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Goodbye Minneapolis

3 Aug

Hello fans of Eating in Minneapolis!

If you are wondering why there haven’t been very many reviews up on the site lately, it’s because I (Ryan) moved to Austin, TX at the end of June and wife Lauren is soon to follow in the coming weeks. We have been wanting to have an adventure and try living somewhere new for a while. Many cities were discussed including Seattle, Portland, Charlotte, Nashville, and Toronto, but in the end all signs pointed to Austin with its low cost of living, mild winters, amazing entertainment options, and of course outstanding restaurants. The average Austinite spends more money eating out per year than any city in the country, so I’m sure the two of us will start up an Austin food blog soon.

Thanks to all our readers for following us the past two years!

Ryan and Lauren

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Famous Dave’s BBQ and Blues Club

18 Jun

Famous Dave’s BBQ and Blues Club
Visited Sunday, June 5th 2011

Ryan
Famous Dave’s is synonymous with BBQ in the Twin Cities. Maybe not as legendary as Arthur Bryant’s is to Kansas City, but it is THE place for BBQ locally, and with very good reason. For many years, I declared Famous Dave’s to be my all-time favorite place to eat. The brisket and pulled pork were succulent, and while waiting for my slabs of meat to arrive I would try all the different BBQ sauces at the table with a spoon or knife.

Since I moved to the Twin Cities part-time in 2002, Famous Dave’s has been the “go to” place for family and friends visiting me. I have very happy memories of eating a big BBQ supper on a scorching hot summer night after work at Valleyfair at the Minnetonka location off Hwy 7, with a tall Summit to drink and a Twins game on TV in the corner. I even took a couple first dates to Famous Dave’s over the years. (Not Lauren… we had Indian food.)

Lately, due to our attempt to try more new restaurants rather than revisiting old favorites, Famous Dave’s was sort of put on hold. But once I started thinking about it last week and really craving some BBQ, it was on hold no longer and Lauren and I paid a visit to the location at Calhoun Square on a Sunday evening. We sat outside on a very pleasant night and I intentionally photo-bombed some international tourists’ group photo a table over.

I always get the same thing, every single time—Two-Meat Combo. Included are the corn muffin, corn-on-the-cob, two sides, and two meats, which is usually enough food even for me. This time I opted for the Georgia pulled pork and the catfish, with sides of green beans and mashed potatoes. I like to douse everything in the different kinds of BBQ sauce, and by “douse” I mean “smother.” Famous Dave’s recently introduced Wilbur’s Revenge, a sauce a level above the previously hottest Devil’s Spit. It was pretty dang hot and spicy, although not bursting in deliciousness like the other flavors. I don’t need to tell you the food was all amazing. The catfish came with two dipping sauces (I still preferred the BBQ sauces at the table) and the pork came on a big slice of Texas Toast. Mouth watering as I type…

Since we had been at Beer Fest the day before and I drank my weight in 4 oz. beer samples, I opted to order a Pepsi instead, and our attentive waitress kept it filled all night long. While eating, we noticed that—gasp!—Famous Dave’s has a Sunday brunch buffet. I knew we had no choice but to try it at our earliest convenience, so the following week, Lauren and I met good friend Patrick Lynch to decimate the buffet. (Yes, I know “decimate” means to destroy one-tenth of something, which is approximately what I did.)

The brunch buffet featured a lot of typical brunchy things, along with Famous Dave’s chicken wings and rib tips. They also featured a Bloody Mary bar and omelet station. Everything was pretty good, but the French Toast with the butter and praline sauce was the best I’ve ever eaten. Amazing! Strangely, I also really enjoyed the alfredo pasta dish. With some light bluesy jazz band in the background, it made for a nice atmosphere. I ate three plates full and didn’t need another meal the rest of the day!

Lauren
Ah, Famous Dave’s. So Midwestern! I honestly couldn’t tell you if this is “real” barbecue but it tastes damn good to me. It’s one of those better examples of a small chain restaurant that really does achieve consistent results. Except if you go to the Linden Hills location, where my mother-in-law and I saw a rat once. Swear to God. She wrote to Famous Dave’s and they sent her a $100 gift card, which was a good gesture but it’s also kind of funny – kind of like, “Sorry you saw a rodent in one of our restaurants! Here, come eat at one of our restaurants again, our treat.” Um, thanks? But, I digress. And I sincerely promise that I’ve been to the Calhoun Square location of Famous Dave’s and I’ve never seen any rodents.

