Archive | August, 2010

Birchwood Cafe

29 Aug

Visited Saturday, August 14th with Sarah and CM

Ryan
On a recent Sunday morning, Lauren and I met up with friends Walsh and Sarah to take in the Birchwood Cafe. This really hit home for Sarah as her sister Rachel is a waitress there!

My first impression—it reminded me a lot of French Meadow in Uptown, a trendy natural/organic restaurant that would likely serve healthy but overpriced, under-portioned local items… not my cup of tea. In fact I feel downright out of place and uncomfortable in a restaurant like that. The fact that a restaurant serves local items just doesn’t do anything for me. But I didn’t want to judge too quickly!

At Birchwood, just like French Meadow, you walk in and order from the counter, then go sit down and wait for your food. The four of us must have stood there for five minutes studying the menu before ordering. The breakfast menu consisted of about ten options, plus the lunch menu was about to begin. I eventually opted for the $9 savory waffle special which came highly recommended by Rachel, and also ordered some of their homemade lemonade.

We found a booth and sat down moments before the big rush. Good timing! Things like condiments, silverware, napkins, water, etc. were not to be found at each individual table, but were available near the counter. Our food was relatively quick to arrive, and I was very surprised at what was set before me.

The wildly imaginative waffle I ordered.

The wildly imaginative waffle I ordered.

This waffle was unlike any I’ve ever ordered or seen before. When I think waffle, I think a plain circle waffle with butter and syrup. This concoction basically used the waffle as a plate for more traditional breakfast items. In one quarter there was an over-easy egg. On top of that were pieces of bacon. On another quarter was some sort of mango-based salsa Lauren note: Ryan’s fruit salsa was muskmelon based — very exotic! — not mango. Another quarter featured tomato-basil butter and walnuts. And lastly there was a cup of natural maple syrup. I was pretty intrigued!

The waffle itself was one of the best waffles I’ve ever had—way fluffier and delicate than most tough waffles. I enjoyed sampling each bite with a different combination of toppings. The thick-cut free range bacon was really tasty. Lauren and I shared an order of wild rice pork sausage as well. Astoundingly, between the single waffle shown above and that one sausage patty, I was nearly full! I had held out almost zero hope that this breakfast/brunch would leave me fulfilled, and maybe it was just a one-time fluky thing, but it left me only slightly hungry after consumption.

Birchwood's house-made Pork Wild Rice Sausage

Obviously our waitress was very attentive and helpful. Despite all the rave reviews I’ve heard of this place, there was amazingly no line to get in on a weekend at 11am. Between the $9 waffle, the $3 lemonade, and the $2 for my portion of the sausage, I thought perhaps things were a little overpriced, but one must know what they’re getting themselves into when they go into a place that serves local natural ingredients. Not a bad experience at all, but I must say I’m still not sold on paying extra for local/natural items. I’ll go back with Lauren if she wants to.

Food: 8
Portions: 5
Value: 6
Atmosphere: 8
Staff: 10
Experience: 7

Lauren:
I always draw a blank on breakfast places. On a recent Saturday morning, I even pulled up this blog on the computer, scoured it and told Sarah, who was on the phone, “Uh, I don’t think we have any breakfast places on the list. Where do you wanna go? French Meadow?” Duh! Birchwood Cafe has been on our list since the very beginning! Luckily Sarah’s older sister works there, so she thought that it would be fun to visit her, and I agreed (plus, Ryan and CM both hate French Meadow and most of the other Uptown-y breakfast joints).

We met up with Sarah and CM and attempted to decipher the menu. I was a little bit overwhelmed by all of the choices, as it was getting towards lunch time, maybe I would like to have a nice turkey sandwich? Instead I went for the “Saturday Scramble” which had eggs, cheese, onions, and fennel (and maybe some other bits and bobs that I can’t quite recall; their menu changes very frequently). Sarah ordered a side of the pork-wild rice sausage and that sounded delish and came recommended by Rachel, so Ryan and I ordered a side of that as well. I got a tasty cold press coffee to sip on.

The "Saturday Scramble"

My dish came with a side of whole grain toast (very tasty) and rosemary roasted potatoes (sounded good, execution not so great) and a bit of fruit.

The scramble was quite tasty, I very much enjoyed the fennel and caramelized onions but as I told Rachel, I found it far too salty, but that perhaps it was just too much cheese? She said this was a frequent comment and that she agreed that a lot of their savory dishes came out salted with a heavy hand. (why hasn’t the kitchen staff been told to chill out with the sodium then?! I am perfectly able to add salt at the table if I feel it’s necessary, but I am not able to remove it.)

