It was a Thursday night lull that brought us again to Mayslacks. One of those nights when you are sitting down after a day on the job and the thought of going to the fridge and concocting a delicious dinner sounded more like a marathon than a sprint. This night, we were guided to Mayslacks – no real reason why, just a compass guiding the steering wheel after we pulled out of the driveway to delicious meats.

The place was surprisingly bare. In previous trips to this joint it was either hard to find a table or hard to hear the people across the table because of the joviality of the patrons. Tonight had neither, and it was a wonderful spring night so we headed out to the patio to find the same concentration of people.

A few Summit Maibocks were ordered ($4 a pint this month!) and we looked at the same menu we have looked at over all the years logged since our first visit. Roast beef is, and deservedly so, their best menu item in whatever vessel you choose to eat it with. This time, I went with the Hot Italian Beef  (pictured here) that comes with shoestring fries, cup of au jus  and a generous helping of what I can only define as the spiciest relish I have ever tasted (that came with the resulting 4am wake up call).IMG_6346

The bun was soft, the fries were well cooked and the roast beef was amazing. Like I said before, anything that comes with the beef is worth trying at this place.

Stan Myslajek would still be proud of this place. Put his roast beef in the ring with any competitor an his would still come out on top.

Food: 4.5/5 Roast beef. Garlic, juicy and delicious
Drink: 3/5 impressive list, all beers came mostly flat
Atmosphere: 3/5 If dark and damaged is your thing, this is your place
Overall: 3.5/5 Great food and lots of character in its history

The Valley Lounge takes mancuisine back to its roots. Its the embodiment of where people go to feel comfortable, and in so doing make any newcomers slightly uncomfortable. Its like growing up as a kid and getting invited over to a new friends house for the first time only to discover that his dad never clothes his grease covered keg-gut and there are cats spraying the small child in the corner and the dog crawls out of some newspapers to wander over to lick it off of him. Then your friend, although anxious for you to come, talks about how it is just that way and asks if you want to play outside. That house leaves you with an impression you remember forever and I feel like the Valley Lounge will give me the same feeling this late in life as well.

Valley Lounge
From their web site. Highly Photoshopped – does not represent actual visuals you will see.

I got there early and followed some regulars through an unmarked door to one of the many dining and bars they have. I sat by some tall bar tables with a window and ordered a beer that was delivered promptly. That night they had a Happy Hour special where the kitchen brought out free mini corn dogs for any patron to scoop up and eat. I was about to give them a go when a highly intoxicated man (3 o’clock in the afternoon) started joking with the cook about his food and bumped the bowl containing the dogs, sending one to land with an oil-filled thump on the ground. The cook then picked up that dog, now with the new hair condiment, and plopped it in the man’s drink and went back to the kitchen. Needless to say, I positioned myself back in my chair and continued to drink what I had ordered.

Others from our group came in and we took over the seating area in the dining room and ordered our food and a couple pitchers (“Why do you keep getting pints! That s**t gets expensive. I’m bringing you over pitchers”, our waitress gave us the in). The food was good enough and each person cleaned off their baskets and all the fried goodness that came as extras. By the time that we all got up to leave there were regulars walking by as well that waved us off and shook some of our hands, an odd contrast to how we felt coming in, but we are known to have that effect on people…

Food: 2/5 order the staples and you be fine.
Drink: 3/5 good specials and they have the standards.
Atmosphere: 2/5 not a great first impression…
Overall: 2/5 Abrasive, but oddly comfortable by the end.

website: www.valleylounge.com

If you live in the Twin Cities you have heard of Surly Brewing Co., beer drinker or not. They are a powerhouse of both brewing and initiating movements – it was the Surly Bill that opened the door for the over 100 brewery/taprooms that are now open in Minnesota where there were less than 10 in early 2011. We have been to Surly’s taproom restaurant many times since it had opened but always for family gatherings or to meet old friends, so our focus was on who we were with and not our surroundings or even what we had. With the temperature dropping below 0 outside and the holidays over we ventured over with hopes that others were going to stay indoors.

