Twin Cities Restaurant Review – Enjoy Restaurant in Apple Valley, MN

On Saturday, June 13, A friend and myself at a restaurant called Enjoy. I admit I am a city person so I probably would have never gone to this restaurant myself, but my friend insisted on driving somewhere and she had one of those 2 for 1 entertainment coupons. The biggest selling point was the happy hour on tap beers for $2.00. So who was I to argue with not having to drive, being able to save some money, and getting cheap on tap beer? Plus it had been awhile since I had caught up with my friend. So the situation was pretty hard to argue with.

Location:Enjoy is located in Apple Valley, one of the southern suburbs in the twin cities metro. It is off of Cedar Avenue, but if I was driving there I would have had to google maps it to figure out how to get there. I am sure it is convenient for those who live in Apple Valley and south metro.

Pre-Restaurant Experience: We weren’t actually planning on going to Enjoy to start out with. I can’t remember the name of the other place, but when my friend called to see how busy the first place was, the person who answered the phone did not sound too happy to take a reservation. So a few minutes later, my friend decided to cancel our reservation and call Enjoy. Enjoy gladly took our reservation and indicated they weren’t overly crowded for a Saturday night. Restaurant managers and staff – let this be a lesson that when you answer the phone be sure to act pleasant as it could affect your potential customer’s perception of the restaurant even before they step foot in the door.

In Restaurant Experience: My friend and I arrived while happy hour was still going on. This was definitely a major plus in my book. The restaurant does have an outdoor patio which there were some people eating at. Since it was getting, we decided to eat at the bar area where there was plenty of room. If you look on Enjoy’s website, the bar area is the only area that is not pictured, but it is nice and relaxing and fits the whole casual dining atmosphere.

We were promptly seated and I immediately began flipping through the selection of on-tap beers which included Fat Tire, Guinness, and Harp. Originally, I was going to order a fat tire on tap, but I changed my mind at the last minute and went with a black and tan. This was definitely a wiser move because it let me re-discover black and tans!

After a round of drinks and thumbing through Enjoy’s menu, we were ready to order. I ordered a 10oz. Prime Rib (queen prime rib) which came with 2 sides and my friend ordered a chicken dish. Our friend was delivered fairly quickly. One thing I do want to comment on is the number choices you have to pick from for sides. There are 11 sides including baked potatoes, grilled asparagus, sauteed mushrooms, steamed green beans, creamy hash browns, sweet potato fries, garlic mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, steamed broccoli, whipped sweet potatoes, and creamed spinach. This is certainly enough to satisfy anyone’s desire to eat healthy or a little unhealthy. I went with the mac and cheese and the steamed green beans. I certainly did not regret these choices either.

Even though I ordered the smaller prime rib, I found it to be very filling. In fact, I could not finish it all. This was partially due to the fact the sides I choose were decent portions and the beers I drank while waiting also filled me up. I enjoyed eating the prime rib and found it made no problems in the way it was prepared. By the time we were done eating our meals, we were extremely full and did not have any room for desert.

Paying the bill: Between my friend and I our bill was about $40 with tip. This included 2 entrees and 3 beers. Definitely not bad for a casual dining place in the suburbs of the twin cities. Also having the 2 for 1 coupon helped. Our dinner would have been less without the drinks but it is hard to pass up $2.00 on tap beer.

Verdict: While I can not say that I will be a regular at Enjoy dining, I had a really positive experience. Everything from the cheap beer, food, and service were good. Understanding that there are many restaurants in the twin cities metro, Enjoy would be one to consider if you lived in the south metro and especially if you have an entertainment coupon. If I lived in the area and had out of town guests and needed a high quality, “safe” restaurant pick, Enjoy would be a good bet to go with.

Note: I apologize for the lack of photos. I did not have my regular camera on me and my iPhone does not do very well in low light situations. I will try to take photos of the food I order at various restaurants on a more regular basis.

View from the bike – some trail users lack a general awareness of their environment

I decided that I had to sound off on what I have determined to be people’s lack of awareness on the bike paths and trails in Minneapolis. I was hoping it would not come to this and I realize most people are not like what I will end up describing, but this is both concerning and frustrating especially as an individual who is aware of others that share our fine trails together. With this post, I call on all trail users to be more aware…

Ever since I have started riding a bike in late April, I have noticed an alarming trend – one where people are not aware of their surroundings and others around them. At first, I thought this awareness factor would get better as the weather warmed up. I thought maybe it was something with the weather. Finally though, especially on my last two bike rides, I have come to the conclusion that there is a certain subset of individuals that are not paying attention to anything but themselves when they are walking around the lake or on the bike paths. Let me discuss a few examples.

The I can’t read the signs bike rider… There are a number of signs painted on the trail that indicates the trail is one way in certain spots. Yet, I have seen more people in my last two rides blatantly riding the wrong way on the trail. To those folks, I say wake up! If I am speeding down the trail going the right way and trying to pass another biker on their left and someone is riding the wrong way, if we collide, one of us (probably me) is going to be injured. I would prefer to avoid this.

