Nye’s redux in Northeast Minneapolis

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

When polka-bar institution Nye’s Polonaise Room announced plans to close in 2016, the outcry was widespread. The drive to build condos in the budding neighborhood was unstoppable, and no business was sacred, even after 66 years of success.

It came as a surprise to many when Nye’s owners, Rob and Tony Jacob, announced that they had plans to reopen once the mixed-purpose building was erected. The smaller space, which occupies just the corner rather than the block, opened a few weeks ago. Some felt betrayed — that the goodbye wasn’t authentic — but one thing is clear: It’s not the same.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

And the new Nye’s Bar isn’t trying to be. Red velvet ropes are present outside the entrance, and the waitstaff looks like it belongs at Seven Steakhouse, across the river. Instead of polka entertainment, there’s a piano, though during our visit all was silent. The lighting and seating appear to be a nod to the classic, but little else is reminiscent of the Polonaise Room.

The straightforward cocktail menu contains a combination of classics and variations on the same. The prices fall close to those at other Minneapolis cocktail bars, but overall the cocktails pack less of a punch.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The Old Fashioned ($10), made with whiskey (brandy upon request), sugar cube, bitters, ginger ale, soda, and orange, plus a cherry garnish, was weak and bland. While most takes on this classic tend to be spirit-forward, this version tasted watered down, as though the ice had melted immediately. The addition of ginger ale and soda should have been a clue, but it was worse than anticipated. Not only was the whiskey almost lost, the other flavors were attenuated, too.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

More successful was the Iron Butterfly ($12), a twist on a White Russian made with Bailey’s, Kahlúa, and New Amsterdam vodka. There was a pleasant and pronounced nutty undertone, perhaps from an unlisted ingredient (or the Kahlúa), that added to the intrigue of this mix. While the spirits were not particularly potent, the balance of ingredients was good, and the sweetness wasn’t overpowering.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Finally, the Manhattan ($10) was an undrinkable flop. The vermouth was so heavy-handed that the whiskey and cherry took a backseat, and a potent chalklike astringency took hold. It’s possible that the bottle was oxidized or unrefrigerated as the unpleasantness was significant.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

We felt ourselves glancing up at a mural of the old facade, which blankets one brick wall, concentrating hopefully, as though it was a Magic Eye capable of coming to life. While we have fond memories of the cocktails at the original, this new version of Nye’s combines the quality of mixed drinks found at a neighborhood dive bar with the stuffy, impersonal service of a club. It lacks the buoyant kitsch and authenticity (not to mention food — there’s now none) of the original, while overpromising through ambiance and price point.

For lovers of the Polonaise original, it may be best to regard Nye’s as gone, because, in all practicality, it is. This misguided attempt at a revival feels like a poor movie sequel no one asked for that threatens to taint affection for the original.

Nye’s Bar, 112 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414; 612.236.4854

Ray’s Place in Eau Claire

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

On a recent visit to Eau Claire, we needed a quick bite, and a Google search introduced us to Ray’s Place. Ray’s is the quintessential small-town bar, but what’s more, in a town engulfed by college students, it’s a rare townie bar, where few of those students congregate.

But what really attracted us were hints that Ray’s sometimes offered something known as Spanish Stew. This did not appear to be the traditional bar and grill fare, and we were delighted to see a sign in the window announcing the presence of this dish. Upon entering, we could smell something good — not the “popcorn and stale beer” fragrance some small bars have, but a welcoming, home-cooking aroma.

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Our server didn’t know exactly what made the stew Spanish, although she did know that it’s an item people clamor for. It’s served in one size ($4.25 to eat in, $4.35 to go), not ridiculously large, and turned out to be one of those simple dishes that can be delicious, even when they don’t look like much. Ground beef, potatoes, onions, and celery had been slow-simmered with paprika, creating a nicely rich gravy. It was hearty and heart-warming.

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Ray’s eschews most typical bar grub like burgers and wings, instead offering soups, roast beef, and ham sandwiches. We tried the roast beef ($5.25 to eat in, $5.35 to go, 40 cents extra for cheese) and were given a burger bun filled with thin-sliced, tender beef slices, also in a satisfyingly rich gravy. An unlabeled jar of mustard arrived with it, and we were told it was made from scratch by the owner (as were the soups, stew, and sandwiches) and were warned that it’s very spicy. This is something we’ve heard many times right before biting into something that has little to no heat, but it turned out to be true in this case; the mustard was packed with horseradish in a tear-inducing (and good) way. It was an excellent addition to the roast beef.

This isn’t the kind of place where you worry about presentation. That isn’t the point. Instead, what we wanted — and what we got — was a good, quick, homemade meal at a reasonable price.

Ray’s Place838 Water St, Eau Claire, WI, 715.832.3991; Mon-Thu 10-2 a.m., Fri-Sat 10-2:30 a.m., Sun 10:30-2 a.m.

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Bull’s Horn in Standish-Ericsson, Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

You read it here, first: Time travel is not merely attainable, it’s inexpensive. For us two Wisconsin natives, Bull’s Horn was an honest-to-God temporal portal. From the popcorn popper to the beer-themed light fixtures to the menu to the overall lived-in vibe, Bull’s Horn is a time machine back to 1986. (The pull-tabs and Heggie’s menu mark it as Minnesota rather than Wisconsin, but otherwise the illusion is flawless and the nostalgia is absolutely intoxicating.)

