No matter how sophisticated we may see ourselves when it comes to food, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who claims his or her tastes are too refined for pub grub. Really, what’s not to like? It has the four basic American food groups covered — carbs, fried stuff, fried stuff with cheese, and calorie-laden dips — and, during happy hour, is plated for sharing so you don’t have to feel too guilty about eating it. At the new Cooper Pub & Restaurant, located in the Shops at West End center in St. Louis Park, you’ll find your typical pub favorites and some interesting new dishes with varying degrees of success.
The Heavy Table tried four of Cooper’s happy-hour offerings ($4.99 each, available from 2-6:30pm) during a recent visit, and out of the group, the soft pretzels were the most disappointing. Though coated with a liberal sprinkling of salt and tasting considerably fresher than the freezer variety you’d find at a warehouse store, the doughy twists lacked the crustiness for which another new restaurant’s version was recently praised. The waitress delivered a warning that the two mustard dipping sauces were hot, and while they certainly had a kick, they were nothing that the tasters couldn’t handle.
Notably better were the chicken shots — imagine a highly evolved version of popcorn chicken basted in a whiskey sauce. The chicken tasted juicy and fresh, unlike the defrosted kind you’ll find at fast-food restaurants, and the whiskey sauce was both sweet and tangy. The accompanying ranch dipping sauce did little for the appetizer, mainly because its thin consistency barely clung onto the chicken with each dunk, but luckily, it’s not necessary. Though buffalo wings often need blue-cheese dip to cut through the spiciness of their glaze, these chicken bites are nicely balanced on their own.
The other two appetizers were a mixed bag. The chips (fries to us Yanks) came with a trio of dipping sauces: curry, tomato chutney, and the aforementioned wimpy ranch dressing. The most successful was the tomato chutney, with a pleasing chunkiness and slight smokiness that made it an upgrade from standard ketchup. The curry authentically tasted like a sauce you’d find in an Indian restaurant, and it is a popular chip dip on the other side of the pond, but it just didn’t work for this reviewer — blame those Yankee taste buds. The chips stood well on their own, too — their crisp, well-seasoned exterior gave way to a pleasingly soft potato interior without excess greasiness.
The Reuben fritters seemed to be an intriguing nosh on paper. They featured the traditional sandwich ingredients — corned beef, sauerkraut, and cheese — nestled inside a fried shell, with the Russian dressing and Dijon mayonnaise on the side. The Russian dressing finally offered the heft and thickness that the ranch was sorely lacking, but the tangy sauce couldn’t bring out the rest of the Reuben flavors, which were masked by the fritters’ crispy coating. It was hard to taste the corned beef lurking inside the browned spheres, and for Reuben fans, that’s non-negotiable.
In a move that’s sure to please Cooper’s diverse crowd of after-work professionals, families grabbing an early dinner, and pre-moviegoers (the nearby theater is scheduled to open next month), the happy hour drink menu covers all the bases. No Irish pub would be considered Irish without a long list of whiskeys priced from $6 to $14, and Cooper doesn’t disappoint. Wine and cocktail lovers have plenty of reasonably priced choices ranging from $4 to $12 a glass, and the draft beer list ($4-6) includes both local and imported favorites, such as Summit, Crispin, Guinness, and Smithwick’s.
Off to a good start but with room for improvement, Cooper provides a much-needed happy hour destination to an area of town with few options besides Fuddruckers and Chili’s, and the happy hour menu offers an excellent value. A word of warning on portion sizes, though: Those baskets are larger than you might imagine. If you’re moving on to the dinner menu, stick with one appetizer.
BEST BET: The chicken shots, with or without the dressing.
1607 Park Place Blvd
St. Louis Park, MN 55416