Thursday, July 18, 2019

Clogtown: All Square - Don't Judge, Just Eat!

The United States is a country of many problems, and while everyone complains about them, few are offering solutions. One major problem in this country is the mass incarceration and privatized jails that have kept generations of our citizens down - AFTER paying their debt to society. No one seems to want to hire ex-convicts, so they're often forced to commit crimes again just to put food on their tables. All Square in Minneapolis is trying to change that - and their solution is a baller grilled cheese restaurant (square sandwiches) staffed 100% by people who have served time (and are now square with society).

The brainchild of founder and civil rights attorney, Emily Hunt Turner, All Square's motto is "Don't judge, just eat!", and from the looks of it on the busy Friday evening that I was there, that's exactly what everyone was doing. Born out of another successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017, Hunt Turner's hope is to "empower those historically excluded, while dismantling the divides that are isolating and destabilizing communities nationwide" (so, another idea that can work everywhere, like Urban Forage).

Located on a sunny, tree-lined corner of Minnehaha Avenue (next to Adams Park at 41st Street), All Square is a bright, neighborhood spot with folks seated outside enjoying the late sunlight of summer. The workers (here called "Fellows") were all super friendly, hard working, and looked happy to be there. It was so busy that I didn't really get a chance to talk much to Hunt Turner, as I'd dropped in unannounced, and she was all the way in the mix, hauling buckets of ice, putting up umbrellas outside, and generally spinning all the Friday night plates of a popular restaurant.

I did speak to one of the fellows, Natalie, who had done time while waiting for her case's appeal - which was eventually dropped. Her serving any time, however, still made it hard to get a job. She heard about All Square, came in and applied, and is now happily making a living - as well as her own signature sandwiches whenever there's a lull. She was super cool, and I was happy for her that there is a place like this ... happy for anyone who needs it that there is a place like this, actually.

A mirrored sign inside says: A Response - to widespread exclusion of those impacted by the justice system. A Brand - that embodies social sustainability, racial justice, and economic inclusion. A Solution - fueled by law, entrepreneurship, social capital, and baller grilled cheese. That sums it up pretty neatly.

And those grilled cheese ARE baller. I had the jerk one, which has shredded jerk chicken, guava jam, and cheese, of course. YUM. There are several sandwiches to choose from, and no one looked mad at any of them. All are served with greens, and you're gonna want to order fries, also of course.

There is an "Institute and Dream Lab" next door, where mental health and wellness services are offered on site. The All Square fellows can also attend classes on personal and professional development, civil rights, and things like social media, marketing, and making budgets ... all stuff that can lead to even better jobs. The goal is not just to get these employees a paycheck, and not just to reduce the chances they'll go back to jail, but to create new leaders.

The whole operation reminds me a bit of my friend Brother Wayne Kramer's excellent organization, Jail Guitar Doors. They give guitars to inmates so that they might have that awesome skill when they get out, creating new opportunities for them when they get out. Again, it's good people coming up with actual solutions to help our fellow citizens, and it's a beautiful thing.

You can help too. You can donate to their cause. You can attend the play Floyd's at The Guthrie Theater on July 26th (one night only!). It's a story about formerly incarcerated men and women who rebuild their lives in a sandwich shop, and all proceeds will go to All Square. You can volunteer. Your business can sponsor them. And you can go and get your own delicious grilled cheese any Wednesday through Sunday at All Square. Neon lights and Civil Rights! And Los Angeles ... We need this too! Every city does.

*Shout out to Michelle Larson for another great story tip! Keep 'em coming, Mpls!

All Square
4047 Minnehaha Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Clogtown: Urban Forage Winery & Cider House - This Cider House Rules!

While I'm in Minneapolis this summer, I want to find as many cool, unique things as I can for the people, just like I do in Venice. I love it when friends say, "Oh, you have to do a story on this!", and tell me about some new awesome thing happening in town. That happened when my friend, Michelle Larson, visited my Mom in the hospital and told me about Urban Forage Winery & Cider House on Lake Street in Minneapolis. She said that it was a wine bar that made all of their own wine and cider from the produce foraged from the city neighborhoods nearby. I had to know more, and made an appointment with Urban Forage owner, Jeff Zeitler, to go check it out.

