Monday, June 30, 2008

Sea Salt Eatery

Visited on Thursday, June 26 with Scott, Mike, Dasa, and Tomas

Sea Salt Eatery

Ben's Review
My co-worker Mike lives near Minnehaha Park so we arranged to have dinner after work at Sea Salt Eatery which is located near Minnehaha falls in the park. We drove to Mike's house after work and hung out there for a few minutes. Mike's wife is from the Czech Republic and they had some Czech liquor that we tried; it was clear, plum flavored, and about 100 proof. Scott, Mike, and I all had a shot before heading to the park.

We walked from Mike's house to the park, stopping at the falls to take a couple photos (you can't really pass that up if you're going there). The previous day I was a little worried that the weather wouldn't hold up; Sea Salt is an outdoor restaurant so if the weather is bad you don't really want to go. The weather turned out to be beautiful that day, however, I should know better than to trust weather forecasts at this point.

Minnehaha Falls

At Sea Salt you order inside the restaurant and get your drink, and then they bring the food out to you when it's ready. As we waited in line I scoped out the menu. The seafood tacos sounded good, but I was concerned that it wasn't going to be enough food. I asked the cashier how big they were and decided to go with a catfish po' boy. Mike had ordered some clam fries for the table to share so I didn't order any other side dish.

Sea Salt Eatery

I had heard that they had Surly on tap here, but the taps that I saw were only Summit Pilsner, Summit EPA, and New Belgium Skinny Dip. I was a little disappointed, but I can always fall back to Summit, no big deal. So we headed out to our table beers in hand to wait for our food. Eating outside in Minnesota in the summertime is great, especially in the evening when it's not so hot anymore. I don't even recall any mosquitoes that night, which is pretty amazing.

I was a little skeptical of the clam fries, but those things are GOOD. And there were plenty for the five of us to eat. My catfish po' boy came out and I was stunned at how big it was - there were three huge catfish filets on a long hoagie bun, it all barely fit. After allowing Erin to photograph my sandwich I dove in, and it was great.

Clam fries

The bun was soft and the catfish was lightly breaded and not greasy, it was fantastic. Mike ordered some tacos and they also looked good, they were loaded with cilantro. All the food we had looked so FRESH, I was impressed. Mike said they go there a lot, and I can see why, especially when it's only open a couple months out of the year.

Catfish po'boy

After we finished our food Scott and I went inside to get another round of beers and as we walked in from the opposite side we saw something we had missed earlier - an extra set of beer taps with the Surly beers :) They had Furious, Bender, and Bitter Brewer with the signature Surly tap handles. All of sudden, the meal just got better; Scott, Mike, and I all got a Furious and Erin had another Skinny Dip (she's not much for the hops).

I give Sea Salt two thumbs up for the food, the beer selection, and the reasonable prices.
  • Service: Service was good, I like, that they bring your food out after you order it.
  • Food: Fantastic sea food, Erin even liked her oyster.
  • Drinks: I liked the beer selection, make sure to ask for the Surly if you don't see it, it's there :)
  • Ambiance: Right in the middle of a park on a nice summer evening, it doesn't really get better than that.
  • Price: For our beer and food, our bill was around $35 which I think is great for fresh seafood.
  • Convenience: There's some pay parking spots in the park but you can park on a side street and walk a bit for free. If you're going here it must be a nice day so walking shouldn't be a big deal.
Erin's Review
As with most places on our list, I was very excited to try Sea Salt Eatery. I love seafood, and I love things that are fried, so it seemed like it would be right up my alley. As usual, the weather forecast for last Thursday had changed approximately every 5 minutes in the 24 hours preceding our dinner. Luckily it ended up being beautiful and sunny.

Sea Salt Eatery

When we got there, the line wasn't that long and there were quite a few open tables. By the time we left, it was pretty packed, so I was glad we got there when we did. I was having a bit of order indecision. I've never had a po'boy, so I decided to go with that in the spirit of trying something new. I'd also never had crawfish, so I figured why not. I threw in one oyster on the half shell to see how that was as well.

Sea Salt Eatery

We took our beers outside (in the absence of any light beer, I ordered the Skinny Dip) and waited maybe 15 minutes for our food. The clam fries came out first, and they were great - fried but not greasy and very fresh tasting.


When our food arrived, I was surprised at how big our po'boys were - they were HUGE. My oyster was very large as well. In fact, it was so large I was not sure if I would actually be able to eat it in one piece. Luckily, I perservered and overcame the oyster. It was fresh and delicious. I'm actually not sure if I've had an oyster before, so I don't have anything to compare it to, but this one tasted great.

Oyster on the half shell

eating an oyster
(Luckily Ben grabbed my camera to capture my oyster eating experience)

My po' boy was very good too - the crawfish were apparently pretty big, and the bread was great.

