they got me the “Friends and Family” rate of USD$89 a night! Score one for aloft, and I hadn’t even set foot in the place yet.

Many alofts are near the airport, but the Minneapolis one is in the Downtown East area. As the cab drove into the neighbourhood, my hipster senses started tingling. This area is a former industrial zone, full of old factories and warehouses converted into offices, shops and places to live, new condos, and many other signs that spell the early stages of gentrification. Given that Minneapolis is on the verge of out-hipstering Brooklyn (just visit Uptown to see), it’ll be interesting to see what this area will look like in five years.

My room was on the third floor and split into two sections. The main section was the bedroom area, shown below:

The main part of my hotel room, as seen from the head of the bed

That’s a mini-couch or mini-chaise lounge below the TV set. The box on the left side of the desk is a “jack pack” bristling with power outlets, usb chargers and audio and video inputs of all sorts (composite, VGA, HDMI) so that you can plug your computer, video and audio players and have them play on the TV and in-room sound system.

Here’s the main section as seen from the other side of the room.

The main room, as seen from the foot of the bed

The bed and sheets were comfy. We’re talking almost-Hyatt comfy, and at a Four Points rate, that’s not bad.

You can’t see it very well in the photo above, but there’s a storage niche to the right side of the bed. That’s where the iron and ironing board are tucked away.

The smaller section of the room is the bathroom and closet area. It’s just to the left as you enter the room, with the passageway leading to the main section on the right. The closet doesn’t have a door; instead, it has a curtain:

Closet area of the room, featuring curtained-off closet, magazine rack, coffee maker, ice bucket and safe

Here’s the other side of the small area. It’s your standard hotel bathroom except for the designer sink (the sort that’s always in the bathroom of restaurants where they stack food vertically and do “sauce painting”) and the “spa style” shower with built-in dispensers for shampoo and soap.

That glow you see in the shower is actually coming from the main room. The shower has a translucent window facing the bedroom. It’s clouded enough so the show you get from the bedroom is PG-13 rather than R. It’s the kind of feature that makes this place a good one to spend the night with a “special friend”. I suppose I should go find one.

Sink and shower

Here’s another look at the closet, this time with the curtain drawn aside. No, the jacket doesn’t come with the room.

Another look at the closet, with the curtain drawn aside to show my stuff hanging in it

Here’s a closeup of the magazines, safe and other goodies. The “what’s going on locally” magazines are typical for a hotel; SPIN and dwell are not.

Closeup of the magazine rack, beverage shelf and safe in the closet

The 1950s-style alarm clock beside the bed was my favourite hipster detail in the room.

Closeup of 1950s-style alarm clock

Here’s what the lobby looked like on Friday night from the bar. It was happening:

The lobby and front desk, as seen from the bar

…and there was a DJ spinning some pretty good mashups. I give her bonus points for the Polaroid leggings:

The Friday night DJ, spinning tunes in the lobby bar

Here’s the bar as seen from the far side of the lobby. It seems as though the designers wanted to make the lobby a place where people — well, aloft’s intended audience, anyway — would want to hang out. I like it — during the day, it’s got a sort of “cafe” feel to it, and at night, the feel become more lounge-y:

The lobby bar, as seen from the far end of the lobby

Here’s a closer look at the bar:

The lobby bar, closer up

I didn’t get a photo of the re:fuel cafeteria on the other side of the lobby. It’s a self-serve deal that’s open 24 hours and features sandwiches, salad, soups, drinks and snacks. It’s decent and convenient. To the side of re:fuel is a hotel shop that has stuff you may have forgotten at home (toiletries and all that) as well as stuff you might not have even though of (mini-board games, for example).

The staff were friendly and helpful, and as you’ll see in a later post, tolerant of late-night accordion-driven carousing in the lobby.

All in all, I enjoyed my stay at aloft Minneapolis. I’d gladly stay there again!



bairrada frontPhoto from Road Stories.

I belong to a little club that holds monthly “meatings” where we gather for the purposes of good times, scintillating conversation and the savoury pleasures of meat. Last night, our meating was held at Bairrada, a churrasqueira on College, a block west of Dovercourt (1002 College). They have other locations: one at Keele and St. Clair and one in Mississauga at Highway 10 and Dundas.

People unfamiliar with Portuguese cuisine typically think that it’s just fish. They’re partly correct; being an ocean-facing nation that produced some of the world’s greatest navigators during the age of exploration, they know a thing or two about seafood. However, they’re also a meat-and-potatoes culture as well. In fact, they’re a meat, potatoes and sauce culture.

bairrada patio

Bairrada, as is the custom with many Accordion City restaurants, is like Doctor Who’s TARDIS – bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. There’s a fair bit of dining space inside the restaurant, but the real room is in its tree-canopied patio past the dining room. A barbecue lover would feel at home here.

One of their appetizers is listed in the menu in English as “flaming sausage”, and the name is truth in advertising:

flaming sausage 1

Take a closer look — the dish used to flame the sausage is shaped like a pig:

flaming sausage 2

We also had some fresh cheese, which had a very clean, baby mozzarella-like taste, which goes well with bread and sausage.

fresh cheese

I had the house steak, which comes served in a pool of sauce with a sunny-side-up perched on top of it and a generous helping of fried potatoes sliced twice as thick as potato chips. I enjoyed it so much that I forgot to snap a photo of it, so you’ll have to use your imagination. I’ll have to snap a photo next time.

