Friday, February 29, 2008

Punch Pizza

Visited on Thursday, February 28th with Kyle and Kate

Punch Pizza

(This normally would say “Punch Pizza”... you’ll have to use your imagination)

Erin’s Review

Punch Pizza used to have a strict policy that no one was allowed to take photos of their ovens. This guy tried and was denied, and it has been discussed on flickr as well. They must have seen all this and realized it was bad press, because they decided to change their policy, and start a contest to see who could take the best photos of their ovens, pizzas, and “moments” – seemed like a good enough excuse to head over there! The contest ends on March 1st so we went on Thursday – Kyle and Kate came and Kate brought her whole photography arsenal… I was more than a little jealous! She’ll be blogging some of her photos here.

Punch Pizza

Annnnnnnnyway, our first visit to Punch was a delight. It was a great place to go on a cold crappy February night for some pizza, wine, and great company. It is a pretty small place, so it might be hard to get a table if it is busy. Luckily for us, it wasn’t (probably due to the weather) so we sat right down.

The service was fine – I don’t remember much, good or bad, about it. Our waitress didn’t mind that Kate and I were taking photos all over the restaurant, and no one else in the place seemed to care either. They are probably used to it by now, since their contest has been going on for about a month now.

The food was awesome – I started out with a small Greco Salad, which had just the right amount of everything, although I usually like tomatoes on my salads and this one didn’t have any. Maybe that is the “right” way to prepare a greek salad? I’m not sure. The best part about the salad was the delicious focaccia that came with it – if you go, definitely order a starter just so you can get that bread!

Punch Pizza

Because Ben had a huge lunch that day (at Fogo de Chao – post about that is upcoming), we split the Toscano pizza (sausage, roasted red pepper, cracked red pepper, and basil) instead of each getting our own. This pizza was great! I loved the flavor of the basil – something on the pizza was a bit spicy, perhaps the cracked red pepper, and it gave it just the right amount of zing. I also thought the crust was a good consistency (I'm not sure if that is the right word for it, but oh well) in that it wasn't too crispy or too chewy - it was just right. I've heard reports where people say that the crust has huge black char marks from the oven that make it taste too much like charcoal, but this wasn't the case with our pizza.

Punch Pizza

I also got 2 glasses of the Rosso wine – tasted good to me! Also, it was $4 per glass, which was pretty good. I HATE paying over $5 for a glass of wine because I can’t tell the difference anyway. I truly do like $3 Chuck, so a good glass of wine is lost on me. I plan to build up my palate in the future, but I’m definitely not there yet. (which is probably a good thing, since my budget isn’t there yet, either)

Ben’s Review

We drove to Punch Pizza in St. Paul while there was some snow coming down, so we expected a frustrating drive from downtown Mpls to the restaurant, but it was surprisingly quick. We had to drive up and down Cleveland Ave. a couple times before we found the place, though, because snow had gathered on the awning and we couldn't see the sign.

I had never been to Punch Pizza before but I was expecting a yuppie kind of atmosphere, a place where people have wine with their pizza instead of beer, and I was right :)

We met our friends Kyle and Kate there, Erin and Kate both had wine while Kyle and I opted for beer. The beer selection is small, maybe 6 bottles and no taps, and a little pricey; it was $4.50 for my bottle of Anchor Steam.

Punch Pizza

I had been to Fogo de Chao earlier in the day so I wasn't all that hungry yet. Erin ordered a salad before our pizza came out, I had no appetizer. The pizza we had was really good, it was the kind of pizza that isn't overly greasy and filling. Its thin crust, but the crust isn't crunchy, probably due to their wood burning ovens where the pizza lays on the stone surface.

Erin and Kate took an obscene amount of pictures while we were there because Punch was having a photo contest for the best photos of their restaurant; they're giving away several prizes totaling $3000.

Punch Pizza

The ratings:

  • Service: The service was prompt and friendly, our server checked in with us at good intervals, she didn't hassle us even though we stayed for ~3 hours.
  • Food: The food is great and they have plenty of options for all tastes.
  • Drinks: The beer selection was small, but they had a decent variety. I was disappointed with the lack of tap beer though.
  • Ambiance: The restaurant isn't very big which makes it kind of cozy, especially with the wood burning oven visible from the eating area. Several other tables stayed as long as we did, so it seems like a place where they don't mind if you want to hang out for awhile.
  • Price: The food was priced reasonable, the beers were a little more expensive.
  • Convenience: We didn't have to wait for a table, but since its a small place I could see them filling up quickly some nights. Plenty of off street parking nearby with a small parking lot out front. Easy access off of 94.

