The Turf Club has given fans of local music a few scares over the years. Since its establishment around the turn of the century as a nucleus and incubator of the local rock-music scene, the Turf has changed hands multiple times, frequently closing, leaving bands and fans in the lurch and worried about the future of their beloved club.
The most recent transfer, into the hands of the owners of Minneapolis’s legendary First Avenue, took place in 2013. The venue closed in early June for remodeling and reopened in September with a new sound system, new bathrooms, a raised ceiling, and most interesting to us: a remodeled kitchen.
In previous incarnations, food at the Turf Club could be had only if your timing was right. You had to catch the lady selling late-night tamales in zip-loc bags or one of the periodic pop-ups selling tacos or arguably the best pastrami in town. This latest iteration of The Turf Club serves food almost all the time, with lunch and dinner daily as well as weekend brunch and late night food.
Having eaten at First Avenue’s restaurant across the river, The Depot Tavern, we expected similarly competent bar food — sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers — but the Turf Club menu indicated a different approach. The food is generally Southern style (po-boys, smoked brisket, grits), and the price point is a little higher. Admittedly, it was hard to conceive of the Turf Club — where the previous kitchen (yes, there was always a kitchen) was primarily used to store gear, and where the bathrooms had no place for cooks to wash their hands — as a place serving quality food. But knowing First Avenue’s record of success, we entered the revamped Turf Club with muted optimism, which they did not fail to satisfy.
Over several visits, we found the food to be mostly good. There were some triumphs and there were a couple of stumbles (sometimes on the same plate). The service was at times frustratingly relaxed. While it’s tempting to excuse the service by granting that the Turf Club is a dive bar, not a “real” restaurant, the kitchen, which is open more hours a day than it’s closed, and the diverse menu that reaches far beyond short order specialties, indicate that The Turf Club does indeed aspire to be a real restaurant.