Like Ryan, I usually go for the two-meat combo, but for me it’s mostly about being indecisive. UNLIKE Ryan, it’s always too much food for me and I either take half home, or he eats the rest. Can you guess which it was this visit? The latter. I got brisket and fried chicken, with the sides of steamed broccoli and potato salad, and I ate maybe half of it.

One of the things I hate about eating meat, in general (and I know I’m repeating myself here on the blog) is fatty, icky meats. I only eat lean meat. If it’s too….icky….I won’t touch it. Unfortunately, a lot of the times the brisket at Famous Dave’s is “icky” to me, but Ryan doesn’t seem to have any hang-ups about it. So out of three slices of brisket and two pieces of fried chicken I ate one of each. And I ate the broccoli and potato salad. And he ate the rest!

The fried chicken was delicious, though. Very crispy skin and juicy interior. I don’t eat much fried chicken for health reasons but believe you me, if I didn’t have such concerns I would be taking down a fried chicken breast weekly, at least. God damn, that is good stuff.

When we saw the ad for the brunch buffet, I knew it wouldn’t take much convincing of Ryan to go. He LOVES buffets, especially brunch-focused ones. I have to say, it was pretty dang good! I typically don’t like buffets and would rather order off of a breakfast menu – smaller portions, better quality is my motto. But for a brunch buffet this one started out well. They had a massive display of fresh fruit! Mmm-mm! Outstanding pineapple. Most of the rest was standard…eggs, bacon, sausage links, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, barbecued chicken, ham… and of course Famous Dave’s famous bread pudding, because what could be more brunch-ish than ridiculously decadent bread pudding coated in praline sauce? Omigod, I die just thinking about it.

Ambiance – The patio is nice, especially now that the Calhoun Square remodel is mostly done, the area of the patio is pedestrian-only. Inside can be very loud if there’s live music.
Service – Very good, no complaints here. Ryan’s Coke and my Arnold Palmer were both kept filled. However another waitress did trip over one of those cigarette butt tank things and nearly came crashing into me, she started cursing loudly and complaining about it. I felt like she should have apologized for the swearing but whatever.
Food – Always tasty!
Overall experience – Very positive. Ryan loves Famous Dave’s and I like it and am happy to oblige him!

The Necessities
Famous Dave’s BBQ and Blues Club
3001 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN
612.822.9900

Have you eaten at Famous Dave’? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below!

Bonus! Eating on the Road: New York

4 Jun

May was a crazy month for traveling! Lauren and I visited New York and Boston on vacation over the span of eight days earlier this month, this past week I visited Austin, and this past weekend we visited South Dakota for my ten-year high school reunion. We thought we’d take you through our whirlwind month of eats and treats, beginning today with New York!

Subs Conscious – 1625 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY – May 4
R:
I had the Nuclear Sub, which was loaded with jalapenos, peppers, and hot sauce. It lived up to the billing and had my nose a little sniffly. Filling lunch, decent price.
L: I had the Valedictorian, which I can’t seem to find on the online menu to recall exactly what went in it. If my memory serves, it was turkey, ham and bacon with blue cheese dressing and veggies. Tasty! A very serviceable sandwich for a quick meal.

McFadden’s – 36-2 126th St, Flushing, NY – May 4
R:
We took in a chilly Mets/Giants game at CitiField and paid extra for the pregame open bar with free app. The wing portions were small and typical tasting. Nothing special here.
L: I’m not a fan of chicken wings so I went with the “Signature Waffle Fries” loaded with cheese, bacon and chives. The menu claims that it has monterey jack and Vermont cheddar, but it tasted more like your average liquid nacho cheese. No complaints though. It was cold out and although the fries were not fine fare by any means, they were hot, salty, bacon-y and hit the spot most certainly.

Jean Georges Nougatine – 1 Central Park West, New York, NY – May 5
R:
Our friend Elise insisted we do a fancy three-course lunch for $32 at Jean Georges in the Trump Tower. I chose the avacado shrimp salad, red snapper, and warm chocolate cake with ice cream. Totally worth the $32, but watch out–Coke is $4.50 a glass with no free refills… oops.
L:
I went with the green pea soup for my starter, which was fresh and delicious but sadly over-salted. I wasn’t feeling very well for lunch, and unfortunately I ordered the salmon for my main course which was a mistake; I should have ordered something plainer as the fish didn’t sit well with me and I barely touched it. 😦 Dessert was a strawberry-rhubarb linzer torte with basil ice cream. Delicious!