All in all, I thought Birchwood was good but not great. I give it points for local sourcing, fair trade et cetera but I cannot forgive a kitchen staff that abuses the salt for no good reason. It’s worth another try, perhaps to pick up a pastry or two (we did grab a German chocolate brownie for the road, more for Ryan than for myself although I did try a nibble and it was pleasingly fudgy).

Ambience – 4/5. It wasn’t too busy when we were there, so we were not crowded, but I could see it getting cramped on a busy weekend morning.
Service – 5/5. Thanks Rachel D! Although, I have to say that I am confused by restaurants that have “self serve” water and condiments as they never seem to have enough little dishes for jam or what-not. Should I just bring my whole plate over? Just my toast? Or try to manoeuvre a knife-full of jam back to the table? But really, I think that’s just my personal issue to work through… 🙂
Food – 3/5. My eggs were intensely salty. Loved the bread and the house-made sausage patties; rosemary potatoes were OK. Ryan was pleasantly surprised by his savoury waffle.
Overall experience – 3.5/5. Good! I would try other breakfast places before returning to Birchwood (that is, if I can remember them in a pre-coffee haze of decision making) but it would be a place I’d like to visit again.

Advertisements

Blue Door Pub

27 Aug

Visited Tuesday, August 24th with Dick and Marcie Glanzer

Ryan
With my parents visiting from South Dakota, we decided to take them out to a restaurant on our “must try” list. Something casual and local was the thought, so we took in St. Paul’s Blue Door Pub, one of the area’s four restaurants claiming to have the best Juicy Lucy type of burger. At Blue Door Pub, their famous burger is known as the Blucy.

Much like competitor Matt’s Bar, the line to get a table stretched outside with a 15-20 minute wait for indoor seating. But there were outdoor tables, and on an unseasonably pleasant August night, we opted to sit outside. The only catch is they don’t serve alcohol outside, and their beer list was supposedly very impressive. That was disappointing, but clearly the outdoor area was a far more pleasant place to sit.

I scoured the menu up and down looking for a burger that didn’t have much cheese, but I was out of luck. As I’ve said many times before, I’m not a big cheese fan, but will certainly eat it in smaller doses if it’s part of an entrée. I could have done a custom build-a-burger, but I was really wanting to try one of their original concoctions. With that in mind, I thought the Bangkok Blucy was my best bet. The mozzarella on the inside of the burger was soaked in coconut oil first. The burger was then prepared with  some Thai-style vegetables on top, and came with a side of spicy curry dipping sauce. I also ordered the fries. Dad opted for the Bacon Blucy, while Mom tried the weekly special Guadalupe Lucy.

Bangkok Blucy

Ryan tried the Bangkok Blucy

Coming from a family that raises its own cows, I have eaten many hamburgers over the years, and always have a freezer stocked full of hamburger, so it takes quite a bit to impress this guy. But I must say the Bangkok was pretty awesome. The first few bites were good, but I wasn’t getting a blast of Thai flavor like I expected, but I had overlooked the dish of curry sauce at first. When dipped in that, the Bangkok really came to life! I believe it was a 1/3 lb. burger, which is a bit smaller than the burgers I usually make for myself, but it was filling. I barely noticed the cheese since it had more of a coconut flavor to it. For me, this was a winning burger.

I don’t have much to grade other than the food for the Blue Door Pub, seeing how we didn’t really get to  see the inside of the restaurant or experience their beer list. The service was good, the menu had lots more options than the other local burger establishments, and the food was very tasty. Between the four of us, our bill was in the $40 range, so it was also affordable. I’d go there again.

Lauren:
I had suggested the Blue Door Pub once before, but we ended up going to Saji Ya instead that night – and thank God! We went with Ryan’s parents on a mild Tuesday night at 8pm and found ourselves in the peanut-sized restaurant, yelling back and forth over the din (and probably ruining the dinner of the table we were practically standing on top of) if we should wait for inside seating or sit on the sidewalk and forgo the BDP’s supposedly awesome beer list. We chose the quieter, beer-less route and sought immediate seating outside. I can’t imagine how busy it must be on a Saturday night!

