The lovely white-wax seal on Inbound BrewCo‘s RIS (Russian Imperial Stout) commands your attention and informs you that you’re about to drink a specialty beer. It took us three attempts — rotating through three different openers — before finally cracking through the almost rubbery robustness of the alabaster coating with a thin, pliable, but sturdy opener handed out as a tchotchke by a different local brewery.
Upon the palate, however, the beer opens up readily. There’s a snappy, pepperlike bitterness here (77 IBU) that keeps RIS from slumping into the oversweet, boozy stupor that can define this category of big brews. Dried fruit can often dominate dark and heavy special releases, but in this case the flavor trends more toward dark chocolate and bold roasty notes that balance out the beer’s mild but persistent bite.
RIS is a fine, 10.5% ABV after-dinner beer that would flank and complement many desserts — specifically, anything coffee- or chocolate-driven. But it’s not a dessert unto itself, a gooey mass of sweet, boozy, rummy fruit. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
In our experience, the trouble (if any) with Blue Plate Restaurant Company establishments has generally come down to the food. Service is warm and enthusiastic, decor is comfortable without being sloppy, menus are approachable without being boring, and then it happens: the $14 entree that tastes as though it were decanted from a vacuum-sealed plastic bag rather than being cooked in a kitchen by a person. (Or worse: Soon after opening, Freehouse served us a lobster mac and cheese that was so bad it was downright magnificent.) If all you’re looking for is a comfortable place to hang out, that’s not a deal breaker, but it’s kept us from revisiting a number of Blue Plate spots.
However: Good and unexpected things are happening at Bottle Rocket, which went into the former Scusi location on St. Clair Avenue in St. Paul. There’s nothing particularly ambitious about Bottle Rocket’s menu, which revolves around familiar sandwiches, burgers, salads, and appetizers, but everything is given a welcome twist.
We weren’t asking much of our Gorgonzola Chicken Salad ($12.60), featuring ham and roasted chicken, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, cheese, and a simple vinaigrette. And yet this was one of those salads you can’t stop eating, because the ratio of greens to proteins to properly made dressing is so happily aligned. Well-composed bites are what you get every time you stab your fork, and that’s a rare pleasure.
Our Freehouse Brew Burger ($11.60) was built from a couple of properly cooked (medium rare, as ordered) patties slathered in Velveeta, provolone, “brewer’s mayo” (something akin to special sauce), piquant and lovely slices of house pickles, and served on a rich but delicate toasted egg bun. Much like the salad, a good sense of balance (acid versus fats, bun versus meat) makes this a compelling burger even in a market that’s increasingly glutted with them. The fries that came on the side tasted distinctly of potatoes, and were crisp without being brittle. In all, a burger (and fries) to return for.
Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Oatmeal IPA from Bent Paddle Brewing Company‘s Valve Jockey Series
Prompt a hundred beer drinkers to finish a two-word thought starting with the word “oatmeal,” and 99 of them will say “stout.” (We don’t know what the other person would go with, but you have to assume at least one out of 100 people are habitual goofballs.) Bent Paddle’s new Valve Jockey brewer-showcase series kicked off with an Oatmeal IPA, and it’s easily one of the best beers to come out in the past six months. As you’d think, the body of the beer is clean, classic, hoppy, and bold, but its finish is surprising — it’s mellow, sweet, and a bit buttery, nothing like the astringent snap you’re trained to expect. This makes Oatmeal IPA a lot less palate fatiguing than many of its brethren, and a lot of fun to drink.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Double-Smoked Hams at Kramarczuk’s
Twice a year, Kramarczuk’s offers double-smoked hams. They’re so worth the wait — deeply smoky, yet not at all dry or salty. They’re available for Easter presale right now, so snap one up. You won’t get the chance again until the end of this year, when they reappear for Christmas.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]
Rye Sour at Fitzgerald’s
Fitzgerald’s, which occupies the former Salt Cellar space, has a frightening number of TVs, but their cocktails make it worth it. Try the artful Rye Sour ($10), which gets a dry sangria element and its pink color from the addition of red wine. Rye cuts the sweetness, and the classic foamy meringue tops it off.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham Didora]
Com Chay Cha Bong (Crispy Rice with Pork Floss) at Ha Tien Market
Crunchy, light, a little bit meaty, and kissed with a hint of spice, this crispy rice snack from Ha Tien is extremely difficult to stop eating. It’s made with pork floss, which sounds terrible but is actually an Asian spin on pulled pork, created by a process that involves the meat being cooked, pulled, mashed, dried, and mixed with flavorings. Our only complaint about this stuff is that it doesn’t come in larger containers.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Ale Battered Cod Smörgåsar at Fika
The Ale Battered Cod open-faced sandwich ($12) at Fika is at once hearty and light. The peppery watercress and curry rémoulade complement the cod, and the crispy texture of the fish and bread are spot on. A crumble of sharp cheddar adds dimension. It’s a meal in one pile.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham Didora]
This week in the Tap: A look ahead at upcoming restaurants, notes about spots that have closed, and about those that have recently opened.
