Revival (MSP) – Incredible Fried Chicken

bl_1Revival is located on the northeast corner of 43rd and Nicolet. When you enter the restaurant you are surrounded by vintage 1950s colors…oranges, browns and golds, with wallpaper adorned with large marigolds. The bar resides along the rear wall with a view of the pass from the kitchen with six metal backless stools. The remainder of the dining area includes tables with metal chairs and a long banquette under the front window that occupy the remainder of the dining area. Total seating is in the 40s, it is comfortable and the sound level allows for conversation.

Tucked behind the bar are three taps for beer (an additional two were not connected on the night I visited), and the menu offers an additional 17 beers in bottles and cans, wines by the glass, sweet tea, sparkling water, root beer and Mexican coke. The wine list is limited with a handful of whites ($28-$55), a few more reds ($30-$65) and half of the wine list comprised of sparkling wines ($30-$210).

©jeff “jfood” schlesinger

©jeff “jfood” schlesinger

I was glad I arrived early on a Tuesday evening since the place was already half full at 5:30 and by 6:00 all the table were occupied and there was only one bar seat unoccupied.  I chose a seat at the bar so I could watch the food and have a chat with the bartender.

The menu is diverse (on line version very accurate) with appetizers (priced from $5 to $15) ranging from a simple farm greens salad, to fried chicken livers, to pickled pig’s feet, to a pimento cheese and meat plate or choose two pieces of fried chicken. Entrees include a larger plate of fried chicken, (offered several spice levels from regular to poultrygeist covered in a sauce made from ghost peppers), pork chops, shrimp and grits, and pork shoulder or opt for a burger, or a pulled pork or grilled cheese sandwich

bl_3I ordered a 2-piece fried chicken plate for my appetizer and the Revival Burger with bacon for my second course with a side of hushpuppies. The server brought two sauces, a sweet potato sauce with habanero which was very spicy and a North Carolina vinegar sauce that was a little sweet and delivered much less heat than the habaner

The two courses were delivered simultaneously and I decided to first eat the fried chicken. There was a leg and a portion of the breast. This was one of the best fried chickens I have eaten in a long time. It had an overly crispy crust and was still very moist on the interior. I asked the bartender about the preparation and he told me the chicken is first seasoned, then marinated in buttermilk for eight hours before being slightly floured and fried. As I watched the pass during my meal I would guess that half of the orders were fried chicken, after eating it I completely understood

bl_4I next moved to the burger. It consisted of two thin patties on a buttered and griddled bun with two thick strips of bacon, melted American cheese, mayo and a few slices of B+B pickles. The first bite was a shock, it was incredibly salty, the meat was incredibly salty and the bacon added additional saltiness. The server approached to check in and I told him…he immediately removed the plate to have the kitchen prepare another, and we decided to skip the bacon on number 2. The second burger was a different, and much more positive experience. The meat reminded me of the burgers I made as a youth, a good beefy flavor with the grind still evident, the exterior was charred and crispy and the meat was still very juicy. The kitchen was generous, maybe too generous with the mayo and cheese, it was a little difficult to contain all of the creaminess in each bite and it overpowered the meat, I would have preferred a little less mayo and almost scraped some from the bun. The B+B pickles were delicious and these are always welcome on my burgers. The hushpuppies were a little bland and delivered a touch of sweetness

Overall I highly, highly recommend the fried chicken. The burger needs a little work to balance the saltiness of the bacon with the beefiness of the patty and the kitchen should better balance the amount of mayo. The bartender and the other staff were exceptionally customer friendly and that went a long way to convert what could have been a disappointing night to a positive experience.
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Prairie Dogs – Great Potential; Needs Time

prairie_1I really wanted to love this place. With two of my favorite dishes, burgers and dogs covered with creative toppings, I was hoping for a great couple of options. The website espoused local, fresh and natural ingredients, the combinations looked great and it was in a neighborhood which is beginning to boom with great food.

prairie_2I arrived at 600 on a midweek night and there were a couple of people at the bar and a few at tables. The interior is well done, relaxing with a great Marilyn Monroe poster adorning the rear wall and the entire left wall is covered with a chalk board menu. The owner (I think it was the owner) approached and I asked for the “Tree Fort Root Beer” on the menu. They did not have it and he suggested, and I ordered, the Boylan’s Birch Beer.

prairie_4I looked through the menu and ordered the Bahn Mi Joy Dog and a BYO Burger with American cheese, crisp onion strings, and B&B pickles. He suggested that a small order of fries would be a great accompaniment.

