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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!

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).

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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

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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.

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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

Burger Jones

15 Jan

Burger Jones
Visited December 9th, 2010

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Ryan

At my company, we go through Medica health insurance, and Medica has this nice little program where they reward you for taking surveys and challenges involving your health. Super easy to do, well worth the effort. Anyway, I cashed in $105 worth of rewards on a $75 Target gift card and a $30 Burger Jones gift card. Score! So recently, Lauren and I went to Burger Jones to redeem my $30 worth of healthy behavior in 2010.

I am a big fan of hamburgers, probably because I grew up on a cattle farm where we had freezers stocked full of beef products. It has been a personal food quest of mine to scour the Twin Cities for the perfect burger. I’ve had dozens, from Matt’s Bar to The Nook to Green Mill to Fuddrucker’s, and while many of them were awesome, none stick out in my mind as being the great “go-to” burger I’m seeking. I had hoped Burger Jones could fill that void.

I started my meal off with an adult “hard shake” called the Georgia Peach that included ice cream, vanilla wafers, peaches, peach schnapps, and best of all Jim Beam. The $10 price tag seemed steep, but it was free to me! Mmmm-mmmm was it tasty! My only complaint is it wasn’t enough for me… for $10 I could have had two regular milkshakes and skipped the Beam.

Not being a big cheese guy, I opted for the build-a-burger once again, and chose a medium hamburger with jalapeños, mushrooms, and smoky BBQ sauce, with a side of thick-cut onion rings. Our food was out in less than ten minutes, and I dug right in to that beast of a burger, which was piled high with slices jalapeños. It truly was delicious, as well as I would expect from a restaurant with Burger in the name. However, I would still not say that I’ve had a hamburger at a restaurant that is better than a burger I could cook myself at home using authentic Grade A South Dakota Glanzer beef. To be honest though, the onion rings were among the best I’ve had. It was truly the shake and onion rings that stand out to me about this place.

Our waitress was very pleasant and attentive, the food was great, and we were served in a very timely manner. The food wasn’t outrageously expensive, and they had a lot of unique food and drink options. I really enjoyed myself and would go back again.

Burger Jones, Minneapolis

Ryan

Lauren

I was a little wary when Ryan told me he opted for a Burger Jones gift certificate as I had not heard the best things about it when it opened a year ago. But that husband of mine sure does love his hamburgers! I’m not as much of a meat eater. Oh, the things I do to keep that Ryan Glanzer happy. 😉

For some reason, I was in a rotten mood that night, and when we were originally seated at a table that was right in the middle of the server stations it did not improve. I swear that we were in the center of a triangle of the silverware and napkins, the register and the drink station. I was not having any of that so we asked our server if we could move, and she was fine with it.

They had a decent selection of tap beers but I opted for the cheaper but tasty Grain Belt Nordeast. For food I had for the Green Chile Cheeseburger, with cilantro, salsa verde and an onion ring, along with white cheddar cheese and a side of the maple-bacon sweet potato fries. Ordering fries in addition to a burger is a good idea, I would say, as frequently I can’t even finish a burger at a restaurant. But with most of the specialty burgers priced at $10 and fries for $2 or $3, it’s pretty spendy for a basic meal.

Having said all that, I was actually pretty pleased with the food at Burger Jones. The salsa verde on the burger was decently spicy and I really liked how it came out of the kitchen – the onion ring was a cute little bowl for the salsa. The burger itself was tasty, but given the way they rave about their special blend of different cuts of beef I didn’t find anything too extraordinary about it. The sweet potato fries were not worth the hype to me; the maple-bacon flavor was in the form of little crystals that had been sprinkled over the fries like salt and I thought that given the $3 price tag, the portion was small. For me, that was okay. If we were to go back, however, I would skip ordering fries entirely.
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One thing that really annoyed me about Burger Jones was some of their menu items were priced strangely. For instance, Ryan ordered a side of onions rings for $3, which came with three onion rings. The appetizer portion of onion rings is $7 and comes with six onion rings. The appetizer onion rings come with a dipping sauce, but ordered a la carte the dipping sauces are $.50, so it still doesn’t make sense.

Our service was good – it took us longer to decide what to order than it did for the kitchen to whip up our food, but I suppose that makes sense when you’re just toasting buns, frying burgers on a grill and sticking fries in a deep fryer. Impressive nonetheless, though.

Ambiance – I was actually very impressed with what they’ve done with this former Applebee’s space. It was chic, which you don’t expect in a burger joint.
Service – Friendly and accommodated my request to change tables. Food came out very fast.
Food – It was good, but I wasn’t blown away. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever eaten.
Overall experience – I had a good time, and I could be persuaded to go back. Burger Jones seems to be more about style than substance, but based on other reviews from when they opened it seems like they have come a long way in a year and a half.

The Necessities
Burger Jones
3200 West Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55416
612.746.0800
Hours: 11 am-11 pm every day

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.