The next type of persons are the groups of riders/roller bladers who take both sides of the path… I realize everyone likes biking with their friends around the lake. I’m all for that. What I’d like those people who ride/roller blade very very slowly to understand is that people want to get through. When I yell, “On your left!”, it is because I want to get through. Another thing, when I yell “On your left!”, it is not a great idea to stop in the middle of the trail while riders are trying to pass you. If you’re going to stop, pull off the trail and let people use the trail. Be proactive…try to sense when a person is approaching you and proactively move to the right.

The final type and probably most concerning are those people who don’t look when they cross a trail…” I realize many of the people in this category are young kids which is why when I approach an aware with a lot of young kids I slow way down. On my ride on Friday around Lake Nokomis, I was near the main beach where there were a lot of kids crossing the bike trail. I was going real slow because the kids were not paying attention. I would get their attention and they would divert their path around my bike. I can understand kids not having the foresight to look for a biker when they are crossing the path, but how about adults. On this same ride, I ran into 2-3 adults trying to cross the path not realizing they were about to get run over by me. This is the part that intrigues me.

I realize as a biker that I need to be as aware as possible because I don’t want to injure myself. What would help is if fellow trail users would be equally aware meaning don’t stop in the middle of the path, stay on the right if you’re biking or rollerblading slowly, and look before you cross. If trail users are more aware of their environment, they can remain safe and injury free. So far I have been lucky and had no biking related accidents, I would like for this to continue.

Feel free to sound off in the comments if you have noticed additional things about trail users not being aware of their surroundings or have suggestions on how to remedy this problem.

Completing my 4th Half Marathon – Lessons Learned – Part 2

In my previous post and the title of this article, I have indicated that this is my 4th half marathon that I have completed. I have been running since 2005 and completed half marathons in Phoenix, New York City, and San Francisco. I have also run shorter races in Chicago and Maui, Hawaii. Finally, I completed my first full marathon last summer in San Diego. As you can see I have done a fair amount of races in the 4 short years I have been running. In this time, I have learned how to train for certain distances. While I do not claim to be an expert, this post is to point out things that I learned while preparing for the half marathon route of the Minneapolis Marathon.

I originally signed up to do the Minneapolis Marathon because I had planned on running Grandma’s marathon this summer. Due to a health issue and losing my motivation for training in the winter time, I have decided to for go doing the marathon in June. I have never dropped out of a race that I have started and I would rather not start a race if I am not fully prepared to finish it. Running a marathon is no joke and puts serious strain on the body, I would rather not take a chance and will skip the race.

Even though I had known since the beginning of May that I was not running the full marathon, I decided I could still do this half marathon event plus with it being the inaugural event I thought it would be cool to participate. For those that are interested, my time was 2 hours 4 minutes and 7 seconds.This is certainly not the best time I have run the half in, but it was not my worst time either. Part of the reason for my time was due to how I approached training for the last 3-4 weeks before race day.

During the beginning of May and when I decided for sure that I wouldn’t run the marathon, I purchased a trek 7.5 fx bike. I have wrote many times about how much I enjoy the bike. After I had my 7.5fx, I spent more time bike riding than running. My knees and legs enjoyed biking because there was less pounding and stress. What happened was bike riding had replaced running as my primary means of fitness. I still didn’t want to give up on the half marathon so I did do a couple of 3-4 mile runs to remind my body of what it was like to run. During the last week before race day, I wanted to get at least 1 5-mile run in. The maximum distance I ran was 3 miles during the last week of training. Now if I had been training correctly the whole time, this would be appropriate to only run 3 miles during the week. Unfortunately, the last time I had run any sort of distance (a 12.5 mile run) was 6-7 weeks prior. Looking back on the final 4 weeks of training and how I ran the race, I think I learned a couple of important lessons…

I relied on my previous experience…I will admit here, I was pretty nervous on race day – more so than usual. I hadn’t prepared for this race in the same way that I prepared for prior ones. I knew that I would have to keep my pace a little slower than normal for the first 5-6 miles. I would have to avoid the tendency to start out with a faster pace because I would need that energy to get me through the race. I also knew that there would be an adrenaline factor like there is with every race. The body is amazing in the way…it provides you with that extra amount of energy to get you through to the finish.

Biking probably helped me get ready for this event…I realize that doing training runs is still the best way to get ready for this event. I also realize that if I had not stayed active in those 4 weeks before the race, my time would have suffered even more or worse I would have not been confident in my ability to finish the race. During those 4 weeks, I biked distances of 20-30 miles on average. I also did one long ride of 75 miles. To give you an idea of how interested I am with biking…after the marathon was over on Sunday (May 31), I went for a 26 mile bike ride. When I learned about the Minneapolis Duathlon event in August, I was going to immediately interested. Unfortunately, I am going to be out of town on the day of the event.

While going through the race and doing the bike ride in the afternoon, I proved to myself that I am pretty fit even if I didn’t train 100% the right way for this event. I am probably going to focus on biking most of the rest of the summer, but I am not ruling out doing a duathlon or two at some point in the future. I also do want to complete at least one more half marathon in less than 1 hour and 55 minutes. The next half marathon will have to wait because I refuse to spend my summer training for an event.