I spent a lovely afternoon last week learning about Urban Forage, and how they make their magic. I met Zeitler at a house a block off of Minnehaha Avenue in the heart of the city that had called him to come and pick all of their sour cherries. The homeowner, Brian Nelson, told me that he was one of the original contributor's to the Urban Forage Kickstarter in its infancy, and donates all of his yard fruit to the cause.

The tree was bursting with bright red cherries, and Zeitler pulled his equipment out of his truck to go get them. A tall ladder, a hook on the end of a pole, and tarps to lay on the ground to catch the bounty are the main tool of the trade, and Zeitler had been making his rounds around the Twin Cities all day in order to harvest all of the fruit that people are now calling him to come and get. "Growers are finding ME now," Zeitler told me, happily, after years of basically knocking on doors to ask people if they were going to use their urban produce. Apples, pears, cherries, rhubarb, black currants, raspberries, blackberries, honey, dandelions, lilacs ... all of them are used to make lovely wines and ciders, or as Zeitler puts it, "I make country wines in the city." Imagine the wines and ciders that could happen in Venice! Pluot! Apricot! Passion fruit! Can someone please get on this?

Fruit's life expectancy is not long, however, and Zeitler was a day or two late to get these gorgeous cherries that had fallen victim to a little maggot that loves cherries and they were all rotten. Bummer. You have to act fast with fruit ripeness, and you could tell that both Zeitler and Nelson hated to see them all go to waste (thankfully there were gallons upon gallons already harvested in the truck).

Nelson is also growing black currants from a plant Zeitler gave several neighbors around town to propagate especially to keep up with the demand for the very popular black currant cider, so all was not lost. Nelson is now a member of the "Cider for Life" club, after donating cash to keep them going when they started in 2014, and that now looks like it will be a heck of a bargain. Everything is SO good. But let's back up ...

Zeitler is a Midwest guy, bouncing around between Wisconsin and Minnesota all of his life, and between St. Paul and Minneapolis the last 15 years (yes, you can like both!). He made wine for fun, and even nearly blew up his dorm room making cider while at college. Back then it was more like, "Hey Man, I made booze!" but now that he's been doing it for 27 years ... the man knows his brewing. He explained how he's using fruit from older trees, as the ones he has planted himself won't bear fruit for years. The city offers more shade, people water their yards, pets chase away pests, and "You don't have to worry about deer in the Longfellow neighborhood", so it's almost easier to grow fruit in the city. Which got him thinking ...

After being laid off from his job as a landscape architect, he had some time to do more thinking. The idea to get the neighborhood connected through agriculture - and wine - just came to him, and soon a business plan was drawn up, and a Kickstarter fund was up and running. He thought of it as a political campaign, only he was running to make a business happen - and it worked. People at the kickoff party loved the idea, and a video was made to raise awareness, and that's really what sold the idea to the local masses.

The Kickstarter goal was soon met, and Urban Forage found its home in a converted old jeweler's building on Lake Street (open Thurdays-Sundays). The Cidery is in the basement (where people come to the side door to pick up their bottles), and the Tap Room is upstairs in a cozy room with a polished wood bar, a recycled door ceiling, and local art on the walls. After bidding farewell to Nelson and his cherries, I met Zeitler back at the Urban Forage space.

We bellied up to the bar, where the bartender, Nick, set us up with a flight to taste the results of previous foraging. I tried the Dry Cider (super crisp and refreshing - my favorite), the Black Currant Cider (tasty, high in Vitamin C, grows like weeds in Minnesota), the Mead (basically honey wine, very sweet, "warms your core", but not my favorite), the Cherry Melomel (cherry and honey wine - summer itself!), and the Dandelion Wine (weird, but I had to try the "Rural legend" wine).

There are no additives, there is zero sugar, it's all gluten free (you can tell your friend that always asks), there is no waste, it's super local, it promotes community, and I couldn't love it more. This is a concept that could and should be copied in every city to promote gardening, zero waste, eating and drinking locally, and building your community in an extra positive way - which is why I'm doing this story about it. Positive, unique, cool things are what I'm interested in, and this certainly fits the bill. Plus, as Zeitler told me, "It's a blast ... you spend a beautiful day with your wife (Gita) and kids, picking fruit and dandelions, then make it into wine and cider ... there's nothing better."

