The Shantytown Bar and Grill’s self-billing as “Bloomington’s Little Secret” is probably accurate. Despite its proximity to 494 / Lyndale, it’s a must-Google Map — east of Lyndale on 86th Street past Modern Metals Foundry, hang a left on Pillsbury Ave, and the Shantytown lurks in a weathered strip of east Bloomington. This is a block you would never drive on a lark.
But enter through the white-metal screen door and you might as well be in your parents’ newly remodeled basement. The light-wood wraparound bar and low ceilings are mighty cozy. A couple of flatscreen TVs and a few beer signs (four-piece Grain Belt mirror!) dot the walls. Nothing to distract from your conversation with an old buddy. Take your grandma or your toddler — they’ll fit right in.
The Shantytown has been around since the ’60s and current owners Peter and Laura Taykalo bought the place in 1999. During my lunch, Peter and Laura were both on the job; Peter was waiting tables and greeting most comers by name. The two old boys behind me practically ordered before their butts hit the booth — no menus required for their club sandwich and soup-and-salad. Another fellow was having a burger and a beer next to the six guys who were probably coming back that night after bowling league. The jukebox played John Cougar Mellencamp. All was right with the world.
The Shantytown’s burgers are thoughtfully executed and delicious. A chili cheeseburger is loaded with sour cream and oozes onto the plate, which would have made a perfect dip for the crisp tater tots if they didn’t already come with seasoned sour cream. It should be a written rule: Any place that serves tater tots is a good restaurant. The Shantytown’s tots are perfectly crunchy, deep-fried golden nuggets that are the polar opposite of the soggy blobs from your grade-school cafeteria. Alongside Grumpy’s, these are the best I’ve had in Minneapolis.
But back to the burger: The patty was juicy, well-flavored, and perfectly sized — big enough to taste but small enough to not overpower the chili. It would be tasty just topped with cheese. The burger at Shantytown does not top those at Lions Tap, but it’s similar in execution and is, with Sandy’s Tavern in Richfield, a good example of a sound burger philosophy: medium-sized patties made with fatty (aka juicy) ground beef.
The oddly named Outback Burger, topped with tender cactus, green salsa, and pepper cheese, was an unexpected treat. It was hard to tell whether the cactus tasted like green salsa or the green salsa overpowered the cactus, but either way it’s delicious (although a sandwich called “Outback Burger” should probably contain a beet slice, since this is how they’re often served in Australia).
Everything on the menu was reasonably priced; the only thing over $9 was the shrimp basket. Besides burgers, there are appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, and a full bar. The Shantytown is no culinary paradise, but its food is high-quality, well-thought-out, and tastes homemade. It’s basic bar food with the Shantytown’s stamp.
Restaurants like the Shantytown are social equalizers. You devour your Shantytown Burger — bacon, cheese, and guacamole — and the guys across from you could be construction workers or CEOs. You might run into your third-grade teacher or your third boyfriend. There is simply no pretension. Just good food, cold beer, and honest prices. Everybody walks through the same screen door at this Bloomington landmark.
8512 Pillsbury Ave S
Bloomington, MN 55420
OWNERS: Peter and Laura Taykalo
Fri-Sat 11 am-midnight
Grill closes one hour prior to close.
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $4.75-9.50