Archive for April, 2009

Grumpy’s and Groveland Tap

April 28, 2009

A couple Thursdays ago, I met a few coworkers for happy hour. Our offices are on opposite sides of the Twin Cities, so Grumpy’s in Roseville is a nice place to meet in the middle. It was a little chilly for patio seating although a few brave souls were out there.

I didn’t have anything to eat, although food specials were plentiful. Nachos, mac and cheese bites, and mini corn dogs were passed around. I had a Newcastle Brown Ale from the tap, and it was fine, but I wasn’t all that excited about it. I was feeling a little off that day so I will probably try it again at some point, but I’m not in a huge hurry. Next time I’ll probably try one of their beer flights so I can sample several different kinds at once. They had a good selection from Wisconsin and Minnesota breweries, and they had a decent selection of Belgians.

Two nights later, Tim and I went to the Groveland Tap for dinner. I was hoping they’d have Boulevard beer from Kansas City, but they were out, so I took the opportunity to try a Delirium Tremens instead. Tim got a Summit Pilsner (all Summits were discounted between 3 and 6 even though it was a Saturday). We split the french fries and the deep-fried pickles. Fries don’t come with the burgers, so if you want them, you have to order them on the side. Tim ordered the Cajun Lucy, while I had the Blue Cheese Burger.

I had a sip of Tim’s beer (alcohol kills all germs), and it was light and refreshing. The Delirium Tremens was light, smooth, with a slight hint of spice at the finish. It seemed to get stronger as I drank it too, so I only ordered one. I would definitely have it again, though. It was more golden and less fruity than Kwak, but very crisp and clean.

The deep-fried pickles were spears, instead of chips. They were quite tasty, and they came with Tim’s favorite condiment, ranch dressing. The shoestring fries were fine, but not exceptional. I liked my burger, but didn’t taste a lot of blue cheese. The burgers are a little on the smaller side, which is fine with me because I have a hard time finishing a monster burger. I was going to have a bite of Tim’s Cajun Lucy but I still have a touch of the plague, and when he said it wasn’t a life-altering experience, I passed. The food was good, and I’m getting hungry just thinking about it, but I’m still on a quest for the perfect burger, the one that makes me exclaim with meaty delight after I’ve taken each bite. (And yes, I thought about changing that last bit because it rhymed, but that encapsulates what I’m trying to say.)

After we got home, I had some Fuller’s ESB and a bottle of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout that I picked up from Cellars Wine and Spirits. They’ve been my London Pride supplier and I was happy to see that they also had bottles of ESB. It definitely tastes better straight from the tap at Brit’s, but it’s nice having the bottle option for convenient storage in my home. The stout was very good– just a hint of chocolate, in a smooth, full-bodied stout. It made a nice dessert.

Bon Vie and A Piece of Cake

April 11, 2009

Sarah and I like to seek out new establishments for brunch. I threw “St. Paul brunch” into The Googler and found Bon Vie. We overlooked the presence of the devil’s handwriting on the entry page and left navigation, and made plans to meet.

The restaurant is a little hard to spot on Selby, so even though I’d mapped the location, I ended up asking for directions at A Piece of Cake, their sister establishment. The man behind the counter was extremely friendly and wished me a good meal. 

The restaurant was full when we arrived at 10:30, but a couple left five minutes later and we were seated in their place. 

Sarah chose the Farmer’s Market Breakfast (Scrambled eggs with asparagus, roasted sweet peppers, feta cheese, and toast), while I had the Croissant Breakfast Sandwich (scrambled eggs, bacon, and cheddar served with O’Brien potatoes). The O’Brien potatoes were outstanding. They were served in a square, as if they were cut out of a casserole dish. The potatoes clung together (firm, not soggy), topped with cheddar cheese and chives. They were hearty and flavorful and comforting, and I might have exclaimed something joyous with every bite. The croissant was warm and flaky, surrounding eggs with a dash of pepper, a slice of cheddar cheese, and two thick slices of bacon. Sarah’s food looked incredible as well. The eggs and vegetables were fresh, and the hash browns were a heap of crispy goodness. 

After brunch, we wandered down to A Piece of Cake where my car was parked. We each got a whoopie pie to take home, because we were still full from our meal. We also noted that the Happy Gnome served brunch and thought that would be a good spot for our next gathering. I could eat and drink my way through Selby Avenue (Louisiana Cafe, Bon Vie, A Piece of Cake, The Happy Gnome, La Grolla, Fabulous Fern’s, Moscow on the Hill, W.A. Frost, with a detour on Dale for The Muddy Pig and Sweeney’s, and I know I’m forgetting someone important).

