There is little about Pier 500 Restaurant that will encourage the food-driven diner: It’s one of those cavernous, arcade game-bedecked, TGI Friday’s-looking suburban monstrosities, albeit one with an open kitchen situated in a prime spot right on the shore of the St. Croix River in Hudson, WI.
But the menu offers a bit of encouragement; although it’s a collection of fairly standard burger, sandwich, and suburb-friendly appetizer options, many of the items have twists that indicate a creative drive and an interest in serving real food.
The lemonade is a good place to start. Shot-from-a-gun lemonade can be sickly sweet or damn near water; Pier 500’s had a surprisingly nice sense of balance and real citric flavor to it, plus a sugar-rimmed glass.
Walleye cigars ($8) were a real surprise. Although they looked like (and, hell, let’s be honest, really were) fancified fish sticks, the interior of each was tender and flaky, and the dipping sauces that accompanied them — a creamy dijon and a house-made tartar with a nice herbal hit to it — were excellent complements. A bottle of malt vinegar on the side was a smart nod to fish-and-chips, as the cigars were really a two-in-one version of that English pub classic.
A cheddar burger was a disappointment. The overly fat patty had little flavor, and the “baked to our specifications” bun still felt distinctly food-service in quality. (As a saving grace, it’s worth noting that the pickles are house made and quite excellent.)
By contrast, the Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich ($10) was well-conceived and skillfully executed — the soy-marinated chicken was tender and relatively flavorful and the ring of grilled pineapple that sat atop it had just a bit of caramelized char, a strong complement to the meat. Monterey Jack cheese added relatively little, but also knew well enough to step out of the way and let the pineapple and chicken do the talking.
One of the menu’s dessert options was a large, spring-appropriate rhubarb crisp ($7). The rhubarb still had fight to it, and the oatmeal crisp was sweet but not overly so. So far: Fairly nice, but unexceptional. The scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, however, was sock-knocking good — truly rich and creamy with a hit of actual vanilla flavor, and a perfect pairing to the rest of the dish.
Pier 500 is — the Hudson Star Observer’s opinion notwithstanding — unlikely to ever become a dining destination for Minneapolitans and St. Paulites who have access to the bounty of their native restaurant scene. That said, the place has some real passion and executes competently — if you happen to be strolling the waterfront, you’re guaranteed a decent lunch.
American in Hudson, WI
500 1st St.
Hudson, WI 54016
OWNER: Andy Kron
Mon-Thu 11am-4pm (lunch), 4-10pm (appetizers until 11pm)
Fri-Sat 11am-4pm (lunch), 4-11pm (appetizers until midnight)
Sun 9am-2pm (brunch), 2pm-9pm (appetizers until 10pm)
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $10-23