Crawfish po'boy

I definitely enjoyed Sea Salt and would love to go back. It seemed fairly reasonably priced and the atmosphere was great, very casual obviously, and the staff was friendly.


Sea Salt Eatery
4825 Minnehaha Ave.

Highly recommended
on a nice summer night

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Strip Club

Visited on Saturday, June 21st with Janelle and Scott

Outside of The Strip Club

Erin's Review
I had read a lot about The Strip Club on various local blogs, and most reviews were pretty good. Ben was probably more excited about trying this place out than I was - he loves steak houses. I thought the menu was much more inventive than is usually found at a steak house, so I was intrigued. I decided I didn't really want to have my own steak here, because they are fairly expensive and I can never finish the whole thing, so Ben got the NY Strip, and I got 3 small plates. He had a little of my food, and I got to have a few bites of his steak.

The first thing I noticed about the food when it came out was how pretty it was. It was very beautifully prepared, and was really fun to photograph. Janelle and Scott did the same thing we did, Scott got a steak, and Janelle got 3 small plates, so I had plenty of food to photograph that night. Here are Janelle's dishes. She seemed to like them all, but did say that if she went back, she'd get a steak instead.

Big Al's Hotbed Salad Meat on a Stick Pavarti's Hot Peach

On the whole, the 3 small plates I ordered were very good. First, the asparagus was tasty, and I liked the sauce that came with it a lot. It was kind of an unusual flavor, as I'm used to just have plain asparagus with maybe a little sauce. I liked the sauce almost more than the asparagus itself, it was a combination of sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers, and mushrooms. I'm normally not a huge mushroom fan, but these had a good consistency and weren't super mushy which is usually what I don't like.

Asparagus and Mushroom Tartine

The mashed potato pie was not exactly what I was expecting - for some reason I was picturing a little bit more (like maybe a whole pie dish filled with mashed potatoes?? wishful thinking), but it literally is a little pie crust with mashed potatoes on it. I did not taste any bleu cheese, so I don't think there was really much in there. Normally that is not really a flavor you can mask. I did like this dish, but I thought it was pretty bland. More cheese would be better, and maybe even putting the bacon and the scallions in the mashed potato mixture... but then it wouldn't have been as pretty.

Mashed Potato Pie

Now, for the deviled eggs. The 3 plain eggs I got were great - the sauce was spicy which was an interesting accompaniment to the eggs. The 2 pink eggs totally freaked me out. I know that is irrational, but for some reason I thought they were some other type of egg (like not from a chicken) completely. I have no idea why I thought that, but the sight of those pink eggs just kind of made my stomach turn. I did eat them, and I have to say they were not good. They were pretty..... tough, almost. Overly chewy. Ew. I did ask our waiter what kind of eggs they were, and apparently they are pickled in beet juice or something. I didn't taste any beet flavor at all, but maybe I was too put off by the color and the over-chewiness.

The Devil's Eggs

I tried a few bites of Ben's steak too - I liked it a lot, the sauce was very tasty. It wasn't what I would have chosen, I would have probably gone for the bleu cheese sauce. I also had a glass of wine, the Casa Solar Tempranillo, which came in a pretty small glass (I thought at least) but seemed fairly reasonably priced and was a good complement to my meal.

I enjoyed the Strip Club - it is a cozy place. I don't know if I'd go back, because it isn't really convenient to our house, and there isn't really a lot near there, but it was fun to try once! I really liked how the owner came over and talked to us. He seemed very down to earth and really wanted to make sure we had a good experience.

Inside of Strip Club
(Tim the owner is in the middle of this photo talking to another table)

Ben's Review
Erin's co-worker Janelle and her husband Scott had won a gift certificate to the Strip Club playing bingo and Janelle knew that we had it on our list so we arranged to have dinner last Saturday night. I love the Strip Club's url (, I'm sure they had a tough time finding a url given that most permutations of "strip club" were probably taken :)

When we arrived Janelle and Scott had already been seated right inside the door in front of a big window. The front of the restaurant kind of faces west, towards downtown St. Paul so the blinds were down as the sun was low at that time. I have to say that the Strip Club is not really in a picturesque neighborhood anyways, so having the shades down wasn't a big deal. It's located in a residential area where you would expect a corner market to be, but instead there is a nice steakhouse. It seems a little out of place, I'm surprised it's even zoned to allow alcohol to be served.

Outside of The Strip Club

Scott had ordered a pint can of Surly Furious which tempted me, but I went for the bottle of Bell's Two Hearted instead. The drinks at the Strip Club are a little pricey; my beer was $5 for a bottle and the Miller Lite is even $3.75. They have a list of specialty drinks, some that looked good, but I stuck with beer. They don't list them, but I would guess they have some good scotch too.