I think it took me longest of the four of us to decide on what I should order… everything looked so tasty! I was torn between the original Blucy and the Merriam Park, which was just like the original (blue cheese and garlic) with the addition of bacon and red currant jelly. In the end I went the sweet-savory route with the Merriam Park. I also ordered tator tots, which I love but ended up being COMPLETELY unnecessary as I could only finish half of my burger.

Merriam Park Blucy

Lauren went the savoury-meets-sweet route with the Merriam Park Blucy

Unfortunately I think I made the wrong choice as the red currant jelly was more sweet than I was expecting…I had hoped for a savory-sweet-tart experience. I thought Ryan’s Bangkok Blucy was FANTASTIC though! That coconut curry dipping sauce they served with the burger was outstanding and I definitely dipped most of my tots in it. He was definitely on the fence about whether to build his own burger or to get one of the house specialties, but I did my part to badger him a little bit about not re-inventing the wheel, and I think he was pleased with his decision.

On all technical notes I think the Blue Door Pub hit all the right notes. While the M.P. Blucy wasn’t my favorite from a taste standpoint, from a Jucy Lucy standpoint it was prepared very well…toasty bun, melty cheese without having a charred meat exterior…mmmmm. I have attempted my share of home-Jucy Lucy making and I can *never* get it right. I always overcook the meat and the cheese leaks out from the burger.

Service was fine, I don’t think any of us had any complaints. I think the server may have forgotten about us once or twice and didn’t check on us very often (I recall her apologising) but I wasn’t bothered; my water and Diet Coke were both kept reasonably filled.

All in all, the Blue Door is definitely a place I would like to go back to. I would love to try another Blucy and experience this beer list I keep hearing so much about! Someone tell me, though, is there a time when they’re not busy? Early Wednesday morning? Sunday at precisely 4:19 pm?

Ambience – 4.5/5. We sat outside. Although BDP is on somewhat of a main  street, it’s a dead end so there isn’t too much traffic past the front of the restaurant
Service – 3.5/5. No complaints here. Our waitress apologized for not checking in with us more, but I don’t think any of us minded being left alone to eat our burgers.
Food – 3.5/5. I think I would have liked it more with a different burger – but that was my fault for bad ordering.  Next time I will know better! Also, I really wish something could be done so you could sit on the sidewalk AND have a beer!
Overall experience – 4/5. I really liked it! It was small, of course, and had an upscale neighbourhood pub feel…although, to really pull off the neighbourhood pub thing, they would need to have about seating for about 50 more, just MHO. But all of the people waiting outside near our table were very mellow, so to have them standing around was not really a bother. I can say that the Blue Door Pub is a place that I would definitely go again!

Amore Victoria

18 Aug

Ryan
Lauren had been gone to some sort of family function the weekend of July 25, so when she arrived home late Sunday afternoon, I wanted to go grab a bite somewhere with her before heading back to work for the week. We walked downstairs and outside our apartment and debated which way to go. It was a perfect summer evening with no bugs, mild temperatures, and clear skies, so we wanted to sit outdoors. Lauren remembered reading about good happy hour specials at a local Italian place called Amore Victoria. We had tried to go there on Valentine’s weekend this year and found it was insanely packed, and we had wanted to go back sometime when it was less busy.

We were greeted by the host who seated us, and proceeded to tell us a three-minute story about how he watched Top Gun on LaserDisc many years ago with his ex-girlfriend who now lives in Fargo. It was very odd but he was funny and we felt sufficiently warmly greeted.

The drink specials included a short list of half-price bottles of wine, $3 house taps, $5 featured taps, and a selection of inexpensive glasses of wine. We opted to start out with a half-price bottle of Riesling for $17, an excellent choice for a nice summer night. The happy hour food menu featured some $5 appetizers, $5 one-topping pizzas, and Angus hamburgers or steakburgers for $5.50. As per usual, we agreed on the calamari fritti appetizer, while I ordered the Angus steakburger with fries.

Service was pretty good to start the night. Our waitress Liz was pleasant and stopped by frequently to check in. The view of the intersection of Lake and Irving was nice as the sun went down. The outdoor tables were pretty well full most of the night and everyone around us was in cheerful spirits.

Our calamari with marinara sauce arrived, and we dug in. I ate the big pieces with visible tentacles while Lauren stuck to the ring-shaped pieces. We’ve had calamari as an appetizer so many times recently. I don’t know if this was as good as Saji-Ya’s calamari, but I would say it seemed lighter. My burger arrived shortly thereafter, but without fries. The waitress admitted her mistake and didn’t charge us for them, and soon a heaping basket of steak fries were delivered.

