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Pizza Nea

2 Feb

Pizza Nea
Visited Saturday, January 29th 2011

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Lauren

First off: Let us not delve into the endless battle of factions between those devoted to Punch Pizza and the lovers of Pizza Nea. I want no part in that war because I love pizza, and in my humblest of opinions I believe that the options and the competition make everyone better. There is room in my heart, and stomach, for Neapolitan, Chicago style deep dish, Midwestern square-cut, and even occasionally the Pizza Hut Pan Pizza of my childhood memory in all of its oily, bread-y deliciousness.

That said, Pizza Nea sets the bar for itself mighty high with the title bar of their website: “Pizza Perfection in the Neapolitan Tradition”. So rightly I had high expectations walking in and immediately they were disappointed as we stood in the foyer of Nea, awkwardly, for several minutes waiting for one of the two servers to notice us. There was a sign in between the two doors advising us to wait for service but no clear direction of where we ought to wait. Once one noticed us, the other did and for a little while every question was in stereo, separated by a minute or two. Have you been assisted? No, then yes. Just the two of you? Yes, yes. Hang on a moment while I clean this table off for you. Okay, okay.

I was hungry! I had wanted to get a salad in addition to the pizzas, but Ryan confessed that he had eaten nearly an entire bag of frozen potstickers while I was curling my hair, so he wasn’t all that hungry. Was that a cost-saving strategy on the part of my beloved? I suppose I will never know, but it did save us from ordering that salad.

I ordered a mid-range Carmenere from their wine list while Ryan ordered one of the pricy bottled beers and I set about trying to find a pizza to order. Too many choices, that is always my problem. After he took our drink orders, I asked the server if there were any specials that night and he looked at me like I was a mental defect – umm, sorry?

We had both scoped out the menu online prior to leaving and independently thought that the Gambero sounded good, and when we checked into Pizza Nea on foursquare on our Droids, all of the tips left there advised us to order the Salsicce, which was the other pizza we both thought sounded good. I was tempted by the other offerings that had artichokes and olives on them, but I knew I wanted to try some of whatever Ryan got so it was easiest to get something else that he would enjoy as well! Next time I will definitely get something with olives and goat cheese that Ryan will refuse to touch. ūüėČ

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Our pizzas were out in just a few minutes and they did not disappoint! I was very pleased how the shrimp on the Gambero was plump and juicy. I am sure that it helps that Neapolitan pizzas are only cooked for a few minutes in a very hot oven, to keep delicate meats from drying out. The Salsicce was very spicy, as advertised, and not as greasy as I would expect from a pizza with sausage, and I loved the chiffonade of basil on top.

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One thing I did enjoy over Punch (though disclaimer: I have only eaten at the satellite locations, never at the Highland Park site) was that the crust wasn’t as greasy and floppy at Nea, as it is at Punch. I don’t enjoy mushy, soft bread so the squishy middle is a real turn-off at Punch for me. I suppose we will have to go to the Punch in Highland Punch soon to get the full experience, just out of fairness! ūüôā

I found the portions at Pizza Nea to be more than satisfactory, probably because the crust seems to be a little more substantial than at Punch. If Ryan hadn’t eaten a first dinner, I am sure that we would have ordered a salad to share in addition to the pizzas.

Ambiance – Cute, and very small. The atmosphere is very down-to-earth, almost similar to a coffee shop with the local art for sale on the wall. We were seated right near the door so we got a shot of cold air whenever someone came in, however.
Service – It was weird, honestly, almost like they weren’t sure who should do what. Two servers tripping over each other at first, and then the guy who ended up actually serving us looked at me like I was some kind of crazy when I asked about nightly specials. Other than that, they were very hands-off, which I think is a good thing.
Food – Really tasty! Basic neo pizza, but jazzed up – if you want it to be. We really liked both of the pizzas that we shared. I thought the crust was just about perfect, with no mushiness. However, I was just a little annoyed that the menu spelled out the phonetic pronunciation of Every. Single. Item. Is it really so offensive if I mispronounce “Siciliana”? And, seriously: “Caesar (SEE-zur)”? Is that necessary? Given that the Caesar salad is a menu staple at approximately every restaurant in the world, ever, how many people really come in off the street and order the “Kaiser” salad, hmm?
Overall experience – We really got a weird vibe at first from the servers but everything settled down and we totally forgot about it when we got our pizzas – they were both so good. It would be fun to return and sit at the bar to watch them make and fire the pizzas. I thought it was a relatively simple but quite tasty meal, and definitely was an affordable night out.

