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