Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cafe Twenty Eight

Visited on Friday, February 13th with Ben's parents Greg and Lisa

Outside Cafe Twenty Eight

Ben's Review
My dad recently became a big fan of Surly beer so we planned to go on a brewery tour with my mom and dad and then out to eat afterward. Upon learning that Cafe 28 was co-owned by one of the Surly brewers, we decided to head over there after the tour to continue the Surly theme of the evening.

I did a poor estimating job and made the reservations for 8:40 because the tour was scheduled from 6-8. We got done a little early at the brewery, so we were really early for our reservation. We only had to wait ten minutes or so, and there is plenty of reading material in the lobby of Cafe 28. The restaurant is in an old fire station that has a lot of old newspaper clippings on the walls from old Minneapolis papers.

Cafe Twenty Eight Hallway

After we were seated I was browsing through the beer list, and although they had plenty of Surly available, I was feeling a little "surlied out" from the beer we had while on the tour. It was odd feeling, to be sure :) I still went with the Furious just because nothing else jumped out at me. They do have an extensive list of beers, so if you're looking to try something new I have no doubt that you could find it here.

Inside Cafe Twenty Eight

We ordered a small chorizo pizza for an appetizer that was really good, it had a crispy crust and a good mix of meat and cheese. The burgers on the menu were sounding very appetizing, even though I just had gotten a burger at Salut AND we made burgers at home last week. Still, they sounded good, but Erin convinced me to get the pork in adobo sauce and she would get the burger so we could try each other meals.

Spanish Chorizo Oven Crisp Pizza

After getting our food I was very glad that I took her advice because the pork in adobo sauce was excellent. It came with a side of black beans and salsa and when you mixed it all up, mmmm boy! I really want to try and make a similar dish at home now, it doesn't seem like it should be that difficult. My mom got the grilled pork loin and my dad got one of the specials for the day, scallops in some sort of sauce. I did not try either of their meals but they both claimed to like their food :)

Fisher’s Farm Pork in Adobo

Fisher’s Farm Grilled Pork Loin Scallops Special

By the time we left I was totally stuffed. After drinking beer at the tour, then having the pizza, some bread, and my large meal, I was ready for sleep. We were still heading up to NE Mpls for a birthday gathering, so sleep had to wait a couple hours.

  • Service: The service was great, the host sat us early and the server was a nice guy.
  • Food: My pork in adobo was awesome, Erin's burger was just OK.
  • Drinks: Good beer list and plenty of wine choices. No hard alcohol I believe.
  • Ambiance: It's certainly cozy at Cafe 28. It's a small restaurant to begin with and then the lights are dimmed a bit to make it even more intimate.
  • Price: Cafe 28 is a little on the expensive side, especially if you're drinking. With exotic beers come exotic prices. I only had one beer so it wasn't too bad, but I wouldn't go here for a couple drinks. The food is more reasonably priced, with the entrees ranging from $10 to $19.
  • Convenience: Not so much. I find Linden Hills to be an inconvenient place to go as there is no major road to get there and you have to maneuver around the lakes. No parking lot, but there were several spots available on the street.
Erin's Review
After touring Surly Brewing, it seemed only appropriate to go down to Linden Hills to Cafe Twenty Eight, co-owned by Surly brewer Todd Haug. The restaurant was packed when we got there slightly early for our reservation, so we spent some time reading all of the memorabilia in the entryway.

Inside Cafe Twenty Eight

Inside Cafe Twenty Eight

We were seated as soon as a table opened up, and immediately ordered the chorizo pizza. 8:30pm is a little later than we usually eat, so we were all starving! I also ordered Surly Mild to continue the Surly experience. I had tried Cynic Ale, Bender, and Three at the brewery so this was a new one for me. It was quite good - and as the name implies, very smooth and mild. I believe those who are into beer would call it a session beer.

Surly Mild

The pizza and bread we were brought soon after being seated were both very tasty. I couldn't really pay too much attention to the flavors because I was very intent on just getting something besides beer in my stomach.


Even though I looked at the menu beforehand, I still had no idea what to get. A burger seemed kind of lame, but I finally decided to go with that because nothing else was jumping out at me and I needed to order. I knew Ben wanted to try it, so I got the one with cheddar and bacon because that was his preference. The beef at Cafe Twenty Eight is ground at some place right around the corner. I don't know if I'm used to burgers that are premade but this one tasted different to me. It wasn't better or worse, just different. I thought the burger was fine, but everyone else's meals looked much better. The fries were quite good - I liked them more than Salut - they seemed fresher. I loved Ben's pork - I would highly recommend that dish if you go to Cafe Twenty Eight!

