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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Old-school bar in Standish-Ericsson Minneapolis
4563 34th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55406
OWNERS: Doug Flicker and Amy Greeley
Tue-Sun 11 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
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