The juices from the succulent pulled pork seep through the golden crusted ciabatta bun through my fingers and all over my hands. This sandwich, known as the Calabrian from Porchetteria At Terzo Vino Bar, is messy beyond normal comfort but I don’t care. It’s too delicious to care, and on this beautiful afternoon, blocks away from Lake Harriet, I can’t get over the fact that I just ate something this good in this parking lot.
The Calabrian washed down with a local craft ale is the perfect symbol for the change this neighborhood has undergone in the past decade. I’m standing on the corner of 50th Street and Penn Avenue South, adjacent to the Armatage and Lynnhurst neighborhoods, a part of the city where you couldn’t walk down the street and grab a casual beer in 2006. Today, there are enough options in this corner of town to fill an entire pub crawl’s worth of destinations, while at the same time maintaining the family-friendly environment that’s always made this neighborhood a great place to live.
Stomach filled, thirst quenched, and hands washed, I step out from one of the area’s newest spots and right into one of its oldest next door. Paperback Exchange is a locally-owned and independent bookstore that claims to have 150,000 books in stock every day. It’s not a big place, but it has plenty of nooks and crannies that are wall-to-wall covered in books. If they’re lying about the number of books in stock, it’s because they have way more than 150,000.
I pick up a copy of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”—something about beer and pork puts me in the mood for Hunter S. Thompson—for $5 that comes with a complimentary Tootsie Pop from the candy dish at the front counter. Memories from childhood of going into the store and asking for candy without buying anything come flooding back. They never said no, so I make a mental note to buy more books here on my way out the door.
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Photos by Aaron Davidson
I walk south on Penn Avenue and take a break to page through my “new” book at Minnehaha Creek. Despite the shallow water levels, a group of teenagers make their way down the creek on inner tubes towards Morgan Tennis Courts, which are packed on a day like today. After a few chapters, Thompson has me in the mood for another beer. It’s thankfully not 2006 anymore and the perfect spot for a beer is just a few hundred paces away.
Red Wagon Pizza isn’t just the perfect place for “a” beer. To be more accurate it’s the perfect place for any one of the 36 beers they have on tap, and if you happen to find yourself there without a stomach filled with pulled pork, it’s the perfect place for pizza as well. Armatage has become a leader in great pizza per capita—the highly acclaimed Pizzeria Lola is just a few blocks away on Xerxes Avenue South.
It’s a beautiful day to be sitting outside and scores of other people feel the same way. There’s plenty of room for everyone and I find a cozy spot on the patio to keep paging through my book as I work my way through Red Wagon’s extensive craft beer list.
As the temperature gradually drops and the sun goes down a few hours later I still haven’t moved—why would I? Red Wagon fires up the heat torches that on a clear night can be seen all the way from Highway 62, and the patio at is still full. So is the patio next door at long-time community staple Kwan’s Chinese Cuisine, an adorable hole in the wall that’s had the same delicious buffet since the 1980s, making it the neighborhood’s Paperback Exchange of affordable and delicious Chinese food.
I recognize some people on the crowded corner. Families from around the neighborhood are peppered in with foodies, hipsters, young professionals, and college students—so many demographics congregated in a place they never would have been 10 years ago, causing me to think this neighborhood with all of its nice parks and cul-de-sacs is, dare I say, cool.
Across the street at Cafe Maude, another crowded patio. A band is getting ready to play. It doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad, it’s Saturday night, which means Maude is offering their incredible wood-grilled prime rib dinner ludicrously priced at $22. I don’t know if there’s a better deal in town, but I do know that I’m no longer full from the Calabrian and without even thinking about it I find myself sitting across the street with a glass of reasonably priced cabernet sauvignon in front of me and a delicious hunk of beef on its way.
The perfect Saturday without ever leaving this neighborhood used to be impossible; now, it’s preferable.