Deets:

Punch Pizza

704 Cleveland Ave S.

St. Paul, MN

(other locations in NE, Eden Prairie, SLP, and Wayzata)

Price: I’m not really sure because we just split the bill… but their prices are on the website. The pizzas are around $7-10.

Highly recommended for the delicious and affordable pizzas!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Maxwell's, RIP

Fire at Maxwell's Cafe

(Thank you to Bree R on flickr for letting me use his photo!)


I, Erin, would like to take a moment to mourn the passing of our favorite bar, Maxwell's. We had a fairly short and passionate love affair with Maxwell's, only discovering it late summer of 2007. I am hopeful that the bar will come back just as it was, with hopefully slightly less wobbly chairs.

As most of you know, Maxwell's was badly damanged in a fire last week. Check out the Star Tribune story here. It is quite a sight to see now, because all the water that was used to put out the fire froze immediately, so it gives it the look of a ghost bar. There are some awesome photos on flickr of the fire here.

Here are my top 10 reasons to love Maxwell's:

10. Who doesn't love a bar with the tagline: more taps than tables! It is true. I counted. 16 taps, 15 tables.

9. There is always a table of cops sitting there. Why, I am not sure... but it is entertaining.

8. Friendly staff who will not be annoyed if you sit there for 15 minutes waiting for their specials to start. They also did not appear to be annoyed when I went there for my 26th birthday with many friends. Ben also insisted on telling the server about 20 times that we had a "big group of people coming." I'm sure she thought we were huge losers because we sat there for at least an hour before anyone else showed up.

7. Specials EVERY night - and good ones too!

6. Easy parking.

5. Almost always an open table.

4. Ice in the urinal trough in the men's bathroom (or so I am told)

3. Very nice decor - lots of cool Minneapolis photos on the walls, exposed brick, and a pressed tin ceiling.
DSC09063

(the only photo I have that shows the wall and a photo.... and Ben.... and Justin)

2. Cheap late night appetizers that are tasty to boot!

1. And finally, my number 1 reason to love Maxwell's has to be the $3 Miller Lites as large as your head on Fridays after 9pm.
I love $3 huge beers

(It appears that I did not have a Miller Lite that night, which I find alarming. What was I thinking?!)
UPDATE: Apparently there is a Facebook group about rebuilding - check it out!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Al's Breakfast

Visited on Friday, February 22nd

Al's Breakfast

Al's Breakfast
Erin's Review
Ben gets into the details of the experience in his review, below, so I will mostly talk about the food. At pretty much every breakfast place that has it available, I order Eggs Benedict. Al's was no exception. I liked that I could order one egg instead of the traditional two, and I did like that there was the option to have no side dish, as for most, the Eggs Benedict would be enough. I would have liked this more if one egg wasn't $5.20... that seems to be a rip off to me, because at most places $8 will get you 2 Eggs and hash browns.

Eggs Benedict

Al's Eggs Benedict was very good - not the best I have had (which in my opinion can be found at the Egg & I) but very well made. The egg was perfectly poached - I hate it when the egg is either not poached at all and done over easy instead, or when the poached egg is over done. That will ruin a good Eggs Benedict for me. The English Muffin was toasted perfectly, and the ham was thinly sliced which is my preference. Now comes the real test - the hollandaise sauce. Al's hollandaise sauce was clearly homemade and not from a can, which is a good sign. It had more of a lemony flavor than I am used to, so it was a little tart for my taste. I did order a side of hash browns, and they were nice and crispy. I could have used a little more hollandaise sauce to have with my hash browns but that is probably because I only ordered 1 egg instead of 2. They did give me the extra half of the english muffin which I had with the jam that was in a jar in front of every seat - it was very tasty.

The coffee was very good and the staff was great about refilling cups. The sugar dispenser was a little annoying to me because I like a LOT of sugar in my coffee and it came out of the little hole in the side very slowly.

Cream and Sugar

I must admit that I felt a little uncomfortable at Al's because we aren't regulars... I think that was all in my head though. Waiting in line was fine because I expected it, but in winter it gets really crowded because of all the coats on the back wall.