After our tasting, Zeitler brought me downstairs to the Cidery to see how it's done. "Basically, you wash the fruit, it infuses the water, you add yeast, put it into tanks, and it turns into wine," said Zeitler, downplaying how labor intensive it really is. Someone had brought in 20 pounds of rhubarb the day before, so that was being made into rhubarb wine, and an odd-sounding pineapple/banana experiment was fermenting nearby. "I want to do weird, edgy stuff you can't find anywhere else," Zeitler explained, so be on the lookout for a blueberry melomel and an artisan, literal Rootbeer (beer made from roots) coming in the months ahead.

It's all taking off, with people ordering special wines for their weddings, and locals regularly dropping off their yard yield in exchange for bottles of wine and cider. "I'm in it for the long haul," Ziegler told me. "I want to be a 65 year old man serving my cider behind that bar upstairs." As Urban Forage is celebrating it's five year anniversary - and thriving - I'd say that's a goal that Ziegler will  easily meet.

As that bar upstairs got busier on that Friday evening, with customers coming in to buy their retail bottles for home picnics, but also staying put to kick it at the bar. I kept thinking about what a great gift any of the bottles would make for something truly super extra local - from yards mere blocks away! "We make stuff that's REAL, from the backyards of our neighbors. We are really, REALLY Minneapolis," said Zeitler with evident - and deserved - pride. And I left thinking that this was really, REALLY wonderful.

Drink REALLY local!

Urban Forage Winery & Cider House
3016 East Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 584-4398

Monday, July 15, 2019

Clogtown - The Richfield Sidewalk Poetry Celebration

What a beautiful morning we shared together in Richfield this past Saturday. The Richfield Arts Commission and Crossroads Panorama put on a celebration to honor the poets and poems that won the Sidewalk Poetry contest this year - and I was one of them! I hadn't planned on being in town to be able to attend, but then my Mom went into the hospital, and I'm still here ... so we made it the goal to be Mom's first outing after having her leg amputated two weeks before.

The day was already emotional for sure, because of all Mom has been through, and just having her be able to be there with me was already making me cry. I mentioned to the poet, Emily Gold, seated on the new Bandshell stage beside me that I was not sure how I was going to do reading my poem looking at my Mom sitting there in the front row in her wheelchair. Then, she told me that she was struggling also, as her poem was about her eight year old daughter who had passed away only two months ago. Whoa. The strength she had to do that ... was humbling and inspiring. There was a performance by the young ladies from the Crossroads Panorama theater group, and then it was time for the poetry reading. Space on the sidewalk limits the lines and characters you could use, so mercifully, the poems were all short as we listened under the blazing hot sun. Gold read her beautiful tribute to her daughter, Lizzie, right before me, so after crying over her poem, I had to get up and cry about my own - but we did it, and I felt so happy to look out and see Mom there, smiling away.

All of the poems were wonderful, and all of them exemplified how we feel about our hometown of Richfield - it's special. The one by Bo Mitchell about HIS Mom (who died five years ago) fully wrecked me, and warmed my (already boiling hot) heart that a man would be so vulnerable in sharing about what his Mother meant to THEIR Richfield family.

It was incredibly moving. It was also SO hot out, however, that tears could easily be mistaken for sweat. I pointed out before reading my poem that I live in Venice, where poetry is historically very celebrated. There are poetry walls at the beach. The Free Venice Beachhead paper's motto is "This paper is a poem." But I never really felt poetry was any big deal here when I was growing up in Richfield, so I was happy to see so many people out at 9:00 a.m. on a hot Saturday morning in celebration of poems!

The wonderful new Mayor of Richfield, Maria Regan Gonzalez, was there - in fact, she rode her bike there. Awesome. We took a photo together with Mom, and you can tell how happy we all are in the celebration of both beautiful poems, and the triumph of the human spirit that allowed Mom to be there. The poems this time will be installed in the sidewalks along 66th street - I'm hoping mine goes in by the Richfield Pool (as is mentioned in my poem as a kind of bribe). My first one is on Portland in front of the Fire Station and City Hall, and I told the crowd gathered that I'm going for a hat trick next year (as the celebration was adjacent to the Ice Arena). It's pretty cool to have something I wrote actually be set in stone/concrete.

