Tooties on Lowry is a bar that if you were to see inside in the dead of night when there is no people, beer or food around, you might go in but not without some serious hesitation. It has the look of a place you would find tucked away in a small town in the boondocks of Wisconsin – wood paneled walls, vinyl stools with rips in them, a gravity furnace hole in the center of the place, a ficus tree in the center of the dining room…

But you do not notice those things when you enter in the height of things. What you do see are families and friends gathering and hugging each other. Old friends bellying up to the bar and shaking hands with the person sitting next to them. Kids running around the game room playing with each other in games of hide-n-seek. Though the physical aspects of the building detract from the appeal, it’s the people and the employees that generate the merriment and jovial nature of the atmosphere.

Credit: foodio54.com

Having eaten there before, my comments on what Tooties is only solidified with this mancuisine visit – It is a community space that locals come to eat food, drink, and be together. Being at Tooties just makes you feel warm inside, before you even have a beer or bite of food.

Their tap selection is notable, at our visit they had just had Insight over for an event and had some of theirs, along with many other local breweries (an a surprisingly absent presence of the big brew dogs, which we enjoy).  We tweeted Tooties in the morning of our visit asking what food we should try and one recommendation was to have the peanut sauce from their wings cover a burger patty and served. It was delicious [thanks twitter Tooties!].

Top commendation goes to their wings. We did Tooties’ “Wing of the month” which has ghost pepper and Surly and they were top notch. Their wings have the right amount of meat, cooked at the right temperature for the right time and covered with deliciousness. Their wing cooking process is refined, and creates delicious and filling wings.

If you are ever in the Robbinsdale area, at North Memorial Hospital (knock on wood – you won’t need to!), or in North Minneapolis and you are looking for a place to settle in, we strongly recommend giving Tooties on Lowry a visit.

Food: 4/5 typical bar food, made in a way that raises them above.
Drink: 3/5 Beer and wine bar, with local selections but not too diverse.
Atmosphere: 5/5 Welcoming, friendly and warming
Overall: 4/5 Good food, great atmosphere, tired building.

The idea is novel: pour your own local beer from a tap handle and eat some food from their kitchen that they make. The follow through with that idea in practice lost something in translation to the people who work there…

Credit: craftcouncil.org

Its a beautiful space in Grain Belt’s retired keg house in Northeast Minneapolis. The owners of the building turned the warehouse into smaller office-style spaces and Community Keg House occupies the first door upon entering from the parking lot. Traverse to the counter and you have found the pivotal point: the man with the clean glasses. Order your food their chalkboard menu and a pint with him and he hands the vessel over and directs you to the “taproom”.

Here comes the decision. All the taps are from local breweries and each one has as full description of the beer that would pour when you bring the handle towards you. The “taptender,” as they are called, will offer you a very small pour of the beers to try if you are fickle about the flavors your are looking to have. They will also direct your process on how to pour the correct way and fill the glass without the foam head so many would walk away with, uneducatedly.

The business models looked like there was one person in the tap area and the other was the cashier/food runner. One stays around the taps and makes sure that the lines are running and the people have their glasses filled (only once). The other(s) are to work the register to send the ticket to the kitchen and then bring the food out when its done. Here was our biggest disappointment – Our food sat on the window for as long as it took us to drink a pint, and when we ordered the next one we asked if that was ours and he said “maybe, check the ticket next to the plates.” That type of service has not been beleaguered to us since the bartender at the Cedar Inn was drunk enough to have us pour our pitcher since he was drinking with others. Why give out table numbers if they do not signify where the food goes?

Overall the place was a wonderful space that could have been better utilized and hired/trained more effectively. Sad, since this was a bar that we were pumped to be regulars at and try all the beers!

Food: 1/5 the food was tasty but expensive and it took too long to get out.
Drink: 3/5 selection is limited in variety of styles, but not in companies.
Atmosphere: 4/5 open and warm
Overall: 2.5/5 A bit rocky now, with hopes of their improvement.

Edit: Permanently Closed [we called it!]

With the new onslaught of high end restaurants selling fancy burgers and fabricated authenticity it is always a pleasure to find a place without pretense, where the same fryer and griddle have likely been in use since before a Clinton or a Bush entered politics (maybe even a Kennedy as well). If you are looking for an establishment that is content with its current clientele and does not expense with the frivolity of trying to be “the new thing”, look not further than Schullers Tavern in Golden Valley.

