Full disclosure: The intrepid Heavy Table crew that recently visited Lou Nanne’s in Edina was not comprised of team-sports fans. In fact, we had to do a little research to understand who Lou Nanne was. We are the kind of people who DVR the Super Bowl so we can fast-forward through the game and watch the commercials. And no, we can’t tell you who played the last Super Bowl, or who won it. About the only team-sport athlete we can name with any confidence is Bronko Nagurski, and that’s only because we attended the U of M when there used to be a bar on the East Bank called the Improper Fraction, and the Fraction had a Bronko Nagurski booth that we wanted to sit in every time we went there for beer. Bronko was the recipient of many drunken college student toasts back in the day.
In fact, remembering that led us to wonder why there isn’t a Bronko Nagurski Bar and Grill. We see it not so much as a dive bar, but as a great neighborhood or small-town spot, with a big griddle in the back where the cook produces stellar burgers, and there’s a fish fry every Friday (walleye — duh), and for the Sunday after-church crowd, a rotating menu of hot dish specials. The bar would have beer and whiskey, but no wine, and for Pete’s sake, no mixology.
Which is a long-winded way of explaining that we went to Lou Nanne’s with no stars in our eyes. When we entered, the interior was jarring to our non-sports-fans’ eyes; the restaurant is decked out as a sleek, contemporary steakhouse, with large hockey paintings throughout, giving a clashing, part upscale restaurant / part sports bar vibe. Our concern: Was this restaurant coasting on the owner’s name and on local sports loyalty rather than trying to provide a great dining experience?
In short, it’s trying hard not to coast. The first thing we noticed was the excellent service. We arrived at 5:15 p.m. without a reservation, and already the restaurant was full. “It’s been that way since Day 2,” said the apologetic host. Apparently there’s pent-up demand for a steakhouse along the Edina / Bloomington border, in spite of the Wildfire just a few miles away. We were quickly ushered to a table in the bar, where we were assured we’d have access to the full menu, and were immediately given glasses of water, which one diner felt had an acrid aftertaste. (Does Edina’s tap water need filtering?) But our server, Curtis, provided some of the best service we’ve had in recent memory — and we’ve had some good service. He explained that the restaurant came about as a partnership between Nanne and Michael McDermott, of Kona Grill and the Minneapolis Ling & Louie’s, and that they’d brought in Josh Hill from Manny’s to run the kitchen. Curtis knew the menu inside and out, he was friendly, and he had that great instinct of knowing when to check in with us and when to leave us alone — all of which while both the restaurant and bar were filled to capacity. He noted that they’re excited to get the patio open, which will add seating for 100 people on top of the 150 the restaurant currently holds. We have to wonder if the patio will be a more relaxing environment; indoors, the noise level of Nanne’s is excruciating. (Can we talk again about restaurants that seem to want diners not to be able to hear each other in conversation?)
After studying the drinks menu, we asked the server to recommend a cocktail that wasn’t on the sweet side. He immediately pointed to the curiously named Even the Queen Needs a Backup Plan ($12), which is a play on the Old Fashioned with aged rum, mezcal, and orange bitters. It was, as the menu promised, smoky and spicy, a wonderful counterpoint to sweeter cocktails. We can definitely see returning for more of those. Many more.
Curtis gave us a brief rundown of the thought process behind the menu, namely that Nanne is a “simple diner” who wanted to keep the menu to one page, very steakhousecentric but with options for non-steak-lovers. That’s a good approach; nothing sinks the culinary heart faster than finding a menu the size of War and Peace with every conceivable cuisine on it. We decided to make this a classic steakhouse meal and started with that most ubiquitous of appetizers, calamari ($12). Lou Nanne’s is putting out a much better than average version. It’s delicately battered and perfectly fried, and served with two dipping sauces, one a slightly sweet Asian sauce and the other a spicy mayo sauce, both tasty and well paired with the squid.
This raised our expectations while we waited for our entree, a 12-ounce filet ($49) with a crab cake Oscar add-on ($15), along with a side of onion strings ($7). At first glance, the steak was promising. It was beautifully seared, but still rare inside. The crab cake was full of tender crab with barely any filler, and the bearnaise sauce was creamy and tangy. But when we tried the steak separately from the crab cake, it was surprisingly bland. Granted, filets are known more for their tenderness than their flavor, but that’s where the kitchen should have stepped up to bridge the gap. There appeared to be no seasoning whatsoever, not even anything as basic as salt and pepper. The onion strings were downright sad, just a soggy, greasy mass of battered onion pieces, and they, too, suffered from a head-scratching lack of salt.
Disheartened, we wondered if we should bother with dessert. But we did, and that was a good call. Staying true to the theme of classic steakhouse, we ordered the creme brulee ($11), which, while not breaking any new ground, was delightfully creamy and sweet, with a spot-on crunchy, caramelized topping. The presentation, with fresh berries, mint, and powdered sugar, was attractive, and it was sized for sharing. A well-brewed cup of strong coffee ($3.50) finished off the dessert course.
In the end, we’d be more than happy to return to the bar, have appetizers, desserts, and more of that smoky cocktail, but we’d like to see the kitchen at Nanne’s step up their game on the steaks. $64 is a lot to ask for an underseasoned piece of beef, even if it does come with crab and bearnaise.
Classic American steakhouse in Edina
7651 France Ave S
Edina, MN 55435
OWNER / CHEF: Lou Nanne & Michael McDermott / Josh Hill
Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri & Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $14-$59
NOISE LEVEL: Dull roar
PARKING: Free adjacent lot, pay valet