It’s possible we’re at Peak Weird Beer right now, and we may never again return to this era. Every week, it seems, a Minnesota brewery puts out some mind-bending concoction that flirts with the edge of plausibility and known flavor profiles. Look at these recent reviews on our site: Fulton’s remarkable Culture Project Two, a coffee lager from Modist, and barrel-aged Cherry Dust from Indeed.
In that spirit, here is another bottle for your consideration (and, hopefully, your physical intake): Bent Paddle’s Valve Jockey Series Imperial Kvass, a 6.5 percent ABV, 10 IBU take on what is sometimes a less than 1 percent ABV, northern-European fermented beverage often made from rye bread. The beer’s humble, folksy roots remind us of Sima, a lovely and refreshing fermented beverage from Finland that we sometimes make along with Finnish crullers.
Bent Paddle’s kvass-inspired beer (we paid $10 for 750 milliliters at Elevated Beer Wine and Spirits) is a light-but-malty ale with spearmint, raisin, and lemon-peel flavors. The nose is bready and sweet, evoking Boston brown bread, and the body boasts rye spices, low acidity, and a retiring-to-the-point-of-bashful hint of spearmint. The finish is moist and clean, and the overall effect is a beer that’s both malty and refreshing, not your typical one-two punch. This is a beer that could complement anything with a honey or maple component, and there’s a gentle earthiness that would make it a good fit with ramen and / or mushroom-forward dishes. Is it a bit weird? No doubt. But it’s lovable, and it’s different. It’s a sign that anything goes in this glorious era of brew.
Never underestimate the power of a properly made meatball sandwich. It’s not a sexy sandwich, as it’s pretty much designed to explode, wilt, and melt into your mouth. But with the right components — a bright marinara, light but rich meatballs, enough melted cheese to cover but not smother, and a properly toasted bun — it’s inhalable magic. The meatball sandwich at the newly opened Geno’s is properly made. At $10 on a roll or $12 on a hoagie, it’s a little pricey on the face of it, but the flavor justifies the outlay.
Geno’s, a new shop from the owners of the Lyndale Tap House, seems to be ripping a page right out of the Mucci’s book: Serve up old-school Italian-American favorites using good ingredients, and reap all the goodwill and nostalgia that exists for a much-degraded, much-abused classic cuisine that has in recent years been a repository for laziness and straight-from-the-food-service-bag cookery.
The Upper Midwest isn’t wine country, but that hasn’t stopped locals from producing spirituous beverages of real depth and complexity that pair wonderfully with all manner of food. The medium is beer rather than wine, but that’s no limitation. As it turns out, beer can be sculpted into flavors every bit as challenging and enjoyable as those possessed by their grape-based cousins.
We bought a bottle of Culture Project Two at Elevated for $20, so it’s not really a one-for-one with traditional beer as much as it is a competitor with good wine. Given this price, purchasers would be right to demand a multilayered flavor profile, and they will feel rewarded by what they receive in the glass. Culture Project Two is spicy, funky, and complex with real acidity held in balance by woody and earthy notes and even some resinous and tannic flavors that put it on par with many better white wines. In terms of pairing, a salad with earthy notes (goat cheese, or nuts) would be an immediate match, and this beer would likely do wonderful things for fish that swam within its complicated waters. There’s a sour aspect to this beer, but it’s subdued and in balance. We’ve encountered a number of sour beers that are oppressively aggressive, and Culture Project Two is, by contrast, mellow and well-rounded.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALL HAIL OUR NEW OVERLORD, THE AU CHEVAL(-LIKE) CHEESEBURGER
A recent cheeseburger lunch at Lowry Hill Meats (see above) got me thinking: Haven’t I had this burger before? Lowry Hill’s version was great — richly flavored and juicy as an orange — but the combo of excellent meat plus American cheese plus simple caramelized onions plus top-notch bun is something that keeps turning up at restaurants all around Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s a trend that’s raging with the same force and ferocity as the upscale Jucy Lucy epidemic that swept the area three or four years back. Over the past year or so, it has gone well past the upscale, chef-driven places where it got its start in 2015 and penetrated spots from hotel restaurants to bars to suburban eateries.
Call it the rise of the ACL (Au Cheval-like) burger. Chicago’s Au Cheval is famous world-round for its simple but decidedly upscale spin on a classic American cheeseburger, and now similar burgers are everywhere from Revival to Saint Dinette (the first I had locally) to Parlour / Borough (below) to Hi-Lo Diner, and so on and so forth.
The burger is a bit difficult to define. It’s not like a Chicago dog, where there’s one canonical list of ingredients down to the poppy seeds on the bun. The telltale combo is that it’s an expensive burger, but with a (seemingly) unpretentious list of supporting ingredients. American cheese is a hallmark. They make their own at Lowry Hill Meats, but that’s not a must. House-made pickles, caramelized onions, and a high-quality, carefully toasted brioche or pretzel bun are also typically part of the package. Maybe there’s some lettuce, maybe some special sauce, and the burger probably sports a quarter to a half pound of meat, so it’s not one of those dinky but delicious smashed up diner charburgers that you get at Five Guys or Culver’s. It could be one patty or two. The meat is usually a house blend that brings in some fatty richness, some steak flavor, some textural lightness, and more.