I had high hopes for the Strip Club after checking out the menu. For the first time in recent memory I knew what I wanted before we even got there, I was going to get the New York strip steak, which seems to be their signature dish. The steak comes plain but you can order a "sauce accompaniment" for a couple dollars. I got the "love you long time" sauce which consisted of ginger, scallions, red chilies, sesame, and soy. Being an Asian food fan I figured that was right up my alley.

Thousand Hills Cattle Co. New York Strip

Our food arrived promptly and it looked REALLY good. We were a little weirded out by Erin's purple deviled eggs, but I'll let her get into that a little more. My steak came with steamed carrots that I had kind of written off as nothing more than just a simple vegetable garnish, but I was impressed with how many I got and how good they were. I actually FINISHED the vegetables on my plate, vegetables that I had barely even acknowledged on the menu. I was a little proud :)

The steak was done as a I requested, medium, and was delicious. I was glad I got the sauce as it added a great flavor and some texture to the steak. I don't recall how big the steak was, but I would guess around 10-12 ounces.

After we had finished eating a busboy came around and took our dishes while we were chatting. A little while later our server, Bill, came back and brought us our check. Janelle handed Bill the gift card and asked to thank the owner for donating the gift card to the bingo game, so Bill went to fetch the owner. A minute later the busboy came back over and introduced himself as Tim, one of the owners of the Strip Club (pictured in one of the photos above). I thought it was real cool that he actually works in the restaurant in such an unassuming role as clearing dishes. He was very friendly and made sure we enjoyed our time there. That definitely left a positive impression on me, if I go back that will probably be a reason why.

Inside of Strip Club
  • Service: Our server Bill was great and meeting Tim the owner was cool.
  • Food: Excellent steak and sauce, but no bread unless you order it? That's a bummer.
  • Drinks: Drinks are expensive, but they've got a good bottled selection. They have two taps: Rush River IPA and Rush River Amber. Good beers, but a random choice for only two taps.
  • Ambiance: I like the restaurant, its a small place with a spiral staircase to an even smaller upper level. It was pleasantly busy on a Saturday night.
  • Price: It's a steak house so it costs a little more than a standard place, but the food isn't unreasonable.
  • Convenience: Located just east of downtown Saint Paul, there's no parking lot so you'll have to find a spot on the street.

The Strip Club
378 Maria Ave
St. Paul

Recommended for atmosphere and interesting menu

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Visited on Monday, June 16th


Ben's Review

Erin and I had planned to go for a walk after work downtown so Erin could take some photos. Afterward we convinced ourselves that we deserved to go out for dinner. It wasn't a long debate.

We first tried to go to Pho Tau Bay at 28th and Nicollet. I've eaten lunch there twice before with a group of people from work and I thought Erin would like it. We got there and the parking lot was completely empty and the restaurant appeared closed. We had seen Quang a couple blocks north so we decided to head over there instead. I later learned from my coworker that Pho Tau Bay is closed Mondays, Quang is closed Tuesdays, and there is another Vietnamese place nearby that is closed Wednesdays. Some sort of rotation I guess???

We luckily found a parking spot in the small parking lot in front of Quang that they share with a couple other shops that are attached. There were plenty of tables available when we arrived and got sat immediately. I opened the menu (with pictures, nice!) to scan my options. As an aside, I love the simplistic nature of many Asian restaurant menus. Most of the time it's a simple list of the items followed with a number that makes ordering very easy, I love it.

I had gotten a vermicelli salad last time at Pho Tau Bay and I went with another one at Quang. It had rice vermicelli noodles, carrots, cucumber, and grilled chicken. I also throw in some hoisin sauce and I tried the fish sauce that came with the meal as well (even though it didn't smell appetizing, it tasted great). We also ordered some spring rolls that came out 5.6 seconds after ordering them. Spring rolls are great, especially cause they can last so long. I want to learn how to make them so I can stuff my fridge full of them.

101: Goi Cuon

Our food came out quickly and we got to it, as we were both hungry. My food was fantastic, and I'm now on a Vietnamese food obsession that will last a couple months. At least it's not some unhealthy food obsession like, say, bacon. I think grilled chicken over rice vermicelli has to be an OK diet :)

313: Bun Ga Nuang

It took a lot of willpower to not finish the whole large bowl and save the rest for another meal. Had I kept picking at it like I wanted to there would only be enough for a little snack, so I held back. Erin didn't even come CLOSE to finishing hers and I got to snag a few bites as well.

We asked for a couple containers for our food and the server came back with the containers and also slapped the check on the table. We boxed up our food, took the check to the front, and left. I bet our whole time there was around thirty minutes, quick, easy, and delicious.

