Bradstreet Craftshouse, the cocktail haven late of downtown Minneapolis, has completed its migration to Lowry Hill. The new location, now with “Neighborhood” in its name, opened quietly two weeks ago.
A recent, sudden flurry of construction ended a year-plus of dormancy for the space and fully exorcised the ghosts of Rye Deli from Hennepin Avenue. The new interior is moody, sleek and versatile: The bar is flanked by a row of cozy, high-backed booths. A long row of tables morphs into a plush lounge. There are berries in cocktail glasses at the bar, and the fries are crisp and dusted with togarashi. The patio faces out toward the cityscape.
And the cocktails are still top notch. Bar manager Jennifer Boutell has taken the original Bradstreet feel and loosened its tie. She’s built an engrossing drink list of classics spun with the right dose of whimsy, helpfully arranged by principal spirit. Like the food menu, the drink menu contains elements of both Japanese and Moorish cuisine (a nod to the design legacy of John Scott Bradstreet). A shishito pepper here, some Moroccan spice there. The Shoji Squares, for example, pairs green-tea-steeped Prairie Vodka with a pistachio syrup for an invigorating vodka sour.
We also dig the signature Bradstreet cocktail, a whiskey sour with jasmine and ginger syrups adding the spice to keep the sweetness in check. But the drink you’ll find in our hands on the patio all summer long is the The Ambitious Cactus, a remix of the strawberry margarita.
“A lot of people who order tequila are looking for something a little spicy, too,” says Boutell. “Honey and tequila go really well together, and then, I thought of cinnamon and strawberry — the Fee’s bitters are very cinnamon-y. And the vinegar in Tabasco rounds everything out and gives it a little background heat.”
And good news for the night owls of Uptown: $6 Hemingway daiquiris and sangrias (and more), plus a menu of cheap bites from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
If you’re familiar with the saying “Two Jews, three opinions,” it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there hasn’t been a consensus — among all deli lovers, not just Jewish ones — on Rye Deli in Minneapolis since it opened in November. First, we liked it. Then Andrew Zimmern hated it. Shefzilla backed him up. Chowhound went bananas. Then City Pages gave it a thumbs up, Dara liked it, but not before calling an early meal “an epic disaster,” and Rick chimed in with his approval. So what’s a girl supposed to believe around here?
Heavy Table editor James Norton and I pondered this question over dinner at the Lowry Hill restaurant last week as we picked through sandwiches and slurped down a chocolate egg cream and lemon soda. In between bites of corned beef and potato knish, we came to four main conclusions, which we present below:
1. Rye was a victim of its own hype.
I’m not sure if it was Rye’s ownership and management that set the bar so high or the eager deli hounds who stalked the Hennepin Avenue space to make sure they entered as soon as the open sign popped up, but the talk around town was that Rye was the Second Coming of Deli. I reviewed the initial press release we received back in October, and it made fairly modest claims, calling Rye “a moderately priced delicatessen and bar serving Jewish and East European style foods modernized for contemporary tastes” without much of the hyperbole we often see in these releases. But somehow the hype grew with such intensity that swarms hit up the deli in its first few weeks expecting a pastrami (aka “smoked meat”) sandwich that would instantly export them to the Lower East Side of New York. And nope, Rye’s food just isn’t at that level because…
2. The meat is drastically underseasoned.
My first dish at Rye was the smoked meat hash, and it was so lacking in seasoning that I dumped half the contents of the salt shaker onto the potato-pepper-meat jumble. Lack of salt usually isn’t the problem with cured meats — in fact, it’s more often the opposite. But after tasting the corned beef, smoked meat, chopped liver, and brisket, James and I agreed. The meats’ texture and tenderness were on point, but when the dominant flavor coming through upon biting into James’ Reason for Rye sandwich was the rye bread and not the meat, there’s a problem. It wasn’t that the ingredients in and of themselves were bad. We felt like they were made from good quality stuff. It’s just that there wasn’t much oomph, and there was nothing in that sandwich — or any of the other meat dishes we tried — that made us crave it.
3. There’s no excuse for a bad chocolate egg cream — or erratic service.
A chocolate egg cream is comprised of three ingredients: milk, chocolate syrup, and soda water. When those ingredients are blended in the proper ratio, it’s creamy, chocolately bliss. When they’re not, it’s fizzy, watered-down chocolate milk. Unfortunately, that’s what we got at Rye.
That egg cream is an apt metaphor for the service we’ve received at Rye, too. At successful restaurants, everyone, from the cashier to the bartender to the busser, provides consistent, excellent service. But at Rye, we’ve received a mix — friendly counter service but gruff table service, or vice versa. On a previous visit, an employee handed one of us a to-go box before lunch was finished — in a half-empty restaurant. To win some true raves, Rye needs consistency in this area — and especially for those beloved egg creams.
4. The bakery is for real.
As in real good. The rugelach, black and white cookies, and chocolate babka have been the highlights of our meals at Rye. In particular, the rugelach demonstrated a flakiness and filling-to-pastry ratio that made it on par with some of the best New York versions we’ve tried, and the frosting on the black and white cookies is out of this world. The babka would be better served if it were sliced to order so the pieces wouldn’t dry out, but the yeasty, chocolately flavor hits all the right notes. The dough encompassing the filling of the potato knish exhibited similar skill — golden, toothsome, and not too thick. The underseasoned filling paled in comparison to the delicate crust. Rye better keep its pastry chef because that’s what will keep us coming back — especially with rugelach priced at 80 cents each.
So to Rye or not to Rye? Here’s the deal: Go in with the modest expectations you would have at Mort’s, Cecil’s, or any other local deli. You may find a dish — or cookie — you love, or you could be seriously underwhelmed. This isn’t the kick-ass deli many of us prayed for, but after so many years of wishful thinking, will the Twin Cities ever get a deli that lives up to our idealized standard? I’m not betting on it.
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 email@example.com.
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.