If there’s one thing Eat Street Social has in spades, it’s vibe. The second child of Northeast Social owners Joe Wagner and Sam Bonin, Eat Street Social (in the old Tacos Morelos spot near Nicollet) is all darkness and opulence: shadowy brocade walls, high maroon booths, and glowing castle-like light fixtures provide the setting for a huge and fantastic square bar that thrusts into the center of the room, commanding attention in a Guthrie-like manner.
It’s this stage of mixology that really inspires a visit to Social. All the eating and dining and chatter ebb from this center, where head bartenders (and founders of Bittercube bitters) Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz grin and sling some really inspired drinks.
From a long list of unique creations, the Copper Dagger ($9) seems to be a favorite among the staff. Averna Amaro, Lemon Hart 151, St. Germain, and cap of foamy egg white make up a tart and delicate suede-colored cocktail masquerading as a thick cappuccino. The Queen Charlotte ($10) is like a floral lemon bar, fashioned with Grey Goose and liqueur violette, but the 21st Century Cocktail ($9) was our favorite on the list. Gin, Lillet Rouge, and house-made cocao nib liqueur result in a drink that’s 80s-prom-dress mauve. At first whiff it’s chocolately, but when the drink goes down it’s all mellow, floral citrus, with none of the piney edge that makes the gin-haters hate.
Unlike its list of bright, enthusiastic cocktails, Social’s lunch and dinner menus are governed by an earthier, iron-rich agenda. From the healthy list of appetizers (including steak tar tar and calamari), we tried the scallops ($10) and mussels and fries ($10). While both proteins were tender and treated well, they would benefit from a splash of brightness. The mussels absorb a dark edge from their hot but slightly bitter garlic and white wine broth, and the scallops come with a competing trio of apple butter, fried sweet breads, and an acerbic kumquat marmalade. A forkful of all four components loses the mildness of the apple and scallop almost entirely, making a harsh and confusing bite.
On the entrée side of things, the gnocchi ($17) is similar. Though soft and heady with truffle, the dish is almost overwhelmed by a pool of earthy brown butter. But the menu’s dark and stormy bent is perhaps best embodied by the smoked jalapeno and tomato soup ($6). It’s a creamy barbecue in a bowl, and while other dishes would welcome a squeeze of lemon here and there, this soup is practically perfect just the way it is.
For lunch, Social offers lots of salads and some pretty good sandwiches, including a big old reuben ($8) that is pleasantly light and served on a sturdy and shyly flavored rye. And even though it arrived lukewarm, the Croque Madame ($10) is good and decadent, like a gravy-soaked ham sandwich with wispy, crunchy onions, and a creamy egg on top. The big anomaly was the Seared Tuna sandwich ($12). Though sweet and refreshing, it lacked the funk of kimchi that the menu promised. It was nowhere to be found.
In lieu of dessert, which includes a dry and unimpressive olive oil chocolate cake, opt for one of the bartenders’ nostalgic soda fountain drinks ($5 each), which include egg creams, phosphates, and rickeys. Both the Bronx Egg Cream (garnished with a salty pretzel stalk) and Maple Egg Cream (with Bittercube blackstrap bitters) are light, genuinely flavored, and zapped with soda water.
Dinner service at Social is currently on the slow side (we waited around 10 minutes for drinks on a Tuesday night, and almost 20 for our check on a Saturday), but it’s also warm and unharried, and they keep the water coming.
As Northeast Social’s next-of-kin, the Eat Street version is bound to see a stream of loyal patrons cross the river to offer their enthusiasm. The two restaurants even share some of their servers. But here and there, even the most ardent fan of Northeast (the typically positive Southwest Journal, for instance) has noted the contrast of excellent drinks and atmosphere with a weaker menu and service at the new spot. However, much like the controversial Rye Deli, there’s been a lot of hype to color the first month of Social’s life. In time, it may become the bar and snack spot that this stretch of Nicollet has been longing for, but for the moment, Social is a place for craft drinks of all sorts, an after-work cheer, and for clinking your glass against your server’s or your neighbor’s.
BEST BET: Go for one of the bartenders’ unique creations. The Copper Dagger and 21st Century Cocktail are both impressive-looking and delicious.
Craft cocktails and American food in Whittier
18 W 26th St
Minneapolis, MN 55404
CHEF / OWNERS: Geoff Little / Sam Bonin and Joe Wagner
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes for Weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Limited
ENTREE RANGE: $8-20 (includes sandwiches)