Erik the Red, the latest project by Erik Forsberg (of Devil’s Advocate and Dan Kelly’s fame) is now open, and it’s a head-scratcher of a place. On the positive side of the ledger: an inspired menu with some good food, friendly staff bedecked in cheerful red-plaid flannels, and a location proximate to the new U.S. Bank Stadium.
On the negative side: TV screens everywhere (yes, they’re playing to their demo, but no, that doesn’t mean we’re required to like it), a “welcome to an airport!” level of drab food-service decor, and bathrooms bedecked with digital advertising, condom machines, and an opportunity to buy single-serving packets of “Horny Goat Weed.”
The menu is an ambitious mash-up of Nordic-inspired fare (gravlax, lefse wraps, earthy root veg) and American barbecue (brisket, pulled pork sandwiches, wings). In theory, this seems like a desperate combination of two red-hot food trends. But in practice it holds together well and offers many appealing points of entry, albeit with some challenges on the value side.
We tried a gravlax platter ($12) and quite liked it (other than the pointless, dry, underflavored, crumbled hard-boiled egg bits). But we really wanted to dive into the restaurant’s barbecue situation, so we went with the brisket ($16, but more with sides).
Barbecue fans are fussy and factional and thus hard to please across the board, but this brisket is pretty unassailable. It’s richly flavored without being tough or fatty, there’s a pleasant trace of natural smoke flavor, and it’s tender, not dry.
But the brisket and its sides run into trouble as a value prospect. $16 gets you a small serving of brisket — enough for an unadorned light lunch. If you want anything else, it’s extra: $4 for one side, $6 for two, $7 for three. Our plate was $22 for the brisket and two sides: a little cup of rich and gently smokey mac and cheese (worth the $3 upcharge) and a small, utterly forgettable side of coleslaw that brought a perceived value of somewhere between zero and 50 cents.
The menu billed our dish as coming with rye bread, but none arrived (a minor oversight that can be chalked up to first-day jitters). But if you want lefse instead, it’s a $2 charge.
So, here’s the thing. A plate of well-made brisket served with a couple of pieces of lefse and coleslaw (which, when combined, make delightful Nordic-meets-BBQ tacos) would be a fine value at $16. But at $22, it feels suspiciously like you’re being assessed an $8 “oh look, the Vikings stadium is right out the window” fee.
Erik the Red has just opened its doors, so there’s time for it to dial in on the right mix of value and hospitality for fans, tourists, locals, bar-goers, weekend partyers, and weekday lunchers alike. But dial it in they must, because at the moment, the place feels a little off kilter.
Erik the Red, 601 Chicago Ave, Minneapolis; 612.249.5999