B. Café West – 566 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY – May 5
R:
Our gracious NY hosts took us out to a delicious Belgian dinner at B. Café, where I opted to try something new–the steamed garlic mussels. There were 30 of them, so I was filled. And the beer menu was outstanding. High marks!
L: Very tasty. We started out with some yummy cheese croquettes and I had the an amazing dish of sea scallops, asparagus and pureed turnip. Perfect!

B. Cafe - steaming pot of mussels

My steaming pot of mussels at B. Cafe

Street Cart – 350 5th Ave, New York, NY – May 6
R:
We both opted for chicken gyros from a street cart, and they were good but absurdly messy. You really need a table… I had chicken all over the sidewalk.
L: Eh, I was not impressed with my messy, drippy, chicken gyro. Should have tried to find a hot dog cart instead!

McGee’s Pub – 240 W 55th St, New York, NY – May 6
R:
We went in here because of its ties to How I Met Your Mother and mostly drank refreshments, but we also ordered some very tasty Irish curry steak fries.
L:  They had some good drinks and the curry fries were recommended all over FourSquare, and they did not disappoint.

McGee's Pub - New York, NY

Chilling at McGee's, site where HIMYM is based

Dinosaur BBQ – 700 W 125th St, New York, NY – May 6
R:
After a day on the town, we stayed in and our hosts ordered delivery from Dinosaur BBQ. It was good BBQ with some tasty sides, but I think Famous Dave’s is quite a bit better.
L: Wouldn’t think of NYC as the place to order BBQ, but this was pretty good! We were told that it’s sort of a famous place that celebrities are known to haunt. Very good sweet potatoes and delicious chicken!

Le Monde – 2885 Broadway, New York, NY – May 7
R:
We wandered down to Seinfeld landmark Tom’s Diner, but opted instead to eat across the street at a better restaurant for brunch. I had the eggs benedict with extra potatoes… no better or worse than any other benedict I’ve had!
L: I had the smoked salmon benedict which was very tasty, although the eggs were poached quite hard which I did not like. The home fries were most excellent.

Gray’s Papaya – 2090 Broadway #1, New York, NY – May 7
R:
Lauren wanted to try this New York hotdog landmark. I felt a little pressured not knowing how to order. To me they were pretty ordinary hotdogs.
L: Yeah, the ordering system was really confusing but I thought the hot dogs delicious! Mustard, sauerkraut and a pineapple-coconut drink. I was a fan.

Lauren eating Gray's Papaya hotdog

Lauren tries the hotdog at Gray's Papaya

Swagat Indian Restaurant – 411 Amsterdam #A, New York, NY – May 7
R:
We got takeout for 4 here and I ordered everything “extra spicy,” which garnered some caution from the staff. The chicken makhani and chicken vindaloo were both good but not overwhelmingly spicy. Not up to Biryani standards!
L: Pretty standard Indian food, I thought it was very good! Dishes were about the same price as you’d find in the Twin Cities, which I was surprised by. I think they took it easy on the spiciness. It’s so hard to convince an Indian restaurant to make us truly spicy food!

Next time, we’ll take a look at our Boston restaurants visited!

Kieran’s Irish Pub

1 Mar

Kieran’s Irish Pub
Visited Saturday, February 26th, 2011

kierans exterior

Ryan
Saturday morning, I was in the mood for a long walk despite the driving snow, howling wind, and zero-degree temp. My plan was to venture from our Uptown apartment to Downtown Minneapolis. Lauren decided to come along as well and test out her new camera. After close to three miles of start-and-stop walking, pausing to take pictures of squirrels on branches and snow on Target Field, we were cold and hungry and decided to duck into Kieran’s Irish Pub for a pint of lager and a wholesome lunch.

beer list

Kieran’s was surprisingly festive and busy for noon on a Saturday in the winter, but there was some sort of costumed pitch-n-putt competition going on. Lauren and I were seated in a back dinner area that was much quieter than the main bar floor. We arrived during happy hour, which meant $4 pints of all the good draught beers. I opted for the Kilkenny, a Boddington’s-like frothy beer from Guinness, which was a quality brew, no doubt. I had two, in fact.