Thank you to Richfield, for this delightful honor, and to everyone who cares about poems!

*Group Poet photo by Thomas Eder

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Clogtown - The Smallest Museum In St. Paul

"This museum is for the beloved public."

I love that. And I love this little - truly, The Smallest Museum In St. Paul! - museum made out of an old fire-hose case outside of the Workhorse Coffee Bar on University Avenue in St. Paul. A few years back I did a story for Thrillist about the tiniest places in Los Angeles ... and this darling museum would have fit right in.

I was doing my little coffee break exploration of the Twin Cities, and decided to cross the river to see what new coffee stuff was happening over there. While the coffee was good, and the staff was super friendly and cool at Workhorse, I was mostly charmed by the creative museum (established with funding from The Knight Foundation in 2014!) just outside their door.

Artists submit their work and a panel decides on who gets what month, AND the artists get paid! THAT is how you support your local artists. July's featured artist is Sheila Smith (who also happens to be the Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts and Chair of Creative Minnesota - so she might have been a ringer!) and her exhibit of Weird State Capitol Souvenirs. The reception for Smith will be held at Workhorse on July 27 from 12-2 pm, where visitors can draw their own weird state capital souvenir and add it to the collection. *The garters were my favorite.

This is just the kind of thing that makes me happy that I came from the Twin Cities, and also what always makes me happy to be back in them. Creativity. Fun. Whimsy. Art. Inclusiveness. Kindness. And the kind of place that does things for "the beloved public".


The Smallest Museum In St.Paul/Workhorse Coffee Bar
2399 University Avenue West
St. Paul, Minnesota 55114

Monday, July 8, 2019

Clogtown - Spirit Of Peace

I've always loved walking through the beautiful Lake Harriet Rose Garden, which is completely going off right now, in a burst of every color of rose imaginable. In all these years though, I've never walked across the street to the Peace Garden, and I'm so glad I finally did - especially at a time when peace was/is badly needed in my life. It's properly named, as you feel at peace the moment you enter the grounds. It's calm and super green, and is centered by a sculpture called Spirit Of Peace (by local artist, Caprice Glaser, dedicated in 2006).

As you enter the garden, there is a little box filled with origami paper, making you go, "Why?"

You then see that the sculpture is surrounded by 13 stations with plaques showing the viewer how to fold a peace crane like the one that sits at the top of the sculpture.

I was full of emotion and really putting my peaceful intentions into it, so that when I got to the end, I could release my cool crane into the world to help with the whole world peace thing. It was, however, like 90 degrees and full humidity. Sweat was pouring down my brow, and when I would fold point A to point B and then both to C ... I'll be honest and tell you that I threw in the towel at like point 6, with a creation that looked more like the old junior high notes you would fold fancy. I had been thinking of my Mom the whole time, and this was yet another time where I was like, "My Mom could do this."

Though I did not end up with a sweet origami crane, I did feel much more peaceful. I felt the SPIRIT of peace, and was happy that my hometown cares like this, and does thoughtful things like this. "This is our cry ... This is our prayer ... to build peace in our world."


PS - Free joke. "Did you hear about the origami store that opened up the street?" (No, I didn't) "Oh yeah, that's because it already folded."

Ba dum bum. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Clogtown - The Salt Cave Minneapolis

Well ... if you don't follow me on social media, you may not know what my family is going through. A very long story short, my adored and revered Mother had to have her leg amputated below the knee last Friday. I am back in Minnesota to help and to advocate - and to cry and hold hands a lot. I don't know how I can possibly leave this warrior woman until I know she will be in good hands and is solid, so in the meantime, I'm going to share some stories from what I'm calling Clogtown - The Twin Cities. In all of this ordeal, I have maybe never felt more stressed out. I never planned to be here so long, so there is work to think about, my mother's health, her home, where she'll go next ... all of it. I've driven by The Salt Cave Minneapolis for a few years, and wondered about it. I looked it up and one of the things it claims to help is stress, so yesterday I found myself taking a break from the hospital and headed to The Salt Cave.