The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at email@example.com.
Mayor Hodges Stepped Over the Line in Tip Credit Debate
Reasonable people can and do disagree about the minimum wage. Income inequality has been linked to a host of broader problems, but the degree to which a higher mandated wage (and how much higher?) will fix inequality is fair game for debate. Reasonable people can disagree, too, as to what extent (if any) tips for restaurant servers should be counted against a minimum wage (the so-called tip credit, or tip penalty, depending upon your political outlook).
In a recent post addressing the question, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges came out against the tip credit and advocated a $15-an-hour wage plus tips for servers, putting herself in opposition to many local restaurant owners. Again, you can argue this point from either end of the spectrum and make a fair case.
What rankled many in the food community is that Hodges rested her case in part on a couple of provocative assertions: one, that those in favor of a tip credit are exposing women to sexual harassment, and two, that those in favor of a tip credit are the modern-day heirs of Americans who sought to keep emancipated slaves in subservient poverty.
Restaurateurs are quite reasonably furious about this line of argument (Stephanie March summed up and amplified this sense of irritation quite well in a recent post). For me, these tactics directly recall the kind of bomb-throwing rhetoric that undergrad student-council members at my alma mater (University of Wisconsin-Madison) sometimes engaged in. In short: If you disagree with my stance on Issue X, you are (choose one or more) a racist, a sexist, an imperialist, a slave trader, and so forth. It’s resorting to demonization in order to win what should be a fact-based argument.
And it assumes that your constituents are arguing in bad faith — in this case, that they’re shoving hardworking people into the muck to protect their own wealth, rather than, for example, trying to keep volatile businesses afloat amid often razor-thin margins.
An apology from the mayor to restaurateurs would be a welcome sign of good faith and a prudent way to start rebuilding relationships with a business community that provides incalculable vitality (and thousands of jobs) to Minneapolis. An apology doesn’t have to include backing down from her policy position, but it should come from a place of empathy for people working hard in a fast-paced and sometimes brutal part of the economy. — James Norton
- Randle’s, 921 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis | Rooftop bar, Asian fusion, steaks.
- Hennepin Steam Room, 116 1st Ave N, Minneapolis | Reboot of the closed Tangiers concept by the same owners.
- Bottle Rocket, 1806 St. Clair Ave, St. Paul | A reboot by the Blue Plate Restaurant Company of the former Scusi space with craft cocktails.
- The Lexington, 1096 Grand Ave, St. Paul | After a years-long odyssey, the newest incarnation of the Lexington has arrived.
- Ziat & Za’atar, 1626 Selby Avenue, St. Paul
- Mercado by Earl Giles, 2904 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis | Jester Concepts taqueria, coffee shop, and cocktail spot.
- Utepils (formerly Bryn Mawr) Brewing, 225 Thomas Ave N, Minneapolis | Large-scale (about 60 percent of Surly’s capacity) new brewery.
- Byte, 319 1st Ave N, Minneapolis | With a Geek Bar, of course plus a casual menu and baked goods from Patisserie 46.
- Bad Waitress (second location), 700 Central Ave NE
- Can Can Wonderland, 755 Prior Ave N, St. Paul | Artist-designed mini-golf with beer, noshes, and Bittercube cocktails.
- Jun, 730 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis | Szechuan gone upscale in the North Loop.
- Pad Ga Pow, 811 LaSalle Ave Suite 207, Minneapolis | Skyway Thai from the daughter and son-in-law of the owner of the lovely On’s Thai on University Avenue in St. Paul.
- Tiffin Man, 1415 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
- Come Pho Soup, Medical Arts Building, 823½ Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
- Station Pizzeria, 13008 Minnetonka Blvd, Minnetonka | A former Bar La Grassa chef does upscale pizza.
- Pajarito, 605 W 7th St, St. Paul | Via Dara: Opened by Tim McKee acolytes “Tyge Nelson and Stephan Hesse, most recently of Chino Latino and Libertine, respectively.” Receiving early accolades. Here’s our review.
- Revival, 525 Selby Ave, St. Paul (former Cheeky Monkey space) | A second location for the popular fried chicken spinoff of Corner Table. The original location will also be expanding and offering takeout. Our review of the new location is here.