Clancy's Organic Beef Burger

As I mentioned in our post about Salut, I love small intimate neighborhood restaurants, so unsurprisingly, I loved Cafe Twenty Eight. The interior reminded me of a Pottery Barn catalogue and it just felt very cozy and warm. I feel like this is the type of place you could stay and linger over a meal without feeling rushed. I would love to come back during the day because I'll bet the space is even more beautiful when filled with sunlight. Linden Hills is kind of a pain to get to from our house, so I don't know how soon we'll be back, but if we are in the area I'd definitely love to go for brunch or lunch.

Inside Cafe Twenty Eight

Cafe Twenty Eight
2724 West 43rd Street

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Restaurant Week!

For those of you who enjoy eating at fine dining establishments for very low prices, check out all of the restaurants in the cities that are offering Restaurant Week specials for the week of March 1st through 6th.

There are quite a few participating restaurants that we have on our list (see right) so we are currently trying to figure out where to go! Our options are below.

Bayport Cookery
Bradstreet Crafthouse
Cave Vin
Il Vesco Vino
W.A. Frost

La Belle Vie is also on our list, but we are already planning on going there soon for another occasion. Factors to consider are value (does the RW menu even offer a deal off normal menu prices?) , menu options (my unfortunate dislike for goat cheese, specifically) , and distance from St. Paul. Comment and let us know where you would go and why!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Salut Bar Américain

Visited on Saturday, February 7th with Jake and Allison

Outside Salut

Erin's Review
Salut is one of those places on our list that has come up a number of times, but we always ending up choosing somewhere else that seemed more exciting. We finally decided to go there last Saturday with Jake and Allison. I've always heard good things about the place, and it seemed like the kind of restaurant that is a crowd pleasing place, with something for everyone.

After perusing the menu online, I decided before even getting there to go with one of the sandwiches since they were much cheaper than the entrees. I have had the Croque Madame at Vincent a few times before, but not for several years, so I decided to go with that. I was glad to have already chosen my entree before getting there, because we had to wait awhile before being seated and I was starving.

Inside Salut

(one of two dining areas)

While deciding on drinks, I was hoping that others would want to split a bottle of wine because there were some reasonable choices, unfortunately I was the lone wine drinker of the night. I love how Salut has cheap, acceptable, and good options for their house wines :) I chose the acceptable option and it was just fine with me! They brought out a small appetizer of roasted garlic crostini (I think - if they described this I don't recall) which was much needed due to the aforementioned hunger. I loved the bread that we got - it was warm and crusty and delicious. They also were fine with bringing us more when someone asked for it which was great!


Little Thingie

Our food came out relatively quickly based on how busy the restaurant was, and my Croque Madame was wonderful. The egg wasn't overdone and the ham and cheese had wonderful flavor. I got the fries with it, which I thought were pretty good, but when you hear over and over again that something is AMAZING, it's hard not to be a little let down. They were good but don't go in expecting too much :)

Croque Madame

I really liked Salut, and I would go back if someone else wanted to go, but wouldn't choose it on my own. I really like smaller, more intimate restaurants, and Salut felt really huge and impersonal. The food is solid and the service was good though, so I would not hesitate to recommend Salut to anyone.


so clever.

Ben's Review

We were going out with our friends Jake and Allison and since we had been going to Thai and sushi places the last couple times we've been out with them, Jake requested somewhere NOT Thai or sushi :) We decided on Salut on Grand Ave. in Saint Paul, even though they had been to the Minneapolis location before. I was excited because I had heard that their fries are fantastic, so I was looking forward to a good burger and fries.

We had reservations for 7:30 and we got there right on time. Salut has an enormous dining area when you combine the dining room and the abundance of bar seating that is available. In spite of all the space it was still completely full, we had to wait about ten minutes to get our table because people were not leaving quickly enough. I would guess there were about four other parties who were also waiting to be seated, it would appear Salut has been unaffected by the economy so far.