A little storefront on Nicollet Avenue doesn't really look like much, but once you are led downstairs into the salt cave, it's pretty cool. One room that is bathed in a rose quartz-ish light and lined with lawn type chairs, and the floor is covered with so much salt it's like having your bare feet in sand.

This beach vibe is enhanced by a soundtrack of crashing waves, and the attendant told me to sit in the chair closest to this vent for the best salt experience - but that I would get salty. I sat down and tried to just breathe and focus the breaths along with the ebbing and flowing waves on the sound system. I'm a terrible meditation person, because my mind immediately races to ten thousand places - especially now. Focusing my breathing to the waves did help a bit, but I still found myself going over what calls and emails I need to make, and all that jazz. 

I was alone until an older gentleman came in and sat a few chairs down. We paid no attention to each other, and after a while I forgot he was there. I felt tingly a couple times, and also nearly nodded off another couple of times. It was supremely relaxing (as opposed to the Dragon City Acupuncture at Southdale cacophony I endured for a chair massage. I don't know how a place meant to relax and de-stress can stay in business across from Dave & Buster's!), and when I briefly opened my eyes, I saw that my clothes and body was entirely covered with salt, as if I'd fallen asleep outside in a light snowfall. I was told that it works via your breathing, but the Himalayan pink salt also goes in through your pores. I was covered an inch deep, so I should be real good.

After the 45 minutes session ($30) was over, the lights gently get brighter and you start dusting off the salt. While doing so, I realized that the tension I had felt at the base of my skull was no longer there. The slight headache I'd had between my eyes was also absent. I felt as if I had just woken up from an intense nap, though I never fell asleep. The only physical thing I could really complain about after was that I was extra thirsty - makes sense. I asked the man who was in there with me how it was working for him, as I'd been told he comes every week, and we had waited for him to start. I'd still be there listening to him (and I was fine with it) if the attendant hadn't come downstairs to say she had to close up, but he was EFFUSIVE in how much it had helped him. He had a rare lung thing that he went to the Mayo Clinic for, and after regular sessions at The Salt Cave, he'd been told at his follow up visit that the thing was gone and that his lung capacity had actually increased! I believe.

There are several afflictions the salt sessions help with, from asthma to allergies to skin problems, but even if you just need a break from some real harsh reality, like me, The Salt Cave really can help you. My spirits, attitude, tension, and stress had all been somewhat lifted, even if for just 45 minutes. The invisible part, like salt in your pores, must help too, because I feel physically fantastic today. Hey ... whatever helps in times like these! They also offer yoga classes in there, and gong and sound bath things, and you can arrange to get a chair massage while sitting in your session - next time for sure. I like that Minneapolis is into groovy things like this, and realized once again that you can find your Venice anywhere, as it's inside of you. But Venice could use a Salt Cave too! Check it out ... you'll be better for it.

And Have a HAPPY 4th, Everyone - from sea to shining sea and every lake and river in between!

The Salt Cave
4811 Nicollet Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55419

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Clogtown - Twin Cities Highlights!

I'm in Minnesota way longer than I thought I would be, so now have to give some Minnesota love. I've been working like a dog to help my Mom out, battling insurance companies, being a ferocious advocate, and working on her house, so haven't been able to be out and about as much as I normally would be, but I thought it would be nice to shout out some of the highlight places I've been able to hit so far while I'm here. I like to look for the creative and cool stuff wherever I am, and Minneapolis people might not have found them yet in their busy lives, and Los Angeles people (and everyone world wide!) might like to hit them up the next time you visit. Let's start with the appropriately named Minnesota Nice Cream (reminding me of our departed Venice N'Ice Cream!).

This little spot in Northeast Minneapolis is a fun place to stop with the kids. The ice cream is just soft serve, but you can top it with a zillion things - including edible glitter!

I kind of thought it would be bright rainbow glitter, but it was more a subtle gold you had to search for, but still - fun! Right up Broadway is Spyhouse Coffee, a coffee shop so hipster it might as well be in L.A.