The place proclaims itself the “Last Real Roadhouse”, which I take as a jab at the influx of chain based roadhouse-esque eateries that popped up in the mid to late 90’s around town (with some still remaining). Since the place first opened in 1929 I am guessing they have seen many a trendy establishment come and go and one would hope they will weather current trends as well.

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Image from http://www.schullerstavern.com

The Place: The building has clearly been built upon in a few minor expansions over the years and you may feel like you stumbled into the back alley entrance to a speakeasy (the place did open during prohibition). Upon entering you first pass a barred and locked beer cooler before actually finding your way to the bar and restaurant area. From what we gathered this is tied to off-sale liquor sales that Schullers offers. While not uncommon in the “land of cheese” or in the Northwoods, happening upon an on/off sale joint when you live in the Twin Cities metro area is like finding an hidden onion ring in your basket fries. It’s something that you didn’t know you wanted but you quickly realize is a good idea.

The Atmosphere/Service: The crowd appeared friendly overall with a hint of suspicion at the new faces we brought in. There was no problem finding a place to sit at a table (maybe at 15% of capacity on a Tuesday around 6). The bar, however, was full and you got the sense that these seats were rarely available during business hours. The random smattering of other patrons included a couple guys in suits working on some sort of business plan, a large group of people in the corner seemingly there to celebrate some sort of milestone, and a few small groups of people clearly there to enjoy good food and good company. Our server was attentive, friendly, and made sure we did not go thirsty.

The Food/Beverage: Upon arrival I put in an order for a refreshing beverage (happy hour prices are only on standard domestic beers but this includes GrainBelt/”Premo”) and a full plate of wings. Schullers puts any place charging more than $10 for 10-12 puny meatless bones covered in sauce to indisputable shame. WARNING: A full plate of wings is 3 lbs of sticky whole chicken wing deliciousness, prepare to be full. With three of us we were able to polish the plate clean but the prospect of trying to fit a meal into the outing was out of the question. As any self-respecting tavern should there was also a popcorn machine and a tap list that included a handful of local brews in addition to the standard domestic options.

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If you find yourself on highway 55 in golden valley in need of some cold refreshment, some sustenance, and a no nonsense environment, head on over Schullers. Just tell them Mancuisine.com sent you!

Bumped into a beer distributor we knew in a parking lot recently and after some discussion he was wondering why we had not yet made it over to the just-opened JL Beers in Burnsville. We had no good answer and a week later we took care of the void in our map.

JL Beers is a growing collection of pubs out of Fargo. The nearest is in the near Nord’east across from Surdyk’s. Two of our members had been to that location and had prior ideas as to what a B’ville location would bring and thought to test those notions. Refreshing to have a spot in the ‘burbs that isn’t super-sized and overly bright.

The beer selection is indeed impressive. The menu of many pages warns of constant changes in the wide range of malty to silly hoppy, and from session beers to alcohol levels that seem just plain dangerous. Two of us went with flights to sample the wares. The Don’t Worry be Hoppy and Ales from the Dark Side were wonderful. Pint prices were in line with local averages.

Flights of Fancy
Flights of Fancy

Eventually, you need to get some food. The group felt that we had been hitting too many upscale places that were a bit pricey recently and that our recent run to the HalfTime Rec was a welcome return to a good, sensible burger joint. Fortunately, although new, JL’s burgers were both wonderful and reasonable.

IMG_2302All of our burger choices were big, juicy and filling although they looked a bit naked on the large serving platters. Given the small tables, JL may want to scale the plates a bit. We did order some sides as well- maybe they were taking up the extra space…

The JL Burger, Classic, and County 42 were perfect examples of what they claimed. The loaded fries had quite a kick and plenty of cheese. We could have used forks but ate the pile before we could ask for them. We also ordered a chicken sandwich but had the kitchen add some sauce and an egg on top, great addition.

As for service, the help was everywhere but could not always hit right on the timing of when to grab orders or refill glasses. Seems like they cover for each other when they see a table in need – nice touch. Beer, food, water all came as wanted by a nicely mixed group of wait staff. The bunch behind the bar seemed lively and the crowd that gathered to eat was mostly in their 20’s/30’s with many couples sitting across from one another. Although the setting is somewhat industrial the place was warm on a cold night and the buzz was good.

Happy JL guy at the taps

We are recommending the place. It’s just south from Costco and a block or so from the Burnsville Center. We should also let you woodworkers know that there is a Rockler nearby. Even without a Juicy Lucy option for the hometown feel (they are from ND) and no “ring-of-onion” there’s plenty there to fill the stomach.