prairie_3The Dog was all-beef in a natural casing and topped with char siu pork, chicken liver pate, pickled carrot, daikon, jalapeño peppers, and cilantro and a schmear of shoyu mayo. The dog was surprisingly mild in flavors with just a hint of saltiness. The pork was almost tasteless with a boiled meat flavor and texture. The liver was the highlight of the ingredients and delivered a good amount of flavor, the carrots and daikon were crunchy and also flavorful. I was hoping for a bright bold set of flavors in this combination and it just fell flat and was a bit disappointing

prairie_6The burger had great potential. The meat had great flavor and was cooked with a loose grind, but a little sparse at probably 4 ounces. The strips of bacon added just a hint of smokiness and saltiness and the American cheese was creamy and perfectly melted. The crispy onion rings delivered a touch of pungency and crunch and the B&B pickles were excellent. Unfortunately, the kitchen overcooked the burger to medium-well, eliminating all of the juiciness, and then over-salted the patty before placing it on the bun. A little more care may have made for a great burger.

The kitchen took both a similar and slightly different approach in the preparation of the fries. First they were under-cooked, and then they were over-salted. Not a good combination.

Overall I still love the concept and if they can get the correct balance of flavors and instruct the kitchen to prepare as ordered and as the product deserves this may become a really good burger and dog place, but they still have growing pains to address.

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The Juicy Lucy @ 5-8 Bar (MSP) is a Big 0-0 for Me

photo (28)-001OK, maybe it’s me, but I just don’t get it. After several discussions and disagreements in the office on where to enjoy the best Juicy Lucy, I ventured back to 5-8 Club to see if I could be convinced that their burger was a great choice. This may be heresy to some, but this was not a meal that would make me rush back, in fact, it is more a DNR.

Let’s get to the positives. I think the joint is an incredibly friendly neighborhood watering hole. It is separated into two rooms, one with a bar and the other entirely tables, with the walls teeming with relics of the 40s 50s and 60s. I sat as a solo diner amongst single dads taking their young kids out for a bite, elderly couples splitting French fries and soccer moms racing to that open table. I was now firmly ensconced in pure Americana…a smile came to my face.

photo (29)-001The waitress arrived, an energetic and incredibly hard-working high school / college teenager working for car money, college money or just entertainment money. She was great. The menu stated that the JL was 8-ounces, a pretty good sized patty, so my order was a JL with bacon and American, some fried onion straws, which I adore, a hot dog and an Arnold Palmer.

The fried onion straws were excellent. A huge mound of thinly sliced, deep-fried onions (enough for multiple guests) was crispy and perfectly salted. They were so good that there was no need to dip in any ketchup.

Good news over…

photo (30)-001Now let me be honest about my view on the JL…the patty was just horrible. There is absolutely nothing positive I can say about the meat. First the size…the menu says “8 ounces” and I would be hard pressed to believe it was more than five ounces. Then the kitchen cooks the doneness to greater than super well done, bordering on incinerated, losing all chance that it will retain any juiciness. And the flavor was tasteless. So the burger meat receives the trifecta, three zeros on taste, preparation and size. And the bacon was a perfect complement to the burger, two meager slices of overcooked bacon. On a slightly positive note, I did like the American cheese, really well melted and with just a touch of pungency. The pickles slices were also a positive; the roll was a pretty basic, what was to be expected in a bar.

photo (32)-001Now onto the hot dog. For full disclosure, I am a fan of a Kosher, natural casing dog so this was definitely not in my comfort zone. The hot dog was in the same category as the burger; an oversized, badly prepared  “Ball Park” imitation; it was barely warm, and also served on a basic package roll. One bite and I was finished.

With so many other choices for great burgers in MSP, I would be hard pressed to place this on a top-25 places to have a burger.

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The Red Cow – She’s Blushing in Edina

Red Cow posted the “10 New Twin City Burgers to Eat Right Now” in April and Red Cow was on their list, was convenient and fit nicely into my schedule. When I arrived a little before 6PM on a Wednesday night, the place was 80% filled with families, young couples, and several tables of retirees, a very eclectic group…all looking for the high-end diner experience. I was quickly seated (would not have been the case when I left an hour later when the waiting area was jammed). The walls were adorned with large paintings (Ms. Red Cow herself watch my every move) and the feel of the space was very family oriented and relaxing. The staff darted around the restaurant to serve customers. The relaxed atmosphere of the décor was definitely offset by the rushing servers. Since I was there for the burger, the first order of business was to choose one from the many choices available. Red Cow does a great job in offering a variety of meat and non-meat options. I chose the Manhattan, which included an 8-oz patty from NY butcher Pat LaFrieda plus Cotsworth cheese and bacon, and I added caramelized onions. To start, I ordered  the Pork Belly Sliders (offered at a discount prior to 6PM) to start.