Completing my 4th Half Marathon – Reviewing The Minneapolis Marathon (Half Marathon Route) – Part 1

Minneapolis Marathon Race Shirt
Minneapolis Marathon Race Shirt

Note…
This is part 1 of 2 of a post discussing the half marathon router of the Minneapolis marathon. The second part will cover the lessons I learned after completing the race. Overall, I am glad I ran in this first annual race. I can see that this race is going to be very successful in the future.
End Note…

Yesterday morning (May 31st), I completed my 4th half marathon running in the first annual Minneapolis marathon. I want to say that the race organizers, Team Ortho did an excellent job of putting the race together, promoting it, and making it a success. Overall there were about 5,000 runners in total (3,500 in the half, 1,500 in the full). I overheard many people saying this race will only get bigger. I tend to agree. The race has a couple factors going for it and it will no doubt continue to steal runners from races such as Grandma’s marathon. Now let me talk about the race itself…

Running Conditions…
The running conditions for this race were excellent with the weather being in the 60s to start out and getting to the 70s by the end of the race. The wind was very calm with a slight breeze. It was very windy the day before the race and I was a bit concerned that the wind would be factor in affecting the run. Thankfully, there was a very calm wind to make the run more enjoyable!

Course
This race started in downtown Minneapolis near The Depot, ran by the Gutherie, and worked towards the Mississippi river. The majority of the race from mile 5 to the finish was spent running along the river. For the half marathon, there was a turn around between mile 9 and 10 which meant running back towards the finish line. The course contained a lot of up and down hills from mile 7-13. This is a part of town I had not previously visited during 4.5 years of living in the twin cities. While I enjoyed running by the river, the up and down nature of the hills was killer on my body. I have run a half marathon in San Francisco and run in general in hilly cities like Seattle. I would say the hills from mile 7-13 were worse than what I experienced in San Francisco. It is partially my fault for not reviewing or driving the course before hand, I guess I like surprises when it comes to running.

Cool things the race organizers did…
I was extremely happy with the goodies that race participants received. Besides getting the standard finisher’s medal, the race let you keep the race chip and finisher’s of the half marathon received a technical running shirt (pictured at the beginning of the post). I read in the registration materials and on the race website that finishers of the full marathon were to receive a jacket. I am glad to see the race organizers at least providing something that runners can use in their training for other events. I’ve done other races where finishers received a t-shirt. While a t-shirt is great to wear and I wear my San Diego marathon t-shirt all the time, I can’t wear it when I am training for other events. A big two thumbs up to the organizers for these things, I hope in future years, the included race items are similar to this year. Here is a picture of the race trinkets I received…

Back of the race shirt
Back of the race shirt
Race medal, race chip, and my bib #
Race medal, race chip, and my bib #

Things that need improvement
As with any race, there is some room for improvement. I can think of two things that could be improved namely – replace the sports drink and have a gel station for one part of the half marathon. The sports drink during the race was called Hammer Heed. Maybe because it was not cold or maybe I am just too picky, but this stuff tasted nasty! I kept drinking at least one cup through the aid stations because I wanted to get the calories from the drink. I like gatorade, powerade, and accelerade the best when it comes to sports drinks during a run

My other suggestion for improvement – having gel on the route for the half marathon – I know this sounds like a nit-pick as well. Many serious runners with more knowledge and experience than me would probably argue and state if you’re only running a half that this is not necessary, but I’ve also been in race where there was energy gel provided at mile 10 during a half marathon. I suppose this all comes down to dollars and sponsorship.

Verdict
For this being the first time of having a marathon race in Minneapolis during the month of May, Team Ortho, did a fantastic job! They deserve serious props and kudos for planning and putting on this event. Also, a huge thumbs up for the race shirt, chip, and medal! While I found the up and down nature of the hills challenging and more difficult than what I experienced in San Francisco, I enjoyed the course running along the river. I would encourage Team Ortho to look at changing the course for next year as there are many interesting parts of Minneapolis (hey maybe running through Block E or different part of downtown would be cool). I can definitely see this race being a success in future years to come!

If you ran the race, please feel free to leave a comment discussing your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you thought about this race.

Please check out Part 2 where I discuss my lessons learned from training for this race.

Twins Baseball Game: Saying Goodbye to the Metrodome

Saying Goodbye to the Metrodome
Saying Goodbye to the Metrodome

I attend 1 to 3 baseball games every season. Maybe it’s because I always say if the twins go to round 2 of the playoffs or make the world series…(hmm that hasn’t happened recently) or maybe it’s the overpriced beer (now that’s a legitimate reason for not attending many games). The games that I do attend I usually end up people watching to see what other crazies are at the stadium. So when a few friends from Iowa called me up at the last minute and said they had tickets to the Twins / Red Sox game, I was excited to get my first and maybe only twins baseball game in for this year. Additionally, it is the last season of the metrodome so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to snap some photos as well.

We arrived at the stadium about 20 minutes before the game started. What I didn’t remember was that it was Hormel “dollar dog” night and that getting to our seats might be a pain. If I had remembered this small detail, I would have walked outside the stadium to the gates nearest our seats, instead we walked in Gate H and slowly moved towards our seats along the first base line. Fighting through the people waiting in line for the dollar dogs took almost 15 minutes. Now judging from these lines, someone might have thought…”Wow the ball park is full tonite!”…However, once I got to my seat, I began to snap a few photos and observed the many empty seats.