Inside Salut

(waiting at the bar for our reservation)

We were seated in the back corner of the dining room which was nice as it was pretty loud in the restaurant and this way we could actually hold a conversation without yelling. Unfortunately, the foursome at the next table DID feel the need to yell and laugh obnoxiously the entire time we were there. They MIGHT have been drinking to excess, I couldn't be sure :)

I ordered a gin and tonic foregoing my usual beer. I wasn't in the mood for a beer and the cocktail was really good, it came in a large low ball glass and it was strong enough for my liking. After looking over the menu a bit I went with my initial choice of cheeseburger and fries (royale with cheese). By this time we were starving and the bread that was brought out was promptly devoured, they brought out two whole baguettes so we all got plenty.


Jake and I both got the cheeseburgers and they didn't disappoint. They were huge, with cheddar and thick, chewy bacon. It was a good thing we were hungry, between the burgers, fries, and bread it was quite the meal. The fries were not as good as I had been hoping they would be. It seemed that the fries had been sitting under a heat lamp for a little bit, which is understandable, and if they had been hot from the fryer I bet they would have been much better.

Le Cheeseburger Royale

While we were there, we probably saw six people getting the birthday treatment of a big-ass cupcake with candles, etc. Salut seems to be a popular place for birthdays, at least on that night. The cupcake was big enough to share with the whole table so I can see why it would keep people coming back, it looked delicious.

We got out of there spending around $45, not too bad for dinner, a drink, tax, and tip.

Outside Salut

  • Service: Our server was really friendly and helpful, it was busy but I didn't feel neglected.
  • Food: Excellent burgers and the fries have potential, I might have to try again for happy hour someday.
  • Drinks: My cocktail was strong, like I like them. I also hear the martinis are good.
  • Ambiance: This is very much a loud, humming restaurant when it's busy - in a good way. It was loud without being overwhelming.
  • Price: Not bad prices, especially for the portion sizes, you won't be hungry.
  • Convenience: Parking on Grand Ave. can be a headache, but as long as you are prepared to walk a block or two it's not that bad.


Salut Bar Américain
917 Grand Avenue
St. Paul

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Blue Door Pub

Visited on Thursday, January 29th with Nate and Molly

Blue Door Pub

Ben's Review
We finally made it to the Blue Door Pub (BDP) last Thursday with our neighbors, Nate and Molly. The previous two times we had tried to go, the place was packed and the wait time was substantial. This time, we were determined to wait it out, regardless of how long it took. It was still packed on a Thursday night, and we waited around twenty five minutes to get a table. Since the BDP is so small there's no room to have a waiting area, you just have to kind of stand around other tables of people eating their delicious burgers and drinking beer while you wait for your turn. We did get some beers while we waited, so not all was lost.

Inside BDP

Inside BDP

BDP opened up last fall and has gotten only rave reviews since for their burgers and beer selection. I'm disappointed in myself that we hadn't been here sooner, as it's about one mile from our house, even closer than Trotter's, and we both love a good burger. Even better, they recently got Hopslam on tap, although I liked last year's Hopslam better.

Inside BDP

After getting our table we were starving. I had noticed some sort of deep fried appetizer being served to another table that looked good, and the server told me they were cream cheese spam bites - cream cheese, with a piece of spam, breaded and fried. We got an order of those and Nate and Molly got some buffalo wings, both of which were fantastic, I thought. For my burger I went with the Cajun burger and the tater tots. The tater tots at BDP are fried instead of baked, which clearly makes them better. My burger lived up to expectations that I had read about, it was fantastic. Filled with pepper jack cheese and jalapenos made it nice and spicy and the tots were a perfect side dish.

Cajun Blucy with Tots

My only source of disappointment came when I ordered a Surly Furious that I saw on the beer list, but I was brought a Surly Mild. It turns out they had just switched from the Furious to the Mild a day or two before and the beer list had not been updated. I still drank the Mild, but, lets be honest, it's no Furious.

