Tucked into a quiet Northeast neighborhood, Northeast Social isn’t the place you’d expect to see scores of bikers or men sporting both kilts and swords. But on a recent Saturday evening, with the Bearded Lady Motorcycle Rally and Freak Show taking place down the block at the 331 Club, this was the scene greeting diners arriving the new gastropub, and you know what? Just like so many things at Northeast Social, it worked.
In the space on the corner of 13th Avenue and Fourth Street NE where Europol Eva’s Delicatessen used to sit, Northeast Social has a lot working in its favor. Owners Joe Wagner and Sam Bonin have renovated the restaurant to create a homey atmosphere suitable for date night or catching up with a group of friends, and the large, wooden bar makes an inviting spot for solo diners. The wine and beer list offers some intriguing choices but keeps prices wallet-friendly; two “wild card” wines each night allow guests to unearth further bargains. And the small but well-designed menu by chef Edward Hayes, Jr. integrates seasonal ingredients while remaining broad enough for a range of tastes.
While some diners may consider them to be optional, appetizers are a must at Northeast Social — in fact, the more the merrier. French fries and fried okra were crisp and tasty, even converting non-Southerners to okra’s unique charms. Perhaps the cold marinated mushrooms were an odd addition to the basket, but the stone-ground mustard aioli made up for them. Fried chicken wings with sambal and honey started off tangy and left a lingering heat in the mouth, enough to require a glass of water to be kept nearby, but not so hot to discourage you from grabbing a second (and third) wing. A pesto seemed to be an odd pairing for fried plantains on paper, but in reality the gentle sweetness of the plantains made an excellent match for the herby dipping sauce. Scallops with sweet corn, bacon, and limoncello reduction expertly blended each ingredient’s finest attributes to create one lovely dish.
If the meal had stopped there, many would be tempted to give Northeast Social a four-star rating. But one main thing keeps the restaurant from being great: pepper. Hayes must really like it, because four out of the five entrees sampled featured pepper as a dominant flavor. Pepper certainly has a rightful place among a chef’s signature seasonings, but when it masks the natural flavors of the dish’s main ingredients, it loses its charm. The chicken breast had a delightfully crunchy skin and well-seasoned meat, but the pepper overpowered the delicate butteriness of the sweet corn, kale, and Yukon potato hash with which the chicken was paired. As the Black Angus sirloin beef was slowly consumed, pepper could be seen piling up in the steak’s leftover juices on the plate. The steak offered nothing that a competent home griller couldn’t match, though the accompanying chevre mashed potatoes increased its value. Pepper didn’t help the pan-fried Canadian walleye overcome its blandness, but the delicious tartar sauce surely did.
The pasta dishes didn’t include as much pepper but still fell short. The potato gnocchi with tomato, basil, and ricotta formed a mushy mess in the mouth. A summer vegetable risotto topped with a tomato salad offered the best of summer’s flavors in a bowl, but the risotto lacked the creamy smoothness for which the dish is known and loved.
The dessert menu, however, puts Northeast Social back on the map. The rosemary honey panna cotta finely balanced the earthiness of the rosemary with the sweetness of the honey, and the custard went down smoothly. The chocolate cake featured a milk chocolate frosting so dense and rich that it was almost like pudding. With a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side, the cake called out like a beacon to chocolate lovers.
A welcoming spot to stop for a drink and appetizers, Northeast Social isn’t far from becoming a great eatery for diners metrowide. A dish doesn’t need a boatload of pepper to succeed. Once a chef can trust well-sourced and seasonal ingredients to speak for themselves, pepper can offer the appropriate hint of spice — and Northeast Social will be elevated to the rank of destination restaurant.
Gastropub in Sheridan (Northeast Minneapolis)
359 13th Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
OWNERS / CHEF: Joe Wagner and Sam Bonin / Edward Hayes, Jr.
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes for weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $15-20