Buster’s on 28th

April 11, 2009

The plague has finally started to retreat from my lungs, so I made dinner plans to meet my friend Dave in his neighborhood for dinner. He suggested Buster’s on 28th because of their wide beer selection and my newfound fondness for ale.

I was a little late arriving, because I had to sit at the crossing of Hiawatha and 38th Street for well over five minutes. Hiawatha is a four-lane artery out of downtown Minneapolis, so it took a while for the light to change as I was on 38th. When it finally looked like I could cross, the light rail train’s signal took over (it runs parallel to Hiawatha), and I had to wait through another signal cycle. In other words, it took all of The Hold Steady’s “Your Hoodrat Friend” and half of Paul Westerberg’s “Psychopharmacology” for me to make it through the intersection. I found myself singing “f-u-c-k-e-d, that’s me” with more gusto than usual.

When I got there, Dave sympathized with my plight. He’d already secured a booth and a glass of dark beer from Colorado (it might have been the Great Divide Hibernation Ale, but my memory fails me). I ordered the Old Speckled Hen and was not disappointed. It’s an English Pale Ale, with a nice hoppy, malty flavor and an amber color. 

Dave ordered the fish and chips. I ordered the Buster’s Butter Burger and fries, ending my red meat embargo. The restaurant provided Heinz malt vinegar, and we both liberally coated our fries. The vinegar-covered fries and the beer helped me recall my English travel stories.

The restaurant also had Kwak, which was tempting but I decided the pint of Old Speckled Hen was enough for one evening. Plus, if I had to wait at the light on 38th Street again on the way home, I might fall asleep.

We ordered a chocolate layered cake, provided by A Baker’s Wife next door. It was phenomenal, topped with caramel and bits of toffee candy, with whipped cream on the side. 

On the one hand, I envy Dave and his partner for living so close to the restaurant and the bakery. But on the other hand, I’d be wearing a much larger pant size if I lived nearby. Luckily, this has not been a problem for either Dave or Keith. 

And to completely destroy any music credibility I might have built up early in this post, I must share that I voluntarily listened to and enjoyed a Backstreet Boys song on the way home (“The One” from Millennium).

Fogo de Chao / Brit’s Pub

April 5, 2009

It’s taken me a week to write about the all-you-can-meat buffet at Fogo de Chao for a couple reasons:

  • I am still trying to kick this stupid cough/cold thing, and it’s making me tired and crabby.
  • The thought of meat in the following days was too much to bear. And I really like meat. But I overdid it a little.

If you were to swear off meat for Lent, or convert to vegetarianism, or otherwise put yourself in a meat-free situation, Fogo de Chao would be the best place to have your last meaty meal. Not only is a wide variety of succulent flesh paraded before your eyes, but you might not want to eat meat for a very long time afterwards. Or maybe it’s just me. Like I said, I showed no self-control and I might have overdone it.

We were seated at a table near the salad bar, on the main meat path servers took to the kitchen, so it was ideal for both courses. I ordered a half bottle of Roberto Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon (very reasonable for $15– I was expecting to spend at least $7 or $8 on a glass), and Tim ordered a vodka/soda with lime. After our server asked us if we’d been to the restaurant before, and we answered affirmatively, we were off to the salad bar.

The salad bar could be a meal in itself. They have a fantastic array of vegetables (mixed greens, spinach, red and yellow peppers, artichoke hearts, and sun-dried tomatoes which are probably a fruit but I’m listing them here), and cheeses (balls of mozzarella, sliced cheeses, and a huge barrel of freshly cut parmesan), along with some starter meats (prosciutto and salmon). The key to the salad bar is to take one bite-sized portion of everything that interests you, and even then it’s probably too much because the meat will start taunting you when you’re about halfway done with your salad plate. Don’t be like the guy in front of us who had a huge mound of lettuce and assorted accompaniments stacked several inches high on his plate.

There are also little heavenly bread puffs with cheese in a basket at each table. They are tiny, and they are tasty, but again, they take up valuable real estate in your stomach.