The only thing really different is that the food is mostly (much) better, and the stuff that’s the same — the fries, the pudding in the kids’ trays, the bread on the fried bologna sandwich — all makes sense in context and is charming rather than bad.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The mystery about Bull’s Horn has long been: How unreconstructed would Doug Flicker make this place, which has been touted as the resurrection of a venerable neighborhood spot, the Sunrise Inn? Piccolo and Esker Grove both proved that Flicker’s capable of the twee-est, finest, daintiest of foods. Can he possibly resist sneaking in some microgreens or herbed foams or towers of tiny manicured beet cubes somewhere in the menu? Will the place feel legit or like a Frankensteinish fusion of hipster-meets-townie?

Flicker and his wife and business partner, Amy Greeley, resisted. The place feels legit. It feels fun. The menu and execution are of a certain place and a certain time, and within those constraints, they totally kick ass.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Fried Bologna Sandwich ($8.50) boasts meat that was smoked in house, a deviled egg schmear, a lot of lettuce, pickles, and spicy mustard. Hand to God, the first thing we thought of when we bit into it, with all its fatty, earthy meatiness, is that we were eating a decent corned beef sandwich. The bread (crazy dry and sort of spray foamy in texture) was arguably a minus, but it definitely felt like part of the overall vibe, and the sandwich was delicious.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We also tried the Bull’s Horn Burger ($10.50) with lettuce, pickle, special sauce, and optional bacon and/or cheese. The bun was perfect (how are so many places getting burger buns so right these days? It’s getting hard to find a dried out, flavorless bun; everything’s full-flavored and delicious), and the patty was substantial without being overkill. The special sauce was applied with a reasonably light touch, and the whole package veered hard toward “classic burger” and away from the ACL burgers that so many places are offering these days. We love ACL burgers, but we love classic burgers, too. The fries were generic, but we can live with that at this price and in this setting.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Bull’s Horn does nightly specials served on metal cafeteria trays, and also does a few trays just for kids. Our appalling picky four-year-old happily ate his way through Macaroni with Red Sauce ($5.50), which came with mixed vegetables (totally fine, roundly ignored), apple sauce (demolished), and vanilla pudding straight from a 1983 salad bar (demolished by dad).

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We hit Bull’s Horn on a Friday night, drawn like moths to a flame by the lure of a Friday night fish fry just like we used to have in Wisconsin. A large pan of fish ($29) was enough for two and came with sides: snappy, three-bean-salad-like cold marinated green beans (which were delicious), cubed potatoes (undercooked and underseasoned, sadly), and baked beans (perfectly cooked, not mushy, not oversweet — some of the better baked beans we’ve had). The fish itself wasn’t a straight-up nostalgia trip, but that was OK. The batter was softer and more delicate than we were used to, but the fish was extraordinarily tender, and the tartar sauce (which looked and tasted house made) was supremely rich, creamy, and tangy.

Bull’s Horn feels kind of like a theme restaurant, if “The Way Things Used to Be” is a legitimate theme. But nothing about it felt cheesy or calculated, and the energy of the crowds that are swarming speaks for itself — this is a place to which people truly want to return.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Bull’s Horn
Old-school bar in Standish-Ericsson Minneapolis
Rating: ★★★☆ (excellent)

4563 34th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55406
612.208.1378
OWNERS: Doug Flicker and Amy Greeley
HOURS:
Tue-Sun 11 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Mon: Closed
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $8.50-$14.50
NOISE LEVEL: Dull roar
PARKING: Small lot, street parking

HopCat in Downtown Minneapolis

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

Michigan’s famous beer bar HopCat recently expanded into Minnesota, and they’re making a local impression. The company, owned by Mark Sellers, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., now boasts over a dozen locations.

Rather than pass themselves off as local or small, HopCat states on the menu that it has several locations and strives to avoid a cookie-cutter approach; the hope is that each location will stand on its own as a reflection of its environment. The original space in downtown Grand Rapids is cozy and quaint, with warm wood, copper, and ample Michigan beer. The Kansas City iteration has more than a hundred taps plus a basement Tiki bar. And the Minneapolis location, along the Light Rail in Downtown East, already feels comfortably broken in.

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

The space is neither kitschy nor industrial but instead feels similar to Red Cow or The Freehouse inside, with a comfortable, loungelike patio on Nicollet Mall. The location, which no doubt will capitalize on Super Bowl foot traffic, sees competition from nearby Mercury Dining Room and Rail as well as Eastside, but the beer-forward restaurant is unlike its neighbors.

In fact, the combination of proper beer service and an exceptionally large tap list, alongside standard bar fare and a full liquor license, is somewhat rare. Locally, this model could be compared to the growing New Bohemia empire. In terms of national chains, HopCat is perhaps a less-stuffy take on California-based Yard House (which has a branch in St. Louis Park’s West End) or a more refined version of the Flying Saucer beer bars of the southeastern states.

HopCat features about 80 draft selections, including 50 local choices. Thirty of the Minnesota beers seldom change. On the whole, the out-of-state beers are somehow more intriguing, with rare offerings from The Bruery and Cascade Brewing Company, among others. Prices are reasonable, and afternoon and late-night happy hours make several of the beers a steal.