Ryan

As we sat waiting for our server to come over, I told Lauren that as recently as two years ago, I never would have predicted I’d be willingly sitting at a pizza restaurant, and even ordering something off the pizza section of the menu. Having been a lifelong hater of cheese, I had just taken all pizza totally out of the equation. But thanks largely to Lauren’s cooking and our trip to Jamaica, I have finally, at age 28 1/2, warmed up to trying just about anything as long as it doesn’t have goat cheese on it. I was really good at being stubborn and picky for many years but dammit, even I can’t avoid pizza for a lifetime. I don’t have that kind of energy to argue anymore.

I found two pizzas that looked appealing to me on the Pizza Nea menu, and Lauren must have agreed with me because we decided to get those two and share them. The Salsicce consisted of Spicy Italian sausage, roasted red pepper, cracked red pepper, fresh mozzarella, crushed San Marzano tomatoes and basil. The Gambero was topped with shrimp, roasted red and yellow peppers, pesto, pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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I foolishly ate 14 Trader Joe’s potstickers not more than an hour before we left home, so I wasn’t as hungry as I would have liked. I usually complain about small portion sizes, but on this night, the two pizzas were almost too much for us to handle. I surprisingly think I preferred the Salsicce even though it looked less appealing than the Gambero, which included a handful of big shrimp and strips of bell peppers. The pizzas were baked to my liking with a thin crust, and plenty of outer bready crust.

The atmosphere of Pizza Nea was pleasant; not overly busy for a Saturday night. Our service was fine, nothing terribly noteworthy good or bad, though I had some troubles hearing our waiter who talked in an unusual voice. The prices were reasonable all-around. Two pizzas, a beer, and glass of wine for about $40 was right on par with what I expected. If I had a gripe with Pizza Nea, it was that they didn’t have any chicken pizzas on their menu and those are always my favorite.

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The Necessities
Pizza Nea
306 East Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
612.331.9298

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Brasa

14 Jul

Visited June 29, 2010

Ryan
Lauren and I met up with an old friend of Lauren’s from high school, Chelsea, for a Tuesday night dinner at Brasa. Brasa is located in northeast Minneapolis and is placed in what looks like a former auto repair shop with its big garage doors. Brasa claims to serve comfort food inspired by the Creole cooking traditions of the Americas and Caribbean. Their rotisserie meats and side dishes are 100% natural, local, and organic, and are made completely from scratch.

The girls and I split a pitcher of Surly for $19‚ÄĒkind of an unusually steep price considering a pint was $5 and the pitcher only filled about three pint glasses with a few drops to spare. But the waitress was attentive and we were drinking beer before long. I admired the ingenuity of the establishment with its wide-open atmosphere. The indoor and outdoor sections blended together perfectly into one general seating area. Seeing how it was a hot, sunny evening, it was nice to sit under the roof on the indoor side but still get the benefit of the breeze.

what Ryan ate

After very little contemplation, I ordered a 2-meat/2-side combo, choosing the rotisserie chicken and pulled pork, with sides of yellow rice & beans and yams & Andouille sausage, costing me $15. The food was delivered in about twenty minutes and I dug right in. I expected a heaping mound of meats, but the portions were merely adequate. The meats were amazingly delicious‚ÄĒvery juicy with some interesting seasonings. There was no heat, however. The jar of homemade hot sauce on the table barely sufficed, but I guess not all dishes need to be hot and spicy… just my personal preference. Much like the Caribbean joint in Stillwater (Smalley’s BBQ) the sides were great compliments to the main course. The sausage in the yams was a little strange (I tend to find thinly sliced round meats visually unappealing) but all was good.

As you can see in Ryan’s Rankings at the top tab on the page, the highlight of Brasa was the food. The staff was fine, the atmosphere was unusual but nice, the value was reasonable, but the portions were a little small in my opinion. Overall it received 41 points, good for only 10th of 17 restaurant experiences so far, which is kind of misleading as I really enjoyed it.

Lauren

Chelsea and I go way back to the early days of high school, so far back that if I posted a picture from our 15-year-old selves from Eden Prairie she would probably never speak to me again. And I would deserve it – we were both such choir geeks.

As both of our busy schedules would have it, she and I sadly don’t get a chance to catch up that often. Before we met up in late June, the last time I had seen her was before Ryan’s and my wedding in October! So I was thrilled when she had a Tuesday evening available for dinner – even if she did have to run back to work after we ate.

Ryan and I arrived at Brasa precisely at the agreed-upon time, and were seated immediately in a half-booth inside. The patio looked really lovely, but was full, as was most of the restaurant. I was somewhat surprised at how busy it was, but given Chef Alex Roberts’ deserved fame I shouldn’t have been. As Ryan mentioned, we still had a good feeling of being outdoors with the large garage-style front opened up to the summer air. Chelsea arrived as well and we chatted while quickly deciding on a pitcher to share. On further reflection, the pitcher was a rather poor idea. I think that the single pints of Surly are $5.50, while the pitcher is $19, and we got slightly more than three glasses from the pitcher, so I think in effect we paid more for the pitcher than we would have, had we ordered three individual beers.