In this Toast we drink our way through the west metro, from Hayes Public House, a quaint Irish-style brewery, south to Wayzata Brew Works, a lakeside gathering place. Delano sits in between, and the tiny town claims two craft breweries of its own.
Hayes’ Public House
If there is anything that Hayes’ Public House is lacking, it is not an identity. The laser-sharp focus of owner and brewer Pugs Hayes has brought traditional British and Irish beers to life in the first brewery in Wright County since Prohibition.
The space has the feel of an updated Irish pub – green walls and dark wood throughout, plus hurling and soccer flags hanging from the ceiling along with a few mounted taxidermy pieces, not unlike Cooper in St. Louis Park or Merlin’s Rest in Minneapolis. It’s small and unexpectedly tucked into a strip mall. A mere 35 people make it feel comfortably full.
The least successful beer of the visit was the O’Ruaidhri’s Irish Red ($5 for 16oz). A strange apple aroma begins mildly but increases steadily over time. The taste has a residual sweetness that also presents as cider-like. Finally, a green banana flavor builds which is out of place and hides the amber malts which would normally dominate the style.
We found an excellent use of smoke in a few beers, none of which came off like chemical smoke. Hayes is quick to mention the use of beechwood-smoked malt, a German classic, which is regarded as the gold standard for adding subtle malts to beer. Despite his love of peat in spirits, Hayes steers clear of peated malt, a known brewing pitfall among smoky beers that can push the flavor out of balance.
During the visit, Hayes opened a bottle of The Revenge of the Dullahan, an imperial smoked coffee porter that is a higher gravity and smoky variation on the base porter. Only a small number of bottles were released, all of which were sold directly from the brewery. The smoke is initially potent, but after a few sips, more coffee presents itself. The java comes from adjacent Buffalo Coffee and Books and is added as liquid cold press coffee after fermentation but before packaging.
Finally, as a departure from the maltier styles which dominate the menu, the Session IPA stands out ($6 for 12oz). Strong resin and pine make it fairly one-note in hop profile. That said, the balance of bitterness, flavor, and aroma are solid. The bitterness lingers only briefly and the effervescence is refreshing. For only 4.9% ABV it is an extremely flavorful session style.
Hayes’ Public House 112 First St. South, Buffalo, MN 55313. 763.746.6389 Mon-Tue – Closed, Wed.-Thurs – 5-10 PM, Fri-Sat – 3-10 PM, Sunday – 2 -7 PM
South Fork Brewing
A ten-minute drive away is Delano, home to South Fork Brewing which opened in 2015. Founders Sara Beamish and Karen Zimmerman own a 7-barrel system that is housed in a nondescript building in Delano’s historic downtown. Unlike the owner-brewer model at Hayes’, the pair employs head brewer Brett Lincoln, a local with homebrewing experience.
The taproom houses simple tables and a few couches, and has little character. A few board games are available and only two other tables were occupied on a Saturday night.
South Fork offers a flight option, which includes 6 pre-selected beers for $10.
The high point of the flight was the Blood Orange Sour with a slightly funky nose and crisp tartness. An intriguing orange-grapefruit finish tastes authentic rather than like candy. Compared to other sours on the market, however, there is little complexity. Unlike beers with intentional microorganism additions, this beer is left to sit in the fermenter to become sour. Wild yeast or bacteria naturally found on the grain will create this effect, a process called “kettle souring.”
Black Cat Stout with Coffee has a powerful aroma but is a flop of a beer. It’s served on nitro, which produces a creamy body. Unfortunately, the aroma is of just-brewed coffee grounds while the flavor is jarringly bitter and acrid with almost no actual stout element. No malt flavor can be discerned from the burnt coffee aftertaste and the glass lacks depth of flavor.
Another miss was the South Fork Session IPA #2. The aroma is unusual, a combination of straw and rosewater with a vague tangerine element. It’s not entirely off-putting but is more apothecary than brewery. Upon sipping, the beer creates a sudden dryness in the mouth in a solvent sort of way. The flavor is potent mandarin and lacks any bitterness or hop flavor, while a floral note lingers. This unpleasant rose taste can occur from dry hopping while yeast are still very active.
Further fermentation problems present themselves in the Plunger IPA, including a strong aroma of clove and PVC pipe, known expressions of chlorophenol. While small amounts of some phenols are desirable in a handful of styles, IPAs do not include these flavors. There was little hop presence to stand up to the plastic-like taste. It was clear that this IPA was colonized by a wild yeast strain, likely due to infected equipment.
South Fork Brewing is approaching its two-year anniversary but seems to be making critical errors. It was a disheartening visit.