Amore Victoria, Minneapolis - calamari fritti

Our $5 appetizer, the Calamari Fritti

My burger was kinda odd. I guess I’ve never had a steak burger like that before. The texture seemed as if it was ground-up steak that was pieced back together in the shape of the original piece of steak. Slightly unusual, but filling and relatively agreeable with the palate. It was served with a mound of lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. My only complaint was the burger was over-seasoned with salt.

Amore Victoria, Minneapolis - happy hour Angus steak burger

The happy hour special, $6.50 Angus steak burger.

Amore Victoria, Minneapolis - happy hour french fries

Our big plate of french fries for just $1.50!

As the night went on, we ordered a couple more drinks and chatted as it became dark outside and a few bugs came out. Amore Victoria was close to closing, and most of the outdoor patrons had left. Our service became a little sparse towards the end of the night, but I left a 14% tip anyway.

Overall, I liked my experience at Amore Victoria. Next time I will try one of their more authentic Italian dishes, which seemed reasonably priced, ranging from $13-$20 a plate.

Food: 6
Portions: 7

Value: 8
Atmosphere: 8
Staff: 7
Experience: 7

Lauren:

After I returned home from a family weekend in La Crosse, WI, Ryan and I were eager to have a little bit of weekend to spend with each other. He didn’t attend the family party due to his having to DJ a wedding. We wanted to enjoy the truly stunning  late July weather on a local patio, and I recalled seeing Amore Victoria’s charming sidewalk tables a few days earlier so I suggested that…I’m a sucker for a good sidewalk cafe!

As Ryan mentioned, when we first arrived we were bombarded by a truly bizarre story from the host about watching Top Gun with a girl on her dad’s Laser Disc. Wow. It was extremely awkward, made more so by the fact that Ryan and I admitted that we have not seen the movie, which always garners shocked expressions and admonitions that we “just HAVE to watch it as soon as possible”.

We quickly settled on the Alice White Riesling, which was cold and crisp and a bit fruity. The perfect antidote to a hot summer day!

Of course, we HAD to get the calamari! It’s almost a joke at this point…but we love calamari. This was no disappointment! I am definitely in disagreement with Ryan as I thought this was much better than the large, tough pieces at Saji-Ya.

I wasn’t too hungry, but Ryan was so he ordered the Steak Burger with fries. I thought the burger was almost terrible… SO salty. But the fries were delicious! Absolutely terrific.

Pancho Villa

16 Aug

Visited Thursday, July 22nd 2010
Ryan
Thursday, July 22, Lauren and I met up with her younger brother Matt, his girlfriend Calla, and four other of his friends to celebrate Matt’s 22nd birthday at Pancho Villa, an inconspicuous little Mexican place on Minneapolis’s Eat Street (26th & Nicollet). Lauren had been to Pancho Villa with a group a few months ago for a birthday party and was amazed at all the awesome birthday deals: birthday boy/girl drinks free all night, free cake, and a spin of the birthday wheel which can win you even more great prizes! Apparently the local community has taken note—I think everyone in the place was with a group celebrating someone’s birthday.

Matt Poulter celebrates his 22nd birthday at Pancho Villa.

The occasion was celebrating Lauren's brother Matt's 22nd birthday.

My review of Pancho Villa is going to be excessively glowing, and my ratings will show it is the best overall restaurant I’ve reviewed so far. They were nearly perfect in every aspect, acing all of the areas I look for in a good place to eat. I would consider a great restaurant to have big portions of tasty food at a good value with fast service, not a lot of sitting around waiting for food and drink to arrive, with a comfortable dining atmosphere, a gimmick or two, and hell, even throw in a giant HD TV right in front of our table in the dining area. Pancho Villa had all of these areas covered and then some!

We were promptly waited on and ordered drinks upon arrival, and within a couple minutes our drinks had arrived. During the week, it’s always 2-for-1 drink specials, and giant margaritas are only $4.98 to start with, so with the special they were really just $2.49 each! I of course ordered that while Lauren opted for the Dos Equis. Free chips and salsa were also at the table for appetizers. Before long, the waitress was back to take our order. She was the first true “low-talker” I’ve met before, like that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry agrees to wear the puffy pirate shirt on the Today Show. Her voice was barely audible, so I found myself just nodding “yes” to some of her questions, but I eventually was able to successfully place my order off their excessively big menu. I ordered the #77, some sort of fajita platter that included a big sizzling plate of chicken, beef, shrimp, and all sorts of veggies.