The most impressive element of the downtown newcomer is the attention to detail in the presentation of craft beer. There is an explanation of sizing that includes a visual of the glassware with precise volumes (meaning the term “tulip” will be less likely to lead to disappointment). Glassware is clean, and the menu is updated regularly. “On Deck” beers are listed, so there’s no reason to fret about turnover or freshness.

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

Food selection is downright yawn-worthy. The menu reads like a chain restaurant that feeds kids for free on Tuesdays. The pan-style vegetarian pizza was heavy on the bread but crisp around the edges, drawing mixed reviews. Choices are more substantial than at most bars, and prices are about as expected.

HopCat, 435 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612.276.5555; Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-midnight, Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun 10 a.m.-midnight.

The Seventh Street Truck Park in St. Paul

James Norton / Heavy Table

The newly opened Seventh Street Truck Park has all the authenticity of a Guy Fieri S’mores Indoors Pizza, which is to say not a very large amount. We’ll unpack what that means in a moment; for now, here’s our evidence:

1. The entire “truck park” — which we were naively hoping might contain counters serving local food-truck menus or be some kind of a covered eating space at which actual food trucks could dock — is an indoor space with ersatz food-truck counters, lighted signage, computerized menus, and condiment stations. You are essentially eating in an up-to-date mall food court with a full bar. It’s one part street food, about six parts Disney.

James Norton / Heavy Table

2. There are big-screen televisions everywhere, to the point where there is essentially nowhere you can look without seeing four to six of the things. Name a sport, and it’s on the wall, often in several places at once. The effect is like being locked inside of an ESPN news ticker.

3. Legitimate food trucks push the envelope of food; the Seventh Street Truck Park plays it padded-helmet safe with a mixture of pizza, fried chicken, tacos, and ice cream sandwiches. There are a few local purveyors in the mix (Surly, Sebastian Joe’s, etc.), but nothing on the menu would be particularly out of place if you stepped back in time to 1989.

4. While we visited on Sunday night, a live band (yay!) performed a set comprised of pop song medleys (boo!) including a cover of Is This Love that must surely rank among the whitest musical events of modern America.

James Norton / Heavy Table

Now back to unpacking the “authenticity” thing. Let’s assume that you are a) in a crowd emerging from the Xcel Energy Center, b) drunk or about to become drunk, and c) in an open-minded or otherwise not horribly critical mood. Under these conditions, the Seventh Street Truck Park is a fun, busy, happening extension of the neighboring New Bohemia Wurst House (whose team also owns the Truck Park). It’s lively, it has a lot of menu options, and it feels like some strange but cheerful middle ground between a college bar, a house party, a food truck court, and an Applebee’s.

Although it might not be for everyone (notably: food people), the theme is coherent — it’s well-executed and likely to gain real traction in the market.

Cocktails at The Lexington

Brianna Stachowki / Heavy Table

After years of rumors and remodeling, The Lexington, St. Paul’s 1935 dining institution, has finally reopened.

Owners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald, the duo behind Smack Shack, have teamed with co-owner and chef Jack Riebel to update the classic while maintaining the requisite historical elements.

Brianna Stachowki / Heavy Table

Upon entry, it’s not immediately clear what is original and what is made to look that way. Each of the many dining rooms has its own feel. The main room is dominated by dark wood paneling and oil paintings and has pleasantly warm and subdued light. Another dining area is lighter in color, while still another was given a few modern touches that would fit in at a boutique hotel.

The entire place has a decidedly special-occasion feel, which may make a casual drop-in, even at one of the two bars, unlikely.

Despite the updates, “The Lex” fits firmly into the supper-club style of dining. Compared to other restaurants of the same era, such as The Monte Carlo or Murray’s, this relaunch is more supper and less club, with no neon in sight, and a generally muted scheme.

Beverages are overseen by Geoffrey Lee Trelstad (formerly of 4 Bells in Loring Park) and fall in line with the updated classic model.

Brianna Stachowki / Heavy Table

The Scofflaw ($12) is made with Old Overholt rye, dry vermouth, lemon, house grenadine, and creole bitters. It strikes the palate in one simple chord of sweet citrus and berry until a mild heat sets in on the finish. The rye character is not present, but the warmth cuts through the first rush of sugar.

Brianna Stachowki / Heavy Table

Less successful is the Jalisco-Style Old Fashioned ($12), which is one of a group of variations on the classic cocktail. Agave syrup dominates the Cazadores Reposado tequila, while the whiskey-barrel-aged bitters and orange peel do little to restrain the sugar bomb. Because the balance is far too sweet, the aged profile of the tequila is completely covered save for a brief smoke. The bitters are lost as well, but the orange peel lends some brightness.

Brianna Stachowki / Heavy Table

The ’Tuckey-Style ($12), as the name suggests, is the classic without a twist: Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, house bitters, and orange zest. This critical recipe tweak resulted in a near-perfect drink: an appropriate level of alcoholic heat, classic orange oil aromatics, and a truncated finish that doesn’t overstay its welcome on the palate.

Service at the Lexington was fair but with a general lack of confidence that made the place feel like it had just opened. At the bar, though, the service didn’t detract from the overall experience.

The few bar snacks that we sampled were excellent. They included the Fried Chicken Sliders ($9) with a vinegar-dressed slaw and a faintly sweet bun. Most impressively, the dark-meat chicken was moist and tender. Also, try the briny Chopped Celery Caesar ($12), which is tossed with a bright lemon and caper dressing and topped with a boquerone.