Our server was a nice guy, he talked to us like we were friends rather than customers. We also saw one of the owners walking around talking with people, which I thought was cool. One suggestion I would make to him would be to find some way to get more space. My dad went there for lunch the following Thursday, around 1pm and he said it was packed even then. Clearly BDP can sustain more people :)
  • Service: Excellent service, we were taken care of and the server was a really nice guy.
  • Food: The burgers are fantastic, as advertised. The tots are great (and I don't even like tots that much to begin with).
  • Drinks: They have a great beer list, with a good mix of local brews (Lift Bridge, Surly, Summit).
  • Ambiance: To say BDP is cozy is an understatement. As you eat your meal you will mingle with people standing around you waiting for a table :)
  • Price: The price was right on par with other burger/beer joints. $7-$9 burgers, $4-$5 beers.
  • Convenience: They do have a parking lot that wraps around the back, otherwise you'll need to find a spot on Selby, which isn't too bad.
Erin's Review
If this place was just a little less crowed, or a little bigger, it would give Maxwell's a run for it's money as our favorite bar. As of now, Maxwell's still has a leg up due to always having an open table. The third time was finally a charm for us visiting Blue Door Pub. I would not recommend going there with a group larger than 4 to avoid having to wait longer than 30 minutes for a table. The first time we tried we had 6, and there was already a ton of people ahead of us so we didn't want to have to deal with standing around - especially since one person in our party was approximately 8 months pregnant at the time :) The second time we were just too hungry to wait. This time, Ben and I were both mentally and physically prepared to wait as long as it took to get a table. I'm glad we did - it was definitely worth the wait!

We debated even giving this place another glowing review - clearly they have no issues filling the place at all times so we kind of wanted to write that it sucked to deter a few people from going :) Despite being crowded, everyone is super friendly at BDP - no one seems pissed if you bumped into them, and the servers are very friendly and don't even seem annoyed that everyone is blocking their ability to easily get at their tables.

I knew that I wanted to try Blue Door Pub's signature Juicy Lucy - the Blucy. I also had read that the spam bites were surprisingly good so wanted to give them a try too. They came out quickly and were pretty good - but then again, how could anything with that much cream cheese that is deep fried NOT be good?? I think the ratio of spam to cream cheese could be increased - it seemed like there was way more cream cheese than would be necessary for a tasty bite. They also could be a little smaller - more "bite" sized and less golf ball sized. Still something that is fun to try once.

Spam Bites

I got my Blucy sans side dish, since I was certain that Ben's side of tots would be plenty for both of us, especially after the spam bites. I was correct. I liked the Blucy, but not as much as the traditional Juicy Lucy with American Cheese. What can I say - I have been conditioned to love processed cheese product. The Blucy was well executed, but next time I will try the traditional to see how it measures up against my favorite at The Nook.

The Blucy

The Blucy

Another note about how nice they are here - Nate and Molly ordered their Mushroom Swiss Blucy to share and the kitchen nicely sent it out in 2 separate baskets perfectly split in half. It was definitely a nice touch.

Mushroom Swiss Blucy with fries

I think it's pretty clear based on this review that Ben and I will be back to Blue Door Pub, many many times.

1811 Selby Ave
St. Paul

Monday, February 2, 2009

Birchwood Cafe

Visited on Saturday, January 24th with Scott and Christie

Birchwood Cafe

Erin's Review
While we've gone out with Scott a few times for the blog, Christie was usually not able to come because of her crazy schedule. We finally found a time that would work for everyone and emailed them with a few options for dinner. The pickings are getting a little slim for the low key, casual, affordable restaurants that aren't too far away!

I had mostly heard of Birchwood Cafe as a breakfast place, but I saw that had a fairly decent dinner menu and they served beer and wine. I was glad Scott and Christie chose this place - it was my top pick of the ones we sent them. Birchwood has a focus on organic and sustainable ingredients, which is pretty obvious by looking at their menu.

Inside of Birchwood Cafe

When we got there, I immediately noticed the chocolate banana cream pie in the dessert case and made a note to return to get that after dinner was over. I convinced Ben to go with the Pizza night deal (2 pizzas and a pitcher of beer or bottle of wine for $30), and I got the veggie and he got the meatie. Both have since changed on the online menu, but I happened to take the description from the menu right after we went to caption my photo on flickr - lucky for me since there is no way I would have remembered anything other than black bean puree and cheese.

After ordering, we got one number for our table and sat down to enjoy our beers. Ben and Scott had the pitcher of Surly that came with our pizza night deal, and Christie and I both had Fat Tires. The pizza night would actually be a better deal with the wine because the bottles of house wine are $20 and pitchers of beer are $16.

Scott and Christie got their meals fairly quickly, but as Ben mentions below, ours took a lot longer, despite the server telling us that it would just be a minute. Even though we told Scott and Christie to go ahead and eat, it is annoying to be served at vastly different intervals from your dining companions because someone will be done way earlier than the others. I saw our pizzas sitting out and there were 2 people behind the counter that seemed to look at the ticket and not bring them to us (we were sitting right outside of the counter area). Finally, after at least 10 minutes, our pizzas came out. It wasn't a huge deal, but it seems that at places like this where you order and pay first, no one feels any sense of responsibility for your service.