The food arrived in a very short time; we had probably only been in the restaurant for 30 minutes at this point. My meal consisted of three platters—the tortillas, the meat/vegetables, and a plate of rice, refried beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and all the fixins. It was a whopping portion of food, and all for $13.95. I received four flour tortillas, which wasn’t nearly enough to hold all the ingredients, but ate what was left over with a fork. I am a sucker for ridiculously insane hot sauces, and they had this tiny bottle of a Hispanic green hot sauce on the table that I doused over my food. I was sucking the waters and margaritas back trying to cool my mouth!

My dinner at Pancho Villa, Minneapolis.

The #77 Pancho Villa Fajitas at Pancho Villa.

I can’t foresee any reason why I wouldn’t come back to Pancho Villa, whether for someone’s birthday or otherwise. I just regret not visiting it more often when we lived three blocks down the street!

Food: 9
Portions: 9 (Gasthof set the bar a bit too high!)
Value: 9
Atmosphere: 9
Staff: 9 (low-talker drops a point)
Experience: 9

I’ve had more delicious food, bigger portions, lower prices, and better staff before, but to have all these things rate this high in one restaurant is rare.

Lauren

As Ryan mentioned, I have been to Pancho Villa once before (in addition, I think we ordered it as take-out when we lived at 26th & Blaisdell) for our friend Sarah’s birthday. Before that I had heard from literally dozens of people that this was the place to go for your birthday. Boy is it ever! As Mexican food should be, it is cheap and filling and decently authentic.

I don’t find the interior anything special, but that’s not the point. The point is, of course, the nearly-constant happy hour and the insane birthday specials. Of course, that’s why Ryan & I suggested it as a venue for my baby brother’s 22nd birthday.

As I have before, I ordered one of the combination plates. They come with your choice of meats so I chose a chicken enchilada, a beef tamal and a pork tostada. And of course these came with a ridiculous amount of refried beans and Mexican rice (which is, I know from work, rice cooked in a tomato-chicken broth. Knorr and other manufacturers even sell this flavor combination as a premade bouillon!)

Lauren's dinner at Pancho Villa.

Lauren's dinner at Pancho Villa.

So, so much food that I could barely finish half of it, not counting the frijoles or the rice. And I don’t think I ate a single chip before our meals were brought out to us. And I think my entire meal cost something like $8! Ryan and I jokingly wondered if the place was a front for drugs or something – how else could they sell their food cheaply, have two-for-ones almost all the time, and give away all kinds of freebies for birthdays??

Everything that I was able to eat was fantastic…..certainly not a healthy meal, but a delicious treat.

The real fun of the dinner was all of the stuff they gave to or did for my brother. The giant margarita (served in one of those novelty glasses that I think are technically meant to be a centerpiece), the flaming shot, the alcohol-soaked birthday cake, and the sping on “the wheel”. The birthday boy or girl always gets to spin on the wheel of prizes, and if you come in with a group of six or more one person gets to spin the wheel. They have options like free entree, free dessert, free entrees for your table…so what did Matt win?

Free drinks for the whole table! We were all very happy to hear that our $5 two-for-one margaritas were, in the end, free! Of course that deal only applies to drinks ordered before the spin, so we were promptly given our bill.

Overall a very fun way to celebrate my li’l bro! Happy birthday buddy!

Ambience: 3/5 – totally not the point! Nothing exciting, nothing wrong with it.

Service: 3.5/5 – good. Again, our waitress was very hard to hear. But other than that I had no complaints (except, I think I had to remind her more than once to bring me a glass of water).

Food: 4.5/5 – delicious! Totally put me in a food coma, and I barely ate half of my plate. This is the kind of place that is right up Ryan’s alley, unpretentious, large portions of food at a low price. It’s not always my cup of tea, but I’m happy to make my husband happy when I can (then he is more likely to agree to eat at places like Surdyk’s Flights when we are at the airport, even though it is the kind of frou-frou food he loathes.)

Overall Experience: 4/5 – Very good! Pancho Villa is a place I highly recommend when going out for a birthday – it always is awkward when the birthday boy or girl wants to go somewhere “nice” for their birthday but you are apprehensive about blowing your monthly budget on someone else’s party (I hope that doesn’t sound snotty. It can be challenging to pick a place for a group to go out to dinner, I know.) But Pancho Villa is a perfect place; their menu is gargantuan and has options well under $10 to over $20 for some of the seafoods.