Finally, we flipped the discs on our table from red to green to signal that we were ready, and the meat parade began. It’s all a sizzling, salty, carnivorous blur in my mind so I’ll list the different varieties we consumed:

  • Pork loin encrusted with parmesan (this was excellent, and I don’t think I’d had this before– a welcome addition to the meat parade)
  • Picanha (the restaurant’s signature cut of beef, seasoned with sea salt and very tender and flavorful)
  • Filet mignon (extremely tender and delicious)
  • Garlic beef (not overpoweringly full of garlic, but very tasty)
  • Pork sausages (these can be hit and miss, depending on the spices they use and my mood, but they were quite savory)
  • Pork ribs (I always seem to get more bone and less meat, but the meat was satisfying; that’s what she said)
  • Top sirloin (they always seem to give me a huge portion of this when I’d rather be saving room for other beef, but I’m usually so hungry at this point that I’m ready to start biting the arms of the meat wranglers, so I take it)
  • Bottom sirloin (see top sirloin above)

I bypassed the chicken (saving room for the beef and pork family), and the lamb never arrived at a convenient time, so we skipped that as well. Tim had some of the chicken wrapped in bacon and he enjoyed it very much.

The wine was the perfect accompaniment to all of the meats, and it also paired well with the cheeses from the salad bar and the little cheesy poofs in the basket.

After pushing the boundaries of our stomachs, we flipped the green discs back to red to signal that we wanted no more meat. After paying the bill, we grabbed a few complimentary chocolates from the lobby, and we were off.

We waddled down Hennepin then crossed over to Nicollet Mall to visit Brit’s Pub. I’d been craving a proper draft beer since I’d returned from England, and Fuller’s ESB was exactly what I was looking for. It was a dark amber color (it’s killing me to not type “colour”), and had a full, flavorful (again, “flavourful”) body. I can’t think of an accurate way to describe the taste other than fantastic. Tim started with a Guinness and after tasting my beer, had a Fuller’s ESB for his second round. I found room in my stomach for a second Fuller’s ESB too. After standing for a few minutes commenting on a genealogy chart of the monarchy, some stools at the bar were available and we sat down, watching trays of fish and chips go by.

We let our meat and beer settle for a few minutes, then headed home, where I learned a valuable lesson that wine, beer, and tequila do not mix, even though it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Happy Gnome

April 5, 2009

This post was supposed to start out something like this: “Just got back from seeing The Gaslight Anthem, and it was one of the most transcendent experiences of my life.” However, fate and a medical emergency in the band intervened (hope everything is OK), and we were forced to find other entertainment on Saturday night. We decided to drown our sorrows in beer.

All About Beer named The Happy Gnome in St. Paul as one of the top 125 places to have a beer before you die, so we were off. We arrived at about 5:20 and sat at the bar. I ordered the Coniston Bluebird Bitter, but the tap had just shot out the last of the brew, so I settled for the Belhaven Scottish Ale instead. It was fine, but it wasn’t a life-changing experience like the Fuller’s ESB I’d had at Brit’s Pub a week earlier. Tim had his usual Stella Artois.

For food, Tim ordered the Roasted Chicken Orecchiette Pasta with spinach, red onions, and mascarpone cheese. It looked like gnocchi, and he loved every bite. I had the Chicken and Artichoke Pizza from the bar menu. It had roasted tomato sauce, Kalamata olives, red onion, and feta cheese. I ate four slices and took two home for lunch the next day. It was very good. The chicken was spicy and savory, and all the ingredients were fresh and not dry.

For our second round, Tim branched out a little and ordered the Moinette Blonde, which was excellent. It was a golden amber color and had just a hint of spice. After debating between the Delirium Tremens and the Kwak, I ordered the latter, not realizing that it came in a fancy glass. The bartender said that you could take it out of the wooden holder to drink it, but the glass would tip over if it wasn’t returned to the holder. I played it safe and used the wooden contraption the whole time, because I have a natural tendency to spill things and to forget important pieces of information after I’ve had a few sips.

The beer itself was outstanding. It was a beautiful amber color, and it had slightly sweet tones mixed with hints of spice. I wasn’t really tasting a banana flavor, but that was OK. I would definitely order it again, and it’s a reason to return to the bar, which is only a few miles away from our house.

The service at the bar was great, and the bartenders were friendly and willing to answer any questions about the menu. We were fascinated by all the different taps on display. Each tap had a unique decoration, and the one that stood out was the Rogue Mogul which had a carved skeleton on top.

The Happy Gnome also has a nice patio area, and it should be opening in the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to a warm night and a cool, refreshing Kwak in my hand soon.