Wise Acre Eatery in Tangletown, Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Let’s call 2010 / 2011 the year of the South Minneapolis neighborhood joint: The meteoric ascent of Tilia, the immaculate offerings of In Season, the auspicious beginnings of Patisserie 46 and Sun Street Breads, the pizza pie of Pizzeria Lola, and the debut of Corner Table’s breakfast and Community Supported Kitchen program all point to a remarkable whirlwind of edible awesomeness sweeping the Linden Hills, Kingfield, and Tangletown neighborhoods.

Add to this the recent opening of Wise Acre Eatery, a new restaurant owned by Dean Engelmann and Scott Endres, the folks behind Tangletown Gardens. There’s a strong farm-to-table connection here: As per the restaurant’s menu, “Tangletown Gardens’ Farm, a 100+ acre farm located outside of Plato, MN, supplies the farm-raised produce as well as raises Scottish Highland cattle and Berkshire Hogs for Wise Acre meat, and chickens for both meat and eggs.”

Two Lucia’s alumnae, Chef Beth Fisher and General Manager Caroline Glawe, give the neighborhood eatery a touch of farm-focused class. The menu is simple and elegant without being dull; the food elevated without even a touch of stuffiness.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Starters were as entertaining as they were generally well executed. The bacon steak with shallot marmalade starter (above, center left, $7) played salty and sweet flavors against crunchy and chewy textures to good effect; ham and pea fritters ($6) were equally well balanced and successful.

Wise Acre enthusiastically takes part in a current trend that should become a fixture: providing guests with non-alcoholic drink options that have the same thoughtfulness and flavor kick offered by their boozy cousins. The house-made sodas ($3) when we visited were cherry / ginger and blackberry / white pepper (a “black and white”). Both were spot on — flavorful, not oversweet, cleverly playing fruit flavor against a savory counterpoint.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The chowder of the week ($4 cup / $6 bowl) during one of our visits was a beautifully executed vegetable soup with a strong celery base and a soothing freshness that seemed perfect for early summer. Small pieces of potatoes in the soup were properly cooked — still retaining some texture, but tender overall.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

On an early visit, the dill pickle-brined chicken drumsticks ($3 or 3 for $7) were tough and lacked crunch, but a few weeks later the entree version (dill fried chicken, $18) knocked our socks off. The chicken was moist, tender, and flavorful, the crust crispy, the dill taste faint but pleasant and distinct, and the accompanying cheddar biscuit, sweet shallot marmalade, and blackstrap molasses carrots all deftly executed. The dill pickle brining had the effect of playing a certain fruitiness and saltiness off the sweetness of the blackstrap molasses-glazed carrots and shallot marmalade.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A savory vegetable pudding ($16) seems to be a staple of the menu (we tried a well-executed morel pudding on one visit and wild rice and scallion pudding on the next). The latter seemed about 90 percent of the way to being a full dish — despite a house-made dill cracker and a whipped brie accompaniment, it felt a bit insubstantial, too chewy and nutty to the exclusion of other flavors and textures. A little something extra (glazed pecans? deep-fried spiced chickpeas? medjool dates?) might have made it both more substantial and more entertaining.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Our only serious axe to grind was value and portion size on a couple of dishes. Good as they were, is $7 a decent price for two small pieces of bacon sitting on crostini? And a maple rhubarb-braised beef (above) promised bold flavors but tasted very, very faintly of rhubarb and almost not at all of maple. Is $19 a fair price for a tender, homestyle grass-fed beef pot roast with carrot chive mashers and sugar snap peas? Possibly, but the missing-in-action maple and rhubarb notes were a disappointment.

More egregious was dessert. A hot fudge brownie sundae cost $5 but was insufficient for all but the lightest of appetites — a few tablespoons of decent-but-not-great frozen custard on a mini brownie with a few teaspoons of hot fudge does not a dessert make.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Forget about sharing; you won’t have enough even for yourself, and the plating method of putting the sundae in a squat little mason jar seemed designed to compound a diner’s annoyance — precious dabs of hot fudge stuck in hard-to-access parts of the jar, and the size and height of the dish seemed designed to disguise how tiny the poor little thing was. (A subsequent return visit revealed coffee-flavored frozen custard that was unpleasantly icy in texture and a vanilla variety that was similarly icy in texture and lacked significant vanilla flavor; clearly the frozen custard is a work in progress.)

Hiccups aside, it’s hard not to love what Wise Acre is doing: presenting simple, thoughtful spins on high-quality seasonal ingredients in a casual neighborhood setting. It offers some thoughtful breakfast and lunch offerings, plus a charming atmosphere that combines sleek interior design with softening features such as a living, wall-mounted herb garden. There’s a lot of room to grow with the concept overall, and given some fine tuning, Wise Acre could be a neighborhood powerhouse for years to come.

Katie Cannon and Christian Krautkramer contributed to this review.

Wise Acre Eatery
Seasonal neighborhood bistro in Tangletown
★★☆☆ (Good)

5401 Nicollet Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55419
612.354.2577
OWNERS / CHEF: Dean Engelmann and Scott Endres / Beth Fisher
HOURS:
Tue-Thu: 8am-9pm
Fri 8am-10pm
Sat 10am-10pm
Sun 10am-8pm
Mon CLOSED
BAR: Beer and wine
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No

 

 

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of a book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who eat them, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a daily video blogger for CHOW. His latest book is a guide to the food and restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul called the Food Lovers’ Guide to the Twin Cities. Norton has written about food for Culture: The Word on Cheese, Salon, Gastronomica, Popular Science, Saveur.com, Minnesota Monthly, and City Pages (as a weekly restaurant reviewer).

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11 Comments

  1. I stopped by last week to try their custard. It was some of the best I’ve ever had. The homemade waffle cone was a bit stale, though, and lacked crunch. Stick with custard in a dish!

  2. SarahinMinneapolis06/13/2011Reply

    Good luck to them. That pic of the $7 piece of bacon on two slices of bread with a few chopped shallots is all I need to know. Combination of funny and insulting.

  3. Ames Farm is supplying honey for the custard that’s made at Castle Rock Dairy with their organic cream. I have not tasted it yet but look forward to tasting some soon.

  4. Ames Farm honey and Castle Rock Dairy is all I need to know. I’m there

  5. I’m happy to see a restaurant like Wise Acres here and plan to go soon.

    I’m not happy with City Pages’ Web site larding on the tracking cookies, so I’ll ask my question here: Almost-exclusively local sourcing is fine during June and July. Does anyone know what Wise Acre’s menu will look like in, say, February?

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