Once in a while, a restaurant will hit the aesthetic bullseye and stamp itself into your consciousness. Barbette, with its artfully chipped tiles and Continental eclectic lighting, is a good example; so is Nye’s Polonaise, with its Flintstone lamps and time-capsule decor. Add Ginger Hop to the list. It’s got a gorgeous weathered Asian chic, lush dark-wood accented interior details, and a series of motor-driven paddle-shaped fans that make entering this outwardly conventional Northeast eatery an arresting experience. Clearly the owners of the former Times Bar and Cafe space (who have teamed up on previous eateries including Chiang Mai Thai) came loaded for bear on the design front, and got what they wanted.
Nominally Thai with a heavy influence of beer (thus the “hop”), the menu at Ginger Hop wanders around quite a bit, ranging from Canadian walleye to Chinese comfort food to Latin influences. While this sort of culinary nomadism is often a recipe for schlocky, train-wreck cuisine, Ginger Hop is swift on its feet, and executes its various cross-cultural magic tricks with style and aplomb.
A meal at Ginger Hop is guaranteed to start strong. Cream cheese and caramelized onion wontons ($5) are dangerously good. At the end of our full meal, a dining companion half-jokingly suggested that we get another order. It was a joke that she repeated, eyebrows raised, moments later. It’s a tribute to the wontons that we all seriously considered the suggestion. The onion flavor is a sweet, assertive presence in these soft-yet-crunchy bites, a really shrewd improvement on the run-of-the-mill version available at a nearly infinite number of mediocre neighborhood Chinese joints.
The two satays we sampled ($2 each) were both aces. The chicken satay had a good solid char to it, and came with a thick peanut sauce that was closer to a smooth peanut butter in terms of texture and fortitude. The walleye satay was even better — lightly crispy, not greasy, flaky and flavorful, each bite extra good when dipped into the accompanying wasabi tartar sauce, which offered an earthy kick without being overwhelming.
A short but thoughtful drink menu offered some excellent choices of libations, particularly when supplemented by the extensive $20-$40-a-bottle wine menu, the draft beer menu (featuring locals such as Lift Bridge), and the select but cleverly assembled bottled beer menu. (On a personal note: If you haven’t tried Hitachino Espresso Stout, a) it’s absolutely excellent, and b) it’s on offer at Ginger Hop.)
Mixed drinks we ordered were hit and miss, but the hit was solid and the miss was forgivable and minor. A Dirty Kimono ($7, featuring Death’s Door vodka, sake, and olive juice) lost the olive flavor that seemed to be key to its appeal, but the sake did an admirable job of smoothing and rounding out the vodka. A St. Anthony Sling ($7), by contrast, was a knockout, a sweet girlie drink (featuring Polish blackberry brandy, grenadine, gin, and pineapple juice) with heart, soul, and spirit. Sweet but not oversweet and visually gorgeous, this is a drink that’s easy to suck down but not something you’ll immediately regret finishing as the sugar rush kicks you in the brain. And the blackberry is strong without tasting piped in or artificial, recalling Cafe Maude’s excellent Black Bunny.
Main courses at Ginger Hop run a wide gamut including soups, curries, sandwiches, and more. Pre-opening publicity hyped the Kimchi Kulakofsky ($9, named for one of the reputed inventors of the Reuben). The kimchi provided a nice acid punch to the sandwich, and the overall experience was well-balanced, powered by moist and tender corned beef. While the ingredients in the interior could have been more evenly distributed, there’s no serious beef to be had with the sandwich as a whole. Accompanying sweet potato fries were distinctly crunchy and a neat fit with the spicy ketchup served on the side.
An order of ceviche ($9) took a noteworthy approach to a modern dining staple. The ceviche’s seafood was finely diced into evenly sized bits, which made for even lime marination and an orderly distribution of flavor. If you like being able to pick out your various bits of seafood on sight, this version of ceviche will mess with your head; if not, you’ll likely enjoy its consistency, and the ease with which it can be eaten.
An order of General Tsing’s Chicken ($10.50) was both satisfactory and initially underwhelming — the stuff looked exactly like a neighborhood Chinese entree, with zesty jasmine white rice, broccoli, and fried nuggets of chicken in sauce. Stick to your ribs stuff. But, to its credit, there’s a twist: the Tsingtao beer used to batter the meat actually shines through in the flavor of the chicken, giving it a light, almost hoppy punch that elevates it beyond the expected.
Dessert hailed from yet another part of the world — we tried Guinness cake with cream cheese frosting ($7.50 for an a la mode portion that comfortably fed three). Like many well-constructed desserts, this stuff got better as we went — it was softly spoken, tasting almost like gingerbread, counterbalanced perfectly by the vanilla ice cream.
