Heavy Table’s Lyndale Avenue Checklist will include reviews of all 70+ independent restaurants located along Lyndale Avenue’s full 18-mile length. All reviews will be emailed in full (as they’re published) to our Patreon subscribers, but we’ll also share some of them on this website for all enjoy.
Our checklist team includes M.C. Cronin (writing), Becca Dilley (photos), James Norton (writing), and WACSO (illustrations.)
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part III
How can something as innocent as sampling all the independent restaurants along a stretch of road have such a powerful pull on our psyche? It’s a slog. We know this to be true (and the first outing of our fourth–yes, fourth!–Checklist proved it). Yet there are those damnable unexpected discoveries and unforgettable encounters that keep us coming back.
The whole thing is like a highly addictive drug. You can go weeks without thinking about it at all. Months even. Then slowly, the idea of doing it again creeps back into your mind. “We could do a Brooklyn Center/Park Checklist! What about a Supper Club Checklist? Grand Ave Checklist?” You try to push the thoughts away. The idea of going back to it fills you with a dark, looming dread. And yet, you crave it from deep inside your soul. Finally, you give in. And after that first taste, after so long, you wake up alone at night in a flop sweat, stomach churning, head swimming in a twisted combination of remorse and unquenched desire. “Hi, my name is Mike, and I’m a Checklist-aholic.”
We kid, of course. We know exactly why we keep doing this. Documenting these experiences has given each of us nourishment well beyond what the food provides. We hope, in some way, it does the same for you. And we hope, like us, you’ll find the joy in the journey. Even when it feels like a slog. – M.C. Cronin
Droolin’ Moose | 9424 Lyndale Ave S, Bloomington | 952.300.2468
For a full review of the Droolin’ Moose, back Heavy Table on Patreon.
Luna Di Luna | 8820 Lyndale Ave S, Bloomington | 952.303.4111
The more you try to describe Luna di Luna, the more it defies description. A condensed account might go something like this: Luna di Luna is a Taco Bell (probably) that’s been transformed into an abstract interpretation of an Italian restaurant where a primitive patchwork of old-world and modern Italian elements meld into something inexplicably charming. And there’s a collection of old pop cans.
Seriously, the place is held together only by its own incoherence.
Let’s start outside. This clearly used to be a fast food joint. We can’t confirm it, but the building gives off a distinctly Taco Bell-esque vibe. Except now, each of the plate glass windows that previously displayed posters advertising 2-for1 chalupas has been encrusted with a mishmash of rustic wood planks and random colored glass rectangles framing out a much smaller arched church window at the center. To the passerby, the place might look something like a small, off-brand Medieval Times.
Inside, it’s dimly lit even during daylight hours (as you might expect from the covered windows). Most of the light is supplied by an amalgamation of multicolored Italian blown glass wall sconces, teardrop pendants and LED backlighting. Dioramas high on the walls evoke miniature Roman ruins complete with off-kilter stones and toppled alabaster columns. Below these sit a modern-ish design of mirrors behind and a pattern of horizontal wood strips. Faux flowers and foliage peak out from all around the room. Prints of vintage paintings depicting sultry ladies in slinky black dresses drinking wine and smoking at dark bars hang all around the space. And of course, there is the aforementioned pop can collection.
As we understand it, this wild pastiche is the singular vision of the owner. His wife takes no credit. (And she was particularly quick to deny having anything to do with it, we noted.) Their sons took our order and served us our meal. They told us everyone that works here is either family or very close to the family. And considering that this place oozes all the same oddball charm and eccentricities that make families interesting, we’re not surprised at all. – M.C.
Putting aside the aggressive level of charm that this place’s family staff and eclectic decor exerted upon us, the food of Luna Di Luna won our hearts on its own merits.
It’s workmanlike but winning stuff. For each entree, you get a salad, a simple combination of iceberg lettuce, buttermilk ranch, and Parmesan cheese. And you get a loaf of pretzel-like chewy, heavily seasoned bread to dip in personal plates of olive oil. And then you get a dish that invariably combines a lot of cheese with a generous helping of housemade meat.