kilkenny full

The brunch menu was still in effect, so our choices were a little different than normal. I was very hungry and immediately shifted over to the section of the menu that featured a handful of dinner-like options. I was in the mood for something warm and heavy, also something authentically Irish. That’s when the “Green Ox Sausages and Champ” struck my attention. Described as “Green Ox black pepper & leek sausages on a bed of champ with peas, topped with rich caramelized onion gravy,” I couldn’t help but wonder what to expect. The waiter insisted it was an awesome choice, so I went with it.

green ox sausages etc

The waiter, Bryan G., asked me to give my honest feedback on the sausages after I was finished. These sausages are produced locally especially for Kieran’s and have recently been classified as gluten-free. My first impression was that this meal was exactly what I had in mind, only a little smaller in portion size. Two homemade sausages covered in gravy, sitting on a bed of champ (mashed potatoes, essentially), with peas and onion straws: this looked like a hearty meal on a cold winter’s day.

ukelele

The sausages were really tasty, though they fell apart and tore badly before I could get them into my mouth. This, Bryan explained, is because they no longer use bread crumbs in the recipe. The champ was tasty, probably a bit thinner than regular mashed potatoes. The peas were surprisingly tasty, and the onion straws, although likely there for garnish, added some liveliness to the meal. I told Bryan that this meal was positioned perfectly on the menu in that it was more brunch/lunch-like than dinner-like. I would order this again as a daytime food because the sausages more closely resembled breakfast sausages than a grilling-type brat on a bun. Additionally, I would have liked one more sausage. That would have earned my highest rating. But the meal was borderline filling for noon-time.

samuel beckett

Lauren
I’ll cop to being a little perplexed when Ryan announced his intentions to walk downtown from our apartment on Saturday morning. It was driving snow! Zero degrees outside! Add to that his initial plan to walk from our apartment to Target Field to the Metrodome and then back, just over six miles. In the zero degree, driving snow weather! He reconsidered and I decided to accompany him on a brisk march to Target Field, so long as we stopped at our favorite bagel spot first for carbs and caffeine. Admittedly, I was excited to try out my new telephoto lens! In addition to my Canon T1i with the 18-55 kit lens, I recently bought a used 55-250mm telephoto lens from the awesome crew at National Camera and was excited to play with it.

wall mural

After walking through Loring Park and taking about 412 thousand pictures of a squirrel eating some bread, we made it to Target Field. We warmed up in the pro shop before I took photos of Ryan with all of the statues. However, after we spent a solid ten minutes in the pro shop feeling all warm and toasty, going back outside was absolutely miserable. I told Ryan that a Guinness was just the ticket back to warmth for this gal! So we set course for Kieran’s Irish Pub. We’d been there a time or two before, of course, most notably for the US-England 2010 World Cup game, but it was much quieter this time. Not too quiet though! My oh my was there a rowdy crowd in downtown Minneapolis.

crispin

I started my afternoon out with a Crispin, which is always a favorite but I really regretted it this time. I was freezing cold and Crispin is served on ice!! But it was very tasty, as always.

I was still feeling pretty full from my Common Roots bagel and Honey Nut latte (mmmm delicious!) so I went for a bowl of the Whisky Tomato Soup and I requested a bit of bread on the side. It was warm, creamy but not too heavy with just enough spice to warm me up inside…mmmm, perfect. Ryan seemed shocked that I was just getting a bowl of soup but I could barely finish it! How that husband of mine has such an appetite, I will never know.

whisky tomato cream soup

After that I switched it up and finally got my Guinness. Much better choice.

artsy guinness

When all was said and done I knew I didn’t have it in me to walk all the way back home, so I convinced Ryan to hop on the bus. We parted ways when I got off at Franklin & Hennepin to go to the Wedge for a few groceries, and he went further down Hennepin to Penzey’s Spices to pick up some Sweet Hungarian Paprika for me. What a guy!

empty kilkenny glass

Ambiance – Traditional Irish pub look and feel, I like the bar area with its little nooks and crannies better than the dining area we were in. I really liked the lamps on the ceilings, like the one above of Samuel Beckett…really cool.
Service – Bryan, our server, was very friendly and engaging and talked with us quite a bit about Green Ox, which I had heard of before as I keep up with local food blogs. It was fun to try some of the product! He was also telling us that they are producing their own whisky for just the Local, Kieran’s and Cooper’s starting soon…very interesting. It’s always great to chat with a server who is genuinely interested in the food they’re serving and not just pushing crap from the back of a Sysco truck.
Food – My soup was perfect for the weather, a touch of richness from the cream but not too heavy, and of course I loved that it had some spice! The bread I requested ended up being unnecessary because of how filling the soup was, but I didn’t have any complaints.
Overall experience – Very good, definitely hit the spot on a cold Saturday afternoon to spend a little time in a cozy Irish pub. Kieran’s has my vote for a return visit for food and drinks!

