Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Butcher Block

Visited on Thursday, March 10th

Entrance to Butcher Block

Erin's Review
Ben is addicted to buying Groupons and other such coupons lately, and as I have mentioned, we also have a whole bunch of restaurant gift cards that we've had for over a year. The expiration was quickly approaching on our groupon to Butcher Block, so Ben's sister graciously agreed to hang out with Annie for the night so we could go out.

We left shortly after Annie went to bed at 7, and had no problem getting a table for 2 when we got there. It was still pleasantly full there, though, not too many open tables at all. They do a pretty good job of making up for their lack of windows with a nice exposed brick wall and pressed tin ceiling. I usually feel kind of claustrophobic in window-less spaces, so I was glad to see that it still felt open and well lit.

Inside Butcher Block

Ben does a good job describing our pre-dinner experiences, so I will leave that to him, but will note that I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable the wine list was - nothing by the glass was extravagantly priced which I definitely appreciated.

Chicken parmasan

When it came time for food decisions, I told Ben I wanted to split one pasta dish and one meat dish. I was feeling unadventurous that evening, so stuck with the chicken parmesan, mostly because it was paired with mashed potatoes which sounded appealing at the time. Our food came out almost shockingly quick, which is really never that great of a sign. The food was good, but nothing that blew me away. I don't know that I've ever actually ordered chicken parmesan at a restaurant, I was kind of surprised to see the thick layer of melted cheese on top. I am a cheese lover, as you may have realized, so this was a-ok with me. I only had a few bites of Ben's pasta, it was quite rich and I wanted to save room for dessert.

Creme Brulee

After having our fill of our main courses, I checked out the dessert menu. It was pretty standard fare, and I went with the creme brulee. It was very close to over-torched but this actually made the crust nice and crunchy which I love. The custard was smooth and delicious.

I enjoyed our time at Butcher Block, but wouldn't rush to make a return trip. It was kind of a ho-hum Italian place with nothing remarkable about it (besides Ben's favorite server ever), so definitely isn't worth a special trip across city lines for me.

Ben's Review
I find it difficult to turn down a good Groupon deal, so I picked up the deal for the Butcher Block in NE Minneapolis several months ago (November?), thinking that the expiration date of 4/2011 was so far in the future that we wouldn’t have a problem using it by then.

Of course, it’s getting close to April and we still hadn’t used it, so we made plans to have my sister come babysit Annie on a Thursday night while we went out to use the Groupon.

The Butcher Block is located on Hennepin Ave., just north of University. We parked in the ramp behind Kramarczuk’s and walked over. We didn’t have reservations, which wasn’t a problem at all, we got a table immediately. We were seated at the first table next to the door and the tiny bar, which I thought was one of the worse tables, but it turned out to pay dividends later.

inside Butcher Block

Our server stopped by to see if we needed any drinks or appetizers. I wanted to have some wine with our meal, so I wanted something different beforehand. We were in no hurry and weren’t going to order for a little while, so I ordered a bourbon old fashioned and Erin got a glass of wine.

Old Fashioned

Our server brought our drinks out and we told him we were taking our time and he said he’d stop back later. He came back to check on us and the drinks and remarked that he doesn’t get many old fashioneds ordered, though he said that since Mad Men became popular, more people were ordering cocktails in general. He went on to talk about Sazeracs and we talked booze for a minute or two. He left and Erin and I continued our conversation.

A few minutes later I was nearly done with my drink when out of nowhere the server appears beside me and quickly asks “that old fashioned must be getting sweet by now, right?”. Before I could even answer he took the shot of bourbon that he had brought over and dumped it into my drink. I was dumbfounded. After realizing what had just happened, I declared him to be the “best server in the world” to Erin. And he is. And he probably will be forever in my mind, till the day that someone else can top that feat. The only thing that would have rescinded his title was if that shot had showed up on my bill (it didn’t).


We eventually got around to ordering our food, we ordered two entrees that we intended to share, the chicken Parmesan and a rigatoni pasta with creamy sauce and sausage.


Our food came out quickly enough, with my glass of wine as well. The rigatoni was rich and creamy with small chunks of sausage throughout. The portion sizes were certainly large enough, especially given the bread we had beforehand. The chicken parmesan was good, but nothing special, with the standard red sauce and breaded chicken topped with melted cheese.

Erin was easily persuaded (by herself) to order dessert and got the creme brulee, which she allowed me to nibble at a bit. It was very good and I liked it more than I remembered liking creme brulee at other restaurants.

We had a great night out at Butcher Block and I would recommend it. As for the world’s greatest server, we discovered soon after he freshened up my drink that he was actually the bartender, just helping out by covering the table nearest the door. My initial displeasure at the table selection was completely reversed by the stroke of luck of getting an awesome bartender to take care of us.

Service: Best service I will probably ever get.
Food: The food is good, but nothing extraordinary.
Drinks: Full bar, with reasonable beer and wine selections. The bar itself is tiny, fitting only four or five people.
Ambiance: It wasn’t loud, but the volume was at a level where I didn’t feel like people were eavesdropping on us. Friendly people and atmosphere.
Convenience: I believe there is metered parking on Hennepin, but I think it’s pricey. We usually use the parking ramp instead, just so we don’t have to carry quarters.

inside Butcher block

308 E Hennepin Ave

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Town Hall Tap

Visited on Sunday, February 27th with Kris, Erin and Ruby


Ben's Review
While we were in Mexico a few weeks ago we found out that some friends of ours would be nearby on their own vacation. We intended to meet up with them for a night, but that didn’t work out, so we arranged to have dinner after we all got back. Last Sunday we met Kris, Erin, and Ruby for dinner at the recently opened Town Hall Tap at 48th & Chicago.