The ratings for Quang:
  • Service: Excellent service, I loved that she brought our bill with the boxes. She knew we were ready to leave and didn't need to ask for dessert or refills.
  • Food: Fantastic. Spring rolls were great with pork and shrimp and my rice vermicelli salad was delicious.
  • Drinks: I actually didn't even check if they had beer, we both just had water. Quang is borderline Vietnamese fast food, so I didn't feel like having a drink.
  • Ambiance: They have huge windows that face Nicollet so it's very well lit, I really enjoyed the space.
  • Price: Our bill was $20 after tip and tax, and we both got two meals out of our food, so Quang is a great deal.
  • Convenience: Small parking lot out front holds maybe ten cars, otherwise you're parking at a meter.
Erin's Review
We decided after our walk through downtown to go out to eat for the second day in a row. We justified this because the place we were headed to was fairly inexpensive and that we'd get two meals out of each of our orders. This seemed like a good enough justification for me, but I don't need to be convinced to go out most of the time...

We headed down Eat Street from downtown past about 15 places that are on our list - for some reason we really had never eaten out in this area before. I'm excited to try them all out. Pho Tau Bay ended up being closed, so we headed back to Quang.

My only experience with Vietnamese food prior to this was Ngon, this was a much different atmosphere. Ngon is more of a hip bistro that you would go to for a nice night out, and Quang is a no-frills place to get cheap, filling, and delicious food (not that Ngon isn't also filling and delicious, but it isn't as cheap).

Inside of Quang

I decided to get a broken rice dish with chicken - it was very good. The chicken had a bit of a kick to it, but it wasn't overwhelmingly spicy. It was a huge portion, which was nice, since I could also take it for lunch the next day. I also liked the spring rolls, but not as much as Ben. I think I just have too much of a preference for fried, unhealthy appetizers :)

407: Com Ga Xao

I enjoyed Quang - the service was great, the atmosphere was friendly, and the food was delicious.


2719 Nicollet Ave.

Highly recommended
for the value, service, and food

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day by Day Cafe

Visited on Sunday, June 15th with Liz and Jono

Outside of Day by Day Cafe

Erin's Review
Despite Ben feeling pretty crappy on the morning of his birthday, I forced him to go out to breakfast at Day by Day Cafe. It was a beautiful day, and I knew the food would make him feel better. As is usually the case, I was right!

When we got there, we had to wait maybe 5 minutes inside to get escorted to our table on their beautiful patio. This is one of the nicest patios that I've been to. I love patios where you are sheltered from the outside world - there was a privacy fence around the whole thing, which helped to make the patio feel really secluded.

Inside of Day by Day Cafe

I had seen on the specials blackboard in the front that Eggs Benedict was available that day. I wasn't really feeling like trying to find something else, and I knew I could have some of Ben's pancakes so I went with that. When the waitress asked for our order, I wanted to be VERY clear about what I wanted, so as to not repeat my last experience with overdone eggs. So, I asked if the eggs were poached. The waitress replied "Oh, I don't think so, we don't poach eggs on the weekends." Excuse me, WHAT? I think my face showed my dismay, because she said she'd go check. She came back and said that the eggs would be basted. I didn't know what that meant (now I do, thanks to Google) so I just said, as long as the yolks are runny, I don't really care. I just wanted to order. Someone please explain to me why a breakfast place would not poach eggs. I am confused. It isn't like the process takes too long. Is it because they don't want to waste a burner on the stove for the boiling water? Help me understand.

Anyway, after that debacle, I was a bit apprehensive. I got my meal, and the hollandaise looked a little... flat, I guess you could say. Just plain. I'm not 100% positive that it was not from a jar or can of some sort. I don't want to discredit Day by Day, because I know they are a well loved institution, but perhaps this was not the best thing to order. The ham was really good - nice and thick. The eggs were runny, as specified. The hollandaise tasted very bland, but it wasn't gross or anything. The hash browns were good, but not as crispy as I prefer. I LOVED Ben's pancakes though. He says they weren't very hot when they came out, but I ate them after I was done with my own meal so I wasn't expecting them to be scorching. They tasted great.

Eggs Benedict

I really enjoyed Day by Day - the patio is beautiful, the inside is well decorated, and the staff is very nice and accommodating. It was a busy Sunday morning, and we were well taken care of with water refills. I would definitely go back, but probably would not order the same meal because it was pretty mediocre.

Patio at Day by Day Cafe

Ben's Review
I had a pretty rough night on Saturday as we had some friends over for my birthday. I made plans to get breakfast the next morning, but by the time I rolled out of bed I was feeling that I would rather just sleep more instead of doing ANYTHING. I'm actually getting tired just recalling that now.

Erin, Liz, and Jono all still wanted to go out though, so we headed over to Day by Day Cafe on West 7th Street in Saint Paul. We wanted to go someplace that had outdoor dining and heard that Day by Day had cool patio seating, and it didn't disappoint. Being that it was gorgeous Fathers Day I called ahead to see what the wait was like and was told the line was out the door. We wanted to go anyways and we didn't have anything else to do, so we figured we'd deal with it.