Inside Al's Breakfast

Ben's Review

We headed out the door with quarters for the meter around 9:45 on the morning of the 22nd. We got to Al's a few minutes later and the line was about 8 people deep. We purposely went on a Friday morning hoping that it would be a little less busy than on a weekend.

We had to wait about a half hour to get one of the ~15 spots at the counter, we were situated right in the middle. During our wait we checked out the menu, so we already knew what we wanted. Even though I'm not a big breakfast eater, I went for the Dinkytown omelet which consisted of two eggs, ham, onions, and cheddar cheese.

Dinkytown Omelette

The food arrived hot off the griddle, since it had only 10 feet to travel from Doug the cook to our seats. My omelet was a little salty (due to the ham, I think) but delicious nonetheless and I finished nearly all of it, and it came with a side of toast.

The coffee was also good, the coffee pots said 'Asplund' on the sides, so I suspect that's the brand they serve, I remember serving the same coffee when I waiting tables at Byerlys.

One of the primary reasons to visit Al's is the environment. The restaurant is squeezed in the alley between two other buildings, so its incredibly narrow. When you are waiting in line you simply stand behind the people eating at the counter. Because of its smallness you can also see the cook making your food, and watch and listen as he interacts with the other employees, andthats part of the fun. Some quotes:

"Do you have those eggs for me, wench?!"

"Doug, is the maple syrup in the fridge?"
"Well, it either is, or it ISN'T!"

Doug the cook

We ended up seated next to Timberwolves TV announcer and former Gopher basketball player Jim Petersen, who got a big kiss on the cheek from Doug the cook when he discovered it was his birthday, just to top off the eccentricity of the meal.

On to the ratings:

Service: The servers were excellent, it helps when they have nowhere to hide.
Food: The food was hot and fresh, and except for the saltiness of the omelet I thought everything tasted great.
Drinks: Coffee, kind of hard to screw it up.
Ambiance: I liked the banter between the cook, servers, and back cooks, it made for good entertainment.
Price: The food was a little overpriced. My omelet was reasonable, right around $5 for the omelet and toast, but Erin's eggs benedict was $5 for a single egg, with no side dish.
Convenience: Al's is not very convenient, but I think thats part of the allure. It can be a novelty experience to stand in cramped quarters waiting for a seat, but its not something I'd want to do on a regular basis, especially if the lines goes out the door in the wintertime.

Deets:
Al's Breakfast
413 14th Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN

Price: $20 (incl. tip) for Eggs Benedict + hash browns, Dinkytown omelet, and 2 coffees

Recommended
for breakfast (but only with one other person at most)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

331 Club

Visited on Thursday, February 21st, 2008 with Rett and Becky.

331 Club

Ben’s Review:

We got to the 331 Club around 8pm and the place was nearly empty, except for a couple at a table and some people at the bar. I liked the style of booths they had, they were the half circle style that you can fit six people.

331 Club

There was no pretense of getting service at the table, as the place card clearly said “Come to the bar for service” next to the list of sandwiches and wines. 331 Club doesn’t have a huge amount of beers on tap (6 I think?) but they had the right beers: Bell’s Two Hearted, Surly Bender, Guinness, Summit EPA, and the lone light beer Grain Belt (we were in nordeast, after all). Rett and I also tried the cosmos since they were on special that night for $2.50, we played it off as if we were ordering them for the girls, but I don’t think we fooled the bartender.

Their menu is small, they have about six sandwiches you can order that come with kettle chips. Erin and I both tried to order the 331 Club sandwich, but they were all out?? I’m not sure how you can be “out” of a sandwich, but whatever. I opted for the patty melt instead, and it didn’t disappoint.

Patty Melt

Around 9 o’clock the band started playing. The volume was set to 11 which meant that the conversation was effectively over, for me at least. The first song wasn’t very good, so I was mostly annoyed. The band consisted of a guitar player and a drummer, like the Black Keys, and their second song sounded like them as well, it was awesome. I went to the bar to get another beer during the second song and I noticed that the guitar player was wearing a Chicago Bulls t-shirt from their 1993 championship season…………sweet.

I think I’m going to rate the places we go on several different categories:

  • Service – I liked that there was specific mention to go to the bar, but nothing to set them apart.
  • Food The menu was small but the food tasted great.
  • Drinks – Great tap selection, and plenty of liquor to choose from
  • Ambiance – I hate loud bands, if I want a concert, I’ll go to a concert. They also had a DJ later on, also loud.
  • Price – We were there on a Thursday, so it was $1 off taps until 10 ($4.25 normal price) so the price was simply “ok”
  • Convenience – Plenty of tables available and ample on-street parking.