The Necessities
Kieran’s Irish Pub
601 1st Avenue North, Minneapolis MN
612.339.4499

Common Roots Café

30 Jan

Common Roots Café
Visited Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

common roots

Ryan

I’m getting worse and worse of thinking of places to eat in the Twin Cities. When Lauren presented me the opportunity to essentially pick any restaurant to eat at and she’d foot the bill, I choked–I couldn’t think of anywhere I wanted to go! After I basically gave up and turned the duties back over to Lauren, she considered the walkable Common Roots just down the street. You know how I feel about local natural type restaurants. They’re typically overpriced and disproportionately small and not outrageously as delicious as led to believe. But, I have a good history with Common Roots. They once gave us a free dessert and they have reasonable happy hour specials with a small but respectable beer list, with an exceptionally inviting patio area in the summer. We like to get bagels from them for breakfast once in a great while and they’re tasty. But I’d never had a full meal there and agreed to give it a shot.

Common Roots has a positive atmosphere; many small two- and four-seat tables conducive to laptop users and casual coffee sippers. There are no waiters serving the tables; instead, you stand in line and order straight from the counter and then take your number and find a table. For a Saturday night, we were happy to have several available seating options.

I ordered the Chicken Cassoulet, described as “cannellini cassoulet with free-range chicken confit, fresh herbs, topped with breadcrumbs.” I didn’t really know what cannellini, cassoulet, or confit were, and quite honestly still don’t, but it sounded good to me! I also ordered a glass of a pilsener beer recommended by the clerk. My meal ended up being a small platter of a stew-like concoction, with the chicken displayed in the middle with a decorative potato slice. Points for presentation, I suppose. I dug right in and found it very agreeable with the pallet, especially for a night with below-zero temps. It was hearty but light. In fact, I really liked my meal and wished I had more of it.

And there it is… you knew it was coming. As I fully expected, the serving size was quite small and although delicious and healthy, left me wanting more… much more. I wouldn’t think it to be an over-exaggeration to say I could have literally eaten four times the amount I was served. While we enjoyed our meals and the inviting surroundings, we ended up going across the street to the Bulldog to get some tator tots to finish filling us up. That, to me, is such a big thing with restaurants. Would I rather have a tiny portion of a delicious meal, or a gigantic portion of a so-so meal? Easy, I’ll take the big portion almost every time. I leave a restaurant happy when I am full, not when I enjoyed the taste of a small portion of food. Nevertheless, I would consider Common Roots for dinner again.

Lauren

It was partially my fault. I decided sometime in the morning that I was pretty sure I wanted to go to the Strip Club but I wanted Ryan to feel like it was his idea, so I proposed that we go out for a nice little dinner that night. We waffled back and forth about where to go, so when 5 pm rolled around and we finally made a decision, our first through fourth choices failed to see our charms, and it was looking like we’d be either staying in for the night or eating dinner at 9:45.

I was perusing our list of restaurants to try at 5:25 when I popped open Common Roots’ dinner menu, realized that their happy hour was still on and within minutes we were smarted up and out the door to walk the few blocks to CRC in time to grab a Fulton Sweet Child of Vine and Brau Brothers Pilz at happy hour prices. Man, does Common Roots have an amazing beer list. Small, only seven or so taps, but are they ever well-chosen.

We had been to Common Roots a dozen times before, but never gotten meal service – only bagels in the morning and beers at night. It’s the same exact set-up though, where you order and pay at the counter and a staff member brings your food to your table. It’s a little odd to order dinner at a counter, but not a big deal.

