Tucked away in the old Grain Belt Brewery in Northeast Minneapolis is a bar with a taproom feel and a small restaurant: The Community Keg House. The recently opened establishment includes a main room with a bar that looks into the tap area as well as two side rooms: one with a large flat screen TV, games, and a boardroom table, and the other, a soon-to-be patio. The latter currently houses an old-school Nintendo surrounded by a half dozen chairs.
Although the Community Keg House does not brew its own beer, the space feels like the lovechild of a warehouse brewery taproom and a coffee shop — Fulton Brewery bones with Common Roots flesh, but with the lifeblood of the Solar Arts Building, complete with local artists’ work on the walls.
The biggest draw is the self-serve tap line. But it could also be the bar’s biggest problem during a busy time or on a late, rowdy night, not that we witnessed these situations. It works like a reverse Yogurt Lab. First you pay for your empty pint glass, $6 flat rate. Then, empty glass in hand, you wander around the tap island, called the “pour room,” reading the beer lists, admiring the tap handles, and making your decision.
Unlike pouring beer from a picnic tap in your buddy’s Kegerator or from a glass or can, pouring from a CO2-carbonated bar-level tap line feels like a feat of strength. “Taptenders” stationed in the area help you hold your glass at the right angle to avoid overflow and excessive head (as they monitor the area for legal reasons). Before you commit to a beer, you can ask them to help you try a few samples. Behind the taps in the “pour room,” the visible keg cooler hums away, allowing the visitor to view the tap lines running from the kegs over the walkway and into the island.
Currently, beers in the sixteen taps are clustered by style and theme: Hoppy Minnesota (includes First Light, some of the first kegs in town from Able Seedhouse & Brewery’s; and Fair State’s Pomp Le Moose), Beers of Winter (features Bauhaus Tallander and Indeed Stir Crazy), Belgian Beers of Minnesota (showcases Boom Island Witness and Insight Sunken City), and Alternative Options (has at the moment Sociable’s Freewheeler and Loon Juice — two ciders will always be on tap). The goal, according to owner Nate Field, is to act as a gateway to some of the many breweries Minnesota has to offer. So while customers may not be able to go to each brewery in the four corners of the state, they will be able to sample them in one space.
Dissatisfied with the freshness and availability of beers at beer bars around the country, Field developed a self-serve model designed around helping patrons feel more at home and involved with the beer. The beer-hall seating with exposed brick and the variety of communal activities replicate the typical taproom feel, as does the lack of table service (except for the runners who deliver orders).
However, unlike most taprooms, the Community Keg House serves food — made almost entirely from scratch — out of a small kitchen. The chef is training a new team in the simple cooking setup. Ordering is easy: Once you set up a tab at the entrance to the pour room, you can order at the food counter using one of the networked iPads.
The menu is somewhat limited, in part because of the size of the kitchen. It has a few small plates, including locally sourced specialties like Aki’s pretzels, three sandwiches, two salads, a meat and cheese plate, and pies for dessert. While outside food isn’t prohibited, Field hopes that with the inclusion of the kitchen, patrons will be happy to stay longer and sample a few snacks. In that corner of Northeast there are fewer food options than, say, around Fair State Brewing on Central, making a meal at the Community Keg House more enticing.
The meat and cheese board, while the most expensive item on the menu ($18), is worth ordering, if only to covet the Minnesota-shaped cutting board it arrives on. It features local charcuterie and cheese made at the Food Building, just a stone’s throw away: from Red Table Meats, Coppa (dry-cured pork shoulder), The Royal (smoked cooked ham), and The Lonza (dry-cured pork loin); from Lone Grazer creamery, Northeazy cheese. It also includes a delicious aged cheddar, Prairie Breeze, or a blueberry chevre with an ice-cream-like consistency from Iowa’s Milton Creamery.
The Coppa from Red Table shines brightly, balanced against pickled jalapeños and a smear of housemade mustard. Everything on the board, besides the meat and cheese, is made in house: pickled veggie rosettes, olive tapenade, mustards (whole grain and honey) and scallion pearls (bitter, bursting morsels to top each bite). There is enough on the plate to make the price tolerable and for mixing and matching among the sweet, savory, and smoky flavors accompanied by a variety of carbs including toasted bread and crackerlike breadsticks.
Plated beautifully, the Nordic Chicken sandwich ($12) has a lingonberry sauce striped with finesse across half the dish. The sauce’s tart sweetness cuts the briny, olive-accented, chunky chicken salad that goes down easy without overwhelming the palate with mayonnaise. It comes with a side of chips — a surprise not detailed on the menu — a good salty way to complete the meal.
The Three Cheeses ($9.50) starts with exactly that: It’s three grilled cheese sandwiches, each made with a mix of provolone, cheddar, and smoked gouda. The small, gooey naans share the plate with a citrusy mixed green salad and a side of warm tomato bisque, poured out of a single-serving carafe when it arrives — another bonus. The bite-size nature of the sandwiches make them perfect for dipping in the bisque, but the fanfare feels unnecessary. The aioli hidden underneath the sandwiches is gratuitous in light of the perfectly creamy bisque that gives the Draft Horse’s butternut squash soup a run for the money.
With a “come for the beer — stay for the food” mentality, the Community Keg House is unique, and with its self-serve setup, it will succeed as a neighborhood hangout in which to sample suds from around the state.
Community Keg House
A craft-beer bar and small kitchen in Northeast Minneapolis
34 13th Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
Sun-Tue 4-10 p.m.
Wed 4-11 p.m.
Thu- Fri 4 p.m.-midnight
Sat 1 p.m.-midnight
BAR: Beer, hard cider
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
ENTREE RANGE: $9.50-$18
PARKING: Free parking lot