Food: 4/5 Lots of options, and ability to add to make it what you want.
Drink: 4.5/5 Beers for everyone willing to try, but no happy hour.
Atmosphere: 3/5 Cramped and crowded, but the ambiance was there.
Overall: 4/5 Great for a new south metro bar to fill the void as of late.

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?

Maple TavernStopped by the Maple Tavern after a day with the in-laws. Parked a large group of 14 for some burgers and beer. Parking lot was packed but plenty of room inside. I was a bit curious about the place – both because a long-lost high school friend who lives in Osseo and that this might be a place I would find him because of some irregularities involving a few kegs from New Glarus making it across the border.

The menu had a good selection of burgers and entrees with a fairly pedestrian appetizer list. Be advised that the onion rings are serious rings of onion, very tasty and very filling. The signature burger is pictured here. A basic burger, well made and tasty at just under $10. Our table ordered everything from a juicy to a pot pie and nobody had a complaint. The only criticism across the long table was that the ‘homemade’ chips and the fries were actually pretty common. Still, with that being the only one, its overall worth the food stop.

The beer list was reasonable but happy hour only covered the watery brews. Nonetheless a pint of Summit or Surly was reasonable and the selections of additional good brews was plenty long. The long service bar and entertainment area sports a variety of games and it looks like quite a crowd plays volleyball here in warmer weather.

Overall, not a bad place to stop. Perhaps we’ll get the Macuisine crowd up that way for a formal eval in the future. Until then, Dan, if you’re still hanging out in Osseo send me a note. I’ll meet you at the Maple!

Minneapolis Magazine recently listed 2016 as the Year of the Ramen I thought I would venture out and hit up the newest establishment, Ramen Kazama. As a recently former resident of the Lyn/Lake neighborhood I am no stranger to Ramen from Moto-i or what used to be Ramen Wednesdays at Fuji-Ya – the chef of the latter now housed in this restaurant.

Word of warning: do not go to Ramen Kazama with a large group, as a first date, or to spend time catching up with friends. If you want to eat something and then head over to another facility then we recommend eating here then heading over to a place like Pat’s Tap after to complete the night.

With a nod to the ramen shops in Japan you order everything before entering the dining area and then find a place to sit with your number and wait. While this is good in theory, the seating area does not currently fit the demand that this place has. It fills quickly (and are few tables that can fit more than two), and the orders are still received – causing many to sit in the entryway or nearby benches holding tightly onto their numbers in hopes that a table opens up before their food is delivered. The tables and benches are haphazard and the decor is either too kitschy or some failed attempts at Pinterest ideas but you really cannot stay in the room for too long to notice anyways.

The ramen bowls are absolutely delicious, and I have been back enough after the first visit to try them all. I was first in line at opening at one visit (lineup began at 4:45) and after the order was taken it was just under 10 minutes before the bowl came, so consider that to be the fastest that they may come. Since ramen is a new concept to the people of the midwest I would recommend watching the first episode of mind of a chef on PBS with David Chang to get an idea of what you are getting into and preempt yourself with some better judgement as to what you want to order when you get to the counter- it makes a difference to cater to your tastebuds.

Ramen is generally three parts to rate (consider it like a burger is the bread, the meat and the toppings), the broth, the noodles and the additions. The broth in every soup is rich and savory, filling and perfectly subtle in their flavors. The noodles provide for the proper slurp and a train like track to bring the broth up with it to your mouth. While the karaage is the only out of place addition (it’s too large for its intention) the eggs are all soft boiled and runny, the pork belly is tender and the bamboo has all the right flavors.

The appetizers and sides are a part that you can pass, items like karaage appear in one of their bowls and the kimchi cup has but a fluttering few pieces of cabbage on it. The real star of the show is the Ramen and that is what you should get.

credit: ramenkazama on instagram
credit: ramenkazama on instagram

Overall, this is a wonderful place to go if you want to see why people are raving about what ramen can bring to Minneapolis – especially if you are feeling like being adventurous on your own or with a special friend.

Food: 4.5/5 Ramen is wonderful, with limited options and par-like sides.
Drink: 2/5 Few taps and options, but unless you sit at their small bar no service or time to enjoy.
Atmosphere: 1/5 Rushed and minimal, they should expand or satellite their kitchen.
Overall: 3/5 Come in for the food, but go immediately somewhere else, which is unfortunate.

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

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