CRC’s menu changes monthly, and it seemed to me that the theme for January was comfort food. I ordered the brisket, which came with blue polenta, fava beans, pearl onions and kale with a fruity barbecue sauce (just checked the menu, it was cherry barbecue sauce).

image

It’s almost impossible to see in that photo because of how dark it was, but there were three or four slices of brisket. The meat was good, there were some fatty bits that I didn’t care for (of course) and given how dark it was in the restaurant it was hard for me to see enough to trim my meat how I like to. The polenta was AMAZING. I don’t think that I have ever had polenta that had been cooled and sliced, I’ve only had it warm and creamy. Consider me a convert because I loved it! I could have eaten just a plate of polenta and kale for dinner and been a very happy girl. The kale, usually not my favorite thing, was good and there were a few bites that had a crispy nugget of fried garlic. I was also surprised by the fava beans, which I had never had before. They are huge! It was disturbing how much I kept thinking about that line from Silence of the Lambs, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” I myself did not eat anyone’s liver, and I drank beer rather than wine, and the fava beans were pretty good, as far as beans go.

All in all I know we will return time and again to Common Roots for bagels and beers, and I would certainly return for lunch or dinner as well.

Ambiance – Very chill. We were eating pretty early so there was a funny mix of people on laptops or reading, just hanging out and people eating dinner. CRC seems like it would be a fun place to study! We were sitting in the front of the restaurant which I think is darker than the back, due to being by the huge windows.
Service – There’s not much to speak of, since you order at the counter and they bring your food out to you. The guy at the counter was really nice and helped me pick out a beer to drink. Every time I’ve been there the staff is always friendly.
Food – Unlike Ryan, I didn’t have too much of a complaint about my portion size (and he shouldn’t complain so much because I gave him quite a bit of my food!). My brisket was a really nice combination of textures and flavors and I l-o-v-e-d the blue polenta.
Overall experience – Very good! It would have been better if we had ordered a starter as well because Ryan was pretty cranky about still being hungry. Thanks to some quick decision making, Common Roots gave us a lovely and unexpected night out.

The Necessities
Common Roots Café
2558 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55405
612.871.2360

Lyndale Tap House

21 Jan

Lyndale Tap House
Visited Wednesday, January 12, 2011

image

Ryan
Wednesday night, Lauren and I checked out the Lyndale Tap House for the first time since it opened a year ago in our neighborhood. I had bought one of those Crowd Cut coupons—$20 for $40 worth of food. Along for the outing were friends Christopher and Sarah.

We arrived with 30 minutes left to go during Happy Hour. They had some killer specials! 2-for-1 on all domestic beers and 1/2 price apps. When I see domestic taps on special, it usually seems to be just the Budweiser, Miller Lite, maybe Leinenkugel’s kinda thing. But they included all the fancy domestics beers, so I opted for the Bell’s Two Hearted and Lauren went with Magic Hat #9. We sure were thirsty, because we each managed to get in a second 2-for-1 before Happy Hour ended at 7. We also tried the soft pretzels (came in breadstick form) with spicy mustard, and Sarah ordered the pork belly appetizer for the group. Both appetizers were very tasty, excellent ways to start our meal.

image 

Lyndale Tap House is known for their “pit” meats, which are described as slow-cooked meats that are grilled over coals, blended with secret spices and then left to simmer for three days, and finally slow-cooked over an oak fire grill until crispy on the outside. Wow, that sounded amazing! I went the non-traditional route and chose the Latin Pig, which is pit pork drenched in mandarin habanero sauce with avocado, cilantro, and mayo, served with a side of fries. My sandwich was excellent—the meat was as good as described, and provided just a pinch of heat. There seemed to be an excess of bun and not as much meat as I would have preferred, otherwise a solid sandwich. The fries were good, nothing terribly extraordinary.

Lyndale Tap House, Minneapolis

The Latin Pork sandwich with fries

The restaurant itself was very dark—quite a bit dimmer than your typical bar. The wait staff was over to check on us often. Our only issue was our $40 coupon didn’t apply to Happy Hour purchases, so we didn’t actually spend enough money to use it.  Instead, we shared it with Walsh and Sarah. So really I ended up just breaking even on the deal since I spent $20 to get the coupon, and then essentially redeemed it for $20 off.  One thing we’d like to do in the future is check out their brunch menu, which appears to be served Sunday mornings. Anyway, it is a place I’d check out again for sure.

Lauren

It seems like a recurring theme on this site that we go to a restaurant that was panned during its opening and have a better-than-decent time. Enter Lyndale Tap House. Again, not great reviews when it first opened. But we had a good time!