Operating as it does within shouting distance of the Butcher Block, Surdyk’s, Kramarczuk’s, and Punch, Ginger Hop has a bright future ahead of itself as one of the anchors of one of the best eating districts in the Twin Cities.
Thai Fusion in Northeast Minneapolis
201 E Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55414
OWNERS / CHEF: Katey Leitch, Charles Lodge, Jake Polt, Jon Provenzano / Jake Polt
Daily 11am-10pm (bar until 1am)
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Not as of yet
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $9-15
The kimchi ruben sounds intriguing and Hitachino Espresso Stout is an excellent beer that I’m glad to hear they have. I’m hoping they’ll get their menu up on their website soon, especially the draft and bottle selection since there has been much talk about how great it is.
About the kimchi kulakofsky, are you sure you wanted to say that ‘there’s no serious beef to be had with the sandwich as a whole’…hopefully there is some serious beef in the sandwich! :) thanks for the yummy sounding review…I’ll have to check the place out soon..
When I read this review I feel like ate at two different restaurants. Some of the decor is interesting. The bar is eye catching and feels like something from some remote British outpost, but rest of the restaurant decor isn’t memorable. We too started with the cream cheese and caramelized onion wontons, and immediately thought they tasted no different than any good wontons you would get at a chinese restaurant. There wasn’t a hint of onion. We checked with the waitress to see if there was any chance that we got the wrong order. She said it was right, and that the onion was “super subtle” flavor.
The ginger stir fry was fresh tasting, but was overcooked. The sweet potato fries were crispy and addicting. The beef satay was cool in the middle and overly salty, and the pork satay was dry. The sauces were good, but you couldn’t dip the satay in the tiny cups they came in. The pho was basically salty, canned-tasting beef broth completely overpowered by heat from jalapeno seeds. Head to Quang if you are looking for good soup.
Nothing here screamed excellent, or topped a similar style dish at any number of restaurants. I would stop back for some apps and beer if I were in the neighborhood, but nothing is drawing me back in like a tractor beam.
As far as not being able to dip the satay in the “tiny cups”, I’ve always taken mine off the stick with a fork, since I’ve never found a place that puts their sauces in “satay friendly” dish ware.
Canned-tasting beef broth? They actually do it the old fashioned way, making their own stock from beef bones. Don’t get me wrong, I love Quang as much as the next guy. In fact I’ve been going there since they were in the strip mall across the street. However, I’ll take beef tenderloin strips in my Pho any day. Now if I could just get Ginger Hop to offer egg noodles as a substitute for rice noodles in their Pho, I’d be a happy camper.
The Hubs and I had dinner there last Saturday with some Minneapolitans (we’re from Madison, WI). All in all, it was a good-but-not-great meal but with plenty of service hickups. Still trying to figure out how they charge $8 for four tiny smoked duck pot stickers. The cream cheese-carmed onion wontons were OK, nothing special. The calamari was tender and crispy. I thought the penang curry with pork had way too much sauce, which obliterated the other flavors, and the meat was fatty – normally I wouldn’t have a problem with pork fat but some pieces were chunks of fat with little meat. No sesame seeds in the green beans either. The Hubs’ basil scallops were a little overdone. Our friends liked their green and red curries but were also underwhelmed. The key lime pie was a smash, but the Guinness cake was dry, and it would have been nice if they’d mentioned the toasted coconut topping – didn’t really belong there, taste-wise, and the Hubs doesn’t like coconut. The waitress could have apologized and offered an unadorned slice when she saw us scraping coconut off, but didn’t. Last note: the dessert plates were all hot and fresh out of the dishwasher, probably because each dish comes served on or with multiple plates or bowls. We quickly ran out of space on the table and obviously, the kitchen quickly ran out of dishes. Again, good meal but I’d try somewhere else the next time we’re in The Cities.
Way over rated. The cream cheese wontons were soggy, the shrimp over cooked. The staff and crowed are young with not much personality. The sound system in the bar was not good. Waited 45 minutes for a table they do not take reservations. The pork dish had too much sauce. The bar waiteress took forever to get us a drink. Very dissapointing visit. We will NOT be going back.
We came in on a Friday night wanting to get a couple of drinks after our movie. The place was cool, really nice looking had a good vibe. There were a good amount of people but not overly crowded. We found a table in the back, and soon after a man came over and cleared some drinks that had been left on the table and said he’d get a server right over to us. So we waited, and we waited.
Meanwhile, another group of people came in after us and were served drinks and water, the whole 9 yards, right away. we thought it was weird but continued to wait. After 25 minutes we decided to get up and leave. On the way out I decided to inform the server that they were losing out on customers because we did not receive service, and continued to walk out. She became very upset and chased us out the door shouting at us. She demanded to know if we got up to go to the bar to order our own drinks. It was very intimidating and we will NEVER be back to the Ginger Hop
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