The Lexington, 1096 Grand Ave, St Paul, MN 55105; 651.289.4990

Green Line Checklist: T-Rex to Campus Club, the End of the Line

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

Editor’s note: This marks the conclusion of the Green Line Checklist. We’d like to thank the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative for making the Checklist possible, all of our guest tasters for keeping us company, and the restaurateurs of the Green Line for making our cities so livable and intriguing. Heavy Table will be off for Thanksgiving and the day following.

A fizzle is not necessarily how you want things to come to an end when you’re finishing out an almost 10-month, 72-restaurant, seven-mile crosstown journey, but in a way, it’s appropriate.

There’s nothing glamorous about working through the Green Line Checklist. Eating at five restaurants in a single night can be a grind. You learn to take what University Avenue gives you and make do. You learn to take the long view.

Maybe for every bad meal you eat, you also get to discover a gem of a dish at a dive you may never have visited otherwise. Maybe for every grumpy server you encounter, you also get to meet an incredible person you never would have run across in any other part of your life.

In a way, these checklists mimic our daily existence.

Yes, occasionally, you get a fizzle. But life can’t give you a grand finale every day.

Perhaps the right approach is the same one the hardworking people running these establishments take to going about their jobs. Put your head down, put your heart into it, and just keep moving. — M.C. Cronin

Five Flavors We’ll Return For

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

5. Kung Pao Chicken at Tea House

We were skeptical when our server recommended we try the Kung Pao Chicken, generally a standard issue member of the dull-food lineup of dishes at Chinese-American restaurants. But the version at Tea House is packed with Szechuan peppercorns and has a tingly, powerful kick. It’s also not drenched in sweet syrup, and it leans far more heavily on the flavors of spice and peanuts to express itself. It’s among the best in town.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

4. Ho-Muk at On’s Kitchen

Ho-muk is an exquisitely rich, creamy fish curry that’s almost pastelike in texture and contains layers of powerful flavor. It’s a great entree at Cheng Heng. And it’s an exquisite, perfectly sized appetizer over at On’s Kitchen Thai Cuisine. This isn’t a dish you’ll run into much (if ever) off University Avenue, so it’s worth looking for.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

3. Meat Combo Platter at Flamingo

This is camaraderie and fellowship on a plate — heaping portions of rich, hot, colorful, deeply spiced East African flavors, there for the taking with a handful of injera. One of the happiest dining experiences of the many we had during our tour.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

2. Enchiladas Verdes at Homi

Our original words stand to describe the appeal of these amazing items:

“Great kick, good acid to balance the richness, tender but not soggy tortillas, properly cooked meat, with an overall lovely, complex, lingering heat. This is a dish that can get heavy and tedious, even when done fairly well, but none of us got tired of this rendition, and we promise to return for more in the future.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

1. The River Monster at Thai Garden

Visual impact: stunning. Texture: fork tender. Flavor: Deep and bold. That’s the River Monster, a whole red snapper swimming in a sea of tom yum soup. There’s nothing like a flashy, novelty dish that delivers in the flavor department — it makes an indelible impression. — James Norton

How to Successfully Eat at Five Restaurants in One Night: A Scientific Analysis of Competing Theories

The Small Bites Theory — Hypothesis: Strictly limiting yourself to one or two bites from each dish all night will keep you from writhing around in bed, wishing you could drown in a sweet, pink vat of Pepto-Bismol. Conclusion: You’ll still be incredibly full, and you’ll probably just lie there writhing around, anyway, thinking how you might as well have eaten more of the one or two dishes you loved.

The Starvation Theory — Hypothesis: Keeping your stomach as empty as possible by not eating all day will allow more room in your system for the vast quantities of food you must consume. Conclusion: Your massive hunger will become your worst enemy. To quell the beast, you will find yourself stuffing anything down your gullet whether you like the taste or not, and by restaurant number three, you’ll wish you had worn elastic-banded pants.

The If You Find Something Good, Eat As Much As You Want, Because You May Not Get Anything Better Tonight Theory — Hypothesis: If you find something incredibly yummy to eat, go for it, because odds are you’re not going to like anything else you eat tonight. Conclusion: Gambling with your appetite is not advised. If every restaurant that night offers incredible food, the gamble may end with your re-enacting the Wafer-Thin Mint scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

The There’s No Right Way to Do This Theory — Hypothesis: Buckle down and dig in because there’s just no way to “succeed” at eating at five restaurants in a single night. Conclusion: Now you’re talking. Just go for it. — M.C.

Selected Photos by Becca Dilley

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Late Night | Ngon Bistro

We all brought our own skills to University and Washington Avenues. Robb was our artist, but he was also our master raconteur, charming stories out of nearly everyone he met. This is Robb talking with Ngon Bistro’s owner, Hai Truong.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Ducks | Tai Hoa

The guy who chopped up our duck at Tai Hoa did so with skill and determination. There’s a certain power inherent in any butcher shop, and it certainly was present here.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Pho | Pho Ca Dao

This is Peter Hajinian making his way into one of the monster bowls of pho from Pho Ca Dao. The soup looks like some kind of otherworldly element here, being pulled into strange shapes by the power of the chopsticks.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Train | University Avenue

We drove, we walked, we didn’t take the train. But it was always there — our inspiration, our highway, and often our companion.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