The place is a spectacle even by the time your turn onto their street. Located in a field of abandoned grain silos Surly is a beacon of modern. Their sign is a concrete sculpture and right after you walk through the football field of a parking lot you can take a moment to warm up with their olympic style torch at their front door. The interior is an homage to cement and stainless steel with a wood accent poetically conveying the idea of their growth.  Within their vast space is also a sea of people waiting to get a table or just a horizontal plane to set their beer down on. Our wait time on this blustering night was an hour and ten minutes, the hostess informing us that it was a “very typical wait these days”. We would like to think of it as more time for sampling the beer… Looks like our plan to avoid the crowd did not work, even on this frigidly cold day.

Surly Brewing Co. Destination Brewery Beer Hall and Restaurant
View of the beer hall

The hall is alive with streams of employees picking up empty glassware and dishes, and it was an ebb and flow to the people standing on the outskirts waiting for the levee to open and be given a table in the center. The fault in their layout was that the bar had only a small section where those waiting could come up and grab a beer, causing confusion as to who was in line or just standing around. It did seem that there is no ‘Minnesota Nice’ when it comes to getting in front of someone waiting for a beer here, with many groups properly directioned to where they should queue.

The beer list that is served every day is impressive – breaking the choices down by malt-forward and hop-forward categories with a few other beers not being able to be defined as thus as well.  Being regulars of Surly’s section in the coolers around town we tried a few irregulars (Devil’s Work and Witches Tower) and had wished we ordered those as tasters since we were unimpressed with the styles, but happy to have tried them at the source instead of grabbing them in four packs at home (are they even available elsewhere?).

Given a German beer-hall style table we cozied up next to the party already sitting there and ordered right away as we had menus in our hands during the wait. This was a different feel from our recent visits to RAMEN KAZAMA. There were people standing around us waiting for a table, but with beers in hand and merriment all around there was no feeling that we were being rushed or onlookers glaring at the people who continued drinking at tables with empty plates.

The food list is mouthwatering, and their prices match the ingenuity. We got a burger and a cut of pork steak with some cauliflower on the side. The pork was extremely salty but cooked to the right temp and the  sauce almost made you not notice. While rabbit food is not a typical staple next to our meats, the greens were mixed with fruits and sauces that were a bit overloaded on the tart and tangy side, but mixed well with the meat sauce. The burger was a high class big mac (even they say they use ‘fancy’ sauce, a nod to McD’s special?) and the fries that came with it were smaller and crispier than run-of-the-mill ones and quite delicious. We also recommend the cauliflower but avoid dredging them through too much of the sauce, the flavoring at the bottom is hard to get rid of from you mouth.

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Our one wish was that our server had been able to direct our beer orders in a more harmonious direction with the food we were concurrently putting on our bill. Ordering the Smoke with our plates left some bad tastes, but easily erased as we switched to water for a while. It would be hard to avoid this place in the future as it is on the radar for all those who live in the Twin Cities – and even those who do not – but with the atmosphere that they provide and a ever-improving beer list, why would you?

Food: 3.5/5 Unique and delicious, but tasted untested and experimental.
Drink: 4/5 Their usuals are amazing, but order others and you might be disappointed.
Atmosphere: 5/5 Hard pressed to find another place full of people enjoying themselves.
Overall: 4/5 A wonderful place to be and to eat. What’s next for Surly?

We noticed a rather large hole in our Restaurant Map that needed to be filled in St. Paul and the place that fit the bill for us was the Paddy Shack at the Halftime Rec in the South Como neighborhood.

They have a bar that stretches their entirety and open spaces for tables and booths throughout. This place could get lively during games and special events. The bartender was attentive and friendly, and the beers came out immediately. There was no mention of happy hour beer prices so we were a bit taken back that a local brew delivered to us was not on HH but our future rounds were properly directed. As we waited for all the crew there were multiple groups that would gather around pitchers and head downstairs to the Bocce Ball Court for what we found out was Thursday League Night at the Halftime Rec. The kitchen looked immaculately clean. The bar was in good order and we noticed that the staff were constantly washing their hands and bussing tables and glassware.