This to me indicates either the horrible inefficiency of the stadium concession stands or poor stadium design in moving large numbers of people. Go and ahead and see below for yourself the large number of seats that are unoccupied…

View of the Stadium from the first base side
View of the Stadium from the first base side

Besides watching the game and getting photos of some of the more well known players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, David Ortiz, and Jason Vartiek, I started looking around the stadium and noticed the signs like the “Count down to outdoor baseball” or “Count down to real grass stains”…I’ve included a few of those sign photos in the post. I thought they were interesting and gave the fans something to look forward and things to think about when the new outdoor ball park is opened next year!

The number of home games left this season
The number of home games left this season
A reference to fact there's no retractable roof at the new stadium...April and September/October baseball could get mightly cold!
A reference to fact there's no retractable roof at the new stadium...April and September/October baseball could get mightly cold!
More of the countdown signs
More of the countdown signs

Seeing these signs had me thinking. First, they did decrease the countdown number from 53 to 52 somewhere in the 6th or 7th inning. I actually wanted to get a picture of the sign changing and somehow missed the number decreasing. Second, I can’t believe they had already played 28 home games. The baseball season is long, but it seems to be going by quickly.

The next sign of “Countdown to CH-CH-CH-CHHHHH” had me thinking….”Which idiot vetoed the retractable roof?!?!” Apparently the retractable roof would have added a couple of hundred million dollars to the cost of the new stadium and the reliability of retractable roofs are suspect. To those people, I say it should have been added. After living in Minnesota for the past 4.5 years, I know for a fact it doesn’t start warming up until at least the first week in May. The question that remains to be answered is “Will Minnesotans go to the ballpark in the cold weather?”. My guess is that if its playoff baseball (think October), the stadium will be packed and of course this coming April it will be packed because people want to see the new park, but what about in future April months after the park is opened? I guess it will depend on how good the team is perceived to be.

The next countdown signs are for grass stains, starry nights, and skyline sunsets. Its hard to believe that they played baseball on astro turf for so long. There have reports that playing on the astro turf is harder on players’ bodies. Plus really, it isn’t a baseball game without the potential to get the uniform dirty. The starry nights and skyline sunsets…this is talking about the location of the new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. I think this will be great to see and experience once the weather is warm during the summer months of baseball. I think people will appreciate this because they’ve had nothing to see other than the ceiling of the Metrodome since the twins have been playing baseball.

While I was taking in the signs around the stadium, I was also observing the people seated around me. I was surprised at the amount of red sox fans at the game. It was funny though, the people to my immediate right were die hard twins fans and I could tell based on how they were “cheering” against the red sox. Then there were the people seated in front of me. They seemed like they didn’t even want to be at the game. I guess if you don’t want to be there, why are you showing up? People like that confuse me.

In the end, the twins won 4-2. I got to watch a few well known players hit and play baseball and experience a game in the last season of the Metrodome. The Metrodome doesn’t have quite the history that was associated with old Yankees stadium (which I attended a game there last year), but it is still nice to say that I saw a game in the last season of indoor baseball. I am looking forward to trying out the new stadium and seeing how outdoor baseball works in the state of Minnesota. You can follow the progress of the new stadium and find out more information here.

Restaurant Review – Ike’s in downtown Minneapolis

On Wednesday evening, I met up with some friends who were coming from out of town to see the Twins / Red Sox game. One of my friends really likes burgers. Originally, we weren’t going to attend the game and I was going to take my friends to Town Talk for their burgers and fries. At the last minute, we decided to go to the game which altered my plans for Town Talk…instead we went to Ike’s as it is relatively close to the stadium. When I worked in downtown Minneapolis, I would go to Ike’s for lunch. I had not tried Ike’s during dinner, but since we needed something close, I thought Ike’s would be a good choice plus I like the shakes there!

Location: Ike’s is located in downtown Minneapolis at 50 South 6th street. It is only one block from the Nicollet Mall Light Rail station…a big win in my opinion especially when we purchased these 4 hour light rail passes.

Pre-Restaurant Experience: The combined factors of not eaten at Ike’s during dinner, previous experience during the lunch hour rush, and it being a game night, I decided it would be best to call the restaurant to gauge how busy it would be around 5:30PM. I didn’t really think they would take reservations (because they don’t for lunch), but to my surprise they take dinner reservations! I made mine for 5:30PM. I drove over to my friend’s hotel and we caught the light rail at the Mall of America. The only problem was that we were going to be arriving at the restaurant about 20 minutes later than my reservation…(oops!).

In Restaurant Experience, Arriving: We arrived at Ike’s about 20 minutes later than my 5:30PM reservation. The restaurant was fairly busy in the bar area and in their tables and booths. I thought for sure they would have canceled my reservation and opened my table up, but sure enough we were seated right away! I certainly appreciate a restaurant that keeps reservations even when the patron is late to arrive.