River Monster | Thai Garden

More than any other dish, the River Monster captured what we were after on this trip. We caught it, and it caught us.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Double-Fisted | iPho

James Norton applying a couple condiments to a broken rice plate in the most efficient manner possible. At our best on this trip, we were gung ho and waist-deep, and this image captures that spirit pretty directly.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Focus | Pho Ca Dao

Robb is so focused on his pho that its image is emblazoned on his glasses.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Bar Food | Johnny Baby’s

We didn’t know what to expect at Johnny Baby’s, but we certainly were glad to see this.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Relief | Los Ocampo

After our soul-numbing trip to a Chinese restaurant we’ll leave nameless for now, we all needed some immediate relief. This is Mike after imbibing deeply and happily of a margarita at Los Ocampo.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Advantage | Golden Gate

This fortune cookie more skillfully explained what we were up to than we could have managed ourselves.

Five Other Memorable Flavor Experiences

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

5. Sisig from Pinoy Fusion

We didn’t know what we were getting into when we ordered the Sisig from the Pinoy Fusion truck, and had we known, we might not have proceeded. Sisig is a platter of pig face (snout, cheeks, and / or ears) fried up with other bits that often include pork skin, chicken liver, and chicken hearts. It was chewy as the dickens and boldly funky, and while it wasn’t our cup of tea, it was a dish with real integrity that would no doubt make those who grew up with it quite happy indeed.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

4. Fried Catfish at Johnny Baby’s

Fried catfish doesn’t get any simpler than the stuff we got from the back room at Johnny Baby’s — just fillets breaded and fried, with little in the way of additional spice or seasoning. But the fish tasted stunningly legit (real depth of flavor, not generic mystery white fish), and it shone through with little adornment.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3. Corn and Pear “Pizza” at Little Szechuan

Bits of pear. Whole kernels of corn. Rainbow sprinkles. Put them together, and you’ve got a yellow disk of utterly baffling mystery. We wouldn’t necessarily order it again, but we’ll be talking about it for years.

WACSO / Heavy Table / James considers a plate of fish uteri.
WACSO / Heavy Table / James considers a plate of fish uteri.

2. Pig Uteri at Destiny Cafe

In flavor, these slightly springy, noodle-like ribbons of pork weren’t too dramatic, but there’s something about pushing the button on an order of uteri that gives an evening a jolt of drama.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

1. Papaya Salad at 88 Oriental Foods

So, so spicy. So, so funky. The thing that I ultimately loved most about University Avenue was that its flavor was full-throttle, and this papaya salad embodied that attitude to a T. — J.N.

This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, Becca Dilley, James Norton.

ALL 15 GREEN LINE INSTALLMENTS: 88 Oriental Foods to Thai Cafe, Ha Tien Deli to Hook Fish and Chicken, Family Lao Thai to Cheng Heng, iPho by Saigon to Los Ocampo, SugaRush to PaJai, Pinoy Fusion to The Best Steakhouse, Johnny Baby’s to Ngon Bistro, Flamingo to Trend Bar, Midway Pro Bowl to Big V’s, On’s Kitchen to Tracks Bar and Grill, Caspian Bistro to Playoffs Sports Lounge, Mesa Pizza to Stub and Herb’s, The Dubliner to Ippindo Ramen, Silhouette to Little Szechuan, and T-Rex to Campus Club (the end of the line).

ABOUT THIS PROJECT

The Green Line Checklist is the Heavy Table’s follow-up to our 55-restaurant survey of independent eateries on Central Avenue. We’ve published five-restaurant installments, usually biweekly, until we finished documenting every nonchain spot between the University Avenue and Rice Street intersection in St. Paul and the Green Line terminus on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis.

central-corridor-funders-logoThis series is made possible by underwriting from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative. Heavy Table retains editorial control of the series — as with Central Avenue, this tour has been warts-and-all.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

T-Rex Cookie Cafe
3338 University Ave SE, Minneapolis
Westgate Station

The name T-Rex Cookie might lead you to expect a cafe serving super-sized platters of golden-baked, sweet batter. And you’d be right. You might also expect a few drink offerings, like coffee or tea, to wash down those enormous disks. And you’d be right again. And the name T-Rex Cookie might also lead you to expect to be able to order a big bowl of coconut chicken curry, right?

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

OK, maybe not, but that’s exactly what we found at this enigma of an eatery.

T-Rex may offer an odd assortment of menu items for a joint that leads with cookie in the title, but it delivers pretty well on what boils down to a comfortable coffee shop environment.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

The space has an unearthed warehouse feel — all worn bricks and plank floors and high ceilings. It probably helps the overall vibe that Art & Architecture is right next door. Vintage furniture, fixtures, and decor are sprinkled throughout the lobby, and a few find their way into the cookie … uh … coffee … uh … curry shop, as well. Along with a wall-mounted T-Rex, of course. — M.C.

*** FOOD NOTES ***

trex-cookie-case
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

With all due respect to cookie shops, the name and concept set a low culinary bar. You’re not necessarily expecting to dine on anything more elevated than a large, probably rather dry chocolate chip cookie.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

To its credit, T-Rex kicks things up to a higher notch. Our peanut butter cookie was a classic example of the form, with an almost molasses-cookie-like chewiness that we all welcomed.

