Usually a first mention of a new restaurant in town raises the obvious question, “How was the food?” But if the restaurant is Icehouse, the first question more often has been, “Why is it called Icehouse?” While the restaurant’s back story is interesting — the space used to house the Icehouse Studios music / photography business — you should quickly redirect the inquisitor to the food question because the answer is even more interesting — “pretty damn good.”
Not perfect, mind you, but despite a few food and service missteps, we’re fully prepared to embrace Icehouse for its inventive drink list, craveworthy sandwiches (Co-owner and Executive Chef Matt Bickford also helms Be’Wiched Deli in the North Loop), and desserts that you will, indeed, write home about. Whether you enjoy the music that graces the large dining room stage depends on which act is featured that night, but finding the gems on the menu shouldn’t be too difficult.
While the dinner menu is divided into four sections — greens, small plates, bar snacks, and the bread department (aka sandwiches) — all except the sandwiches offer the same modest but satisfying portions. The waitstaff recommends two to three per person, and unless you’re dining with a large party, you’re going to have to make some tough choices. Greek salad ($8.50) or cheese souffle ($8)? While the former offers crunchy, flavorful falafel spheres with a zippy tahini dressing, it’s hard to ignore the appeal of truffled cheese, with the creamy consistency of a blintz filling and the earthy aroma of the truffles elevating the relatively mild cheese to a new culinary plane.
The quality of the empanadas ($7.50) varies based on the filling of the day: We preferred the vegetarian version with corn, chihuahua cheese, and zingy chiles to the meat and potatoes variety, which doesn’t pair quite as well with the accompanying chunky-sweet tomato jam, cumin yogurt, and chimichurri sauces. The Buffalo wings proved to be addicting when devoured plain, with its dry rub offering the ideal balance of spice, tang, and pepper, but the sauce pooling on the bottom plate resembles a gummy tomato paste with a few dashes of Tabasco added. Skip it — your fingers still will be lickable from the rub that remains after you down the last wing.
If not for some sorely underseasoned Gulf shrimp ($12), the seafood dishes as a whole would stand out as the strongest section of the menu. The trio of cured salmon ($12.50) not only amazes with its fresh, non-fishy flavor — and a kick-ass dill, rye, and anchovy marinade — but with its silky texture as well. The dish is meant for sharing, but you may find yourself carefully guarding the plate with your fork so no one else takes more than one polite bite. If the market fish happens to be scallops ($12), snatch them up to savor the sweet meat encased in a brown, perfectly seared crust. The crab-cake mac and cheese ($10.50) also succeeds with a patty that’s more crab than breading and a smooth, creamy toss of noodles that neither dominates nor falls victim to the cake.
The mushroom-artichoke cannelloni ($10.50) promises the gooey indulgence of robiola cheese, but unfortunately, the cheese is the only ingredient in the dish fulfilling its end of the bargain. Without a liberal dose of salt and fresh herbs, the dish rides on the cheese’s laurels but still lacks the necessary seasoning to make it worth ordering time and again. Not the case for the cheesesteak sandwich ($10,50), though — the tender, juicy brisket gets a jolt from the spicy pepper relish and decadent blue cheese fondue, and if not for its generous size, you’d be apt to order another right away. The pastrami sandwich ($9.50) offers a similarly succulent meat on a fluffy, slightly sweet bun, but adding the fried egg for an extra dollar takes it over the top. Yes, each bite will be a mess, but there was perhaps never a more delicious mess than the mix of gooey yolk and smoky bits of beef.
At first, inhaling a hearty cheesesteak may discourage you from ordering dessert, but that would be a big — make that huge — mistake. Why? Three words: bourbon caramel sundae. You don’t even have to like bourbon to enjoy this milky, nutty, sugar-and-spice-laced concoction ($4.50) with house-made ice cream and a touch of mint. Just make sure someone at your table orders it. Pie lovers can rejoice at the seasonal selections at their disposal: The peach pie ($5) features firm, fresh slices of peach peeking out from a flaky, tender crust to marry with a swirl of fragrant cardamom ice cream. The chocolate ganache pie ($5) provides the depth that dark chocolate lovers crave, countered by the refreshing sweetness of raspberries on top of the slice. Peanut butter and banana lovers don’t have to choose one or the other with the peanut butter banana cream pie ($5) topped with a charred banana sorbet. The only dessert that fell short of expectations was the buttermilk pie ($4.50), which needed the fruity spice of the candied orange garnish to truly sing. One small peel wasn’t enough to enjoy with every bite, however, leaving half of the dish aching for more flavor.
The long list of specialty drinks and rocks “sipping shots” may prevent you from looking at the beer and wine list, which offers a good range of local and / or affordable selections. But it’s hard to get excited about a glass of white wine when you could order the Taste of Summer ($10), a strawberry lemon gin sour that goes down just as easily as a non-alcoholic strawberry lemonade. The light gin, however, makes it more fun, and the hint of balsamic adds a depth that sugary ades can’t match. A pair of margaritas — the tangerine Solid Gold and the grapefruit / rhubarb Mothership ($9 each) — pack a pleasantly boozy punch with a fruity overtone. If the fruit drinks are too frou-frou, the Full Grown Man ($10), with its combination of bourbon, rum, bitters, and ginger beer, will put hair on your chest in a way that the purple-tinted, vanilla cream foam-topped Blushing Belle ($10) certainly cannot.
Service ranges from attentive and considerate to absent and frustrating, usually within the same evening. The beginning of the meal, when you’re ordering drinks and the first round of small plates, seems to be the sweet spot, but by the time you want to order dessert, it may take several minutes to track down your server. Receiving the bill is an even bigger challenge — on two occasions it took us more than 20 minutes to request, review, and pay for our food and drinks, which is about 15 minutes longer than it should take, especially at the end of a long evening. It would be easier to overlook a few imperfect dishes if service remained consistent throughout the meal.
Icehouse is off to a strong start, but a few tweaks to its menu and manpower will go a long way in enhancing the dining experience. Soon the only question you may hear is, “When can we get a table?”
Modern American small plates in Minneapolis
2528 Nicollet Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Mon-Sat 11am-2pm (lunch), 5-10pm (dinner), 10pm-12am (late night menu)
OWNERS / CHEF: Matt Bickford and Brian Lieback / Bickford
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $8.50-18.50 for small plates and sandwiches