Skyway lunch gems

RICK NELSON | Updated 3/6/2013

Food trucks aren't the only places to grab a tasty lunch downtown.

The wish-I’d-said-that quote of the month comes from Andrew Zimmern of cable television’s “Bizarre Foods.” Zimmern told the Star Tribune, “[T]he fact is, half the restaurants in the skyway are serving some of the worst food in the city. They are coasting on convenience.”

Ouch. And, true. Actually, it’s probably more than half. But after recently ducking through skyways in a 20-block area, I also encountered a welcome number of gems. Here they are, in no particular order.

The Brothers Deli

It’s always hopping during prime lunch hours, and with good reason: Pastrami, corned beef, brisket and other deli classics, all well-prepared, fill out a lengthy menu that’s served in a flash. Jockeying for a table is something of an art, and the kitchen serves breakfast, a skyway rarity. (50 S. 6th St. www.thebrothersdeli.com.)

Real Meal Deli

The house specialty is creative made-to-order sandwiches (turkey with goat cheese and a cranberry-apricot compote, meatballs dripping in red sauce and dressed with Parmesan), plus salads that don’t taste as if they came off the supermarket grab-and-go shelf, a minor miracle. (Baker Center and TriTech Office Center. www.realmealdeli.com.)

Cocoa & Fig

One of the Twin Cities’ best bakeries. The tiny Gaviidae shop is the source for a slim but imaginative array of cupcakes (pick up C&F’s luscious riff on the Hostess fudge classic), cookies (it’s easy to fall for the scalloped-edged faux Oreos) and festive cake lollipops. The four-packs of bouchons, intensely chocolate-y cork-shaped brownies, are ideal $5 gifts. (Gaviidae Common. www.cocoaandfig.com.)

Zen Box

This sushi-free refuge specializes in familiar Japanese quick-service fare, freshly prepared and reasonably priced. Menu items include chicken-filled gyoza, potato-carrot curry over white or brown rice, grilled tofu with steamed vegetables and cold buckwheat soba noodles splashed with a sesame-miso vinaigrette. (Six Quebec. www.zenbox.com.)

My Burger

The marquee product is a juicy quarter-pounder, slipped into a first-rate buttered and toasted bun and topped with slightly sweet grilled onions and crunchy sweet pickles. There are add-ons, of course, and the long, golden fries are nothing short of excellent. Service is fleet and friendly. (Six Quebec. www.myburgerusa.com).

Good to Go

The counter-service operation puts a Mediterranean twist on sandwiches (made on terrific house-baked foccacia), wraps and salads, all prepared to order using fresh, flavorful ingredients. Don’t miss the smartly seasoned lamb and pork, or the tuna-pesto salad. Top price is $6.75. (US Bank Plaza. www.urgoodtogo.com.)

The Burger Place

When clockwork operation relocated to its new higher-profile location, it added much-needed elbow room but kept its winning formula of juicy, piping hot burgers, served in toasted buns with a medley of toppings. Skip the salad in favor of the excellent fries. (US Bank Plaza. www.theburgerplace.com.)

One Two Three Sushi

This newcomer is a fast-casual proto-chain from Sushi America, the innovative owner of Masu Sushi & Robata. Rather than offer the same-old/same-old pre-prepared rolls, 1-2-3 lets customers go the build-your-own route, culling from an impressive variety of building-block choices, with prices starting at $7.99. (IDS Crystal Court. www.onetwothreesushi.com.)

Turkey to Go

The kitchen concentrates on — you got it — turkey. Specifically, pulled turkey, wonderfully juicy and nicely seasoned and paired with a flurry of sauces, cheeses and add-ons and served as pitas, salads and sandwiches. (Baker Center. www.turkeytogo.com.)

Torby’s Pizza

Torby’s stands out for its thin, sturdy crust and well-chosen — and generously applied — toppings. Another plus? Owner Bob (Torby) Torbenson offers a parade of specials, including Monday’s cheapskate magnet: a slice and a soft drink for $4. (Baker Center. www.torbys.com.)