Our caramel Oreo cookie was similarly tasty, with a good solid Oreo crunch throughout and a pronounced caramel finish.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We were pleasantly surprised to find real food on the menu, too. The Coconut Chicken Curry (shredded chicken thighs with a coconut-lemongrass curry sauce with potatoes, carrots and bamboo shoots over rice) wasn’t the finest example of a rice bowl that we’ve encountered, as it was a bit mushy and uniform. But the flavors were pleasant, and it tasted house made, and it was ultimately both fortifying and satisfying.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Polish-Style White Borscht we ordered was also decent. It brought together kielbasa, bacon, potatoes, and leeks in a winter-friendly, hearty soup.

The only thing we’d pick a bone with was the Apple Chaider ($3.50), a mixture of milky chai tea and hot apple cider that sort of straddled both categories without really inhabiting either. Not a disaster, but next time we’ll swerve to one side of the divide or the other. — J.N.

Up-Down Arcade Bar in Lyn-Lake

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

What kind of food do you crave after an hour or two of fondling joysticks, flipping flippers, mashing buttons, and having your senses assaulted by the unrelenting cacophony of dozens of video games — spanning four decades — blaring, blinking, screaming, and beeping all at once?

Pizza, dammit — you want pizza. Greasy, cheesy, cheap, satisfying pizza that you can chase with good beer in order to calm your nearly epileptic nerves and power up for that next Galaga battle. Up-Down Arcade has pizza, and you will eat it if you’re there, because pizza is what you eat at an arcade, and that’s that.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Up-Down is the maniacally busy epicenter of gaming, beer, and pizza that burst loudly onto the scene in the Lyn / Lake neighborhood of South Minneapolis this spring, making it the third location for this mini-franchise (which also operates in Des Moines and Kansas City, Mo). It’s a place that feels like an instant institution — something other cool cities have had for years, but until now, Minneapolis has lacked.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

It’s a simple equation, but Up-Down executes it elegantly: great, nostalgia-inducing video games (think Punch-Out!!, Mortal Kombat, Gauntlet), great beer (five Surlys on tap, three Fultons including the new Standard Lager, five Indeeds, and some cool smaller brews like Blacklist and Maiden Rock), no kids, a full bar, no kids, and good pizza. What’s not to love? Did we mention that it’s always 21+?

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

In the back, there’s a window with a neon sign above it that’s impossible to miss: PIZZA. By the slice ($4 for cheese or pepperoni; $5 for specialties like buffalo chicken, mac and cheese, veggie, or meat), or gargantuan whole pies ($20 for cheese or pepperoni, $25 for specialties). It’s house-made (to what degree, we don’t know) and pretty damn satisfying within the arcade context. Anything fancier (like Neapolitan style) would just be weird.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

These are large, heavy, droopy slices that tend to be nice and hot, with quality mozzarella (good pull, good chew), herby tomato sauce, and toppings that are fresh enough. Slap it on a paper plate, shake on some Parmesan and peppers, and everything feels right in the world — except that Donkey Kong just kidnapped the Princess, and you are compelled to finish that last bite, take a swig of beer, and kick that gorilla’s ass. There’s work to be done.

Up-Down
Arcade and Pizzeria in Uptown Minneapolis

3012 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
612.823.3487
HOURS:
Mon-Fri 3 p.m.-2 a.m.
Sat-Sun 11-2 a.m.
BAR: Beer
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $8

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Green Line Checklist: The Dubliner to Ippindo Ramen House

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

We’re coming down to the wire. Sure, the Green Line technically keeps going into Downtown Minneapolis, but this is just about the end of the line for us. Perhaps that’s why these last couple of installments have taken so long to complete. Maybe, in some unconscious way, we don’t want to be done. What will our lives look like when we’re not trolling University every other week, stopping at every establishment that might possibly serve a meal or a drink, stuffing our faces, talking about food, and learning about the lives of complete strangers? How will we fill that void? We have no idea.

The good news is we’re not finished quite yet. — M.C. Cronin

This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, Becca Dilley, James Norton.

ALL 15 GREEN LINE INSTALLMENTS: 88 Oriental Foods to Thai Cafe, Ha Tien Deli to Hook Fish and Chicken, Family Lao Thai to Cheng Heng, iPho by Saigon to Los Ocampo, SugaRush to PaJai, Pinoy Fusion to The Best Steakhouse, Johnny Baby’s to Ngon Bistro, Flamingo to Trend Bar, Midway Pro Bowl to Big V’s, On’s Kitchen to Tracks Bar and Grill, Caspian Bistro to Playoffs Sports Lounge, Mesa Pizza to Stub and Herb’s, The Dubliner to Ippindo Ramen, Silhouette to Little Szechuan, and T-Rex to Campus Club (the end of the line).

ABOUT THIS PROJECT

The Green Line Checklist is the Heavy Table’s follow-up to our 55-restaurant survey of independent eateries on Central Avenue. We’ll publish five-restaurant installments biweekly until we’ve documented every nonchain spot between the University Avenue and Rice Street intersection in St. Paul and the Green Line terminus on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis. (We’re estimating 75 spots, but we’ll see how it shakes out.)

central-corridor-funders-logoThis series is made possible by underwriting from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative. Heavy Table retains editorial control of the series — as with Central Avenue, this tour will be warts-and-all.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

Dubliner Pub and Cafe
2162 University Ave W, St. Paul
Raymond Avenue Station

Our first visit to Dubliner was back in July. We were greeted by the sound of a live band playing traditional Irish music and people turning about the dance floor in pairs. The mood in the bar was the perfect antidote to what had been a difficult night on the Green Line Checklist.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

The beer was cold, the service was pleasant, and the conversation around the bar was spirited. It was good craic, one might say. Especially, if one were Irish.