My brother and I do a lot of coffee research when we're both in town, and Spyhouse is in the Top Ten, if not the Top Five. The space is big and airy, and full of folks typing away on their laptops. There are five locations around the Twin Cities, but this is probably the one to go to for that Northeast vibe - plus it's walkable to the ice cream after.

Paul's favorite coffee this trip was from Northern Coffeeworks, on Washington Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis. It was pretty delicious, and they had a trail cookie that was pretty much a meal that was a real highlight for Paul. Not me (nuts. blech.)

MY favorite coffee so far this trip was found at Gray Fox Coffee & Wine. First, it's coffee AND wine. Let's go. I also dig their motto: "Be Swift. Be Clever."

Then, it's the most beautiful cup of coffee I've ever been served. I heard about Gray Fox from reading the City Pages Best Of lists, and Gray Fox won "Best Gimmick". That's because they use an espresso ink jet printer (!) to make gorgeous landscapes in your foam! I missed out on the Marilyn Monroe picture because I'm told it was just for Valentine's Day this year, but I'll take my sunshine and waves any day. That was a rainy, mentally hard day, and this lovely cup of joe really did help to make it better. (I know my friend Nicely at Menotti's in Venice would scoff at this, as he is the Latté art champion, and is a pouring purist, but this was still pretty dang impressive!).

I love a donut, and the best we've had so far this trip were from Sleepy V's Rebel Donut Bar in Northeast. Yum flavors on mini donuts, so you can try more than one! Plus the staff was fun and cool and get the little lemon poppy seed one. Mmmm. (There are still more to try, so this is not the final answer on donuts, just a shout out.)

Also in Northeast, Young Joni wins so far on the drinks front. Paul and I bellied up one afternoon to share one of the best Minneapolis pizzas, and extra creative cocktails that we would have tried way more of had we taken a car service. We'll be back. (But also shout out to Houlihan's in Richfield for your generous 2 for 1's!)

There is never going to be a burger that replaces Matt's Bar or The 5/8 Club's Jucy Lucys in my heart ... but MAN, is the burger at Bull's Horn Food and Drink ever something special. Honestly, one of the best I've ever had, with perfect McDonald's style fries, without the poison or whatever they fry those things in. SO good, and while I'll never order the fried bologna sandwich (yuck), my friend did and proclaimed it the best ever - and has already requested a return visit to chow that again.

A "new" dive bar, Bull's Horn is like being on the set of an old dive bar ... a little more polished, but still with "Meat Raffle" signs, neon beer signs, and deer heads like you'd find at a lakeside bar up North. I liked that there was a purple haired, nose ringed girl sitting at the bar next to an old man with a cane, easily in his 90's. It had that feeling like all are truly welcome here, hipster or oldster. Yes, we'll also be back here.

Back in Richfield, I was delighted to find that there is another new, non-chain restaurant besides Lyn 65. Local Roots has opened up across from the Ice Arena, and is a great place for locals to meet up for breakfast or lunch. Home grown and home cooked, the crowd reminded me of the old King Oscar's crowd ... old timers, neighbors, little kids zipping around in a play room ... all enjoying a hearty, delicious breakfast. I dug it.

There are so many wonderful things to do and see and eat in Minnesota in the Summer, so I'll keep investigating while I'm here, but if you do nothing else on your visit to the Twin Cities (or your free time if you live here), PLEASE go see the incredible show Hearts of Our People at the Minneapolis Institute of Art that I already gushed about. It is just so so wonderful.

Oh, and I can't forget the blast that was Prince Night at Target Field, complete with a Twins victory to keep them firmly in first place! A wonderful, gorgeous night celebrating our hometown hero. 

I miss Venice terribly (especially missed the Neptune Parade this past weekend! Hail King Mike! Hail Queen Alix!), but the quest to find the new, unusual, creative, and excellent must continue, wherever I am. It's the (my) age old conundrum of lakes vs. oceans ... and I will always love and need to be near both. I hope you will enjoy some of my findings in Lake Country before I return to Ocean Pacific. And for now, LOVE to all, EVERYwhere!