Pork Belly SlidersThe pork belly appetizer consisted of three sliders, a slice of pork belly topped with a slaw of red cabbage, corn, red pepper, onion and cilantro, encased in a mini bun. The buns were, as others have described, soft and delicious. The pork belly carried great flavor and the slaw added a slightly spicy element to the sliders. Overall this appetizer was a great choice and the highlight of the visit. BurgerThe burger was good, but not great. On a positive note the kitchen cooked it perfectly to my requested medium-rare, the patty released a little juice, but it was extremely compressed, losing all the great qualities of a loose grind. I always question the use of LaFrieda meat as it just does not have the great flavor I look for in a burger and this was again the case, but at Red Cow there was also a subtle bitterness to the meat. I cannot give high marks to either the texture or the taste. The cheese was my favorite part of the burger, great flavor and perfectly melted. There were two strips of bacon that delivered a little flavor but I would have preferred additional saltiness and smokiness. The caramelized onions were soft but the flavor was a little acrid, the sugars were not fully released. The sweet potato fries (the limited amount they included with the burger) were very dense and did not have the soft interior texture to complement the crispy exterior. Likewise the flavor was not as sweet as many other sweet potato fries. I would guess they were frozen and merely fried on site. Overall these were not to my liking. The burger and fries were served with an aioli, no ketchup. If requested there are two choices of ketchup, prepackaged bottled and a house made. The latter was outstanding with the addition of a small amount of balsamic vinegar, which really added great flavor. In addition to the pork belly sliders, the house-made ketchup is highly recommended.

Service was actually fun to watch. The servers were young, as in high school. They were incredibly friendly and ran around the restaurant with passion. Everything I ordered was “a great choice.” There were two managers who wandered to tables to check-in so there was some supervision, but this is a hamburger joint and is staffed as such, which is a good thing. Unfortunately in my case I sat for ten minutes before anyone approached the table, so patience is a virtue. The worst aspect was after one bite of my appetizer, no exaggeration, one bite, my burger arrived. “I’m really sorry, but the hamburger came out really quickly.” The server thought that was acceptable and tried to place on the table. I just told him I was not even close to ready for the burger. He seemed befuddled but eventually understood and removed the burger. A little more training and staffing is something the owners should consider.

Overall I thought the place was a fun atmosphere to take the family for a burger. I would recommend avoiding the surcharge for the “Manhattan” with the LaFrieda meat and look into the regular versus the sweet potato fries. But be advised that a family of four could easily spend $100 for a burger dinner.

Red Cow on Urbanspoon

Butcher & The Boar (MSP) Approaches Perfection

B&B SignThe Butcher & the Boar has been on my must-try list for a few months and with only one dinner in Minneapolis for this visit I decided to pull the trigger and make a reservation. Coincidentally, the James Beard Foundation announced its 2013 nominees that day and the Butcher & the Boar was nominated for Best Restaurant. Call it Karma, call it divine intervention or call it pure dumb luck, I call it a sign from the culinary forces that I made the correct choice.

Driving through artic conditions of 5-degrees plus a stiff wind I was grateful when I arrived at 12th and Hennepin and saw valet parking on the side of the building, only accessible from 12th Street. Upon entering you are greeted by an enormous bar spanning the left wall, serving thirty beers on tap, a wide variety of wines plus an assortment of blended cocktails, with various cute names. There are a few tables to the left of the bar, sort of tucked away from the main action; some would say these are either the B-list tables or the quiet tables. I think these are a good choice for some quiet conversation. There is a single large table tucked into an alcove across from the bar on the way to the main dining area, which is large and open. The interior is very cool.

The menu is broken into appetizers and salads, in-house prepared meats, plus entrées of meats, poultry and seafood. A separate menu of sides completes the options.

I ordered the “Turkey Brunschweiger, Vidalia Onion Jam and Milk Stout Toast” for an appetizer,  the “Double Cut Berkshire Pork Chop with Pineapple Rum Glaze, Macadamia Nut Salsa” as an entrée plus the “Skillet Cornbread.” All of these were recommended by the server, who was spot on in her knowledge and guided me through the menu and the sheer volume of food it represented, “these dishes are normally split” was her challenge.