We only ended up waiting about five to ten minutes to get seated as there wasn't much of a line by the time we got there. I think we could have even sat down sooner if we weren't holding out for an outdoor spot. The backyard deck at Day by Day is a huge deck nestled amongst the restaurant and the three story apartments that surround it. There are many trees and bushes that isolate you from the outside world remarkably well, making for a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. It was fantastic.

Patio at Day by Day Cafe

My stomach wasn't feeling up to coffee that morning so I went with sprite instead. Perusing the menu, there was a lot that looked tempting, but again with my stomach in a weak state I had to keep it simple. I went for a short stack of pancakes with a spontaneous side of American fries at the last second. I don't know, potatoes sounded good at the moment.

Our food took a little while to arrive, but our server was apologetic about it. By the time the food came out I was ravenous. The pancakes came with whipped butter which is the only kind of butter you ought to use with pancakes as it spreads so easily. I loaded up on the butter and syrup and dug in. The pancakes were good, but a little cold, which is probably inevitable as they take maybe a minute or two to cook, so I'm sure they sat around for several minutes before coming out. The potatoes were good as well and I got a whole plate of them.


American Fries

Day by Day doesn't take credit cards (but they have an ATM) so when the check came, we slapped down our cash and headed out. I left feeling MUCH better than when I arrived :)

No Credit Cards
  • Service: Good service, the servers don't wear uniforms and have a laid back attitude that I liked.
  • Food: Good breakfast menu and it's served all day. Our food was pretty good. The heart-stopper looks........filling.
  • Drinks: Coffee, juice, soda, etc. :)
  • Ambiance: Excellent outdoor seating for a relaxing meal on a nice day.
  • Price: I feel like ALL breakfast places are charging noticeable more lately, and Day by Day was right in line with this feeling, more than I'm willing to spend on breakfast on a regular basis.
  • Convenience: Gotta find a spot on the street, but at this area on W 7th it shouldn't be much of an issue.

Day by Day Cafe
477 W. 7th St.
St. Paul

Highly recommended for their patio and service

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Highland Grill

Visited on Wednesday, June 11th with Erin's parents, sister, and Jono

Highland Grill

Ben's Review
Erin's mom's birthday is June 13th and mine is June 15th, so we usually go out for dinner for a joint celebration. This time around we decided on the Highland Grill in Saint Paul. We went out with Erin's parents, her sister Liz, and her sister's boyfriend Jono.

The owners of Highland Grill also own the Groveland Tap (previously reviewed), Longfellow Grill, Edina Grill, and 3 Square Restaurant. It's pretty easy to figure that out, since all their websites look exactly the same, except with different color schemes. It also appears they just updated their websites in the past couple days, they look nice!

Even though they are owned by the same company, the restaurants are not similar at all. I was expecting a place that looked like Groveland Tap, a quiet neighborhood bar, but Highland Grill reminds me of an old-fashioned 70's diner. It's a skinny, deep room with booths along the left wall and tables in the middle. There's a small counter space in the back right where people can sit (I think?). The walls are painted a bright green or red color and the waitstaff wears bright red shirts, so there's a lot of color flying around. I especially liked the lighting above the booths. They have these snake-like bulbs that twist down about five feet from above and then are directed at the wall next to the booth. It looks cool and gives plenty of light without shining in anyone's eyes, most of the light comes from off of the green or red walls.

Highland Grill

We got two pitchers of Fat Tire and an order of hush puppies to get started. I would later realize I was actually wearing a Fat Tire t-shirt that I got from the New Belgium brewery, which is not unlike wearing the shirt of the band you are going to see, luckily nobody noticed. For those that might not know, hush puppies are little golf ball sized pieces of corn bread with pieces of corn and jalapeno in them, and they are deep fried. I actually liked the chimichuri sauce that came with them better than the hush puppies themselves.

Fat Tire

I couldn't decide what to order, as usual, until Erin told me they were known to have good fish and chips, so I settled on that. I figured they had to be better than my last experience with fish and chips. The burgers on the menu were tempting, especially after seeing the Elvis burger that Liz got.

Our food came out pretty quick I thought, it was a busy night, surprising for a Wednesday. All the food came out on plates except for mine; apparently fish and chips deserves a basket instead of a plate?? After attempting to cut my fish inside the basket I asked for a passing server to get me a plate so I could eat my food proper.

Fish & Chips

The fish and chips were certainly better than last time, the fish had a tasty seasoning on them. The fries were excellent - thin and the right amount of crispiness. I also managed to snag a small piece of bacon from Liz's burger and the bacon was delicious, thick and chewy, perfect for a burger.