Ryan bought the Crowd Cut as a little Christmas present for me, and unlike most of those deals that we have, we didn’t let it sit unused for months! We made plans to meet up with Chris and Sarah to have dinner there.

We arrived around 6:15 and perused the happy hour specials. When we saw that “domestic beers” were on special we were expecting to see the usual Coors Light and Budweiser; imagine the shock when Magic Hat #9, Bells Two Hearted, and Crispin Cider were included! And that wasn’t all, they had a shockingly good draft list.

It was a while before Chris and Sarah joined us; they had to find parking whereas we were able to walk from our apartment. So we had lots of time to peruse the menu and knew we wanted to order the pretzels when they arrived around 6:40. We polished those off shortly, and Sarah decided to order the pork belly appetizer as well. I would love to tell you that I tried some; between the very dim lighting and my general fear of unknown meats, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat any of it. Good job on Chris, Sarah and Ryan for being more adventurous than myself!

So Ryan has already spoken of the hook at LTH, the pit meats. Once I saw that they had a Cuban sandwich I was all over that business. HOWEVER. I must not have read the menu entirely because I assumed that they would be doing a faithful adaptation of the sandwich but what was brought to me was NOT a Cuban sandwich. To start out with the bread was about 5″ tall, and it was a Kaiser roll, and it was NOT pressed. After that, there was swiss cheese, and lightly pickled cucumbers…almost sweet. I do recall that the menu said that they were refrigerator pickles, so those don’t get as “pickle-y” as other pickles, so I guess I can live with that.

I need to take a moment before I talk about the last part.

On the sandwich. They put. HONEY MUSTARD. Like any iconic food there is much debate about what makes a “real” Cuban. Are tomatoes allowed? Lettuce? Mayo? But a few things aren’t debated: Pork. Swiss cheese. Yellow mustard. NOT honey mustard.

So let’s just leave it at this: The meat was good. The Cuban sandwich was NOT a Cuban sandwich.

However: Sarah and I spied on their brunch menu something called “Hard Cider French Toast” so that’s been occupying my thoughts pretty intensely ever since…

Lyndale Tap House, Minneapolis

Lauren's Cuban Sandwich

Ambiance – It was a little heavy on the “Bro’s ‘N Ho’s” environment when we were there… it feels like one big bar, which could be good or bad. It was quite dim when were were there, but I bet it’s really bright and friendly during daylight.
Service – Decent, no complaints. We were hanging out for quite a while before ordering food and she was cool with that, and she sneaked in a second happy hour drink order at the last second for us. Props!
Food – THAT WAS NOT A CUBAN SANDWICH. But the meat was tasty.
Overall experience – Good! I think it would be a fun place to go during a football game or for a happy hour get-together.

The Necessities
Lyndale Tap House
2937 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408
612.825.6150

Café Levain

18 Jan

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Café Levain
Visited Friday, January 7th, 2011

Ryan
For my Christmas present, Lauren planned to take me out for a fancy French dinner on New Years Eve! Unfortunately, Lauren got violently ill that night and we were forced to put off our dinner until January 7. Lauren presented me with a list of French restaurants in the Twin Cities and told me to take my pick. Not wanting her to break the bank, I chose the one that seemed the most reasonably priced, Café Levain in south Minneapolis.

The restaurant was very inconspicuously located on a side street. The seating area was very unlike a typical restaurant; it just seemed very open, bright, quiet, and airy. Lauren made reservations, but they clearly were not needed; I would say the place was 40% full at best. Our waiter promptly greeted us and poured water and dropped off the menus. We opted for the Les Launes Croze-Hermitage Syrah (France, 2006) which was a chef’s recommendation. I believe it cost around $37, one of the lower-priced bottles on the menu.

I also chose the Cauliflower Leek Beignets as an appetizer. I did not know, and still don’t really know, what exactly that is. The menu describes it as “Piquillo Pepper Rouille, Frisée.” Whatever… they were good. I would go so far as to say the appetizer was the highlight of my meal. They were these decent-sized, breaded, fried balls that were served with some greens and a dipping sauce. At first taste they seemed relatively flavorless, but soon I was surprised by a little heat! The dish was probably meant for two people, but I ate it all and it was filling.

Cauliflower Leek Beignets

Cauliflower Leek Beignets... very tasty!