In Restaurant Experience, Ordering: As I said earlier, we arrived at the restaurant about 20 minutes later than I expected. The game was starting at 7:10PM. This left us very little time to actually eat and somewhat enjoy our meal. I made it clear to our server that we were in a hurry to make the Twins game. Our server was understanding and efficient and immediately offered for us to order drinks. Because I had been to Ike’s before, I immediately recommended one of their shakes to my friends. We ordered two shakes for our table. As we were waiting for the shakes to come to the table, I made a few recommendations namely the Ike’s burger. When the server returned with our shakes we were ready to order. One of the nice things that the server did was because my friends were splitting a shake (the shakes are enormous and my friends are married), the server split the shake equally into two glasses. This is a nice touch and paying attention to the little details. The server took our table’s order – 1 Ike’s burger, 1 – Turkey burger (my order), and 1 – small appetizer .

Our order:

Ike's Burger
Ike's Burger
My meal - Turkey burger with mashed potatoes and cranberries
My meal - Turkey burger with mashed potatoes and cranberries

Our order came relatively quickly, although it felt like a long time probably because we were in a hurry. In fact, I was in such a hurry to order, that I didn’t realize the turkey burger did not come with cheese! So I was quite surprised when it came out to me with no cheese. I inquired with the server and asked if they could throw cheese on it. This was not a problem and 30 seconds later I had a turkey burger with cheese!

I admit the only reasons I ordered the turkey burger were:
1. I was not in the mood for beef and
2. I wanted the mashed potatoes.

The turkey burger was good. I won’t say it is the best turkey burger in the city, but Ike’s didn’t burn it or over cook it. The mashed potatoes were also very good. They definitely didn’t taste like instant ones that you find at other places and even had potatoes peelings mixed in the gravy. I also appreciate the fact that Ike’s gives you a generous portion of whatever side you order with your main meal.

My friend who is picky about his hamburgers seemed to like his burger. I heard no negative comments from him on it. If he didn’t like it, he would have let me know for sure.

Because we were in hurry, we asked for the bill as the main meal came out. Our server had no problems ringing it up right away and letting me pay for the meal. In total for 2 shakes, 2 burgers, and 1 appetizer, it was about $50.00. Not bad for a quick dinner downtime. When the server returned with the bill, she bought these out with it:

Ike's Cookies
Ike's Cookies

This is probably my favorite part of the Ike’s experience is the after meal cookies. Most of the time, you are so full from the shakes and burgers that you don’t have room to order from their dessert menu, but you always have room for a small chocolate chip cookie! As always, the cookies hit the spot, even if I was in a hurry and had to enjoy it on the way back to the baseball stadium.

Verdict: I had been to Ike’s for lunch and enjoyed it each time I was there. This was my first experience with dinner at Ike’s and I was not disappointed. Our server was fast, efficient, flexible, and worked within our table’s schedule. The food was good and nothing negative happened that would impact customer experience. I have no problems recommending Ike’s for lunch or dinner if I were near the restaurant. (Note: There is an Ike’s at the MSP airport which is also very good) I noticed Ike’s serves brunch and would be interested in trying them out for brunch in the near future.

Biking in Des Moines, Iowa and Minneapolis,MN over Memorial Day

Biking in Des Moines

I have a goal of biking 1200-1500 miles this summer. Over the long holiday weekend, I was able to add 50 more miles to my total.

Biking in Des Moines

Although I knew I would be busy being in a friend’s wedding in Iowa, I decided to pack the 7.5fx with me to do some biking. I managed to ride about 30 miles while attending all the wedding activities. My main route took me from the west side of Urbandale to just past Gray’s Lake. I was able to see the baseball stadium and state capitol building before I decided I should turn around.

View of Downtown Des Moines
View of Downtown Des Moines
Downtown Des Moines - Baseball Stadium and Capitol Building
Downtown Des Moines - Baseball Stadium and Capitol Building

Biking in Minneapolis

I returned to Minneapolis on Sunday and took things easy Sunday night. On Monday, I ran 3 miles and went for a bike ride. For the route, I decided to ride around Lake Harriet, Calhoun, Isles, and Nokomis. In all it was about 22 miles. I was able to get some good views of downtown and enjoyed doing some plane spotting by Nokomis.

View of Downtown Minneapolis
View of Downtown Minneapolis
Plane spotting by Lake Nokomis
Plane spotting by Lake Nokomis
Plane getting ready to land seen from Lake Nokomis
Plane getting ready to land seen from Lake Nokomis

Upgrading my Trek 7.5 FX…

My new bike shoes
My new bike shoes

After two weeks of owning my beloved 7.5 fx, I decided to upgrade a few of the components. As you can see from the photos this included the pedals and adding handle bar extenders. I also added a saddle pack which could hold a spare inner tube and some gloves which will keep my hands warm on those cooler days. Included in the pedal upgrade was also obtaining a pair of biking shoes that clip into the pedals. I don’t have the specific links but upgrading the pedals to a clip in design will improve efficiency by 20-25%.

Pedal Upgrade
Pedal Upgrade

I took the bike out for a quick 17 mile spin to test out my upgrades. I admit it took a little bit to get used to clipping in and out of the pedals. I am still getting used to clipping in quickly. Also, during one of my stops, I somewhat forgot I was clipped in and just about fell over in the bike. I was lucky in that as I was falling over I was able to somehow clip out and catch myself. I guess this will just take some practice.