Since it was a birthday dinner and all, I got a root beer float for dessert. I don't think I'd had a root beer float for at least five years, but man are they tasty. I prefer to stir the ice cream into the root beer so it ends up being just a thick glass of root beer with a mix of vanilla flavoring, mmmmm boy! I think I might have to get some ice cream and root beer for home now.
Root Beer Float
  • Service: Our server was friendly and prompt, and nothing went wrong so I give them high marks.
  • Food: Pretty standard menu - burgers, sandwiches, etc. and everything tasted great, but nothing to set them apart.
  • Drinks: They had around five taps of some good beers. I think they had wine? No full bar though.
  • Ambiance: I liked the decor of Highland Grill, but it was pretty loud inside. I think the acoustics might exacerbate the problem.
  • Price: Reasonably priced, I thought. Burgers were $8-$9 or so, which is a pretty good standard to go by.
  • Convenience: I had to park two blocks away on a Wednesday night, so I bet it can get annoying on a weekend. They are located on Cleveland so there aren't many parking spots available.

Erin's Review
Since this was my mom and Ben's birthday dinner, I provided my mom with a list of places to choose from. She picked the one that isn't technically on our list, The Liffey. I was glad when I found out there was some dinosaurs thing going on at the Xcel that may have made The Liffey a little too busy so we could change our location to Highland Grill instead. It seemed like a fairly crowd pleasing place. I'd heard good things about their breakfasts from my co-worker Leigh, so that is what I was planning to have if they served it all day, which I found out that they do.

When my family got there, there was a wait, so they sent them over to the coffee shop next door. After waiting maybe 15 minutes, someone came over and got us, and sent us back to the largest booth in the far back corner. The only bad thing about this location was its proximity to the kitchen which can get pretty loud with servers, cooks, and bartenders (if that is what they are) yelling back and forth. One example of that is when one of the servers/bartenders starting singing VERY loudly. As is the case when anyone makes a loud noise near you, my sister turned to look at her. In response to that, this woman yelled "WHY ARE WE ALWAYS GETTING SHUSHED HERE!!!! OPPRESSION! OPPRESSION!" uhh, okay. Whatever.

Moving on. Because of the lack of Bud or Miller products, we got 2 pitchers of Fat Tire, which I actually enjoyed, surprisingly enough. Maybe I am moving slightly above being a Miller Lite swilling amateur, but I doubt it :) Only time will tell. We ordered the hush puppies to start, and they were really good, but I would have liked it if they had more jalapenos in them. More places should have hush puppies, I love them. I liked the 2 sauces that came with it too, the green one had a little kick, and the aioli was tasty as well.

Hush Puppies

I decided to get to get the Crab Cake Benedict instead of regular Eggs Benedict to shake things up a bit. The server asked if I wanted my eggs poached medium, and I said that I'd like them done less than medium so that they were nice and runny. Imagine my EXTREME disappointment when I pierced my first egg, only to find the yolk completely solid. Perhaps she misheard me. The hollandaise sauce was very good and tasted homemade, but there was barely any of it. In fact, by the time I got to my second egg, it seemed that it had all been absorbed into the crab cake. This was another disappointment, as I like to eat the sauce with the hash browns after I'm done with the eggs. The hash browns were a little different than the usual ones you get, they were cut much thinner and were very crispy. They looked odd, but tasted pretty good. Of course, they would have tasted a whole lot better with hollandaise sauce on them, but really, what wouldn't?

Crabcakes Benedict

I can't say I'd really rush to return to the Highland Grill, or any of the Blue Plate Restaurant Company places, but I think they provide a good place to go with a crowd because there are a lot of familiar menu options but they also have items that are a little more adventurous. Ben's coworker Scott was VERY disappointed in hearing that we didn't get the Moroccan Lamb Stew. As good as that sounds, it wasn't high on my list of things to have on a warm June night. This is also the same person who doesn't like pizza, pancakes, or french fries so I'm not sure how much I trust his opinion...


Highland Grill (props to them for the new website! Much better than the old one)
771 Cleveland Ave S.
St. Paul

Recommended (but don't go out of your way or anything)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Local

Visited approximately 50 or so times since January 2004


Erin's Review
You may think I am exaggerating in the "50 or so times" above, but as a 20-something working in downtown since 2004, with the Local a mere 2 blocks away from my former workplace, and 6 blocks from my current one, I have been there quite a bit. I used to work in advertising, where someone was quitting pretty much every other week. The Local was the go-to place for "going away" happy hours. Since leaving advertising, I haven't gone to The Local quite as much, but I still enjoy it.

I say that with a huge caveat. I enjoy The Local IF I can find a place to rest my weary bones. I do not mind standing at a bar if there is at least a little place to stand in and not have to move every 2 seconds because you are in the middle of a walkway, or if there is not even a place to put down your beverage. The Local is awesome if you can snag a table. If not, might as well just leave, unless you enjoy being shoved by throngs of people.

