If there’s one thing Eat Street Social has in spades, it’s vibe. The second child of Northeast Social owners Joe Wagner and Sam Bonin, Eat Street Social (in the old Tacos Morelos spot near Nicollet) is all darkness and opulence: shadowy brocade walls, high maroon booths, and glowing castle-like light fixtures provide the setting for a huge and fantastic square bar that thrusts into the center of the room, commanding attention in a Guthrie-like manner.
It’s this stage of mixology that really inspires a visit to Social. All the eating and dining and chatter ebb from this center, where head bartenders (and founders of Bittercube bitters) Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz grin and sling some really inspired drinks.
From a long list of unique creations, the Copper Dagger ($9) seems to be a favorite among the staff. Averna Amaro, Lemon Hart 151, St. Germain, and cap of foamy egg white make up a tart and delicate suede-colored cocktail masquerading as a thick cappuccino. The Queen Charlotte ($10) is like a floral lemon bar, fashioned with Grey Goose and liqueur violette, but the 21st Century Cocktail ($9) was our favorite on the list. Gin, Lillet Rouge, and house-made cocao nib liqueur result in a drink that’s 80s-prom-dress mauve. At first whiff it’s chocolately, but when the drink goes down it’s all mellow, floral citrus, with none of the piney edge that makes the gin-haters hate.
Unlike its list of bright, enthusiastic cocktails, Social’s lunch and dinner menus are governed by an earthier, iron-rich agenda. From the healthy list of appetizers (including steak tar tar and calamari), we tried the scallops ($10) and mussels and fries ($10). While both proteins were tender and treated well, they would benefit from a splash of brightness. The mussels absorb a dark edge from their hot but slightly bitter garlic and white wine broth, and the scallops come with a competing trio of apple butter, fried sweet breads, and an acerbic kumquat marmalade. A forkful of all four components loses the mildness of the apple and scallop almost entirely, making a harsh and confusing bite.
On the entrée side of things, the gnocchi ($17) is similar. Though soft and heady with truffle, the dish is almost overwhelmed by a pool of earthy brown butter. But the menu’s dark and stormy bent is perhaps best embodied by the smoked jalapeno and tomato soup ($6). It’s a creamy barbecue in a bowl, and while other dishes would welcome a squeeze of lemon here and there, this soup is practically perfect just the way it is.
The Tap loves restaurant tips from readers, so we’re awarding a Heavy Table pint glass to the best tipster each month. 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 Jason Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October’s winner: Kari Anderson of Minneapolis
Eat Street Social (opens this fall)
14 W 26th St, Minneapolis
Northeast Social owners Joe Wagner and Sam Bonin are coming to Nicollet Avenue this fall with Eat Street Social, a new bar and restaurant in the former Tacos Morelos space that hopes to replicate the laid-back yet elegant vibe and quality food, wine, and beer of their first restaurant.
Eat Street Social will also have liquor, and Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz of Bittercube bitters are leading the cocktail program. Kosevich is well-known locally as the former bartending force at the Town Talk Diner, and Koplowitz cut his teeth at Chicago cocktail den Violet Hour. These guys live to make unique, delicious cocktails, and their hiring means Wagner and Bonin are serious about giving Eat Street Social a bar that means business.
“I’d say [Kosevich] is right up there, one or two with the top bartenders in town,” Wagner said. “And so we’ll be making our own tonics, of course we’ll be using Bittercube bitters. Most of the big stuff for the cocktails will be made in-house.
“The bar that we designed is going to be really neat. We’re using a sushi cooler for a lot of the ingredients to stay fresh. Kind of like food, you want to use the freshest ingredients. So it will be a display area where you can really watch the whole process.”
Geoff Little will be executive chef at both locations and design the menu at Eat Street, so the food will stick close to what Northeast Social already does: an approachable yet thoughtful array of well-crafted small plates, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. But Eat Street will be different in ways other than the cocktails, as the larger dining room will seat around 100 and there will be live music a few nights a week, as well as a banquet space (formerly Azia’s Caterpillar Room). It will also have an old-fashioned soda fountain, with housemade syrups and old-school soft drinks like raspberry sodas, tonics, and egg creams.