I am hoping with the exception of one or two additional pieces of bike clothing that I am done upgrading for awhile. I think I’ve gotten the upgrades that make the most sense for right now. I do plan on upgrading the bike computer I have at the end of the summer. I’m not decided on specifics regarding that upgrade, but am leaning towards something with GPS.

I am going to set my distance goal to ride 1500 miles by the end of September. So far I have done about 200 miles. It’d be great if I hit 2000 miles but I think 1500 is a good goal to shoot for right now. If you are you have route suggestions or just want to sound off about your bike, feel free to leave a comment. I am still enjoying my trek 7.5 fx.

Bike with handle bar upgrade
Bike with handle bar upgrade

75 miles on the trek 7.5FX

Midtown Greenway Sign
Midtown Greenway Sign

It has been about 2 weeks since I first purchased my Trek 7.5 FX and I wanted to talk about my first long bike ride that I took with the 7.5fx on Saturday, May 16. The short story is that the bike did an amazing job getting its owner from the uptown area of Minneapolis to the end of the Gateway Trail near Stillwater, Minnesota. Needless to say, I was still very very exhausted after riding 75 miles that day.

The route that our biking group took was from the greenway trail in uptown over to St. Paul. We cut across St. Paul and eventually found the Gateway trail. This trail took us from St. Paul to North St. Paul to Maplewood to Oakgrove and eventually out near Stillwater. We were planning on biking into Stillwater, but due to time constraints, that part of the trip was nixed. Looking back it was probably good that we killed that part of the ride. Apparently the road into downtown Stillwater is pretty hilly and completely on the highway. I would describe the ride conditions as non-ideal – not only was it very windy, it was also very cold. I didn’t realize how much the conditions would affect my energy towards the end of the ride.

I started out the morning leaving my place to pick up some Cliff bars and gatorade. I was dressed in sweat pants and a sweatshirt. Right as I walked to my car, I noticed it was going to be really cold and windy. This put me in a bit of a conundrum…do I wear my running pants over the biker shorts or do I wear biker shorts and hope that the sun comes up and I warm up during the ride. I pondered this thought as I bought my cliff bars and returned to my house to get ready for the ride. In the end, I decided on a compromise – I would wear biker shorts, running shorts over the top, a long sleeve running shirt, and a hooded sweatshirt over the top. This worked out fairly well except the sweat shirt did nothing to protect me from the wind. During the ride, Erica, Matt’s fiancee, told me to pick up a wind wall – basically something that does a better job of protecting you from the wind.

I biked the 5.7 miles to Matt and Erica’s place and everyone got ready to go. My ride to the uptown area took me along Minnehaha Parkway, across 35W, up Lake Harriet and Calhoun. As a new bike owner and lacking some necessary supplies, Matt and Erica let me borrow some gloves which I am very thankful that they let me borrow. My hands were pretty cold on the ride up to their place because of the wind and air temperature. The ride would have been pretty crappy if I didn’t have my hands covered.

We headed up to the greenway, a bike trail that goes through many different parts of Minneapolis. All of sudden Erica said “Stop” and needed to check her tires out. After examining her back tire, she determined her tube had a hole in it and needed to be changed out. After spending some time trying to figure out how to change the tube ourselves, it was determined the best course of action would be to ride up to the nearest bike shop and get a tube changed there. Apparently the tube is pretty tricky to change on the tires that Erica uses. The guy at the bike shop showed Matt how to change it and told him how he wished he was biking to Stillwater instead of working. I had taken my camera with me instead of my sunglasses so this gave me an opportune time to snap some photos…

One Bike Temporarily Out of Commission
One Bike Temporarily Out of Commission
A view from the Minneapolis Greenway Trail
A view from the Minneapolis Greenway Trail

After the tube was changed, we were back in business. We headed towards St. Paul. The ride down Summit Ave was nice, easy, and down hill. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how down hill it really was which would play a factor in the return journey (along with the wind). I only wish I was better at taking pictures while riding. (Hopefully I can get better at this and provide more pictures). After a bit of biking through St. Paul, we reached the Gateway trail. I was able to snap another picture as we hit a stop light on a minor detour for construction on the trail….

Picture of part of the Gateway Trail
Picture of part of the Gateway Trail

As we continued to stay on the trail and go through parts of North St. Paul, Maplewood, and Oakgrove, I took in the change of scenery in the neighborhoods and people. There weren’t that many people on the trail either biking or walking. We did see a couple people riding horses as we moved further outside of St. Paul on the trail. Another notable siting was the group of juveniles that were being escorted along the trail. I am not sure if they were out for community service or exercise, but this was definitely a surprising group of people to see along the trail. This also sparked an interesting discussion about Erica’s experience mentoring an at risk student. We made a couple of stops for the restroom and water breaks along to the end of the trail just outside Stillwater. Erica and Matt were a bit concerned that I wasn’t drinking enough water. Looking back and after getting tips from my cousin, who lives and breathes bikes, I should have probably been taking in more liquids. We got to the end of the trail and turned around to make the return trip.