Appetizer 2The appetizer arrived quickly. I was first impressed with the small glass jar that contained the turkey liver mousse, there was a small layer of fat on top, a great way to preserve as well as deliver added flavor, the Vidalia onion jam was neatly placed on the plate and the milk stout toasts arrived in a small, rectangular bowl.  A small spoon protruded from the Brunschweiger and my first taste informed me that the night would produce some special flavors. It had an incredibly deep flavor, liver on overdrive, absolutely delicious. Placing a small amount on the toast and then topped with just a touch of the onion jam created an extraordinary balance of flavors and textures. The smooth, richness of the mousse, the sweet jam and the slight bitterness of the toast perfectly complemented each other. Now the fun began as I played with various combinations. I found that placing the jam on the toast and then the jam gave a slightly different flavor profile and then placing the two toppings side-by-side implanted even a slightly different flavor profile. The one consistent feature was that each bite was fantastic.

pork chop 3When the pork chop arrived I sat in awe. This was the largest pork chop that has ever graced my plate. It was 3-4” in height, sitting proudly in the pineapple sauce, with the nut salsa perched on top. The size would rival any NY steak house. I carefully sliced the longer arced side so my first taste would contain both meat and just a touch of fat. The meat was incredibly moist, served medium, slightly pink throughout, and the texture was perfect.  The first bite confirmed my thought from the appetizer; the flavors for the evening would be extraordinary. This was an incredible piece of meat, first brined, so the saltiness was evident, but smokiness was the primary flavor; and this was Berkshire pork, known for juiciness, fat content and fully capable of handling the long and slow cooking processes. The sweetness of the pineapple rum glace was a perfect complement to the salty-smokiness of the pork, Texas meets Hawaii. As much as the Macadamia nut salsa delivered great flavor contrast, the soft texture of the Macadamias was not to my liking, I would have preferred more crunchiness.

The skillet cornbread was nothing special; in fact mine was a little burnt on the bottom. The flavor was basic, there was no textural contrast (I prefer the inclusion of corn kernels) and the depth of flavor was not present. If not for the addition of butter, I would classify the cornbread as dry. With the other choices available I would recommend going in a different direction on the side.

Service was excellent. My server knew the menu, was willing to make recommendations, understood the size of the dishes and guided me to a more reasonable order. The one major drawback was the pacing. I am not sure if this was caused by my dining solo, but the appetizer arrived within minutes after the order was placed and the entrée arrived within one minute of my finishing the appetizer. I felt incredibly rushed. There was no time for relaxing, digesting or just contemplating. I prefer a 5-10 minute interlude as a single and 15 minutes as a couple or group. Hopefully this was the exception, not the rule.

Overall the two main components of the meal were outstanding. The appetizer was extraordinary and the pork and sauce were perfect, but given the salsa, cornbread and the pacing, there is still room for improvement.

Butcher & The Boar on Urbanspoon

Corner Table (Minneapolis) Still Serving Delicious Local Food

BellyIt has been a little while since my last visit to Corner Table, the management has changed but the focus remains sourcing and serving local flavors. And the end result is still delicious food.

On this cold winter evening I sat with my back to the windows and I wish I would have worn a sweater as I was cold throughout the meal. I ordered the pork belly, braised cabbage, apple puree, and mustard seed ($9) for my appetizer and the pan roasted duck breast, sweet potato gnocchi, black garlic, and winter greens ($26).

As I waited, the server brought a plate of bread that was still cool; I never understand why a restaurant starts the meal on a note that could so easily be better with 30 seconds in the oven. There were two slices of Focaccia that had a mid-level of flavor and two slices of a baguette that had good texture and crispy exterior. It was a good start to the evening, but could have been better.

The belly was brought and visually this was one of the most beautiful dishes I have seen in a while. The pale yellow apple puree was plated, then topped with the shredded red cabbage and finally crowned with a large piece of belly. A few dollops of whole grain mustard dotted the puree and snipped chives added green contrast.

The belly was prepared confit-style in its own fat for 6 hours and then pressed to hold the shape. It was tender, flavorful, and maintained a high level of juiciness. The braised cabbage maintained its crispiness while braised and had an earthy quality and the apple puree had a slight level of sweetness but not too sweet. Together the salty warm pork, the slightly cooler and crispy cabbage and then the cool and creamy puree created perfect complementary textures, temperatures and flavors. I can characterize this dish as a brilliant interpretation of the seasonal flavors.

duckThe duck was not in the same league as the belly, not many dishes I have tried recently are. The duck had a mild flavor, served rare with the skin slightly salted before the kitchen sliced and plated. Although technically the sweet potatoes were Gnocchi, they were more mashed sweet potatoes that were slightly sautéed; a more apt description would be small, round sweet potato croquettes. The sauce was not as rich in flavor as I hoped for and the flavor of the black garlic was almost missing. Overall I was looking for more contrasts in this dish as presented in the appetizer. There was a salty component, but my tongue wished for a sour, sweet or spicy for some contrast. Likewise the texture was one-dimensional.

With the perfect appetizer, it would be hard for an equally brilliant second course, but Corner Table is still serving delicious, locally sourced food in a relaxed environment. Would I return…absolutely.

Corner Table on Urbanspoon