“We can’t wait for it to open because we have a lot to show,” Kosevich (above) said. “I haven’t made drinks in this city for over two years. Since I left Minneapolis, since I left the Town Talk, we basically have been working Bittercube and designing cocktails all over the Midwest. So this is really the first time that we get to showcase that work, the culmination of two years of hard work, here in Minneapolis.”
Kosevich and Koplowitz, who essentially have been given free rein to create their menu, have some strong opinions about what makes for tasty, interesting liquor. One conversation with these guys, and you know the bar at Eat Street Social is not going to be typical.
“Most back bars you go in and it’s all kind of things that everyone knows and everyone’s heard of, some big factory distilleries,” Koplowitz said. “One thing that we’re really excited about with this project is to have a nice, broad spirits list with … a lot of things that are a little more esoteric and unique than the Johnnie Walkers of the world.”
“People are going to order something, and we may not have it,” Kosevich said, “because we’re showcasing something more unique that’s similar, comparable, or contrasting, but through the in-depth education aspect of our spirit program [bartenders] will be able to direct people in the right way, in the right direction that they want to go. Guests leave in a more positive way when they’ve been given something new, something fresh.”
“One classic example would be rather than having Jack Daniels, have George Dickel, which is another Tennessee whiskey that is really nice,” Koplowitz said. “It’s not craft, it’s still a really big company, but showcasing something that’s been around a long time and has been somewhat forgotten.”
But it’s not all about drinks. Wagner said he and Bonin’s goal for Eat Street Social was to create a place for real drinks, yes, but also solid food and cool vibes for the creative, funky Whittier neighborhood. The two moved to the neighborhood from Rochester together when they were 18 and never lost their love for the area.
“With MCAD being over there, there’s a lot of creative young people that gives a lot of energy to it,” Wagner said. “There’s a lot of fantastic food on Eat Street. We’ll bring kind of a new feeling and operate something that isn’t really in that area right now.
“There’s no real bars in that neighborhood. I mean, Uptown, even, there’s nothing really. The Uptown Bar was cool back in the day, but it’s gone. There’s no real bars to kind of replace it.”
Eat Street Social is shooting for a late fall opening.
The following essay is not intended to detract from the magic of Northeast Social, a relatively new and instantly popular restaurant that is winning friendly reviews from all corners of the Twin Cities. The menu is nicely balanced, the food is well-executed, the staff is gracious and enthusiastic — as restaurants go, it’s a clear winner.
Northeast Social is doing a thing that a number of local restaurants do.
It is not a good thing, and it needs to be talked about.
There is a four-top just inside of Northeast Social’s front door. On a recent 10-degree night, a party of four seated at that table grumbled darkly about the temperature for the entire two-hour duration of the meal, because every time the single front door opened — and it opened a lot — a blast of weather would enter and chill the hell out of everyone.
A nearby space heater was a thoughtful but ineffective gesture — it helped speed up recovery time, but did nothing to blunt the constant stabbing of cold air that made the entire meal an exercise in recurring annoyance.
To greater and lesser degrees, there are a number of other restaurants that suffer from a similar problem. Due to a lack of (insert one: heavy velvet curtain, double-paned vestibule entry, sufficient distance between door and closest table), the restaurants have one or more tables that are at the mercy of the elements, particularly when those elements are, for example, hovering right around zero.
The honorable thing to do would be to retire that four-top until the weather crawls back up into the 40s and 50s. A good hostess does not let her guests sit somewhere that’s subject to intermittent icy blasts, and neither should a restaurant, regardless of the potential impact on profit.
But maybe that’s just not practical, and nor is building a vestibule or some other kind of properly insulated buffer between world and diner. A very bad thing to do is to nervously pretend the problem is not a big deal. “It’ll get better soon,” said our waiter, which was a big fat load unless he was referring to “soon” in geological terms, as in, “it’ll be summer again in no time because millennia pass in the blink of an eye once you’ve got the right perspective on things.”
If ditching the table just isn’t an option, here’s something to consider: be forthright about it.
“So,” the waiter might say. “The only table we have open is The Cold Table. If you take that, all your hot drinks and soups are free, and we shave 10 percent off your bill. Or, you can wait for the next regular table, which should take 20-30 minutes.”