The crowd at The Local on Thursday and Fridays from 4:30-7pm is mostly 20-something downtown workers, probably most of them from Target because the headquarters office is right across the street. I think everyone is on the whole pretty friendly here. People know that it is a crowded bar, so you don't get too many people that are all pissy because you have to walk through their group to get to the bathrooms.

I think The Local is a beautiful bar, especially since they remodeled half of it 2 years ago. I love the wood and the windows and the colors of the walls. The outside patio is great too. The only gripe I have with it is that it can get loud being on Nicollet with the buses going by every few minutes. Other than that, it is great. I noticed that this year they have a different configuration to their outdoor tables so that more people can fit there. Great idea on their part.

The Local

The Local

The food at The Local is kind of meh. It's pretty expensive for what you get. Happy Hour is the only time where I think the food is priced at an acceptable level. The Wee Burgers (5 normal sized burgers) for $5.99 are the best deal. I really like their artichoke dip too, and they give you extra flatbread if you ask.

artichoke dip

They used to have a lunch deal - a sandwich, side, drink, tax, and tip for $9.99. I am unsure of if they still have that - I know Kieran's does and they are owned by the same company so I would think the Local still does too. This is a great deal for lunch, that would be made even greater if they still had their club sandwich on the menu. For some inexplicable reason, when they changed the menu 2 years ago, they took off the club sandwich. In my mind, a club sandwich is an essential item at any bar. So that annoyed me and soured me on The Local for a few months.

I shouldn't end my review on that bad note, because really, The Local is one of my favorite downtown happy hour spots. It has a nice atmosphere, a good selection of drinks, and fairly affordable food during happy hour. I know a lot of people like The Local better in the summer with the patio, but I think sitting on the patio has you missing out on the beauty of the inside of The Local. The only reason I like it better in the summer is because it is less crowded inside. I think it is the perfect place to go on a freezing winter day to get some comfort food and a drink.

Ben's Review

Erin and I both work downtown, so we end up going to the Local for happy hour occasionally, its a popular place especially in the warmer months when you can sit outside onNicollet Mall.

The Local is a pretty big place with a really cool Irish decor inside. They pride themselves for serving more Jameson than any other bar (in the city? in the world? I don't know). Behind the bar are dozens of bottles of Jameson to illustrate this point. There is plenty of dark wood trim all around with several semi-private nooks placed throughout the lower level. There is also a smaller upper level that has a couple pool tables, dart boards, and some couches.

Our service at the Local has always been great, I can't even think of a time where I was annoyed at a bartender or a server. The last time we went, which was a couple weeks ago, we had a really cool server who didn't have a problem showing a little attitude. When I asked her opinion on what drink to get, she just kind of looked at me, shrugged, and said "I don't know, what do you want?" as if she was annoyed. Right after I said it I realized it WAS a dumb question, how the hell would she know what I wanted to drink :)

As far as food and drink go, the Local is pretty good. Their taps are "ok" from my perspective, they don't really have a hoppy beer as I recall, but they do have Summit EPA on tap, which suits me just fine. They have a great selection of scotches to choose from, and they are home of the 'big ginger' - a mixture of Jameson (of course) with Sprite and ginger ale (I think that's it). But one of the greatest things about the bar, is that the glasses they serve beer in are huge. They are shaped like a pint glass, but probably hold closer to twenty ounces of beer. The prices may seem a little steep (~$5 for a beer), but it's not all that bad.

The Local
(Erin's drink. Not Ben's. Ben would not drink Cider)

We've eaten at the Local a couple times, and even went there for Valentine's Day one year when Erin had to work late. The happy hour deals on the food are pretty good, you can get five little burgers for about $5 and they have other deals too. The food is pretty standard pub fare - burgers, fish and chips, fish sandwiches etc. and the prices are reasonable for a downtown restaurant.

Wee burgers

The one negative thing that I'll say about the Local is that it gets pretty f-ing busy there during happy hour on Thursdays and Fridays. If you get there at 5 and expect to get a table, good luck, cause it's probably not gonna happen. If you can get there early enough to secure one of the little nooks, you're home free, but you have to get there early :)

  • Service: Service is great, the servers know how to handle a crowd and are friendly.
  • Food: Good pub food, good deals during happy hour.
  • Drinks: The taps are so-so in my opinion, but there's something for everyone. Great scotch selection and full bar.
  • Ambiance: I really like pubs, so The Local is right up my alley - unless it's overrun with downtown yuppies (myself included) at happy hour.
  • Price: Beers are a little expensive, but larger as I mentioned. The food is very reasonably priced, especially during happy hour.
  • Convenience: Not so convenient. The Local is at 10th and Nicollet, so if you don't have to drive, don't. The bus does go right in front of it, however :)
The Local


The Local
931 Nicollet Mall

Highly recommended for happy hour.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Nook

Visited on Sunday, May 25th

The Nook

Ben's Review

Erin and I initially tried to hit up Skinners on Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend to get some nachos and pizza. We got to Skinners around 8:30 or so and ordered two beers. Then I asked for a menu to get some food and the bartender (Mr. Skinner?) told me the kitchen wasn't open that day. Bummer. We were starving and we just got a beer, so we downed the beers post haste to find someplace that had food.