During this first visit, we were heard mourning the loss of Bonnie’s Cafe next door, and we learned that the Dubliner had plans to open a restaurant in the space. We were especially happy to learn that the plans included reusing some of the best parts of that charming old diner. We were given a tour of the space under construction, and we vowed to return when it opened, which we did for the present Green Line installment.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

We arrived around brunch time. The cafe space was sunlit, bright, and open, with wood floors and booths. There was a counter with round bar stools set up along the front window. And in the back of the space, there was a small, raised stainless counter with more stools.

Clocks — all of which appeared to be non-functioning and frozen at wildly different times — were lined up along one wall. Framed Life magazine covers hung along another. Famous quotes about time from people as varied as Kurt Vonnegut and Benjamin Franklin where sprinkled around the room. So time was clearly a central theme.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

In keeping with the theme, our waitress arrived right on time. She offered us coffee right away, explaining that she learned to serve coffee first or risk dealing with cranky customers. Age-old cafe wisdom.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

The menu was surprising and promising. Many of the items appeared to be updated takes on traditional Irish fare. Unfortunately, the food — on this day, at least — didn’t quite live up to the menu’s promise. Perhaps another time. — M.C.

*** FOOD NOTES ***

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

On the drink side of this operation, we had no complaints. Our beers tasted right and were (as detailed above) enjoyed in a charming place, surrounded by cheerful company.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

But the food side has some catching up to do, at least as regards breakfast and lunch. Our Eggs Baked Du Jour ($8) was billed as three baked eggs atop hash browns, which conjured up rich runny yolks or soft, buttery scrambled clouds, with browned, texturally fascinating hashed potatoes. What we got was akin to a wet hockey puck squatting in a (cold) miniature skillet. The skillet was clearly meant to bring class to the proceedings, but when brought out at room temperature and immaculate, it merely served as an ironic indicator of how underproduced and loveless its contents were.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Our Guinness Fish & Chips ($14.50, including a $1.50 surcharge for wedge fries instead of skinny fries) had some points in their favor, but they ultimately bellied up to our table with about $10 in value. The “chips” were few in number, listless, and underseasoned. Drowning customers with a hot, salty pile of good fries is an easy cure for all manner of ills, and we wish the Dubliner had gone that underhanded but ultimately lovable route.

We got one piece of fish (a fair prospect at an $8 entree price, but somewhat outrageous at $13), and while it was skillfully battered and fried, it too was bland. The excellent and likely house-made tartar sauce was a saving grace, but ultimately, the dish was just too dear. — James Norton

The Unofficial Dive Bar & Grill in St. Anthony

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

While waiting for our lunch at the Unofficial Dive Bar & Grill, we were treated to a recording of Alice Cooper singing “School’s Out.” This felt entirely apropos: Alice Cooper seeming to be the scary rocker with boa constrictors wrapped around his neck, but turning out to be a nice guy who likes to golf. Such a contrast is present at the Unofficial. The exterior is that of a former Baker’s Square (which was its first inhabitant, followed by IHOP), but the current name tips you off that you’re not in Baker’s Square land anymore. Indeed, the interior is now decked out as a dive bar, but very much a tongue-in-cheek dive bar, from the absurdly fake exposed-brick walls and black ceiling with bright lights to the overall cleanliness. Rather than grimy, cranky barflies, here you’ll find families, grandmas, and couples of all ages.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The cheerful, faux approach to a dive bar takes a more serious turn when it comes to the menu. Our server explained that they make everything they can in house. The menu is heavy on bar food — burgers, sandwiches, fried appetizers — but with some appealing variations. We went with the server’s recommendation and ordered the Dive Bar Club ($11), a highly satisfactory version of the classic diner sandwich. The griddled brioche was crisp and soft, and the turkey and ham flavorful and fresh.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

We also tried the Jerk Burger ($10), which is a beef patty in jerk sauce topped with a slab of ham and a slice of pineapple along with pepper jack cheese. Normally this is served on an egg bun, but the server said he thought the pretzel bun was the best choice. It was a very good choice: The bun was chewy and sturdy enough to hold up to all the ingredients. The jerk sauce was a nice touch, not terribly hot, but adding some fun flavor to the sweet pineapple and salty ham. The only downside was that the burger was well done. We weren’t asked for cooking preferences, but would have liked it closer to medium.