The service as we took our table was wonderful. Soon as we sat down, even though we had just been standing at the bar, she came over and gave us all the important info. Round one was a plate of buffalo wings – incomparable to any other wing we have had. They were juicy and crisp, and the sauce was a deliciously modified buffalo variation covering each nook and cranny and their blue cheese was definitely not poured out of a plastic container. Our mistake here was only ordering one plate for all of us.

We each took a variation of their burger – The Paddy Melt (at the recommendation of the server), a Guiness Cheeseburger, and a Paddy Shack Burger that was ordered with an extra ‘paddy’ on the top. The most impressive visually was the extra paddy, as the cook took the idea to the top and did not just add another meat slab in the middle, he added a whole extra burger and stabbed them both together!

Photo credit @trevolve on twitter

It was agreed around the table that for the flavors of the plates that were put in front of us could have been delivered in a white napkin and marble tabletop joint where each one cost over double. The meals here are a rare find for the facade that the tin tackers, pinball machine, pull tabs, and well worn bar curtain behind.

Food: 5/5 a rare breed, but worthy of the highest ranking.
Drinks: 3/5 small beer list for happy hour, but decent enough.
Atmosphere: 3.5/5 large space with sparse tables, meant more for events.
Overall: 4/5 amazing food, decent establishment.

Happy Hour at the Red Cow is great, unless you get there too late… I walked in around 5 pm to get a feel for the place and grab a beer to find the joint packed with over an hour on the waiting list. I turned on my heels and stopped next door at the Salt Cellar to sit at the bar (Pork Cracklins were amazing!) to send messages around to mancuisine to decide what to do. Little did I know that Doug had already put his name on the list – and they were going to call his cell phone when a table opened up! An amazing feature for a packed place. We all met first at Fabulous Ferns to grab a couple drinks, and in so doing added another onto our list of places to visit in the future – phone call was received, and we went back to Red Cow.

The staff was polite and helpful, giving great beer advice and even brought over a few samples, helping us out with explaining their extensive list. The ‘Ring of Onion’ came out quickly but tasted like they had been removed too early. The onion inside still had a bite of the acid flavor and a healthy crunch as if we were biting directly into the plant. Some found it appealingly different, others did not appreciate the style – but Red Cow’s homemade ketchup covered the difference.

Burgers are what they specialize in and that is what we all ordered. It wonderful to find a place that asks how you want your burgers to be cooked and cooks it as ordered. Its our opinion that if you ask how you would like it, cook it that way and not just keep cooking everyone’s the same. While the portions were minimal, each of ours was a dream-state delicious. Out of the burger joints we have been to, this one is at the top for flavor and consistency. I had the french onion burger, and it will be hard for me to order anything different due to fears the others could not stand up to the flavors I experienced between those buns.

Red Cow's French Onion Burger
Red Cow’s French Onion Burger

Throughout the meal the patrons were moving in and out, and the staff were attentive and sincere. It is a well run establishment, with the customers leaving happy and content – smiles of conversation and merriment abound.

Food: 5/5 Solid menu
Drinks: 4/5 Diverse, but expensive
Atmosphere: 4/5 Too packed for its space, even after happy hour
Overall: 4.5/5 Needs to be checked out.

Red Cow St. Paul’s Website

An event at work gave a few of us the option to venture out around lunchtime. After a short discussion we came to J R Mac’s for a [thankfully] quick bite. We found a spot right in front of their door in the tiny parking lot and came into a bar space filled with one table of 6+ people and sporadic chairs filled thereafter. No head turns or quieted tones upon entry – unique for us.

Taking a couple chairs at the bar we were greeted by the one bartender/server who placed the laminated menus down and explained to us that Saturdays were ‘Taco-Days’ and that she recommended going that route as specials go all day. Obliging to the lady we ordered some tacos and some beers.

The pull tab booth in the back had a line of regulars and we joined the movement. The big surprise with this visit was that the taco shells were deep fried and then filled, like a crunchy enchilada. Although this provided for some ideal taco flavorings the insides were the style that you may find at any run-of-the-mill fast food taco joint.

