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Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill

25 Jan

Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill
Visited Friday, January 14th, 2011

Lauren

I’ve only been to Vegas once as an adult, but Ryan has gone a number of times for work and when we were there two years ago, he said we really had to go to Toby Keith’s bar because they had these huge drinks and it was fun and random and a break from all the Las Vegas-y glitz and glamor. I’m not sure if he knew there were multiple locations or if it was just me thinking that it was a Vegas-only thing. I just want to emphasize at the start that I’ve been to the Vegas location and had a lot of fun there.

Ryan was really excited when he found out there would be a location opening up in the Twin Cities, and me less so. Places like that, to me, are only fun when you’re on vacation and you’re not as freaked out over a $10 drink…you’re on vacation! Time to cut loose and enjoy yourself, fer chrissake! But when you’re just a few miles from home your tolerance for price gouging is a lot lower…as is your tolerance for self-important a-hole bouncers and the bros’n’hos cohort.

I was really kind of pissy about going to TK’s in the first place, as I’ve been to the St Louis Park location twice and haven’t had all that much fun…the environment, the crowd, I don’t find any of it enjoyable. But our friend Patrick was having his birthday there so I reluctantly accompanied Ryan there in the snow. We were both starving so we sat with the gang and ordered food, crammed into a tiny booth. To be honest, they should give up the idea of even having a “dining area” as it’s a joke, just a handful of tables crammed into a section that is still SO LOUD from the music, as they didn’t bother building an actual wall. In my opinion they would be better off just having a bunch of big picnic tables to accommodate big groups. They are clearly trying to be more about music than anything else anyway, why not just go with it?

On the advice of one of Patrick’s friends I ordered the pulled chicken sandwich, which was a HUGE DISGUSTING MISTAKE. It wasn’t “pulled” it was “chunks of nasty” chicken, like the icky bits you trim off of a chicken breast or thigh. It was supposed to be a sandwich yet the bun was absolutely soaked, but there wasn’t any discernible flavor from any sauce so I’m not sure what soaked the bun. So I ate what wasn’t disgusting with a knife and fork and the whole night I felt sick to my stomach that I even ate that horrible sandwich. Why didn’t I complain? Despite the fact that I doubt anyone working at TK’s gives a rat’s a** about what food they are churning out, I should have told them how disgusting it was, just to have made my voice heard. The upside, if there could be one, was that the pickle and the fries were decent.

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Our server was well-meaning but pretty much incompetent. There were a ton of us crammed into a little booth so maybe that was confusing, but one of the guys ordered just drinks and his tab, and sat there for a long time after getting his drinks, waiting to pay. When she didn’t come back, he left the money with the group and went over to the bar area where some other people were. Some time later after we had all finished eating, she put his drinks on Ryan’s and my tab, because “you guys were the last ones to ask for your bill”. So…? The person who ordered those drinks had asked for his check long before that! Not sure what her logic was. We got it straightened out quickly but we were definitely annoyed.

In the final analysis, if I never return to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, it will still be too soon.

Ryan
When I visit Las Vegas, one of my favorite places to hang out is Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in Harrah’s. They have these giant super strong mixers for $15 that are actually worth $15. The bartenders pour shots in your mouth whenever “I Love This Bar” plays. And there is a great country cover band every night that doesn’t completely drown out the place. So I was super pumped when we got our own Toby Keith’s in St. Louis Park in 2010.

Unfortunately, in my three visits there, I have been vastly let down. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations. The one in Vegas is so much more fun and infinitely more welcoming, but the one in our neighborhood is wildly trendy and whenever I’ve been there, I am made to feel like I’m in the staff’s way. I just constantly get this negative vibe from the staff. I have been scolded every time I’ve been there or conversed with them; from a manager telling me he is not interested in sponsoring my softball team and to stop wasting his time, to a waitress telling me I can’t sit in a certain booth, to a security guard angrily and forcibly moving me so there was ample walking room near the bathrooms. There is always a line to get in to Toby’s, and I think they plan it that way. Even when there is enough room inside, they still like to keep people waiting to create this aura of a trendy venue. This whole place is just one big joke; it could so easily be a fun country bar but they are trying too hard to make it the next big nightclub in the Twin Cities.

The drink hook at Toby’s is beer served in mason jars. Yes it is bigger than a typical beer, but the prices are kinda crazy. I paid $8 for a Coors Light and $9 for a Summit. I am fairly certain they don’t cost that much in Vegas. The food is a slight positive, in my opinion. Though nothing special taste-wise, the dishes are lightheartedly named after Toby Keith songs and are pretty sizable. I ordered the country fried steak and was pleased to receive a giant steak sitting on top of a bed of mashed potatoes. I also was allowed to choose two additional sides and received a big helping of sweet potato fries and broccoli. Again, I was plenty satisfied with my food and left full, but it was not very memorable.

