The reinvention of the North Loop is now bleeding east into downtown proper, and the result is Eastside, from owner Ryan Burnet and chef Nick Dugan. With few other dining options nearby, Eastside immediately stands apart based on geography alone. It opened in September on the ground floor of Latitude 45, a modern highrise across from The Depot. The concept behind Eastside isn’t new: a collision of cuisines at a restaurant “built to be a gathering place for the community,” according to the website.
The design of the space covers an Art Deco array, from the geometric tile floor and mirrored ceiling to a black-on-white color scheme, plus the occasional potted palm. The decor is appropriate to the culinary direction; the Casablanca-like vibe underscores the melting-pot idea of the Interwar Period and gives life to a predominantly French menu with Italian and Spanish influences.
As the eye skims the room, what it sees is not completely cohesive — one wall consists of exposed concrete, while the open kitchen is lined with black tile. The uncomfortable chairs in the dining room would better suit a patio, and the lighting looks like someone ordered one of everything. Similarly, a few menu items, like the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, seem glaringly out of place. Overall, though, the aesthetic is at the same time striking and inviting, unfussy and posh.
The cocktail menu diplomatically offers something for everyone while remaining on the classic end of the spectrum. Three sherry-based mixed drinks add intrigue. Each offering is distinct, and the selection covers gin, tequila, whiskey and rum, plus several house-made infusions and liqueurs. The menu was drafted by Dan Oskey of Tattersall, which explains the distracting amount of Minneapolis-made liquor in the signature drinks (and the resulting lack of other local spirits).
For a classic choice, opt for the signature Eastside 75 ($12), crafted with cava, gin, St. Germain, and lemon. Although the glass would benefit from additional citrus or carbonation for brightness, the drink is refreshing yet robust. The cava dries things out, while the flavors of the gin take a backseat. The price tag was surprising given the lack of potency, and this soon became a theme with the majority of the drinks we tried.
More depth of flavor can be found in the Rum Negroni ($11). This twist remains true to the classic — aromatic Cocchi Americano and Campari dominate, a clear nod to the vermouth-forward classic. The Plantation 3 Stars Rum is barely recognizable as it takes on a new nutty and bitter life far from the notes that rum drinks typically offer, playing off the mole-like notes of the Bittercube Corazón bitters.
The Guest Check ($12), too, earns high marks in the bitter and aromatic boxes. It is made with Bulleit Rye, Carpano Antica, Licor 43, Tattersall Amaro, and Bittercube Trinity bitters. We found some inconsistency with this one between visits, though, with some versions falling out of balance into sweetness while others were potent and enjoyable.
As the weather warms in the coming weeks, the Asterid ($11) will be an excellent choice. Reading about the blueberry and ginger combination left us skeptical as both flavors are often poorly captured in drink form. The berries, surprisingly, come through in the freshest way, while the ginger is zesty rather than sweet. Somehow, even the mint, lime, and Hangar 1 Vodka don’t send this into tiki territory. Well done.
The dining room was filled with wine glasses and the occasional cocktail on a busy Friday night. Unfortunately, the tap beer list is one dimensional, or make that two dimensional — about a third of the list hits the “easy-drinking” arena while the remaining selections are hoppy to very hoppy. No sour, fruit, dark, or even foreign styles are represented, a curious choice for a menu with an international influence.
The flop of the bunch was the Boreal Courtesy ($12) on the sherry cocktail list, a recommendation from the bartender. It uses Tattersall’s Aquavit but displays no rye or caraway notes, but instead is predominately sherry and Angostura. Though the sherry cocktails are intended to be lower proof and ideal for pairing with food, this one was weak to the point that even a minimal melting of ice made it terrible. The combination of fortified wine and bitters became an unfortunate licorice bomb.
If snacks are in order, several options serve the cocktails well. The nicely charred and acidic Shishito Peppers ($8), complete with stems for convenient munching, make the perfect snack. Although the crumbly, flavorless cheese (referred to as paneer) is unnecessary, it doesn’t detract from the vegetable. Requiring a fork, but also well-composed, is the earthy Glazed Mushrooms side dish ($10), which plays up the bitter notes of the Guest Check and Rum Negroni.
Though other articles surrounding the opening of Eastside have cast a questioning light on the affordability of the bar, prices have increased elsewhere, and Eastside’s tabs are essentially in line with the majority of those downtown. Happy hour isn’t as much a steal as a minor incentive — three cocktails are priced at $8 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Eastside, 305 Washington Ave S, Minneapolis 55415; 612.208.1638. Dinner: Sun-Tue 4-10 p.m., Wed-Thu 5- 11p.m., Fri-Sat 5 p.m.-midnight. Brunch: Sat-Sun 10 a.m-2:30 p.m.