Before we left and discarded all the empty pull tabs [no big winners here] a look around gave a nice summary of what this place tries to be, and quite frankly is: a neighborhood bar with an atmosphere that welcomes and indulges, but lacks the backbone to bring in anyone outside of ‘dropping in’ distance.

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J R Mac’s Tacos
  1. Food: 3/5 Classic bar fair
  2. Drinks: 2.5/5 Limited beer list and drink specials. Spotty glassware.
  3. Atmosphere: 3/5 Quiet atmosphere centered around the bar and pull tabs.
  4. Overall: 3/5 Worth a stop, but would be hard to be a regular.

J R Mac’s website

After calling in sick to work two days in a row I had to get out of the house and have someone make me more than the ramen broth and chicken I concocted on my own. Going to Hazel’s was the best move since laying on the couch a few days before in recovery (and quite possibly long before that).

Walking into Hazel’s at 11 on a Thursday ushered us into businesspeople in suits, grandpas taking their granddaughters out to eat, friends hugging as they come and as they go, and a loner watching over all of the above. We came right at the change of menus and the crowd was sparse but picked up as lunch came into full swing. This was apparent by our waitress being fast when unexpected and slow when needed – really the only setback in a great establishment.

The menu is ‘standard’ with its fares at lunch – sandwiches/burgers, salads, meals and sides. We ordered the Buffalo Chicken sandwich (4/5) and the Reuben (4.5/5). There were many items that we would go back for to try, like their burgers and bbq pork sandwich.

What we were greatly appreciative of was the variety of choices with the sides that come with the meal. More than just fries and salad, there was an abundance of options like the “chorizo, bean and potato chili” that would have been an honest competitor in our chilifest competitions.

Overall, this diner has what you look for – quaint atmosphere, good menu, and a variety of regulars.

Hazels

  1. Food: 4.5/5
  2. Drinks: In absentia this trip – although they do have local beers on tap
  3. Atmosphere: 3/5 – family atmosphere with lots of art, but lacks character
  4. Overall: 4/5 – great food, good assortment of people, lousy service

Hazel’s Website

It was a series of unfortunate events that brought me to Steve O’s this time around. The first could have been labelled in a similar way, but that night was brought about through a beer-fueled celebration of the end of a school year. It is important to note here that I work at a school a ways down the street from Steve O’s and had it not been for the teachers there I would have never heard of the place…

It was 10 AM that day and the school was shut down due to a police presence across the street. The students had been turned around in the buses and the staff was told that we could leave for the day (everything turned out fine). A group of teachers gathered in my room as we began looking for a place to grab a drink after the stressful morning. A google search could find no such places as they all opened at 11. Someone asked the question “What about Steve O’s?”, “You remember what happened there last time”, “Yeah but I think they are open”, “They open at 8 AM! We found a place!” What luck!

Walking into Steve O’s at 10 with a group of people attracts a few stares from the regulars as the tables are moved around but their eyes turn back to their bottles on the bar without complaint. The bartender waitress came out as we looked over their breakfast menu and we ordered a round. Beers came in clean glasses with a good variety available and the mixed drinks came strong. Odell’s St. Lupulin the waitress affectionately called “the one I cannot name”.

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Breakfast here is a stop worth making if you are in the area. They have pizza with hollandaise as the sauce, plates that are cheap that come with a free bloody mary, and a good variety of meals off the griddle. It is not a large kitchen however, so anticipate that any large orders will take time. The list that was handed to the cook actually enticed him enough to come out and give us a wave to see how many people were actually eating it. And don’t ask if you can get poached eggs, the response will be a scripted “alright, how do you want your eggs fried then?”

We stayed until well after the lunch hour, tried our luck at pull tabs, and paid our surprisingly minimal bill before opening the doors to the great blinding light called the outside world. I will be coming back to try their wings.

