The music scene is as vibrant as ever in the cities that brought us Bob Dylan, Prince, and the Replacements. But the Twin Cities are not yet widely known for eateries as varied and inspired as the current indie darling, Portland, Oregon. This may seem shocking, considering the consistently high number of James Beard Award nominees for restaurants and chefs in the area (seven in the last three years), but if that good old Midwest humility is keeping the locals from spreading the word, at least that should make it easier to get a table when you come to town.
The Venues: St. Paul's new Amsterdam Bar and Hall is like a microcosm of the Twin Cities' creative landscape. Opened in the fall of 2011 by the owners of the beloved 331 Club—still home to great free live shows nightly—this newcomer shares a block with Eclipse Records and a screen-printing shop that makes band posters. Expect to see great local neo-folk and indie rock bands like Poliça, Peter Wolf Crier, Communist Daughter, and the Small Cities. And you can even eat well under the same roof, thanks to an in-house eatery that nods to the area's northern European heritage with items like frites and broodjes, small Dutch slider-style sandwiches with fillings such as curried seafood salad or tomato and Edam.
The Menus: Alma may be the best table in town (and a true value, at $48 for its three-course tasting menu), but where James Beard Award–winning chef Alex Roberts really ropes 'em in is at his low-key Brasa, a hearty homage to Caribbean and South American home-cooking. The newest rock stars on the culinary firmament, though, are Eric and Andrew Dayton. Their restaurant, the Bachelor Farmer, set in an old wool warehouse in the North Loop, serves inventive seasonal fare inspired by the cities' Nordic heritage, brightened with herbs from the rooftop garden.
Music City U.S.A. has always been known for, well, music. But with a roaring food-truck scene, an emerging cocktail culture, and new restaurants with serious culinary pedigrees, thanks to an influx of Alinea and French Laundry alums, Nashville is finally getting some culinary cred.
The Venues: Country, obviously. But with big-name rock acts from the Black Keys to Kings of Leon choosing to take up residence here, you'll find some seriously diverse tunes. Check out Jack White's Third Man Records, see world-class country musicians for free at legendary honky-tonk Robert's Western World, and munch on shepherd's pie while jamming at the Family Wash, housed in an old laundromat.
The Menus: Kick it old school with a meat-and-three (a protein plus three sides) at Arnold's and crispy-fried, cayenne-drenched hot chicken at Prince's. Then see local favorites reinterpreted in whimsical, bold, and downright delicious ways at the Catbird Seat. The two chefs there have résumés that read like a Michelin guide to world cuisine (stints at the French Laundry, the Fat Duck, and Alinea, to name a few), but you'd never know it from the pretension-free Southern charm they dish out while plating sophisticated prix fixe tasting menus from their open kitchen.