The Bulldog (Uptown)

18 Jul

Visited July 5th, 2010

The Monday after the Fourth of July, we killed the day by hanging out at The Bulldog’s Uptown location at 26th & Lyndale with friends Chris and Sarah. This was far from the first time any of us had been there. It has long been one of our favorite places to grab a drink as they serve a wide range of European beers, including my all-time favorite, Kwak, which comes in an oddly shaped glass held in place by a wooden stand. We also have enjoyed their selection of burgers, hot dogs, and tator tots. Just a little twist on typical bar food.

Ryan
It wasn’t particularly busy when we arrived at 12:40pm the day after the 4th of July. It appeared as though there were two people on staff—a man working the bar and a woman waiting tables. The woman was completely disheveled. She was running to and fro at top speeds. It took us over 20 minutes for our drink orders to be taken. While we were slightly irritated with the slow service, we were also entertained by the waitress’s manic “drive-by” style of taking our food order and replenishing our drinks throughout our four-hour stay. She didn’t really stop walking, just passed by us and talked as she did other things. I truly have never seen waitressing quite like it, and am not sure I totally hated it.

For lunch, I ordered their special Burger of the Week, which sounded very peculiar—all-beef patty topped with pig cheek, and seasoned with Cajun spices and sauces. I opted for regular tator-tots on the side. Surprisingly enough, being from a farm, I didn’t know if pig cheek literally meant the cheek, or if it was just the name for a particular cut. Some quick research later showed it is a cut of pork located between the head and shoulders, so it’s not actually the lining of the pig’s mouth, thankfully.

I ordered the Burger of the Week special.

I ordered the Burger of the Week special.

The food took quite a while to arrive. We had been at the Bulldog for almost 90 minutes by the time our food arrived, but we weren’t too upset considering we planned to spend the whole afternoon there drinking beer. I had three pints of Rush River Unforgiven (an amber ale) at $5 each, followed by three pints of PBR at $3 each. Yes, six pints in succession is the definition of binge drinking, but it was a holiday!

My burger was well worth the wait though. I can’t pinpoint the exact flavors used for the sauces and the spiced mayo, but I do recall they were Cajun flavored. The burger, which I ordered medium-done, was juicy and flavorful, and was really brought to life by the thick cuts of pig cheek, which was a cross between bacon and ham. I thoroughly enjoyed the burger and side of tator tots. I noticed I got way more tots than Lauren—so much so that I couldn’t even finish them all.

Later, we shared a plate of chips, salsa, and guacamole. This was just average. The salsa left a lot to be desired in the heat department, and the $1 cup of guac wasn’t nearly enough for all the chips we were given. Lauren found it funny to load up a chip with a ton of salsa and fly it like a plane into my mouth, whether I was willing to cooperate and open my mouth or not.

The chips and salsa, in Ryan's opinion, were average at best.

The chips and salsa, in Ryan's opinion, were average at best.

If you check my Rankings page, you’ll see I gave The Bulldog the following points. This is good for 13th of 17 restaurants on the list. The strong point of The Bulldog was the portions; the weak point was the waiting staff, but far from the worst I’ve seen.

Food: 6
Portions: 8
Value: 6
Atmosphere: 5
Staff: 3
Experience: 5

Lauren

The Hawaiian Volcano Burger

After spending the Fourth of July holiday visiting Ryan’s family in South Dakota, we were looking forward to a relaxing Monday off of work. Our friend Chris called, in the neighborhood and looking for a bite to eat and a cold beer. That sounded like a fine plan to us, so we walked the achingly-long three blocks from our apartment to the original Bulldog location. (side note: I ate at this same restaurant location when it was the vegetarian restaurant Mud Pie, ten! years! ago! Where does the time go?)

As Ryan noted, although the restaurant was mostly empty, the lone server was running back and forth, calling out orders and instructions to the kitchen staff and bartender. It made me feel as if I was a great disturbance, sitting at a table waiting for her precious attention. But it mattered little as we were planning on staying a while to enjoy a few cold beers.

Once we finally ordered and were delivered our beers, our waitress came back at length to take our food order. I made the whole waiting situation much worse by asking what the “Burger of the Week” was, sending our waitress off in search of a slip of paper that had the specials written down on them. She also delivered a few food orders before coming back to us — this was after Chris had given her his order. I passed on the specials, going for the “Hawaiian Volcano” burger, with jalapenos, grilled pineapple, bacon and gouda. The gouda sounded a little incongruous on a tropical burger, but tasted good. I have become a little bit obsessed, lately, with grilled pineapple, so that with the spicy jalapenos was very welcome. I also ordered the tater tots, though in the end I could have skipped those, as the burger more than filled me up. That paired with a couple of Ommegang Hennepin pints, and our waitress finally chilling out, made for a relaxing observed Independence Day.

All in all, the Bulldog is a reliable neighborhood joint. Good beer selection, good food and usually a pretty relaxed environment. It’s probably my favorite of the spots in our immediate vicinity.