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I had such high hopes for Toby’s, but it has failed on many levels for me. I don’t plan to go there again unless it’s for a concert, a friend’s birthday party or some other special event held by a friend. If I was ever thinking of eating there again, I’d go in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday when maybe there is no line to get in, and maybe one of their very few tables is open. Toby’s serves food but it is definitely not pushing the restaurant part of the business; it seems like an afterthought after creating its elitist vibe. If I was still ranking all of the restaurants we’ve visited for this blog, I am sure Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill would be in last place by a wide margin. I’m just seriously disappointed with this establishment.

(Lauren)
Ambience –
Terribly loud and unpleasant. Would perhaps be fun if you were extremely drunk or at a bachelor/bachelorette party. It’s the size of an airport hangar and every corner of it is blasting with music from the stage or speakers, making it impossible to hear people you’re standing right next to, the drinks are expensive, and the only thing the staff seems concerned with is making themselves feel important.
Service – The service we’ve received has ranged from incompetent but nice to intentionally rude.
Food – Seriously, sincerely, not even worth eating. If you must, stick to anything deep fried or impossible to screw up – like I said, my fries and pickle were decent.
Overall experience – We love Patrick and hope he had a great birthday (we were texted a pretty funny photo the next morning that tells us that indeed, he did have a great birthday). If I, Lauren, have any say in the matter, we won’t be returning.

The Necessities
Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill
1623 Park Place, St Louis Park, MN 55416
763.450.9999

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

Laredo’s

23 Oct

Tonight after work, Lauren and I stopped off at Laredo’s in St. Louis Park in the Excelsior & Grand neighborhood.  This Tex-Mex bar & grill is new as of last year, and I’d always been tempted to try it.  When the Twins had a deal on their website selling $50 gift cards to Laredo’s for $25, I snatched one up.

My first impression of Laredo’s was very favorable with a country atmosphere.  Our very attentive waiter made sure we were good to go on free chips & salsa and drinks.  Their drink menu featured a few signature cocktails, including the Excelsior & Grand, which I tried.  I believe it was a type of margarita with cactus juice served in a martini glass.  I would have to look up the ingredients again, but I rather enjoyed it.

The menu wasn’t very expansive, but we both found entrees we wanted to try and ended up sharing each other’s meals.  I ordered the Seafood Combo Platter, which consisted of two San Diego fish tacos and two seafood enchiladas served with refried beans and desert rice.  Lauren opted for the Drunken Tequila Shrimp—five jumbo grilled shrimp served with a tequila-lime tomato broth, fried plantains, pineapple & desert rice.

Laredo's Seafood Combo Platter

I made a bold choice with the Seafood Combo Platter.

Laredo's Drunken Tequila Shrimp

Lauren also opted for seafood, trying the Drunken Tequila Shrimp.

My meal was excellent!  It took me until I was 25 to try tacos, enchiladas, or burritos, but as long as they’re light on the cheese (which I specifically requested) then they’re good.  The fish tacos were my favorite.  The only downside was they went a little overboard on the refried beans.  Lauren’s shrimp was also tasty.  I’ve never been one to fill up on a handful of jumbo shrimp, but for someone with Lauren’s appetite they’d do just fine.

I would recommend ordering the extra spicy salsa, both with the free chips and with your main course.  It truly was a sweat-inducer.  Lauren offered me a dollar to eat the little container of spicy salsa, but I turned her down.

This place filled us up.  We were nowhere near finishing the two meals when we threw the towel in.  True, we went a little overboard on the free chips, but these portions are bigger than expected.  It was also a little on the spendy side.  Expect to drop $16 per plate.  Those fancy drinks were also spendy at about $7 each.  Thankfully I had that gift card, but even then I owed another $20 on top of that.

Overall, I’d recommend this place.  Excellent atmosphere, excellent service, great freebies, and huge portions.  Just beware of the prices and don’t overeat!

Lauren:

When Ryan decided to buy one of those 1/2 off gift cards, I was skeptical. So many Tex-Mex places really are total garbage, loaded down with sour cream and boring fare that you could make, easily and cheaply and much more healthful, at home.

Laredo’s surprised me in that sense. In the first place, the salsa that comes with the free chips actually has a bit of spice to it, better than the marinara-sauce-in-masquerade that you’ll find at most joints. Secondly, sangria! I love a good, authentic margarita made from triple sec, tequila and lime juice (and ONLY those three ingredients) as much as the next gal, but I adore sangria and don’t get to have it often enough. I ordered a small carafe and quenched my thirst with the fruity, boozy concoction.

I also liked that Laredo’s had some options that weren’t loaded down with sour cream. Nothing puts me off Tex-Mex food like a giant glop of sour cream covering up some kind of spicy dish. So the shrimp in a smoky, spicy, tomato-y broth was just up my alley. I did try a few bites of Ryan’s seafood platter, and that was pretty good. But if he had let me have my shrimp to myself, I would have been just fine with that 🙂

Ryan: 4/5 Noms

Lauren: 3.5/5 Noms.