Our own Peter Sieve captured the essence of the trend at its dawning at the start of 2015, writing about the Parlour burger:
“There is nothing hiding the refined bare essentials except the burger’s deceptively simple appearance — the two patties are formed from ground sirloin, ribeye and brisket. There is no aioli, no sad, obligatory lettuce and tomato, no fucking bacon (is the bacon thing still a thing?). It’s a double cheeseburger.”
Simplicity done well, that’s the thing. Farewell, aioli; hello generally better cheeseburgers nearly everywhere. — James Norton
Editor’s note: We received the following thoughtful email from restaurateur Tobie Nidetz:
Great segment on the Au Cheval influence. But there was something in town pre-dating it all. The burger at Ike’s downtown. We created it with the same ethos of great meat, simple cheese (we chose a 4yr Wisconsin cheddar for a little high brow) on a locally baked egg bread bun from Franklin Street.
- Black Stack Brewing, 755 Prior Ave N, St. Paul | Sharing a complex with Can Can Wonderland (above).
- J Selby’s, 169 Victoria St N, St. Paul | Vegan restaurant that prefers to call itself “plant-based,” opening tonight.
- The Early Bird, 1612 Harmon Pl, Minneapolis | Formerly Bearcat, formerly Third Bird, still a Kim Bartmann joint. Sometimes just referred to as “The Bird,” further muddying the waters.
- Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse, 4501 France Ave S, Minneapolis | New barbecue chain from the founder of Famous Dave’s; we reviewed and enjoyed the location in Hudson (above).
- HeadFlyer Brewing, 861 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
- Mercy, 901 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | The former Marin.
- Jambo! Kitchen, 1939 S 5th St, Minneapolis
- Rah’Mn, 300 Snelling Ave S, St. Paul | A Chipotle-style build-your-0wn-ramen restaurant by Tryg Truelson, formerly of Tryg’s.
- Baja Haus, 830 E Lake St, Wayzata | A second restaurant by Billy Tserenbat of Sushi Fix, focused on Mexican seafood and scratch margaritas.
- Bellecour, 739 E Lake Street, Wayzata (former Blue Point Location) | A second restaurant for the much-heralded chef owner of Spoon and Stable. This one is a French-inspired bistro and bakery.
- Copperwing Distillery, 6409 Cambridge St, St. Louis Park | Distillery and 45-seat cocktail room.
- Bottle Rocket, 1806 St. Clair Ave, St. Paul | A reboot by the Blue Plate Restaurant Company of the former Scusi space with craft cocktails. Our review here.
- Bar Brigade, 470 Cleveland Ave S, St. Paul | French-inspired bar from J.D. Fratzke (Strip Club Meat and Fish) and Matty O’Reilly (Republic) in the old Ristorante Luci space.
- Geno’s, 12 4th St SE, Minneapolis | Italian sandwich shop from the owners of Lyndale Tap House.
- Zait & Za’atar, 1626 Selby Ave, St. Paul
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 email@example.com.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Boldog Salami from Red Table Meat Co.
This seasonal, Spanish chorizo-like salami from Red Table Meats fully showcases the flavor of paprika. Red Table sources its paprika peppers locally and grinds them just before adding them to the sausage, ensuring a serious kick of spice.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Becca Dilley]
Turkish Coffee Toffee Ice Cream at Milkjam Creamery
Milkjam Creamery now offers Turkish Coffee Toffee, a concoction in which the bitterness of the coffee is balanced by sugar and the addition of sizable chunks of crunchy toffee. Since coffee and toffee go oh-so-well with chocolate, why not make a sundae out of it?
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]
Poke Bowl at SotaRol
Not exactly what you would find in a poke (pronounced poh-kay) purchased by the pound in grocery stores or served in fast food restaurants all over Hawaii, but it’s pretty darn close. SotaRol’s Salmon Poke ($11) has its elements in correct balance — rice topped with lightly marinated fresh salmon, avocado, cucumber, shallots, and a dash of sesame oil and soy sauce, garnished with toasted sesame seeds and strips of nori (dried seaweed). We needed to add a little sriracha for some heat, but the overall flavor was classic “poke”: light, fresh, and very healthy! This meal-in-a-bowl has crossed the Pacific and is becoming popular in eateries all over the continental U.S. It will be popping up in more Minnesota restaurants as well. A poke-focused spot called The Cove is coming soon to Dinkytown.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #3 | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]
Duck Eggs from Graise Farm
At a recent Chef Camp cooking class at the Food Building, Chef Yia Vang described duck eggs as “nature’s Hollandaise,” and these super rich duck eggs prove this to be true. Poached or over easy, the yolk is a meal unto itself.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Becca Dilley]
Pulled Pork Chili from Hi-Lo Diner
Smoky depth, the richness of large hunks of pork, big bold bits of onion and tomatoes — this is a serious chili that doesn’t have to lean on filler or mere spicy heat to fill out the bowl.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]