I also decided on a two-meat platter, figuring that either Ryan would finish his meal and still be hungry (he was, and picked off of mine while I finished) or I would take a bit of food home. I also chose the pulled chicken, and the braised beef. I was disappointed to hear that they were out of the plantains for the day, because that was an item that had caught my eye on the online menu, but decided to go with the yams and a side salad.

what Lauren ate at Brasa

The side salad was great, with a light tangy vinaigrette, chunks of fresh mozzarella and shaved radish. I have never much cared for radishes, but I am trying to get on board with them as we get quite a few in our CSA box. I liked this application of them, probably because they were shaved which allowed them to play nicely with the mozzarella. I also really enjoyed the yams with the Andouille sausage, though it was possibly a side dish that is best saved for colder months.

The meat was naturally quite good, although I didn’t enjoy the chicken terribly. It came in some kind of cream gravy, which is listed on the menu but I don’t think I noticed before I made my order. I think I would have been happier trying the rotisserie chicken, as Ryan encouraged me to do. Still, the chicken that I did eat was quite tasty. As I alluded to before, I ate my dinner rather slowly while Chelsea and I chatted so Ryan had cleaned his plate when I had barely finished my salad! After deciding that the chicken wasn’t my cup of tea, I passed it to Ryan who happily polished it off.

The beef was quite outstanding and I had to trouble myself to offer some for Ryan to try (he must have enjoyed his pork too much to offer me a bite! ;))

My constant fear ordering meat in a restaurant is that it will be greasy or somehow unpalatable by me. I was a vegetarian for many years so a lot of times certain meat entrees look or sound too “icky” for me to try. I have improved a lot in the past few years (I now eat bratwurst, which I wouldn’t have touched a few years ago) and I am constantly challenging myself to step outside my comfort zone. But the braised beef at Brasa was perfect. If I were to have a complaint, it would be that the barbecue sauce served on top was too sweet for my taste.

The service was also quite good. It was a hot night and I emptied my water glass several times, but I never had to wait more than a few minutes to have it refilled, despite the busy dining room. And even more impressively, after the three of us had finished our meals, declined dessert and paid our bill, my water glass was still being filled while we chatted another 15 minutes.

In short, Brasa is a place that I desperately wish I lived near. We will be back soon!

Gasthof Zur Gem√ľtlichkeit

16 Jun

Ryan:

Tuesday evening, Lauren and I went to Gasthof Zur Gem√ľtlichkeit, a Minneapolis landmark German restaurant featured on a recent episode of “Man vs. Food.” ¬†Lauren’s brother Matt and his new girlfriend Calla were also on hand, as was Lauren’s sister Kate.

Located in Nordeast Minneapolis, Gasthof Zur Gem√ľtlichkeit (or Gasthof’s, as it is more commonly known) is an authentic German experience, from the Hacken Pschorr beers on tap to the waitresses in dirndl dresses. Most locals will tell you it’s something worth experiencing if you’re visiting the Twin Cities.

This was definitely not the first time I’ve been there. Lauren and I were there for my company’s Christmas party last year and were treated to a buffet and all the liters of beer we could drink. I had also been to the downstairs bar, Mario’s Keller Bar, a few times in the past. But Tuesday was the first time I came as a guest and just ordered food off the menu.

After starting off with a half-liter of Paulaner Hefeweizen, we were given loaves of bread and salads. Lauren, Kate, and I then decided to split the Gourmet Platter, which consisted of Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal), Sauerbraten (marinated roast beef), Kaseschnitzel (breaded pork chop), Huhnchen (chicken with peppercorn sauce), spätzle, potato croquettes, red cabbage, vegetables, and shots of Apfelkorn Liqueur.

Gourmet Platter at Gasthof zur Gemulichkeit

Our Gourmet Platter, full of heavy breaded meaty goodness

Between the three of us, we failed to finish the whole Gourmet Platter. But that was more than okay with me, as I saved the leftovers and ate them for a hearty lunch the next day. My favorite of the items on the platter was probably the chicken, which was delicious when combined with a forkful of cabbage and sp√§tzle. Everything seen above was very delicious, though. I don’t know if I have had veal before or not, but it was tender and succulent. I’m a big fan of gravy, so the roast beef smothered in gravy was also to my liking.

After dinner, the waitress came by with her springboard contraption that shoots a menthol snus into the nostrils, clearing the sinuses and providing a clean after-dinner feel.