On the return trip, Matt and I were pretty hungry. Fortunately for us, there is a burger king on the way back that we stopped at to get food and water. I had chicken nuggets, fries, and a glass of water. Matt ordered a burger, fries, and some coffee. I thought this would be enough to get me back to Minneapolis. Little did I know the effort that would be required once we would hit St. Paul on the return trip. As we were leaving burger king, I asked Matt about how far we had left and he said “about 20 miles”. Little did I know that it was actually closer to 30 miles!! Thanks Matt!

As we were getting closer to the twin cities, it was nice to see familiar land marks. Seeing these land marks increased my confidence and belief that I would make it back to our starting point in uptown. During one of our stops, I was able to snap a distance picture of St. Paul….

We're getting closer to civilizaton...a distance view of St. Paul
We're getting closer to civilizaton...a distance view of St. Paul

Once we got off the Gateway trail and back on the streets of St. Paul is where the “fun” began. It was pretty much nothing but hills for the next 3-4 miles. On the way down, I didn’t even think about what it would be like to bike back up these hills. Additionally the challenge of biking in the wind and the cold made it even more difficult. The bike up Summitt Ave contains many stop lights. Everytime I made it near a stop light, I was sort of hoping that the light would turn red and let me have a little rest. This didn’t happen…every time I hit a light, it was green and I continued pedaling up hill!

We eventually made it back to uptown. Everyone was pretty tired. Erica gave me a ride home. I was exhausted and very appreciative that I wouldn’t have to bike home. I found this ride to be both fun and challenging. I also learned a few things about the bike and what upgrades to immediately consider. First, I am going to pick up pedals with clips and biking shoes. I am going to do this in the next week or two. Matt was nice enough to let me have his basket pedals, but I can see the advantages of upgrading to the pedals with clips. Second, I am going to pick up a handle bar upgrade. One of the things I noticed was how tired my arms and shoulder were after maintaining the same position on the bike for so long, it’s probably a good idea to pick up this upgrade. Third, I am going to get a saddle pack so I can carry a spare tube with me in case I have problem with an inner blowing.

One other thing I learned was how many calories I was burning and using from biking. We stopped at burger king for the quick refuel before heading back to the cities. When I got home, I drank a lot of water, ate spaghetti, and eventually I decided to order a thin crust pizza after my nap. Being a runner and knowing how much energy running can take and comparing the energy is take to bike, this surprised me a little bit. The only thing I wish I had done better was to take more pictures. I promise to get better at taking pictures from my bike as the summer progresses.

I Like Breakfast Group: Breakfast at The Strip Club in St. Paul, MN.

**** UPDATE ****
Tim, the owner of The Strip Club, reached out to me via a comment in the blog. I highly respect this fact. I think it shows Tim does care about the experiences his customers have at his restaurant. I let Tim know that I wasn’t looking for a refund or compensation and that if I return with the group or personally, I will re-review the Strip Club and note my experiences again.

**** END UPDATE ****

I recently met a group of people who enjoy breakfast as much as I do. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and it has been argued that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Every couple of weeks, we meet up on a Sunday to go to different restaurants in the twin cities to celebrate breakfast and catch up with what is going on in people’s lives. Today, the group went to The Strip Club located in St. Paul. This was an important milestone for the group because it was the first time that the group had ventured outside of Minneapolis to try breakfast in St. Paul. Even though I have not been involved very long with the group, I get the distinct feeling that the group prefers Minneapolis and the west side of the twin cities as compared to the east side and St. Paul. This is mainly because everyone appreciates the city life of Minneapolis. I think the majority of people in the group actually live in the city of Minneapolis. Before I go on, let me just say the Strip Club is a restaurant that focuses on creating unique dishes with different types of meat, it is not an actual strip club.

Restaurant Strip Club
Restaurant Strip Club

The location of the restaurant was easy to find especially for someone who does not frequent the east side of the twin cities that much. It was located one block off the Mounds Blvd exit on I-94. There was also a view of downtown St. Paul. Because I only had my iPhone on me, I decided it would be best to walk outside the restaurant and get a picture of downtown St. Paul. Here is what it looked like from just outside the restaurant….

View of downtown St. Paul from the Strip Club
View of downtown St. Paul from the Strip Club

I arrived a little bit early to the restaurant and found the restaurant had several tables together waiting for our group of 10 to arrive. I think its always nice when the restaurant is ready for large parties especially when you call and tell them you will be having a large party. The atmosphere of the restaurant was pretty good with the music in the background and a small upstairs seating area. Our group was seated in the main area. One gripe I and many other people in our group had about the atmosphere is that it was very warm in the restaurant. This could be because our large party or having an open kitchen. It would have been nice if there was some way to open a window or get more air circulating throughout the inside.

Since I was a little early, I ordered coffee as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. The coffee was good. It didn’t taste like Starbucks or Caribou so that was a welcome change. The wait staff did a pretty good job of keeping everyone’s coffee cup filled up as we waited to order the food. I admit that I took a look at the brunch menu before I stepped foot in the building! That is how much I like breakfast. Several things caught my eye including the Logger’s Tower and Fenian French Toast. Also, since I knew we would probably be there for at least a hour, the North Coast Pranqster’s Golden Ale tap beer sounded worth trying.

