School lunches, gourmet-style

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September 10, 2002 // UPDATED 1:30 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Pam Sherman
Pam Sherman

Two Downtown culinary programs provide great meals at a great price

Local restaurants and wine bars are preparing for the fall/winter season, and, dare I say it, "the holidays."

Owners, maitre d's, chefs and dinning room folks have been busily sipping new wines at tastings put on by almost every wine distributor in town (definitely in the category of "it's hard work but someone has to do it").

A restaurant owner friend invited me to one of these tastings at The Milwaukee Depot/Courtyard Marriott Hotel, 225 S. 3rd Ave., a great spot for watching aspiring figure skaters learn how to fly like Peter Pan. For a little while yet, outdoor diners can sit in the Courtyard's courtyard and watch skaters practice while being served food from the hotel kitchen...much safer than trying to catch a glimpse of triple axels and Salchows while driving north on Washington Avenue.

But I digress. My friend had recently taken an exam to become an accredited sommelier, or one who knows a lot about wine and shares that knowledge. For six months, she attended classes offered by the International Sommelier Guild,, held at The Art Institutes International Minnesota, 15 S. 9th St., on every aspect of wine-making.

If you're interested, the next series of wine classes, a class for non-food professionals, begins in January 2003 and the sommelier diploma class in May 2003 (in the spirit of the oncoming season...they'd make nice holiday gifts). Call AI at 332-3361 for details.

Bill Niemer, Chef Director of the Institute's culinary program, said AI's best-kept secret is the Gourmet Gallery, its in-house restaurant, which is open to the public. Students in the school's culinary certificate program are serving dinner Friday and Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. this month. Entres are $10-$11 with a tasting menu and wine pairing at $20-$30.

Beginning Oct. 14, the Gourmet Gallery will open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with entres costing about $7 and a wine-pairing lunch for $14. Reservations are recommended; call 332-2261. The school also offers team-building classes for businesses and an on-site and off-site catering service - check them out for those upcoming holiday parties. Call Juliana Dahl at the above number for more specifics.

Minneapolis Community and Technical College's Gourmet Dining Room, 1501 Hennepin Ave., is now open, and this is the time of year to check it out. Advanced students from the school's culinary program are preparing a $12.95 seven-course prix fixe menu on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Instructor Chef Chris Dwyer recommends that you make reservations, as they serve only 30 guests a day. If lunchtime gourmandise isn't your thing you can order a la carte from the day's menu and take only an hour at lunch. All tips go to help support school programs, such as a trip the class took last year to a restaurant show in Chicago. By the way, the school doesn't have a liquor license. For reservations, call 359-1313.

Rock Star, 222 S. 9th St., is losing the hard edge. General manager Olivia Rae said that they had planned all along to change the look of the restaurant with the seasons.

Ok, sure. They've painted the walls a deep burgundy and are hanging works by local artists from the Rosalux Gallery, 628 Central Ave. NE, an artist-owned and -operated cooperative. Currently, Terrence Payne's work hangs in the bar and Eli's bartending legend Jimmy Wrayge's in the dining room. I recommend they use tablecloths to cover the remnants of the first decorating cycle.

The venerable 510 Restaurant and Lounge, 510 Groveland Ave., began its cycle of Wine Dinners this month. Coming up in October: a Floral Springs Winery dinner pairing and a Benziger Winery pairing menu. Check out The 510's web site for menus and dates,

Jason McLean, whose Loring Caf was exiled from Downtown but who is still doing business in Dinkytown's The Loring Pasta Bar, has the completed drawings for a new Downtown-area caf bar in his office. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the money in the bank. He'd like to be -- where so many would now like to be -- across the Mississippi on East Hennepin. Restaurant angels call Jason at 378-4849.

Contact Pam Sherman at