You’ve given your diners fair notice, and given them a choice: Suffer a bit — but enjoy a novel experience and a bunch of free soup and coffee — or wait a bit, and be seated somewhere where you can enjoy a proper civilized meal.
God knows we tolerate winter around here, but we shouldn’t have to do it while eating dinner indoors.
Tucked into a quiet Northeast neighborhood, Northeast Social isn’t the place you’d expect to see scores of bikers or men sporting both kilts and swords. But on a recent Saturday evening, with the Bearded Lady Motorcycle Rally and Freak Show taking place down the block at the 331 Club, this was the scene greeting diners arriving the new gastropub, and you know what? Just like so many things at Northeast Social, it worked.
In the space on the corner of 13th Avenue and Fourth Street NE where Europol Eva’s Delicatessen used to sit, Northeast Social has a lot working in its favor. Owners Joe Wagner and Sam Bonin have renovated the restaurant to create a homey atmosphere suitable for date night or catching up with a group of friends, and the large, wooden bar makes an inviting spot for solo diners. The wine and beer list offers some intriguing choices but keeps prices wallet-friendly; two “wild card” wines each night allow guests to unearth further bargains. And the small but well-designed menu by chef Edward Hayes, Jr. integrates seasonal ingredients while remaining broad enough for a range of tastes.
While some diners may consider them to be optional, appetizers are a must at Northeast Social — in fact, the more the merrier. French fries and fried okra were crisp and tasty, even converting non-Southerners to okra’s unique charms. Perhaps the cold marinated mushrooms were an odd addition to the basket, but the stone-ground mustard aioli made up for them. Fried chicken wings with sambal and honey started off tangy and left a lingering heat in the mouth, enough to require a glass of water to be kept nearby, but not so hot to discourage you from grabbing a second (and third) wing. A pesto seemed to be an odd pairing for fried plantains on paper, but in reality the gentle sweetness of the plantains made an excellent match for the herby dipping sauce. Scallops with sweet corn, bacon, and limoncello reduction expertly blended each ingredient’s finest attributes to create one lovely dish.
If the meal had stopped there, many would be tempted to give Northeast Social a four-star rating. But one main thing keeps the restaurant from being great: pepper. Hayes must really like it, because four out of the five entrees sampled featured pepper as a dominant flavor. Pepper certainly has a rightful place among a chef’s signature seasonings, but when it masks the natural flavors of the dish’s main ingredients, it loses its charm. The chicken breast had a delightfully crunchy skin and well-seasoned meat, but the pepper overpowered the delicate butteriness of the sweet corn, kale, and Yukon potato hash with which the chicken was paired. As the Black Angus sirloin beef was slowly consumed, pepper could be seen piling up in the steak’s leftover juices on the plate. The steak offered nothing that a competent home griller couldn’t match, though the accompanying chevre mashed potatoes increased its value. Pepper didn’t help the pan-fried Canadian walleye overcome its blandness, but the delicious tartar sauce surely did.
The pasta dishes didn’t include as much pepper but still fell short. The potato gnocchi with tomato, basil, and ricotta formed a mushy mess in the mouth. A summer vegetable risotto topped with a tomato salad offered the best of summer’s flavors in a bowl, but the risotto lacked the creamy smoothness for which the dish is known and loved.
The dessert menu, however, puts Northeast Social back on the map. The rosemary honey panna cotta finely balanced the earthiness of the rosemary with the sweetness of the honey, and the custard went down smoothly. The chocolate cake featured a milk chocolate frosting so dense and rich that it was almost like pudding. With a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side, the cake called out like a beacon to chocolate lovers.
A welcoming spot to stop for a drink and appetizers, Northeast Social isn’t far from becoming a great eatery for diners metrowide. A dish doesn’t need a boatload of pepper to succeed. Once a chef can trust well-sourced and seasonal ingredients to speak for themselves, pepper can offer the appropriate hint of spice — and Northeast Social will be elevated to the rank of destination restaurant.
Gastropub in Sheridan (Northeast Minneapolis)
359 13th Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
612.877.8111 OWNERS / CHEF: Joe Wagner and Sam Bonin / Edward Hayes, Jr. HOURS: Monday-Thursday 4pm-11pm
Friday-Saturday 4pm-12am Closed Sunday
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes for weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $15-20