The server assigned to our table was efficient and effective at taking the group’s order. A few comments about the menu versus what was posted online. The online menu mentioned an item called Apples and Oatmeal which sounded pretty good, however, the restaurant menu that we ordered from did not have this item listed. Additionally, I wanted to try the North Coast Pranqster’s Golden Ale listed online, but when I asked when beers were on tap, that was not one of them listed. I understand that the restaurant is small and tries to make dishes with fresh ingredients and offer unique beers in limited quantities, but if that is the case, instead of listing the current beer, why not put a note on the menu saying that beers will change based on availability. I really wanted to also try the pork sausage on the menu. I tried to subsitute out the ham for the pork sausage, but my server said she couldn’t do that. She could take out the ham and charge me for a side of pork sausage. I opted not to do this. I ended up ordering the Logger’s Tower which is a triple stack of pancakes, grilled ham, fried eggs, scallions, rosemary, and a side of syrup. For my beverage I ordered a pint of Red Hook IPA beer. Below is a picture of my plate of food without the syrup…

The Logger's Tower - My meal at  The Strip Club
The Logger's Tower - My meal at The Strip Club

The actual delivery of the order took a little while. This was partially due that several people in the group ordered hamburgers that needed to be thoroughly cooked and the number of people in our group. The wait time didn’t bother me or anyone else in the group too much as it gave everyone a chance to catch up. Plus by the time we were receiving our food, everyone was really hungry. Somehow I am always the last to receive my food in large groups, so I was especially please when my plate finally came out.

The Logger’s Tower was especially tasty! Even though I stayed with the grilled ham, I enjoyed it. Additionally, the pancakes were cooked perfectly. We actually spent a few minutes discussing various ways to mess up pancakes such as over or under cooking them, having too much batter, or making them too fluffy. The pancakes were made just right. The fried eggs were a nice touch to the item. I am a big fan of eggs at breakfast. What topped off of my meal was the syrup. I am not sure if it is homemade or anything, but it was really good; and was just enough to cover the plate and not leave the food soaked in syrup.

Other people at the table ordered grape fruit which was very large, a caramel roll which everyone sampled, the loaded burger, and the Scandahuvian Smoked Salmon and Potato Hash. I heard positive comments about the grape fruit, caramel roll, and the Scandahuvian Smoked Salmon and Potato Hash. However, our burger expert at the table was disappointed with the loaded burger. He was expecting more for the price. So you might want to avoid the burger for brunch.

After everyone was finished eating, is when all the fun and confusion started. The server put everyone’s order on one receipt. Most of us didn’t have cash on hand and needed to use a credit card. We made the request to have bill evenly split 10 ways. Another thing that the group noticed was that tip was already included. I understand that for large parties tips are typically added in, however, I saw two problem with this. First, the tip was at 20% and second, I saw no where on the menu that tips would automatically be added in for large parties. From the many restaurants, I have frequented the standard practice has been to print something on the menu to make your customers aware of this policy. I personally don’t like it when someone determines the amount I am going to tip. I tend to tip at least 20% when the service is good. So I just see the server short changing themselves on this one.

We all put down our cards and gave the server the instructions to split the bill evenly. 2 minutes later, the server comes back and states they don’t accept American Express. I noticed this fact when I walked into the restaurant and luckily I had a visa on me, however, another person in the group did not and had to have his bill added with another bill. This is not a major strike against The Strip Club, but it is something that was discussed at the table. For the type of establishment that it is, we somewhat expected them to take American Express cards. This was just a minor hiccup compared to the next time we saw the server.

After sometime of a delay lasting 5-10 minutes, our server came out and informed us that the maximum amount of cards that could be processed on a single receipt was 6. I have never actually heard this before. We requested that the receipt be split into at least 2 receipts so everyone’s card could be run through. This seems like a simple request. The delays in bringing the table the bill and the fact that it was very very warm in the restaurant by this point made the entire table want to leave as soon as we could.

After the server came back, I saw something on the receipt that I’ve never seen before. A line item that said “Card Charged” and a line item that said “Cash Back” . Apparently, the server choose a unique way of dividing up the bill. These two line items caused a whole bunch of confusion at the table especially since none of us are used to receiving cashback from a credit card transaction. Unfortunately, the server did not inform us the process that was used to split out the bill and we were unable to determine how it was clearly split out or who owed who money.

The final impression I received was as I was getting my cash back from the server the server made the comment – “I’m f*****”. I can relate that the server was frustrated, but this comment should not have been made in front of a customer. I think it would have been better if the server would have spent the time separating out the bills into 10 individual receipts. I am not sure why this could not have been done.

Overall, the experience at The Strip Club was mixed. I would even say more on the disappointing side. The location was decent and the restaurant seemed prepared for the group. The food was tasty especially the Logger’s Tower, but the overall experience of dealing with the bill and the temperature inside the restaurant made our group wonder if it was worth another visit. I would say if the restaurant can improve how it handles large groups it might be worth coming back again. At this time, even though the food was for the most part excellent and due to the many other excellent establishments in the twin cities, I’m unsure if I can truly recommend The Strip Club to my friends.