Cauliflower Risotto Cakes
Christie's Cauliflower Risotto Cakes

Pork and Winter Vegetable Quesadilla
Scott's Pork and Winter Vegetable Quesadilla

Luckily, our pizzas were great so it made up for the wait. I loved my veggie - as I mentioned, it had a black bean puree, roasted corn and red peppers, and was topped with mozzarella and some guacamole. While they have since changed their veggie pizza offering, if this one ever pops up again, I'd highly recommend it!

Veggie Pizza

After finishing the meal, Scott and I headed back up to the counter to get dessert. I noticed the sign for the banana cream pie had been removed, but there were still a few pieces. The person behind the counter informed me that it was now coconut cream instead - still sounded ok to me (although not nearly as good as banana cream). Scott got Key Lime Pie. I tried a bite and it was perfectly tart and creamy. My pie was pretty good, but I really had my heart set on banana so I was a little disappointed. Oh well, I'll get over it.

Coconut Cream Pie

Despite the service mishap, I really want to go back to Birchwood to try their breakfast. I love places like this that are relaxed and affordable, and that also have wonderful food. This place reminded me a lot of Trotters Cafe, but with better decor and ambiance.

Ben's Review
We finally nailed down a night to have dinner with Scott AND his wife Christie after many attempts. We decided on Birchwood Cafe, just north of Lake St. across the river from Saint Paul.

Erin and I arrived at Birchwood and headed inside. I hadn't realized that Birchwood was a place where you order up front and then a server brings your food out when it is ready. I was a little bummed at first, just because I didn't feel like standing in line and making a quick decision, but I got over it, especially after Erin and I ordered a pitcher of Surly Furious. The dining area of Birchwood is not huge and there were only a couple open tables when we arrived. Before ordering Erin and I put our jackets on one of the tables to reserve our spot.

Inside of Birchwood Cafe

Scott and I were splitting the Furious pitcher while Erin and Christie each got a bomber of Fat Tire. Erin and I ordered the special that night of two pizzas and a bottle of wine OR a pitcher of beer for $30. I believe the pitcher of beer alone would normally be $16 so this seemed like a great deal to me.

Inside of Birchwood Cafe

The atmosphere at Birchwood is very casual, there were several children running around while their parents and friends talked and ate. This really is a neighborhood cafe, as it is five blocks north of Lake St., not really where anyone would just pass by, looking for a place to eat. I even thought we were lost on the way there, as it doesn't look like any restaurant would be tucked amongst the houses in the area.

Christie and Scott's food was brought out by a server and he told us that our pizza's would be out in a minute. Erin photographed their food and we waited for our pizza to come. And waited. And then waited some more. Finally a different server noticed our pizzas just sitting under the heat lamps (where Erin had noticed them long ago) and brought them out to us. It was annoying for Scott and Christie to have their food sitting in front of them while we were still waiting for ours. Furthermore, we had paid for the food and left a tip before we received any service. This is kind of crappy because theoretically, no individual server has any reason to try and give you the best service possible. I think in the future at these kinds of places I will not tip on the initial purchase and then leave a tip at the table.

Even though it took awhile, my pizza was still really good. The pizza I got is not on their menu online anymore but it had a combination of some veggies, some meat, and blueberries. The blueberries were a little weird to have on a pizza, but they were good, when I could keep them from rolling off my fork. I ate my whole pizza and some of Erin's (I wasn't really that hungry - it just tasted good).

Meatie Pizza

I think I would go back to Birchwood for breakfast, I get the impression that breakfast is their sweet spot. I had a good time at dinner, but it didn't knock my socks off.
  • Service: I have to say the service was poor because our food sat, waiting to be served, for several minutes while our friends already had their food.
  • Food: My pizza was great and Scott and Christie both enjoyed their food as well.
  • Drinks: Small but satisfactory beer list, something for everyone. They also have several wines. Per their liquor license you need to order food to get served alcohol. I wouldn't come to Birchwood just to drink anyways, it's not that type of place.
  • Ambiance: Very casual and relaxed, you could sit there for hours and use the free wi-fi and I don't think they would care.
  • Price: We got a great deal with our pizza and beer special and the prices otherwise are reasonable for organic and locally grown ingredients.
  • Convenience: Plenty of on street parking as Birchwood is tucked away in a neighborhood.
Birchwood Cafe
3311 East 25th Street