Least successful – and we didn’t mind it – was the Bourguignon ($20), which combined an aggressive amount of sauteed peppers, onions, sliced beef filet, and serviceable gnocchi to create a dish that almost but not entirely conjures up beef fajitas at a decent Mexican-American spot.
Better was the Tetrazini ($19), a throwback dish we haven’t seen on a menu in years. The shrimp in this dish were tender and properly cooked (not overcooked, a real rarity out there), and while the creamy, cheese-heavy Alforno pesto sauce could have been a little more delicate for our tastes, the dish was comforting and well executed.
We really enjoyed the Bolognese ($18). It was a straight-down-the-middle rendition of a real Italian-American classic, with big-but-light meatballs and go-for-the-gusto red sauce. It tasted good on a day that hit 91 degrees, it would have been bang-on perfect in January.
And our favorite dish of the four was the Carne Amante ($20) a penne and meatballs dish that closely resembled the Bolognese but with ravishingly good, classic-tasting hot Italian sausage, which offered a real fennel and garlic kick. – J.N.
Umbria Gourmet Pizzeria | 521 W 98th St, Bloomington | 952.746.9505
For a full review of the Umbria Gourmet Pizzeria, back Heavy Table on Patreon.
Golden Wok | 617 W 98th St, Bloomington | 952.888.0833
Dimly backlit menu board with fading pictures of egg fu young and mu shoo pork: Check. Iconic Kikkoman soy bottle and rectangular ramekins stuffed with duck sauce packets on every table: Check. Chairs lined along one wall with slouched patrons waiting for their take out: Check. You may never have been to Golden Wok, but you’ve seen this place before a million times.
As with many joints in this category, the dining room is more “Sure, go ahead and sit if you really want to,” than “Please, relax and enjoy your dining experience.” A stack of restaurant supplies had taken up a permanent spot in one part of the dining room, and a couple of staff sorting and stacking receipts had taken up residence in another. Perhaps they were working in the dining room because there was no room in the back for anyone else. We counted upwards of nine crew on duty, all busy cooking, cleaning, ringing and packaging orders.
So as not to be pigeon-holed, Golden Wok does offer one major twist on the genre. There’s sushi on the menu. Which, at a place like this, registers somewhere between fairly surprising and mostly suspect on our food radars. But this is the Checklist, and we must give everything a fair shot. It’s in the by-laws. – M.C.
After the Shakespearean tragedy of Umbria Gourmet Pizzeria, we were hesitant to move on to cookie-cutter strip mall Chinese-American fare, but – hey – the bar had been lowered, and even vaguely decent food was going to taste like a banquet in Beijing.
As low as the bar was, Golden Wok stumbled on a rock and managed to collide with it before tripping off the trail into a raspberry bush. The Pork Lo Mein ($10.25) was nearly flavorless, and most of what we could taste was inexplicably sweet. It was accompanied by strange, underseasoned yellow rice, and the less we say about that the better. An eggroll on the side tasted like an eggroll wrapper – no cabbagey bite, no chewy bits of savory meat, nothing like the classic eggroll experience we’ve come to know and love at innumerable Chinese joints of days past.
Relatively better – but still not good, mind you – was Egg Foo Young ($10.35). While underpowered and mellow, this at least clicks with other renditions of the dish that we’ve tried, and there was a level of seasoning at work that could be described by a generous taster as adequate. The accompanying brown sauce didn’t do much to improve the situation, but neither did it derail it further.
We also got sushi – how could we not? – but opted for the fully cooked Shrimp Tempura roll ($7.45). While shrimp is a fairly unassertive flavor to begin with, this stuff was bland to the point of nothingness, and could hardly be perceived over the lingering garlic powder from our previous stop. The roll was a somewhat unpleasant hot-meets-cold collision of temperatures, and the accompanying wasabi was such a rare shade of green that we left it untouched. – J.N.
98 Pounds Buffet | 824 W 98th St, Bloomington | 952.881.1088
For a full review of the 98 Pounds Buffet, back Heavy Table on Patreon.