Wendy had the chicken, which comes served covered in piri-piri spice and with rice and potatoes to suck up the delicious juices:

chickenPhoto from BlogTO.

You get a lot of bang for your buck at Bairrada: generous portions of delicious food cooked over an open flame, with appetizers typically below $10 and entrees typically $15 or less. If you’re looking for some meat and want to venture beyond the typical North American steakhouse, Bairrada’s a great place to visit.

Word-of-Mouth Reviews of Bairrada

It Happened to Me

Dinner at Au Pied de Cochon

01 au pied de cochon exterior

There are a couple of restaurants with the name Au Pied de Cochon, which translates as “with the pig’s foot”. There’s the one in Paris — a place that became popular for serving its namesake – whose glory days are probably long gone as it’s become a bit of a tourist trap. Closer to home is the one in Montreal run by Martin Picard, an adventurous chef whose hijinks you may have seen on Food Network Canada’s The Wild Chef, or if you speak French, on Radio-Canada’s Martin sur la Route (“Martin on the Road”). It’s probably one of the only shows where a TV chef has cooked a muskrat.

(My Quebecois friend Guy Barrette tells me that The WIld Chef is a bowdlerized version of Martin sur la Route; the French edition shows butchery that the producers think that English viewers wouldn’t stomach.)

The Ginger Ninja and I stayed in Montreal this past weekend to sample some restaurants we’d been meaning to try. One was the steakhouse called La Queue de Cheval (“the horse’s tail” – I should organize a tour of restaurants named after animal anatomy), the other was Au Pied de Cochon. We managed to squeeze ourselves into the first seating on Friday night – the place is always booked solid unless you make reservations well in advance – and I took some photos of our visit.

Au Pied de Cochon is far from stuffy. While the food is a little more adventurous than your typical bistro, the place is pretty down-to-earth (although well-kept). The layout isn’t all that different from a diner, you can get a hamburger – yes, it’s got chunks of foie gras in it, but it’s still a burger, and the staff (clad in black jeans and mechanic’s shirts with their names on patches) are not only friendly, they look like they love their jobs.

02 canard en conserve

The can shown above line Au Pied de Cochon’s foyer. Canard en Conserve translates to “duck in a can”, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Chef Picard uses a number of unorthodox techniques for cooking, the best-known of which is canning. He has his own canning rigs in which he prepares a dish, cans it and then cooks it in the can.

03 potato pancake

We ordered a couple of appetizers. The first one, shown above, was an appetizer special. It was made of two potato pancakes with shaved cheese and ham between them, served with fiddleheads and walnuts and topped with a fried egg. It was delicious!

04 duck carpaccio

The second appetizer, shown above, was a regular on the menu: duck carpaccio topped with mushrooms, parmesan cheese and spices. It was topped with an egg yolk, hot mustard and hot sauce, which the waiter suggested we mixed together to form a sort of mayonnaise. I loved this one, and ended up sopping up the remaining goo with bits of the restaurant’s tasty baked-in-house bread.

05 poutine and duck in a can

Ask a Canadian outside Quebec what the official dish of Quebec is, and nine times out of ten you’ll get the answer “poutine” (I’ll have to ask some Quebecois what they believe their official dish is). Poutine is the perfect post-drinking food: fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. It’s popular all over Canada and has even been making inroads into the U.S. where they’ve been marketing them as “Quebec Fries”.

We ordered poutine as a side dish, which you can see on the left in the photo above. The fries are cooked in duck fat, and the gravy is made of pureed foie gras, egg yolks and cream. You can also order it as a main, topped with foie gras.

As for the dish on the right, that’s Duck in a Can, which I’ll describe later.

06 beef tartare

Wendy ordered the beef tartare, which is unusual for her – normally that’s the sort of thing that I would order. She chose it on the strength of a recommendation of our friend Jason Gorber, and it was delicious. It was served with a salad and two pieces of toast made from their wonderful bread.

07 duck in a can

This is Duck in a Can. In the can is a duck breast, a generous slice of duck foie gras, a slice of duck fat, balsamic vinegar, duck cabbage and a head of garlic. The whole thing is boiled in the can for a half hour and then the can in opened right in front of you and the contents are emptied onto a slice of toast covered in a puree of celery root and lardons (which is essentially French for “chunky bacon”). I was in fatty heaven.

You probably shouldn’t eat this every day, but life needs its pleasant vices, and I highly recommend this one.

08 can o duck

We had seats at the bar right by the kitchen (I asked for them, because we love watching food being made – it’s dinner and a show, all in one). The photo above shows my empty can of duck, with the kitchen crew in the background, hard at work.

09 olive oil

Au Pied de Cochon have their own olive oil specially commissioned from a co-op in Spain. It’s very good, and a great deal at $14 a bottle. We picked one up.

10 seafood kitchen

The next time we’re at Au Pied de Cochon, we’ll have to try their seafood. While half the kitchen is devoted to meat and fat, the other half has a lovely array of fruits de mer, which I also like.

11 seafood

Our meal, which consisted of:

  • Two hearty appetizers
  • Two very filling mains
  • Beer (their own house beer, which went very well with all that fat)
  • A bottle of olive oil to take home

…cost a grand total of CAD$132 before tip. For well-prepared food that you’re not going to find in many other places in such generous quantities, that’s a serious bargain.

If you’re going to Montreal (or if you live there), make sure you pay a visit to Au Pied de Cochon. I’m heading back there next time I’m in town.

I’ve posted my photos from Au Pied de Cochon at full size in a Flickr photoset, which you can also view in the slideshow below: