Thursday, March 12, 2015

Half Time Rec – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough has mentioned this bar a few times since we met. I keep wanting to call it Half Time Parks and Rec, oddly enough. But recently, the people who do Smack Shack in Minneapolis (I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed THAT place – we love it) took over the kitchen at Half Time Rec. Since Coach and Bendy were in town visiting, D.Rough thought we should go there and show them a good time.

The place is basically an Irish pub, with some equally Irish fare on the newly revised menu. There were so many things for us to decide between that we had some issues deciding who was going to split what and if we should do appetizers. Hilarious (and probably frustrating for the server). We decided to get the Irish Poutine (Shepard’s pie gravy, bacon, and cheddar chunks) to split and then we all got our own individual meals.

The poutine was pretty awesome. I know there are poutine purists in my friends group, but these were delicious – I don’t care what you say. The fries are seasoned potato wedges and the gravy was almost a stew. So good!

Bendy got a corned beef sandwich, which had cheddar and cole slaw on it. The thing is pretty monstrous and comes with a “half order” of fries. The biggest half order I’ve seen in a while. She loved it.

Coach got the beer mac and cheese. It’s a serious portion of mac and cheese with peas in it and the top is covered in popcorn. Also he loved it and recommends it (though he wished there was more beer flavor in it).

D.Rough got the bangers and mash, which she shared some of with me. The sausages come from Butcher and the Boar and were so flavorful. I haven’t had bangers and mash in a while and these made me wonder why that is. Stupid decision on my part. Hahaha

I got the Jumbo Breakfast Dog – a quarter-pound hot dog wrapped in bacon, covered with scrambled eggs, cheese, and sausage gravy. The thing is monstrous and not easy to eat with your hands. There were a lot of flavors happening all at once on this heap and I almost prefer them all separate, frankly. That being said, all of the flavors that were there were fantastic. I’m glad I got it, but I’m also glad I checked it off the list so I can get something else the next time. Good but super filling.

After we ate, we popped down into the basement for some bocce. Yes, they have two full-length bocce courts in the basement of this place. Not a finished basement by any stretch – the kind where you might have a person in a pit in the basement kind of arrangement. They used to have a bar downstairs as well, but that’s been shut down. You can still bring your drinks down there, though. We played a couple games and smack talked for a while and had a blast.

This is a really fun bar. Sounds like things get pretty rowdy there during football games and any type of Irish festival – just a heads up.

Top 5 things about Half Time Rec
1. Bangers and Mash
2. Jumbo Breakfast Dog
3. Bocce in the basement
4. Corned beef sandwich
5. Live music many nights

Bottom 5 things
1. Wished there was more beer taste in the mac and cheese
2. The basement smells like a scary movie basement
3. The lobster rolls – which are amazing – are quite pricey
4. Parking on the street, if you’re lucky to get within a block of the place
5. I keep calling it Half Time Parks and Rec – I can’t stop

Friday, March 6, 2015

(The new) Surly Beer Hall – Minneapolis, MN

If you live in the Twin Cities and haven’t been to the newly built Surly Beer Hall, you owe it to yourself to be a true Minnesotan and go there. Even if you don’t like beer, you need to go here. The place is massive. The place is modern. The place is warm. The place is fun. I’m not a brewery tour guy, usually. I’ve done a handful and they’re enjoyable, but I simply don’t care about the process enough to care. But Surly has what a lot of other brew pubs and breweries don’t – amazing food. The menu has some low-brow standard bar food fare, and then they have some pretty top-notch items. They serve soda there if you’re not a beer drinker, so there’s really no reason you shouldn’t go here.

They have a regular rotating selection of Surly beers (obviously). They have the standards that everyone is familiar with, but they also have a very through representation of many of their seasonal items. You can put your name on the waiting list to get seated at a table (there WILL be a wait) (and no reservations), OR you can walk through the dining room, look at everyone else’s food, and look for the sign that says Beer Here. It’s a beer-only line and they have beer menus that describe the beers available, with alcohol contents, prices, IBUs, and such.

We got seated pretty quickly this time around. D.Rough and I have been here a few times, but the first time is really the only time I’ve taken photos. I tried a couple of different beers – a flight is sometimes the best route when you can’t decide. And by "flight", I mean order four beers. Then we also ordered some Hog Frites. It’s French fries covered in giardiniera, pepperjack fondue, and smoked pork.

The food came out very quickly and we dug in. This quick appetizer was more than enough for both of us to appease our appetites and not require us to order anything additional. The flavor of the pork was amazing and the giardiniera was the perfect accompaniment to the cheese. There isn’t anything on the menu I wouldn’t recommend here. Everyone really seems to be into  the burgers here (not sure if it’s just because it’s the cheap option or if it’s because they are that amazing. I suppose I should try one, just to be sure. But there are soooo many other delicious things listed on the menu that I feel bad only going for the burger.

While you’re waiting, or after dinner, you should walk around the place. There’s a merchandise shop with tons of really fun shirts, hats, mugs, and other things. There’s a nice upstairs bar area, as well as some fun meeting rooms (I’ve heard they book fast, so jump on it now if you want to book a room). They have a huge balcony, both inside and outside, overlooking what’s going to be an amazing summer courtyard. And of course, look through the glass at all the shiny metal awesomeness that actually makes the beer you’re drinking. You’ll notice tiny details like the railings being sloped just enough that you can’t set your beer on them – brilliant and very safe.

Seriously, just hop on the light rail and go to the Beer Hall. It’s worth the trip. It’s very Minnesota-modern (very new, but still lots of woodwork). Try everything on the food and beer menus, and be sure to tip your servers and bartenders.

Top 5 things about the New Surly Beer Hall
1. Old standards and new favorite seasonal beers all in one spot
2. Hog Frites
3. TONS of space
4. Outside garden area is going to be amazing
5. Just off the light rail stop, bike path, and by the TCF Stadium, and has a HUGE parking lot

Bottom 5 things
1. There will likely be a considerable wait when you try to eat here – worth it, though
2. There will be people who don’t know about the wait list who will snag any open table they see right in front of you
3. You can’t eat here anonymously – all of your friends will be here every time you go
4. If you accidentally press on the pint glass sprayer behind the bar, it WILL spray 15 feet in all directions
5. You will like this place so much, you shouldn’t drive home

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ham Day – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I have unusual/quirky/weird/charming/intelligent/nerdy/fun friends. That goes without saying. So it isn’t unusual when friends invite us to parties named “Ham Day Celebration”. I didn’t know there was such a thing as Ham Day, but I’m absolutely willing to celebrate it.

We showed up to a complete stranger’s house at the assigned time and with a considerable appetite. We were shocked at what transpired. These wonderful people had procured a 21 pound ham. I’m not sure if you realize how big that is, but it’s basically a dog-sized amount of meat, and not a lap dog, either. The owners of said ham have been infusing and soaking this gargantuan piece of meat in bourbon for days and have cooked it in an oven for untold hours. I don’t even know how long you’d cook such a thing, but they’ve done the math (and this isn’t their first time hosting Ham Day, either).

There is other food available, but when they bring out the ham, it’s quite a celebration. People cheer like savages and then the ham is lit on fire. Let me repeat that: THE HAM IS LIT ON FIRE. The boozey ham-cano is watched and oohed and ahhed over and then the first slices are cut. Hilarious and awesome. There is soooo much bourbon in this thing.

I have to say, I’m pretty impressed by this whole tradition. I’m surprised more people don’t try this at home with a much smaller ham. For the record, I ate an incredible amount of ham at this party….

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Taco Bell Rolled Chicken Tacos – Eden Prairie, MN

I know people are complaining about Taco Bell not calling their new-ish menu item a taquito. Yes, that’s what it is, but Taco Bell has a track record of calling things their own terms, and we’ve always dealt with it in the past. Just get over it and call it whatever you want. If you order the Rolled Chicken Tacos as a taquito at the counter or drive thru, you’ll still get the same thing, so it’s just fine. Just please quit complaining about it.

And, the bottom line is these things rule. Way more than I even expected. They’re really crispy and filled with perfectly seasoned chicken. They come in 2-packs or 4-packs, so they’re good for snacking or good for the entire meal. I’ve tried a number of the sauces and the one I come back is the one I thought I’d like the least – the spicy ranch. Sounds boring, but it is the best sauce for these things.

Just order these. They’re not expensive, so you’re not committing a bunch of money on a complete gamble. They’re delicious and filling and you may not need anything else.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Inamo – London, UK

While I was in London on business, I suggested a few restaurants for my friend Mandolin to meet me at for dinner. She hadn’t heard of any of them, and quite frankly was scared at some of my recommendation. I guess aerial acrobats and hot tubs aren’t her thing. Hahaha. She was intrigued by one of the places on the list, so she agreed to meet me at Inamo. I hadn’t been there, either, but it sounded really fun to me. Sort of a ultra-modern Asian fusion restaurant. On the way there, I found two other places I’d like to try next time.

One of the places I walked past seemed to be named after my friend Coach from back home:

And the other place seemed right up my alley. It’s called Enrique Tomas and it sells pig legs. Literally. You can go in and pick up an entire cured leg of pig with different flavors. MANY different flavors. You can get little snack packs to go. Shaved or cubed. They’ll slice off a mountain of slivers while you watch and you can get it in a paper cone to go. A veritable pork-nado. Damn my dinner plans!

Inamo made up for my missed pork cones, however. 100%. You get seated at a completely white table by a host. The host shows you a small track pad for your finger in the bottom right hand of the table. The table is lit by a projector above and shines down onto the table. You touch the pad and an arrow appears with menu options like on a computer screen. Except it’s on your table. You can select your table “desktop” (or the server will do it for you, which is how we got stuck with the Union Jack pattern. Then you can begin to select menu items and drinks.

When you click on a menu item, the projector shows you exactly what your food will look like as it is projected onto your plate. Absolutely amazing. So the server makes sure you know how to operate the table menu ordering system and then you’re on your own. You can order appetizers and they bring them out.

You can order drinks and they bring them out. You can order entrees and desserts and they bring them out. We ordered a nice bottle of wine, baby pork ribs, Korean glazed pig cheeks, edamame, black cod, duck with pancakes, and baby Malayan chicken.

I’d love to go through each menu item, but honestly, I can’t say anything bad about any of these dishes. They were all top-notch. Not just good, but fantastic. The pig cheeks were my favorite, but I love me some guanciale, so I’m biased. Both the duck and Malayan Chicken were wonderful and tasted completely different – not everything tastes like chicken!

We, of course, finished our bottle of wine and after dinner, we headed down to the basement lounge and had a few more cocktails to finish off the night. Very cozy and little “funky” with some couches, pillows, chairs, and other unusual decorations. You can wit down here while waiting for your table/reservation to pop-up in a pinch.

Technology aside, this restaurant can stand on its own for the flavors, breadth of menu, quality ingredients, and atmosphere. I’m going to recommend this place to anyone I know who’s headed over to London. Not only is it fun, it’s worth going back to for the food. Without question.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Soup ‘n Wraps – Eden Prairie, MN

I’ve heard (from people I trust) that there’s this new amazing Indian fusion restaurant. But it’s filled with wraps and bowls. Yes, my intrigue-level was ramped up very quickly. I finally got a chance to sneak there (despite missing out on multiple invites I’m now kicking myself for). When Fire Wally told me this place is in a strip mall, I knew it was going to be good.

When I walked in, the woman asked if she could help me, and I confessed I hadn’t been here. I recommend doing this, frankly, so you get the full treatment and don’t miss out on something amazing. She explained all of the options. I could get a bowl - which I’m pretty sure is a Styrofoam to-go container with two entrees and rice; you can get a “business lunch” – which is kind of a sampler platter; or you can get two wraps with any ingredients inside. The very patient and kind woman explained the vegetarian options and also the meat options. They’ve got palak paneer, various dals (lentils), aloo gobi, butter chicken, chicken reshmi, tikka masala, lamb curry, and chicken 65. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, but chicken 65 is my favorite of all the numbered chickens. I needed some chicken 65.

They also had samosas, which I almost got. And a samosa wrap – I can’t even picture what that would be!. And chai. And Mango Lassi. They apparently have everything (except kheer). This place is wonderful.

I decided to go with two wraps. Each one with different fillings. These aren’t small wraps, either. They’re 8 inch crosses between naan and tortillas. I don’t know what they’re called, but they’re plenty big and hearty. I got one with chicken 65 and one with lamb curry. They asked if I wanted cabbage – yes, I did. They asked if I wanted sauce – yes, I did. One was a chili paste, one was a chimichurri, and one was an unnamed dark brown sauce. They warned me the chicken 65 was medium hot, but I had them add the chili paste anyway. They wrap it right in front of you, so you can see what you’re getting. Then they give you a small side dish of yogurt in case you need to dip your wrap into something cooling. The whole thing came to $7.50. That’s amazing.

The lamb curry wrap was really quite good. The wrap didn’t get soggy and held up, even with my erratic dipping into the yogurt sauce. No bones, a touch of cinnamon, and some heat from the chili paste. Wonderful!

The chicken 65 wrap was even better!!! Wonderfully flavorful chicken bites with no gristle at all. It had some pretty solid heat, so if you’re not a heat person, don’t get the chili paste. I loved every bit of this thing. I even considered getting another pair of chicken 65 wraps. It was a tough call, frankly. When I got up to clear my tray into the garbage, I warned the staff (the chef had come out to chat) that I would for sure be back. I can’t wait to tell everyone about this place. And, they extended their hours so they’re open for dinner most nights, as well. I’m not sure what the fusion part of this place is (maybe wraps), but this is one of the best lunches I’ve had in a really long time. Hit this place up as soon as you can.

6403 City West Parkway
Eden Prairie, MN 55344

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hola Arepa - Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I had random reasons to celebrate, so we decided to hit up a place we've been meaning to go to for months. Hola Arepa in Uptown. It was a Friday night, so we knew there was going to be a wait, but we were up for it - especially since they had a bar there. The host told us it would be about 30 minutes.

We put our name in and headed to the bar. As we were walking up, the people sitting there were leaving and told us to take their spot. We sat down and proceeded to look at the drink menu - soooooo many delicious sounding drinks. Apparently, these folks are known for their creative cocktails. All of them contain bitters, which I'm not a huge fan of, but I am able to order drinks without bitters like a grown ass man, so we're all good.

I ordered an El Camino Rojo and D.Rough ordered a Cortez The Killer. We watched the drink expert make these ridiculously expert-level drinks and were pretty impressed. These drinks were strong. REALLY strong. And delicious, thankfully. We both liked the Cortez The Killer better, but both were super tasty. This also gave us time to check out the food menu so we were ready when we sat down at our table.

We ran into some friends, like you do in Uptown, and chatted the time away. We also ordered two more drinks. I opted for the Jolly Poltergeist and D.Rough got the Southerly Pariah - again, both were incredibly strong. To the point of weavy-ness. This time, I ordered the winning drink (the Jolly Poltergeist)(again, without bitters).

It was just over 30 minutes when the host called our name and sat us at a table being served expertly by Bryce - a fellow long-haired bearded gentleman. We were already leaning towards a couple of appetizers and finally decided on the Vigoron appetizer - steamed yuca, roasted pork, citrus-cabbage slaw, pico de gallo, and chicharron on a banana leaf. After a few questions, I ordered an arepa with roasted pork and sweet potatoes and D.Rough ordered the arepa with shredded beef and plantains. If you don't know what arepas are, you're missing out. They're sort of a taco-like hand food. Picture a circular cross between a pita and an english muffin, but made out of corn meal. Then stuff it with all kinds of different ingredients (mainly the kinds of things you would put in a fancy taco) like lettuce, shredded beef/pork, black beans, onions, and other things.

The Vigoron came out and we were extremely excited for this crazy thing. It was a mound of shredded pork with some other fun things to dip the pork rinds into. Seriously this thing was worth fighting over. I was very surprised both at how large it was and also how delicious it was. I'm glad we decided on this for an appetizer.

The arepas came out just after we finished our appetizer. And I'll be honest, it was really difficult to tell which one was better.

The shredded beef was had fantastic cumin flavor and the sweetness of the plantains really cut through. The cotija cheese flavor also came through brilliantly. I was really surprised how good this thing was.

The roasted pork arepa with sweet potato was also fantastic. The green onion aioli was extremely mild and complemented the roasted pork very well. Just the right amount of sweet potato so as not to be overpowering.

The yuca fries that came with our areas were wonderful. I got the chimichurri dip and D.Rough got the aioli verde dip. Again, we couldn't decide which one was better - we loved them both.

I'll be honest, I expected to just think this place was "o.k.". I was totally wrong about it. The place is wonderful. I know there are competing arepa restaurants in the Twin Cities that are cheaper, but the arepas at Hola are much larger, more full of ingredients, and are more filling. One arepa is more than enough here, especially if you get one of their enormous appetizers (which I would recommend).

Top 5 things about Hola Arepa
1. Vigoron
2. Shredded beef and plantain arepa
3. Roasted pork and sweet potato arepa
4. Delicious cocktails
5. Both the chimichurri dip and the aioli verde dips for the yuca fries

Bottom 5 things
1. You're going to wait in line, especially in the winter when the patio is closed. There's a really good reason they're as busy as they are
2. The bartender, who is an absolute wizard, is leaving Hola Arepa to start his own distillery!!!!
3. You're going to want everything on the menu
4. I've heard people call it "Holla" arepa. Those people are idiots
5. If you don't like bitters, order your fancy drinks without them - it's that easy