The Turf Club in St. Paul

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table
Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

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.

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table
Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

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.

“Bar Food” at Burch Steakhouse and Pizza Bar

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

As compensation for brutal winters, Minnesotans are blessed with endless enviable summer activities. Deciding which outdoor movie, block party, or food fest to attend can be daunting. Now we’re adding one more item to your summer activity “to do” list. Unlike many of the others, this one isn’t free. It’s not even cheap. But it’s sure worth it. So here’s the plan:

1. Go to Burch at 5pm on a sunny day. You may need to leave work early, but this step is critical. Arriving at opening ensures an hour or two of peaceful eating and chatting before dinner service ramps up.

2. Sit at the bar. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and professional. And the bar! It’s beautiful, long, and wide enough for amassing plates and glasses, and the high-backed chairs are super comfy. Most importantly, the sun shines through the floor-to-ceiling windows, basking the bar in a warm summer glow.

3. Order a drink and sample the “bar food.” Technically, Burch doesn’t do bar food, but its small plates are absolutely worth a leery look from your coworker when you breeze out early. Our current favorite combo:

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Lamb Tartare ($13): Featuring extremely fresh, lean lamb from Niman Ranch, this cool dish is a summer treat. Whole mustard seeds, roasted fresno peppers, flake salt, and mint combine for serious flavor, mellowed skillfully by sheep’s milk yogurt. Our only critique (and it’s a very small one) is that the lamb flavor gets a bit lost among the other, strong components.

Town Hall Lanes in Minneapolis

Town Hall Lanes bowling
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Typically, if you walk into a bowling alley hungry, you’re probably not expecting to eat something too amazing. But what if the bowling alley has a magnificent chandelier hanging in the middle of its bustling dining room, along with handsome high-back booths, an absolutely stunning refurbished 19th-century bar, exposed timbers, a pressed tin ceiling, and warm wood everywhere you look? And what if the bowling alley already has a reputation for being one of the finest brewpubs in the entire state? What then? These lofty credentials and stylish signifiers tend to give a hungry bowler the idea they’re in for something a little more refined than greasy burger baskets and freezer fries.

Town Hall Lanes bar detail
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Unfortunately, the glittery, eyeball-grabbing light fixture at Town Hall Lanes does not portend a dining experience that goes too far beyond the bar food status quo. There is, however, some good stuff here: comforting bar food, unfussy, deep-fried, and grilled, meant to pair with a cold beer and a game of bowling. It’s not without flaws, though, as multiple visits revealed a kitchen that can be inconsistent and a few ideas that look better on paper than on the plate. But for the most part, this place is lovable, especially if you don’t expect too much or read too deeply into that glitzy chandelier.

Town Hall Lanes  decor
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table