Ryan Glanzer snus Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit

I have some snus shot into my nose.

Since we were all meeting Calla for the first time, we stuck around a while after dinner and chatted amongst ourselves. Oh, and we ordered a 2-liter glass boot filled with beer, which has many rules for drinking. The group must share “das boot” and pass it around to one another. The boot must never touch the table until it is empty. Once you get down far enough, an air bubble pops out of the toe of the boot, sometimes splashing the drinker in the face. If you are splashed, you must drink again. You must also clink the boot with your fingers to signify the end of your turn; forget to do so and you must drink again. I was too full to get much enjoyment out of it, but it was pretty cool and I want to buy a glass boot for our apartment!

Matt Poulter drinks from das boot.

Matt Poulter drinks from das boot.

The accordionist also paid our table a visit and sang some funny German songs. Soon it appeared we were the last table remaining, and we were visited by the owner of the restaurant, Mario himself. He even sent us over a round of free shots to show his gratitude for our patronage.

The accordionist at Gasthof zur Gemulichkeit sings to Matt and Calla.

The accordionist sings to Matt and Calla.

Not only was the food and drink excellent, but everything else was great too‚ÄĒthe music, the waitresses, the owner, the atmosphere. The bill was pretty steep, but that was expected going in. Our platter was $48 with an additional $8 charge for splitting it between three people instead of the intended two. Beers were $5.50 each and the glass boot of beer was $22. Nevertheless, I’d say we probably got our money’s worth.

Gasthof Zur Gem√ľtlichkeit is one of my favorite places we’ve reviewed so far and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting from out of town. The only bad thing I can mention is their lack of patio. Minneapolis’s other German restaurant, The Black Forest Inn, has the city’s very best patio.

5/5 Noms!

Lauren:

I was surprised when my brother told me he wanted to organise a little dinner at Gasthof’s for us to meet his new girlfriend, Calla. “German food”, I thought, “in the summer? And not even on the heavenly Black Forest Inn patio?” But I think it was a success despite the unseasonable fried, gravy-laden food.

As Ryan mentioned, we and my sister split the “Gourmet” platter of chicken, beef, veal and pork, along with cabbage, potato croquettes and spaetzle. It was delicious. And heavy. And filling.

But the evening was a rousing success. I think that Matt and Calla, being first-timers to Gasthof, were in for a surprise as far as the atmosphere is concerned. The dozens of “ziggai-zaggai-ziggai-zaggai-hoi-hoi-hoi!” cheers would put off a squeamish newbie, as well as the shots of Apflekorn that were included in our meal!

I was a newbie at something, though, and that was “das boot”! I had heard a thing or two about the deposit-requiring 2L glass vessel, but had never experienced it myself. I suppose I can check that off me “Things to Do Before I Turn 30” list!

All in all, Gasthof’s is an expensive evening but very fun. I would recommend it more in the fall or winter, when one’s body craves carbs and gravy-laden fried meat. Whatever season you go in, though, you’re guaranteed a fun evening.

Northeast Social

15 Mar

Here’s another restaurant I should have reviewed right away but didn’t, and now I have to try to remember it.

Northeast Social Club

I rarely use texting lingo but OMG!

Oh, yeah, now I remember! ¬†This place was amazing. ¬†Located in northeast Minneapolis, the Northeast Social was an impromptu mid-week dinner selection for a double date with the Walshichettis. ¬†One interesting thing about this restaurant is its ever-changing menu. ¬†When we were there, it was the girls that both opted for the Black Angus sirloin, cooked rare, while Walsh and I tried some “lighter” options. ¬†I can’t recall what Walsh tried, but I opted for the braised pork shank (above). ¬†It was one of the single most delicious meals I’ve eaten in a restaurant… ever. ¬†The meat just fell off the bone and was served with sweet potato fries and asparagus. ¬†I ate every last bit of meat, leaving only a clean bone behind. ¬†Really, my meal was that good.

The downfall was the price (about $20 per entree), but I can honestly say it was worth the money. ¬†If I went back there and that pork was still on the menu, I would definitely have it again before trying something new. ¬†I think Walsh and I had beers while the girls split a bottle of wine. ¬†I can’t recall if we had dessert or not.

The atmosphere was nice too.  It was pretty dark with candles lighting the tables.  The tables are kinda squeezed in pretty tight to each other though.  The wait staff was courteous and attentive, and earned themselves a fine tip.

So the next time you’re feeling like splurging a little, call ahead and make reservations for Northeast Social. ¬†It gets Ryan Glanzer’s seal of approval, 5/5 Noms, and the top overall spot in the rankings.