The dinner menu was succinct with basically five options: chicken, beef, steak, salmon, and vegetable dishes. There was also a special, the pork tenderloin. I am always a sucker for specials and chose the pork. It was a moderate wait for our food, which we could see being prepared in the open kitchen.

My meal arrived and I questioned if we had indeed come to a French restaurant, or rather a German restaurant! The plate consisted of two slabs of pork tenderloin, very soft mashed potatoes, red cabbage, and what I believe was some sort of tomato jam sauce. The giant bowl/plate made my portion seem deceivingly small, but in reality it was quite a lot of food. To be perfectly honest, my meal visually didn’t look very enticing. But I let my taste buds be the judge! I had never before eaten pork that was still pink in the middle and wondered if it was a mistake or not, but gave the chef the benefit of the doubt and ate it all up… and I’m here to tell about it, so it must have been alright to eat. The potatoes were tasty—nice and buttery. The cabbage was a very German addition to the meal. The tomato jam was really unusual—I may have done without it.

Cafe Levain, pork tenderloin special

The pork tenderloin special

All in all, I was happy with our meal. If we were to do it again, I would order the same appetizer but get a different entrée. Lauren’s beef was better than my pork, in my opinion. Nevertheless, for a Friday night moderately-priced ($20-range entrées) meal, I would recommend giving it a try. A very nice Christmas gift from Mrs. Wife!

Lauren
I was absolutely heartbroken when my vicious cold hit its peak on New Year’s Eve. Instead getting gussied up and heading to St Paul for a romantic dinner at Meritage’s “Celebration” 10pm seating, Ryan ran out to buy a $10 bottle of sparkling wine and we watched the Dick Clark NYE TV special, complete with a performance by NKOTBSB, in our sweatpants.

When I was feeling better I researched French-influenced restaurants in Minneapolis and sent him a list. I was happy when he chose Levain as it seemed like a nice place with good value. I made a reservation on OpenTable, which later proved to be totally unnecessary.

When we arrived, I actually thought the place was more like 25% full – honestly, as I later remarked to Ryan, Levain has way too many tables…if it had been full, it would have been insanely loud and I sincerely doubt the waiters would have been able to squeeze between tables with plates of food. But it was a really nice space with an open kitchen – I think it would be fun to go back and sit at the “bar” facing the kitchen to watch the cooks work.

Maybe it was because I was so hungry when we arrived, but the bread and butter they served when we sat down was shockingly good. They don’t advertise if they use Hope Creamery butter, but the butter we were served was so good that I would be surprised if it was from anywhere else.

Unlike Ryan, I knew exactly what I was getting for my first course – onion soup! I love onion soup and this was a faithful rendition of the old classic…not breaking any culinary barriers, but a very tasty and warming standby for a frigid January night.

imageI had a bit more trouble picking out my main course. I had talked Ryan into ordering a red wine, as I think it’s the best defense against the bitter cold that we endure during winters in Minnesota. I had been tossing around the idea of the chicken or salmon but my desire for red wine somewhat ruled those out. Enter another bistro classic, beef bourgogne (although I’ve always known it as beef burgundy). Red wine, potatoes, onions, carrots, more red wine… absolute perfection for a January night, and Levain’s interpretation did not disappoint. My only complaint, is that the cook had a heavier hand than necessary with vinegar in the jus, as the dish had too much sourness. When the liquid was mixed more with the potato puree, though, the sourness was better balanced.

imageWhen all was said and done Ryan and I were far too full to even consider dessert. Although it wasn’t the plan we had in mind, we had a lovely meal and we left, warm and content, suitably fortified to face the Minnesota winter once again.

Ambiance – Very nice modern space, light with very high ceilings. If it had been very busy I think it would be terribly loud.
Service – Our server was prompt and fairy attentive. He didn’t fill my water glass as often as I would have liked. He was also serving a party of ten a few tables over so I think they commanded more of his attention, and we were more of an afterthought.
Food – I loved mine. The soup wasn’t as salty as some I’ve had, which is a very good thing (and somewhat difficult to accomplish, it seems). My beef was on the sour side but still delicious.
Overall experience I had a really lovely meal, and an even more lovely time. It was more expensive than a typical night out for us, but it was a special occasion so we ordered a bottle of wine. The prices are not outrageous and the food, well executed.

The Necessities
Café Levain
4762 Chicago Ave S. Minneapolis, MN 55407
612.823.7111