After some quick deliberation we settled on the Nook on Hamline Ave. across from Cretin-Derham Hall. It was surprisingly (to me) busy for a Sunday night, the place was nearly packed. We got a table right away though, towards the back of the restaurant.

Inside of the Nook

We each ordered another beer (Element 115 for me) and some cheese curds as an appetizer. The cheese curds were real greasy, more than cheese curds are supposed to be. I could only stomach a couple of them, they were just too much for me. Again following Erin's Dad's advice of "when you're at a burger place, get a burger" I ordered the Cusburger that was a bacon cheeseburger with sliced green pepper on top.


My burger was excellent, as expected. On the way into the restaurant I saw them making fries and I noticed that they were the "homestyle" fries that I don't like so I wasn't expecting to like the fries. I was pleasantly surprised though, because the fries were also very good. Not as greasy as the cheese curds and they had good structure.

Ben's burger

One thing that was a little odd was that at a certain point, maybe a little after 9pm they turned the music WAY up and started playing a strange mix of music. There was a Buffalo Springfield pop remix followed by several Metallica songs. It was weird.

I did like the abundance of flat panel TVs throughout the bar, and they've got a lot of local historical stuff on the walls, newspaper articles, local sports stories, lots of Cretin-Derham hall stuff (Joe Mauer and Matt Birk both have burgers on the menu). The decor is cool, it gives you some reading material too :)

  • Service: Service was OK, I recall having to wait awhile a couple times for a refill or the bill.
  • Food: Great burgers and fries, cheese curds were too greasy.
  • Drinks: Decent amount of taps, with a couple micro brews on tap as well (Flat Earth, Summit).
  • Ambiance: The weird music aside, I like the atmosphere at the nook, its a cozy neighborhood bar with a lot of history.
  • Price: Our total was around $35 before tip I believe, pretty standard.
  • Convenience: Parking can be tough if you go on a weekend night, there's only street parking available.

Erin's Review
First, I'd like to express my extreme displeasure at Skinner's for not having their kitchen open last Sunday. It was a weekend night because of the holiday, so it was really strange to me that it was closed, especially since the explanation was nonexistent. Very sad. We went there once before and I was impressed with the food there - it was a step above normal dive bar food.

By the time we finally decided on and arrived at The Nook, I was ravenous, and halfway drunk from chugging a beer on an empty stomach. We ordered the cheese curds right away so that we could get some food in our bellies. I really enjoyed them. Ben is not a good judge of cheese curds, I don't know if he's ever really had more than one or two. I'm guessing no. He hates the State Fair and tends to get a little bit of an upset tummy from greasy food so take his judgment for what it's worth. I, on the other hand, quite enjoyed the cheese curds. They were nice and hot and delicious.

Cheese Curds

We actually have been to The Nook once before, prior to starting this blog, so this wasn't really a new dining experience. I ordered the same thing I had last time, the Juicy Lucy. I just love them, so ordering anything else really isn't an option for me. This one didn't disappoint. As I mentioned in the Groveland Tap review, this is my favorite Juicy Lucy that I've had. I also liked that it came with fries! I didn't really like the fries that much - weirdly enough. I guess Ben and I have opposite fry tastes. I thought these were really dry. I like lots o grease I guess!

Juicy Lucy after a bite

The Nook is a pretty small place and has kind of an odd vibe. The waitstaff at The Nook is pretty young (perhaps that is why their website is a page), and thus the music selection reflects that - there was a lot of loud rock and rap when we were there, which didn't seem to fit with the "neighborhood bar" feeling of the place.

They have made some improvements with the layout since the last time we were there (can't really remember when, sometime in early winter of this year). The bathrooms now have a wall in front of them, so there isn't a table right outside the door of a one person bathroom. The doors aren't exactly "solid" feeling either, so this is a great addition, especially with their abundance of greasy food. Someone who will remain nameless had a bit of a bad reaction to the Friday fish fry he had last time we were there, so he choose to run across the street to the Oasis gas station instead of using the bar's bathroom lest he ruin the dining experiences of the people sitting right outside the men's room.

This place is a fun neighborhood bar, and as Ben said, it has a lot of history - there are tons of articles on the wall, and it was featured on some TV show, so it's worth it to go at least once. If I lived near there, I'd go quite often.

Nice sign
(any bar with this sign in it is alright in my book)

The Nook
492 Hamline Ave. S.
St. Paul

Highly recommended for the burgers!