The Blue Plate restaurant group, known for neighborhood cafes like Longfellow Grill and Edina Grill plus the bar-forward Groveland Tap and The Lowry, has added its second downtown restaurant. The group’s latest offering features American fare with an emphasis on drinks: Mercury Dining Room and Rail, which opened downtown on Oct. 25, will host diners all day long — from breakfast time to midnight snack — not unlike the other members of the Blue Plate crew. (And in case you’re wondering, “Rail” refers to the restaurant’s location in the Soo Line Building.)
With both wine and beer on tap, visitors will be satisfied from a liquid perspective whether they are seeking a quick business lunch or a weekend dinner. The beer selection is wide, and of course features about six Freehouse brews (another Blue Plate property), but there is nothing unusual at this point to draw a beer-seeking crowd.
Several house cocktails feature spirits rarely seen in mixed drinks. Scotch and cognac find a home in a few selections, while bourbon occupies much of the remaining attention.
The Conductor (at top), which features apricot-infused Dewar’s, needs further refinement — the fruit is nowhere to be found. That aside, the Scotch doesn’t overwhelm in heat or peat. The remaining ingredients, though — John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, lime, and simple syrup — are indistinct. The final product tastes only like scotch and sugar. Sour and bitter elements in this one are missing.
Far more successful is the Mercury Express (above), a combination of Aperol, rosemary, Maker’s Mark, honey, grapefruit juice, and soda. While lacking in intensity of flavor, the grapefruit avoids imparting the sour-bitter notes of the classic Greyhound cocktail, offering a balanced, faint bitterness through the finish. The rosemary could stand a boost. It was visible in the glass but not evident in the taste.
In a major overhaul of the old Brasserie Zentral, the space sits squarely in the contemporary realm with a few modern pieces. The vibe is classic and coastal, with white and cool colors rather that the warm tones of the previous tenant. It feels very much like Mill Valley Kitchen and is bright and inviting. Service during our visit was informative and prompt, but a bit chaotic for a quiet dining room.
As the seasons change, lunch competition from the bustling food truck corridor that is Marquette Avenue may prove to be a challenge for the space, but serving liquor alongside classic American food will set Mercury apart from the trucks at lunchtime. The relative isolation of the space is risky, but new tenants like Eastside and Clockwerks Brewing create safety in numbers. Traffic from U.S. Bank Stadium is likely to offer a boost, as well.
Other promising changes within Blue Plate include the reboot of the former Scusi space, which will open as Bottle Rocket and feature a full liquor license (no opening date yet announced).
Mercury Dining Room and Rail, 505 Marquette Ave S Minneapolis, MN 55402; 612.728.1111; Mon-Thu 6:30 a.m.-12:15 a.m., Fri 6:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m., Sat 7:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m., Sun 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.