Erin’s Review:

I really enjoyed this bar. I have yet to go to a bar in NE that I haven’t liked, with the notable exception of Gasthof’s. My hatred of that bar runs deep and may merit an entire post later. We’ll see.

Like Ben, I was disappointed at the lack of the 331 Club Sandwich. Whenever a place is out of their signature item, it can’t be a good sign. I think at some point this place must have a more extensive menu (which can be seen on their website) than what was offered when we were there, but I’m not sure when that is. Perhaps one of our loyal readers can weigh in on this point.

I ended up getting the ham and cheddar instead of the club, and it was very tasty. Sometimes I do not like melted cheddar cheese because it doesn’t melt very well and I feel it loses its flavor in the melting process, but this was a delicious cheese. The ham was not too thick or thin, and the bread was nicely toasted. This sandwich came with chips and a pickle and there were a good amount of chips. I prefer chips with ruffles, but these were okay, I guess.

Ham and Cheddar

I was disappointed that they did not have my favorite beer, Miller Lite, on tap. I had to make due with Grain Belt, which tasted better than I remember. The last time I had Grain Belt I thought it smelled really disgusting, but this time I didn’t notice that.

The d├ęcor of this bar was so-so – I liked the pressed tin ceiling, and the chalkboard menu, but I thought it could have had some artwork on the walls or something to give it a little more pizzazz.

331 Club

As for the price, I thought the food was overpriced but the drinks were a good value. My ham & cheddar was $6.75, which seems to me to be quite a rip off. For that price, I think it should have come with French fries or some other side dish besides crappy chips. A more appropriate price for this meal at this location would be $5.

I usually am not a huge fan of live music. I almost always would rather just sit in my living room listening to music where I can sing along at top volume without anyone judging me. This band was actually pretty good, although a little too loud given the fact that there were approximately 10 people in the bar. The singer was especially good. All 4 of us agreed that she would definitely make it to the top 12 of American Idol if given the chance. Also, in case you couldn’t tell from Ben’s slightly confusing review of the music above, he DID enjoy the band a lot, which was made apparent by the fact that he said “these guys are awesome” several times throughout the night.

The awesome singer

Deets:

331 Club

331 NE 13th Ave (at University)
Minneapolis, MN

Total Price (incl. tip) for 2 sandwiches, 1 cosmopolitan, and 5 beers: $38 and No cover charge for music ever (but they do come around asking for donations for the band if you so choose).

Recommended for a casual night out with friends.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Muffuletta

Muffuletta was the first place that Ben and I went off of our list, probably in early spring (I think that is when City Pages publishes their Best of list... although I can't tell from their stupid website).

This was a spontaneous outing, we decided right before we left work that we wanted to eat out that night, and picked Muffuletta as the spot. We got there pretty early for dinner (right around 5pm) so the place was empty. I remember having the Gnocchi which was very good - I haven't had gnocchi very often so I don't have much to compare it to, but it sure tasted delicious to me!

I'm pretty sure Ben had some sort of burger which he also enjoyed, and whatever their special soup was. This was just a quick dinner so I don't even think we had drinks. Service was fast and friendly (probably because we were the only people there!).

If we want to actually try the now 60+ restaurants on our list, we can't really go back to the same place twice, but I do want to visit Muffuletta again. I've heard great things about their Sunday brunch and I'd like to come back later at night to have a more lengthy dinner experience.

I would highly recommend Muffuletta - beyond the great food, it is just a beautiful restaurant in a very cute neighborhood.

-Erin

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We may go broke

Last year when the City Pages Best of 2007 came out, I started a list of all of the restaurants that I wanted to try in the Twin Cities. For some reason, we kept going to the same places over and over again... and while some of them were good, it was time to branch out. We have tried a few of the new places since I made that list, and Ben or I will blog about them soon. As you can see from the list of restaurants on the home page, we have about 60 places we want to try... so we might go broke. We are limiting ourselves to once per week at the most, and we'll have to mix in the more expensive places sparingly.

Hopefully this gives you the reader some ideas for new places to try - while I am not against big chains, it will only help keep this area awesome if we promote independent restaurants instead of going to Olive Garden over and over again!

If you have any suggestions for us (especially cheaper places... ) leave a comment and we'll add them to the list!

-Erin