I’m not going to say that returning to my hometown of Burnsville resulted in overwhelming waves of Proustian memory overload. It wasn’t the old standbys that got my attention because, to be honest, many of those institutions have long since disappeared. (Wither Beaver Mountain! Dayton’s restaurant, we hardly knew ye!)
Upon gazing at all the new attractions the city has to offer, I realized that there’s a lot more going for the old B’ville than I remembered growing up. It’s a fresher, newer, more vibrant suburb today than it may have ever been in its past, at least since the halcyon days of pre-MOA Burnsville Mall.
It was with one foot planted in the new and the other allowed to dwindle behind in nostalgia that I attacked my one-time piece of turf.
These choices are presented in no particular order, nor are they the only great attractions in Burnsville. I selected these ten for their uniqueness and for being especially representative of the town I once called home …
Burnsville Performing Arts Center
12600 Nicollet Avenue
Burnsville PAC’s Website
I never knew growing up how desperately the town needed a PAC to call its own. When I was a kid, the high school auditorium seemed to suffice for most of the performances I was aware of. But now that I’ve taken in the splendor of the city’s new Performing Arts Center, I lament its absence in my own youth. The building, which opened in January 2009, is the stunning heart of the “Heart of the City” (more on that a few randomly-ordered entries below). With a gorgeous exterior and plush interiors, the PAC has it all: a 1,000-plus seat main stage suitable for productions and concerts alike, an intimate “black box” theater, an art gallery, a reception room, rehearsal space and more. It boggles my mind that now Burnsville is capable of staging the musical version of Titanic (running this week through the end of July), a show I had to go to Broadway to see when I was in high school.
75 Civic Center Parkway
The Garage’s Website
You know this place is doing something right to be cited by City Pages as the Twin Cities’ best all-ages music venue five years in a row. That’s our Garage, a popular teen hangout that’s sort of like a city-sanctioned The Max. (Obscure reference decoded here.) Housed within the city’s civic headquarters, The Garage is a place where teens can learn how to dance, enjoy art workshops, eat some pizza, and, on weekends, attend the city’s storied battles of the bands. (The venue houses a fully-working stage that can make even the most tone-deaf teen rock bands feel like superstars.) The Garage is teen heaven.
The “Heart of the City”
Near Burnsville Parkway West and Nicollet Avenue
When I first learned they were planning a “Heart of the City” … well, more to the point, when I first learned they were planning to construct this “Heart of the City” at the corner of Nicollet Avenue and Burnsville Parkway, I admit I scoffed. How were they going to turn this deadwood gulch (which had never recovered after Burnsville Mall moved the commercial center of the city a few miles south) into a place where the entire city wanted to gather? Well, apparently they figured out how, and the transplant was a success. With the PAC as its anchor, the Heart of the City boasts a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater, a network of fountains to delight throngs of gleeful kids, a Jensen’s Café and myriad other restaurants. As Huey Lewis once sort of sang, “They say the heart of Burnsville is still beating.” And from what I’ve seen, I believe ’em.
15400 Buck Hill Road
Buck Hill’s Website
It’s sometimes derogatorily referred to by Burnsvillians as “Buck Bump,” but c’mon. Buck Hill was where Lindsay Vonn trained, and she has a gold medal. You do the math. Buck Hill is one of just a few skiing options in for Twin Citians to enjoy without making a major trek, and boasts some of the best-primped moguls in town. I know. My pliant, preteen bones bounced off them with the greatest of velocity back in the day. The bunny hill is the perfect spot to teach the tots how to, as Ike learned on South Park, “pizza” and “French-fry.” And in October, it’s gets turned into the spooky Frightmare at Buck Hill.
Mediterranean Cruise Cafe
12500 Nicollet Avenue
Mediterranean Cruise Cafe’s Website
For 30 years, the Mediterranean Cruise Café has brought delectable baba ganouje, creamy hummus and savory gyros to the quintessentially Midwestern suburb of Burnsville. Their fine comestibles used to only be available on the outskirts of town, but in June of last year, they made the big move to — where else? — the Heart of the City. Now occupying a spacious, opulently appointed ballroom (complete with chandeliers straight from Morocco), the Café is serving up homemade Greek and Mediterranean dishes and real, live belly-dancing like never before. Do not skip dessert — the flaky, sweet baklava is life-sustaining.
Crystal Lake Beach
Lac Lavon Drive one mile south of County Road 42
Crystal Beach’s Website
Every town has its own supernatural hot spot — a haunted house, an abandoned gas station, a possessed tree. Growing up, I was convinced we had the very same lake that Jason Vorhees stalked camp counselors in the Friday the 13th slasher series. (That I watched these movies at an age impressionable enough that I would be put into this position is neither here nor there.) Nominal connotations aside, Crystal Lake is also one of the prime public beaches in the southern suburbs, with plenty of space to catch some rays, a generous spot roped off for swimming, and, to date, no confirmed sightings of undead, machete-packing madmen in hockey masks.
12425 River Ridge Boulevard
Grand Slam’s Website
Grand Slam is the sort of place that was made for kids’ birthday parties. But adults can have fun there too. Grand Slam gets its namesake from the row of batting cages available for those of both pre- and post-draft age to hack away at slow and fast pitches. No, I didn’t test the cages out for myself to see if they held up. I’m sure my swing is as wan and emotionless as it was when I was a willowy young lad. Plus, there’s so much more to see and do at Grand Slam. With a pirate-themed miniature golf course, bumper cars, arcade, party room and, most importantly, a row of Skee-Ball lanes, Grand Slam is a one-stop party shop.
Near Burnsville Parkway West and Upton Avenue South
Neill Park’s Website
OK, this picture doesn’t do justice to the sole reason every kid I grew up with in Burnsville actually looked forward to winter months. Neill Park is, for the most part, your garden variety suburban field, with a couple plastic playgrounds, ghost town tennis courts, weeds and a few picnic tables protected by the overhangs of a suburban sort of pagoda. But cover Neill Hill with a nice thick layer of snow, and it’s the absolute perfect spot to spend an entire Saturday afternoon sledding. Adults may find the ride a little pedestrian, but half pints will think they’re hurtling down K-2.
El Loro Mexican Restaurant
2501 Horizon Drive
El Loro’s Website
I used to celebrate nearly all of my childhood birthdays with a Tex-Mex meal. But options in Burnsville used to be so limited in that department (Zantigo’s was just about it) that my family would have to hike up to 48th and Chicago in Minneapolis to indulge in some Pepito’s chile con queso (a savory dip I still enjoy frequently now that I live in Minneapolis). So you can imagine what a game-changer it was when El Loro opened in Savage. Finally, here was an authentic, affordable, delicious Tex-Mex option, and it was right in our own backyard! There’s now a Burnsville location on Cliff Road, so I don’t have to demote it to an honorable mention as I do my favorite Thai restaurant in the area (see below). Apparently, the restaurant has locations throughout the Twin Cities also bearing the names El Toro and El Azteca.
201 River Ridge Circle South
Of all the items on this list, none triggers as strong a rush of childhood memories as Skateville, where I remember doing the Snowball dance, trading coupons for plastic pencil-toppers, testing my romantic prowess on the love tester, eating Twinkies … oh, and falling on my keister repeatedly. And loving every minute. Ah, to be young again.
Eric Henderson is a web producer at WCCO.COM.