Uptown’s newly opened Lyndale Tap House seems to exist not so much as a casual pub-grub eatery, but as a middle finger extended toward Danny Schwartzman of Common Roots, whose eco-everything establishment does business right down the block. Despite having “tap house” in its name, only two of the Lyndale’s 17 draft beers are local (three if you count Leinie’s). The fish and chips is made with Atlantic cod, which rates an all caps red AVOID on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. And the atmosphere is a too-dark, too-loud typhoon of “dude-brah.” If I’d been given a quarter for every time the guy at the table next to me said the word “blowjob,” I could’ve bought a $4.50 Mich Ultra for the already sozzled fratern-o-winner at the bar who was attempting to force innocent bystanders to join him in a semi-coherent sing-along to “Rock With You.”
In fact, the Lyndale Tap House has, in the few short weeks since its opening, already developed an atmosphere as toe-tappingly cretinous as that of Cowboy Slim’s. This is no doubt a tribute to the business plan for this restaurant, which seems to be a sound one in principle — pack ’em in, crank the tunes, dim the lights, and keep the beer flowing.
If this doesn’t turn you off — if you are, in fact, thinking: “Thank God, the last thing we need is the return of Cafe Agri,” then you’ll probably be pleased to hear that food at the Lyndale Tap House is absolutely within the target demographic’s comfort zone, and that some of it actually works quite well.
House-made pretzel batons ($5) may be the best thing on the menu, and that’s no knock. They’re presented like flowers in a vase, served with an over-sweet mustard and a ravishingly creamy cheddar-ale dip. They’ve got a great crispy-chewy exterior, a balanced level of salt, and a nice substantial interior crumb. These are carbs of a truly high order.
The Tap House hamburger ($8) is also surprisingly solid — a harmonious balance between meat, bun, and toppings, decent char on the meat, a bit of pink in the interior, and, overall, an unpretentious, old-school bar-food dinner experience.
For all the hubbub (prime menu placement and online chatter) about the Baltimore-style Pit Beef ($9), the sandwich itself is disappointing. Here’s a likely series of events: Excited by the “moist and delicious” buzz, you order the Pit Beef. It arrives. You take a bite, acknowledge, yep, that’s a roast beef sandwich, and then regret not ordering the hamburger. If you’re sold on the Pit Beef mystique, a better move is to order the Philly (also $9); the addition of cheddar cheese sauce and grilled red peppers brings a great deal of needed zip and interest.
Messy plating was sometimes a problem at the Lyndale. Both the Maple Glazed Pork Belly ($7.50) and Garlic Sausage Bite ($8) appetizers involve crostini and wet sides (spicy peach marmalade and pickled bric-a-brac, respectively). But in both cases, the plates seemed to have stuff strewn about almost at random, and the Maple Glazed Pork plate was swimming in a pool of marmalade juice. Neither was more than the sum of its (relatively likable) parts. And both seemed a little highbrow for their surroundings, no doubt secretly longing to have been properly prepared and served over at The Craftsman.
That was the Good, and the Ugly. Now for the Bad: When I ordered the Ale Chicken, it was a $14 disaster that our waiter was kind enough to remove from the bill. A topping of dry, limp coleslaw did nothing to rescue a dry-as-a-bone interior and damn-near-flavorless skin. Say what you want about opening month jitters; cooking a chicken properly ain’t biogenetics. In theory, the idea and appeal of this dish was a head-scratcher, and in practice, it was a disaster.
Normally at this type of establishment, you can count on dessert to be a saving grace — but although the Oatmeal Apple Toffee Crisp with Barley Malt Ice Cream ($6) sounded pretty scrumptious, it came out tasting like a soggy, oatmeal-heavy run-of-the-mill crisp, with little apple, toffee, or barley malt flavor in evidence.
Peaches & Cream Bread Pudding ($6) was far worse. Featuring big hunks of bread (and not much in the way of peaches or cream), this stuff seemed as though it’d been microwaved before being presented — the bread, far from being soft and yielding, gave an audible and comic “clonk” when tapped with a spoon. And if you have the courage to journey to the center of one of these golfball-sized croutons, you will reach a dry and forgotten place where none of the “dessert” actually managed to penetrate — regular old bread, in other words.
In short: It’s hard to tell what’s actually going on at Lyndale Tap House, and how things are going to play out in the months to come. It’s clear that certain aspects of the restaurant (the beer list, the loud, sometimes terrible music, the indifferently or poorly prepared menu items) don’t square up with other aspects (an ambitious and locally unique overall menu concept, a friendly and efficient waitstaff, the occasional culinary moment of clarity such as the pretzels).
Lyndale Tap House could easily go a couple of ways — it could straighten out and fly right, emerging as a chic bar eatery resembling the glory days of Bulldog NE… or it could wallow in its status as a pricey off-campus student bar for nitwits, conveniently located near the condos of Uptown. A basic understanding of entropy suggests a tragic outcome, but hope springs eternal.
BEST BET: The pretzels. They’re original, they’re house-made, and they’re dead on.
The Lyndale Tap House
2937 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
OWNER: Gene Suh
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $8-15