South Fork Brewing 221 2nd Street North Delano, MN 612-405-2337 Thursday 4-8pm Friday 4-10pm Saturday 2-10pm Sunday 11am-6pm
Lupine Brewing Company
One block west in Delano is Lupine Brewing Company, which feels worlds apart from its neighbor. The taproom staff are animated and insightful, while the space is inviting with brick on one side and a partial opening into the brewery on the other. There are mostly high tops and bar space which was over half full.
A beautiful example of the crisp and bright German Helles style called Hell Hounds, kicks off the flight of tasters ($2 for 5 oz, 6 per flight). This foreign-sounding lager is represented locally by the ubiquitous Hell by Surly Brewing Company, and this version is similar. Hell Hounds displays an excellent dry finish, which is more bitter than a cream ale and would appeal to Pilsner fans.
One sleeper hit was the Wheat Ale, whose name is regrettably vague. This one stands to be a widely-appealing example of a wheat that remains seasonally appropriate, rather than citrus-forward. We found this to be an appropriately understated, filtered take on a wheat, similar to a German kristallwiezen.
Murder of Cranberries is Lupine’s most distributed beer and, as a result, has become their flagship. The oatmeal stout with cranberries is far more beer than berry, with a brief tartness coming through only on the very finish. Nonetheless, the cranberry does round out a brew that would otherwise be mundane and perhaps too sweet.
Lupine is adjacent to the scenic Crow River, but the beers alone make this place a destination, though local patrons may not choose to advertise it this way. The current draft list skews dramatically malty, but this may be an indication of the season.
Lupine Brewing Company 248 N. River Street Delano, MN 763-333-1033 Wednesday and Thursday 4 to 10 pm, Friday 4 to 11 pm, Saturday 1 to 11 pm, Sunday 1 to 6 pm
Wayzata Brew Works
The word Wayzata may not conjure images of late winter, but Wayzata Brew Works has been plenty busy. On our first visit last fall, the Oktoberfest barely made it to October. This time, we experienced improved variety of beer, plus better service. That being said, the modest taproom would be a totally different environment during flip-flop season.
The beers were solid overall with few issues to speak of. The only error we spotted was in the Moore Moore Moore Lager. A faint cider note arises in what is otherwise a pleasant crackers and Cheerios experience. The taste is crisp with an unexpected bitter exit. But significant green apple, called acetaldehyde in brewing chemistry, grows over time and becomes hard to ignore.
Without flaw is the Skinny Dipper Kolsch. The brilliant, effervescent beer with a mild aroma only suffers from the fact that it lacks the personality that the German hybrid is known for. Though it fits into the style, it demonstrates no esters, minerality, or complexity that the traditional examples encourage. It reads more like a German or American lager, and a change of yeast strain or fermentation temperature could potentially solve this.
On the other hand, the Berry Gose is classically tart and displays balance between moderate sourness and a jam-like conclusion. The fruit addition prevents the puckering effect and the aroma is floral with potent under-ripe raspberry.
Finally, the Deuces New England Style Double IPA isn’t a perfect example of the style, but it’s close. The aroma is strong apricot and papaya from Mosaic and Australian Vic Secret hops. It’s juicy and hazy, and sits moderately heavily on the palate due to low carbonation. The New England trend in hoppy beer capitalizes on the unfiltered nature of proteins in beer to hold the hops in suspension, creating an intense aroma and flavor. The significant bitterness may be a bit heavy-handed after half a glass, but it does truncate the initial sweetness well
The taproom itself isn’t quite cohesive. The marine stylings and classy wood and glass finishings are overshadowed by stark blue lights and stage lighting, and the smell of popcorn can become overpowering at times. It is this lack of attention to detail that detracts from the overall experience and prevented us from lingering beyond a round or two.
Eight west metro breweries have recently brewed the same barleywine recipe, in part for a release at Winterfest, but also to drive beer tourism to the area. The recipe, developed primarily by the brewers at Birch’s on the Lake and Schram Vineyards, falls squarely into the American Barleywine territory due to the intensity of hops. We tasted examples at three of the participating breweries, including Lupine and Wayzata.
The WMBC Barleywine fell short due to its intense alcoholic heat and sharp bitterness. It will likely get better with time as booziness and hops blend into their surroundings appropriately. As each version had the same problems, the problem was with the recipe and the timeline, not the execution.
Wayzata Brew Works 294 Grove Ln E, Wayzata, MN (952) 737-1023 Monday & Tuesday Closed, Wednesday & Thursday 4pm – 11pm, Friday 2pm – 12am, Saturday 12pm – 12am, Sunday 12pm – 6pm