  • Food: 3.5/5
  • Atmosphere: 3/5
  • Drinks: 4/5
  • Overall: 3.5/5

republicThe crew had to find a burger joint where Isaac would finally find a burger that he could enjoy. After a brief search the crowd agreed that the Republic on Seven Corners might serve our needs. Mom earth helped by blessing us with a beautiful 75 degree evening and a West Bank campus full of students just excited to be able to be outside. It was tough to walk by the remarkable Town Hall Brewery on the way to the place.

IMG_0281Since we came for burgers the group covered the burger menu. Offerings from blue cheese to cheddar+bacon to Guac+Salsa and the fried egg topped wonder were all delicious with no complaints from the team. The side is lettuce (seriously) so we ordered the sweet potato fries and regular fries as sides. The side sauces were all good with the group loving the homemade sorta catsup sorta  vinagarette. Our concern with the place is that all burgers were in the 9 -12 dollar range which is fine for the hipsters and the urban elite but for regular guys looking for a great burger it seems a little silly, especially without some fried starch included in the price. It also seemed a bit odd for a college bar. But then, maybe that’s why college loans are so large these days.

On a more positive note, the beer selection was large and had a good run of local and not so local fermentations. Again, pricey with many pints running somewhere around $6-$8. Not a single Summit on the list which is always suspect in this area. Nonetheless, good selection and the flight of three 8 oz glasses for $10 was a good buy.

IMG_0282For those wondering, we believe that tIsaac is still searching for the good burger. His expectations are not high. A good burger will do. We are guessing that on our next outing he will once again find a good looking sandwich from the menu. Perhaps the rueben or some turkey concoction.

We had a great evening out with conversation running after sundown: and that counts for something. But in the future, when needing to meet someone on seven corners, there are a couple of better values available.

 

 

joestan

With 10-14” of snow fresh on our yards, little did we know that going into this night of the third largest 24 hour snowfall in Minnesota history would have us travelling to three locations in one night. After all, it has been awhile since the men have gathered!

gophercorkThe roadways brought about a staggered and partial arrival to our only planned location for the night, the Gopher Bar in St. Paul. An irreverent place famous for its coneys.Two of the men walked up to the door to find it… locked. All the lights were off, no note on the door and no notice on the web. With a wind chill in the single digits a quick decision was made to hike a few blocks  north to Cork’s Irish Pub.

Cork’s is a hotel restaurant, to begin with. The atmosphere was welcoming and many groups of friends gathered, decided to defer the cold until warm in the stomach and imbibed the liquid courage to brave the bitterness outside. This place has an Irish bar feel – the dark wood, wall hangings and a good number of people-pleasing taps, all within the mainstream producers. Happy hour goes until 6, and as the waiter put it when asked, “pretty much everything is half off”. A round of beers, and orders of scotch eggs, chicken wings and walleye fingers were made as more members trickled in from there extended snow-delayed commute, fingers numb from the cold. The food was worth staying for, but as we had more members still traversing the roadways we decided to go to a place closer to them and with more character for us.

We moved quickly back to our vehicles and caravanned south on West 7th to Joe and Stan’s Bar. One of our members was brought to a halt on a bridge by the car ahead of him and got stuck on the ice! Before his delayed entrance we could only guess what happened to make him pause in our gastronomical journey.

Joe and Stan’s is quite the place. There are locals, stragglers and a helpful bar staff that occupy the room. It had the rural bar feel with a city bar comfort for freshman groups to the bar such as we.  We took over the area next to the pull-tabs and ordered a round, more wings, and the necessary onion rings. Everyone at the table ordered something different, an unusual occurrence for a Guys Night Out. Broasted chicken, multiple types of burgers and a rack of ribs occupied our table as we gorged ourselves on the plethoral variety. The broasted chicken was glorious, the type that when belches happen later in the evening, as they often do, the reoccurring taste does not come as a deterrent for more, but a beckoning to return to its origin. They have nightly food specials and decently cheap beer that made our wallets happy after the bill arrived.

It was a journey from start to finish and I do believe that we ended in the right place. As stated during the night, the Gopher Bar is our Sasquatch – we believe it exists but have yet to experience the Coney because of its elusiveness, and judging by their web site, they prefer it that way. -Isaac