We also upgraded the side to cheese tots ($2 surcharge), and they were amazing. We envisioned something like regular tater tots slathered in a greasy cheese sauce, but instead we got little fluffy balls of finely grated potato, fried but not overly greasy, with a mild, melty cheese in the middle. Dipped in an accompanying seasoned sour cream ($1), they were perfect bar food, and we’d return just for a plateful. We would be willing to bet that Alice Cooper would like a plate of them too after 18 holes.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The Unofficial Dive Bar & Grill
Smart bar food in St. Anthony

3701 Stinson Blvd
St. Anthony, MN 55421
612.248.8820
HOURS:
Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
Sat-Sun 10 a.m.-1 a.m.
BAR: Full
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $10-$12
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Parking lot

The Viking Bar in Minneapolis

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The Viking Bar is back! After a 10-year absence — or silence, rather — the shuttered dive bar on the U of M’s West Bank is open for business again, more than 100 years since it first opened its doors.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

And it’s back with a bang. The outside is still very much a dive bar, but the interior is bright and clean, with warm wood paneling and expanded windows to let in some light. A dropped ceiling was removed, uncovering a pressed tin ceiling that was restored. There are several large TVs over the bar, and we overheard a conversation about televised soccer that indicated the Viking, just a month after reopening, is pulling in regulars who like to watch that other football.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The Viking has also put together a short but fun menu of sandwiches and drinks, along with a decent list of local beers (the usual favorites — Fulton, Surly, Bent Paddle, Grain Belt). It also has a list of “Fancy Drinks,” and the one that drew our attention was the Pickle Martini ($8.75), a concoction of Prairie Cucumber Vodka shaken with pickle brine and served with sour cornichons. This may not appeal to everyone, but at our table, the pickle enthusiasts were delighted. The sour brine paired beautifully with the cool, fresh cucumber flavor of the vodka.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

When we asked the friendly server what she’d recommend to eat, she noted that Bill’s Boloney sandwich ($10) is currently the top seller, but her favorite was the Tuna Muffaleta ($11). We gave both of them a try and would happily eat either again. The “Boloney” in particular was a standout. The bologna in question has nothing to do with that pressed meat with both a first and last name, but instead comes from Peterson Limousin Beef from Osceola. The meat looked more like corned beef than grocery-store bologna; it was incredibly tender and had a gently beefy and peppery flavor that played well with its accompaniments (Muenster cheese, mustard, bread and butter pickles).

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The Tuna Muffaleta was delicious too, with albacore tuna holding its own against a zippy giardiniera and a sundried tomato pesto. The giardiniera had a mild heat, nothing to be frightened of. And it paired especially well with the Pickle Martini.

So, welcome back to the Viking. We’re glad you’re here and have brought great sandwiches and drinks. Note: Periodically they offer Spinal Tap karaoke. You know you want to.

Viking Bar
Drinks and well-made sandwiches in Cedar Riverside

1829 Riverside Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55454
612.353.4794
HOURS:
Daily 10 a.m.-2 a.m.
(See website for patio hours)
BAR: Full bar
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $6-$11
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Day: Metered street parking; Evening: free parking in the neighboring Opitz Outlet lot after 7 p.m.

Green Line Checklist: Flamingo to Trend Bar

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

If it isn’t already clear, we’re not just eating our way down University, we’re drinking our way down, too. And with two full-fledged bars on the itinerary — plus one we added on a whim — this outing was definitely more, shall we say, “drink forward” than any so far.

We generally try to order food or a foodlike substance at every establishment. After all, even the scruffiest of watering holes often offers some species of frozen pizza. But in this case, the bar-food options just never panned out. So we stuck to trying specialty mixed drinks and — God help us — ordering rounds of shots.

And the next morning, at least a few of us were stuck with a round of headaches to prove it. — M.C. Cronin

This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, Becca Dilley, James Norton, Mary Kay Bailey.

ALL 15 GREEN LINE INSTALLMENTS: 88 Oriental Foods to Thai Cafe, Ha Tien Deli to Hook Fish and Chicken, Family Lao Thai to Cheng Heng, iPho by Saigon to Los Ocampo, SugaRush to PaJai, Pinoy Fusion to The Best Steakhouse, Johnny Baby’s to Ngon Bistro, Flamingo to Trend Bar, Midway Pro Bowl to Big V’s, On’s Kitchen to Tracks Bar and Grill, Caspian Bistro to Playoffs Sports Lounge, Mesa Pizza to Stub and Herb’s, The Dubliner to Ippindo Ramen, Silhouette to Little Szechuan, and T-Rex to Campus Club (the end of the line).

ABOUT THIS PROJECT

The Green Line Checklist is the Heavy Table’s follow-up to our 55-restaurant survey of independent eateries on Central Avenue. We’ll publish five-restaurant installments biweekly until we’ve documented every nonchain spot between the University Avenue and Rice Street intersection in St. Paul and the Green Line terminus on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis. (We’re estimating 75 spots, but we’ll see how it shakes out.)

central-corridor-funders-logoThis series is made possible by underwriting from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative. Heavy Table retains editorial control of the series — as with Central Avenue, this tour will be warts-and-all.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

Flamingo
490 N Syndicate St, St. Paul
Hamline Avenue Station

We walked into a quiet, almost empty restaurant. Just one table was occupied, and this by a man eating alone. It was a fairly simple space decorated with African-inspired crafts and knickknacks, woven baskets and fabrics, and bright, colorful paintings.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table / Hugs complete … and now you may order. / The award for the homiest bathroom goes to…

Our host (and soon to be server) asked if we had a reservation, which seemed a bit odd considering the restaurant had plenty of space and only one diner. But we soon understood her concern. Within 15 minutes the place was packed almost to capacity and brimming with the energy of excited, chattering groups of people.

One of the owners — a woman with deep, soulful eyes and a warm smile — seemed to greet everyone who came through the door with a hug, as if they were her closest friends. We asked her if it was her policy to hug everyone who comes into the restaurant. In response, she proceeded to embrace everyone at our table.