The Tap has a nondescript entrance, I drove right by it as I was looking for it, so we parked a block away. It is on the same block as Pepitos that we reviewed in 2009 (whoa, it’s been a long time). We arrived around 5:30 in the hopes that it wouldn’t be that busy yet and we could get a table big enough for four adults and two toddlers, but it was already nearly full. If we had waited for a proper six person table it would have been over a half hour wait, as it was we squeezed into a four person table with high chairs at the end.


The bar is enormous and beautiful, all wood with a huge wooden arch over the backing mirror. Kris gave me a little bit of trivia about it, it turns out it’s over 100 years old and they bought it from someone in Illinois and had it delivered here. I don’t want to know what the shipping fees were for that. If we weren’t there with the kids I would have considered sitting there, it was cool.


Our server came around to get our drink orders and even though I looked at the menu, I knew I was getting a Masala Mama, it’s just not right to pass this up. Beer Advocate has it rated as one of the best beers in the country. I wasn’t feeling in the mood for a half pound burger, and I’ve been on a Cuban sandwich kick lately, so I went with that. I’m sad that it took me so long to try the Cuban sandwich, as my total happiness for life would have been so much higher if I had discovered it earlier, even in high school.


I’d like to say that the sandwich was memorable, but to be honest it was just good. Nothing wrong with it at all, but nothing that set it apart from other Cubans. It was big if nothing else, and combined with the fries it was a huge meal. I never eat leftovers from restaurants, so I did my damnedest to finish it there, I think I left a bite or two. But really, you can’t go wrong with a sandwich that has cheese, ham, AND pork. Ham AND pork. It’s really something special.

I had wanted to try another beer before we left, but between the meal and my first beer, I was way too full. Kris and Erin invited us over to their house nearby because Kris had made crepes with caramel topping. This was a pleasant surprise and we, of course, obliged. Annie was a little trooper and made it through for a late bedtime that night, but it was well worth it.

Service: The service was good, we were taken care of, and they were good with the young ones.
Food: Great bar food, and they have a kids menu, but you have to ask for it.
Drinks: Obviously a great beer selection of their own brews and some guest taps. Also a full bar.
Ambiance: It was pretty hopping for 5:30 on a Sunday night, so I can imagine it gets even rowdier later at night.
Convenience: Plenty of on-street parking on Chicago and certainly some bus lines.

Erin's Review
Lately we've been eating out less and less on our own, and more with Annie in tow. Right now, she LOVES to eat and eats a ton, so the days of just bringing along a banana and some cheerios are sadly gone. When setting up dinner with Erin and Kris, I suggested the Tap because I knew they were frequent visitors and liked it. Since it is primarily a bar, obviously, I asked if it was kid friendly. She said the first time they visited, the server scoffed at the idea of a kids menu, saying they didn't have one and didn't plan on it. Low and behold, a few weeks later they apparently realized what neighborhood they were in, and an extensive kids menu was created!



As Ben mentioned, it was packed - I was really thankful that the hostess let us squeeze 2 high chairs on the end of a 4 top table, since there wasn't any other space for a larger group. I was surprised at how busy it was so early in the evening. Apparently this is quite the hot spot! Right when we sat down, the waitress asked if we wanted the pickles appetizer - I heard the words cream cheese in the description and was instantly sold. They came out quickly and were delicious - the blackberry chutney they are served with was a nice alternative dipping option. I also got a light beer. It was pretty good, I only drank half of it, but that's to be expected.


The kids menu has a few pretty good options, nothing all that healthy. I originally was going to order a cup of chili, but the waitress warned me that it would be too spicy. Who knows if it actually would have been, since Annie seems to be able to handle a bit of flavor, but I chickened out. There are chicken "toes" (you know, since chicken don't have fingers), grilled cheese, and ham and cheese. I went with the ham and cheese for Annie. They all come with a side of fries. It would be nice if they had another option, many places have applesauce or carrots. I wasn't going to sweat it for just one night. I brought Annie's milk from home, so I'm not sure if they had that. She ate one of the sandwiches and a few of the fries, and her and Ruby ended up splitting the 2nd sandwich when we stopped at Erin and Kris' house later.


For myself, I ordered the Brewer's Cheeseburger with Wisconsin Casa Creme Cheese and fries. This was huge. Seriously just huge. I could barely finish even half of it. I would have liked some lettuce or onions on the burger, but what can you do. It really was just a cheeseburger, with a thin spread of mayo under the patty but that's it. I guess I should have read the description more literally. It was pretty good, but nothing special.


If we lived in this neighborhood, we would certainly frequent Town Hall Tap - I liked the vibe, and they were accommodating to Annie and Ruby. I might just stick to beers and appetizers, however, or try something new for dinner. It seems to be a solid addition to the other establishments on that block of Chicago in south Minneapolis.


The Town Hall Tap (no separate website, but lots of info on their facebook page)
4810 Chicago Ave S.