Monday, April 25, 2016

Intronaut, Scale the Summit, and North – Skyway Theater – Minneapolis, MN

This show opened with a local band called Red Shift. They’re a fairly young/green band, so they’ve got some stage presence issues (like looking at each other when someone misses a note, and also their stage banter). But on a plus side, the bass player plays with his fingers, instead of a pick – kudos to you and awesome for showing off some natural bass playing skills. The drummer has also got some mad skills. I couldn’t tell if the guitar player had skills because he had pretty bad guitar tone that didn't cut through – this is a regular issue I have with bands. Drop the mids out and it sounds great in your mom’s basement, but doesn’t cut through in a crowd setting. Bummer. The singing wasn't my favorite – there was a lot of singing, an most of it wasn’t confident enough to pull it off successfully. Their yelling vocals were actually really solid, so I was a bigger fan of those parts. The guitarist moved around on the stage, but the bass player didn’t. The music had good timing stops and change ups, which is only going to get better. They’ve got a talent for writing music, but details like the non-confident singing and guitar sound hurts them a little bit.

North was up next. They’re sort of a slow sludgy metal band from Tucson, Arizona. Normally, when I see that many guitar and bass pedals, it means they aren't going to move. Generally. And in this case, it was pretty accurate. The band plays with lots of delay with held out chords to make it sound full, which it did. The sound was massive. Just a little un-interesting to my ears. Really great drumming and quality guitar sound, though. A crusty guitar tone was perfectly suited to this style and there were no pedal mishaps. (8 pedals per player means 8x – times two – the chance something will go wrong.) The bass sound was also super full with a little bit of crunch. Drums sound was actually awesome and I was impressed with his set. I wish everything wasn’t the same speed, but that’s sludge metal for you. Not my style at all. But they are good at it. I’m glad I got to see these guys.

Scale the Summit was the third band. I’ve heard of them, but hadn’t really listened to them. I found it amusing that they were selling guitar tabs (presumably from their own songs) at their merch booth. They took forever to set up – the guitarist had a computer and large rack system which took too long to set up. The drummer had a sample-machine and a large trigger system, which took too long to set up (and then the drums didn't sound great during sound check). The best part was they got frustrated at the sound guys before they even started. My solution? Don't have so much shit and the sound guys will be able to help you. Even before they started, I knew these guys were bitchy and pretentious (I just call it like I see it – you want to write a nice review, start your own stupid blog that no one reads, like I did). Once they started, it was clear these guys were incredible musicians. Like Berklee School of Music incredible. Like practice scales and sweep picking and arpeggios all the time incredible. Even the bass player was top notch and clearly comes from a jazz background. Always right in the pocket and tight with the drummer. But he was sooooo loud it overpowered everything. I tried near the stage and back further in the crowd. The bass was just so loud. They bring their own sound guy which usually means the mix is good, but I think the house sound guy could have made it sound better. The guitarist with the normal guitar (the guitarist with the computer set up had a headstock-less sparkly small guitar that looked like a children’s toy) is the underrated hero of this band. Super solid skills and took him almost no time at all to set up his rig. But the entire band was playing a game of Arpeggio-Hero. So much noodling and no actual songs. It seemed like they played forever, but also the same song. I wish they would have used the pick sometimes, but most of what they played was tapping arpeggios out on the fretboard (look at the photo above, where everyone has both hands on the neck of their instruments). It’s very gracious of them to offer tablature on how to play their songs (yes, that was sarcasm). Clearly, these were four soloists from Berklee School of Music, but for my money, I’d rather see Animals as Leaders, The Contortionist, Born of Osiris, or even Joe Satriani (he's playing in St. Paul, by the way) – at least there’s an actual song. Oddly, the crowd was really into these guys, I guess they like the noodling. Hell, I’ve got a degree in music performance and I rolled my eyes through most of the set.

The best part of Scale the Summit’s set was right after they stopped playing. Someone next to me said "Shit. Those guys played ALL the notes. What's Intronaut going to do." Hahahahaha. Brilliant.

The band I was really there to see was Intronaut. They’re considered a prog metal band out of California. I’ve seen these guys quite a few times and they kill it every time. I’ll be honest, I’ve totally got a man-crush on the bass player, Joe Lester. He plays a fretless five string (left-handed) bass, using his fingers, and everything he does is magical. I was on the left hand side of the stage right in front, so every time he looked at his fingers, he was pretty much in eye-line with me. Like a complete dork, every time he played a walking bass line, I smiled. I got a head nod or two, since he knew I was watching him. I truly believe he’s the best bass player in hard music. Seriously. He’s up there with Robert Trujillo, Steve DiGiorgio, and Stephan Fimmers. Both guitarists do an amazing job of both playing actual songs, but also setting a mood. The group’s last album has steered toward the sing-y side of the spectrum, but it fits them so well that I don’t hate it at all. Last but not least, the drummer doesn't have a non-badass switch. He plays crazy fast during some slow parts and doesn't ruin the feel. He’s ultra-solid and despite playing incredibly intricate drum parts, I can’t ever tell if he loses a beat or gets off course. A true professional. I love seeing these guys play live.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prairie Dogs – Minneapolis, MN

A-Wow and I had a hankerin’ for hot dogs and I hadn’t been to Prairie Dogs yet. I was at their pop-up venture back in 2013, and I was really excite when I found out they were actually opening a store in Lyn-Lake – I just hadn’t gotten there yet.

First things first, they’re got a decent local beer tap list, which changes regularly. There’s a nice chalkboard with the current selections on the wall, so check there first, before even looking at the menu. When you look at the menu, you’ll be even more impressed. They’ve got some pretty unique appetizers and side dishes, house-made sausages, some sandwiches, and finally (what we’ve all been waiting for) a wonderful variety of hot dogs. You can also add any sort of extra ingredients you’d like to any dog or sandwich – very good idea. We decided to order some Foietine (poutine with Foie gravy and braised lamb neck) to split. Then A-Wow ordered  the All-American Dog and I ordered Micho’s Sonoran Dog.

The Foietine was a decent portion for the two of us to share. The foie gravy was very unique to this place and had a nice rich smooth tang to it. But the star of this dish was the lamb. The meat was really tender and added so much flavor. Fantastic.

The dogs arrived and looked impressive. The really awesome server suggested flipping the fried egg upside down on the All American Dog. This keeps the runny yolk from running off the sides of the bun, and keeps it on the inside. That being said, it still made this dog a wonderful beautiful mess. The dog also had crispy pork belly, hashbrowns (the cube kind, not the shredded kind), cilantro, and a nice sriracha aioli. The structured maintained its integrity for about two bites and then required a fork, as it landed in a pile on the plate. This thing was a tasty mess. You’ll be happy with this one.

The Sonoran Dog was a bacon-wrapped and grilled house-made dog (which itself was fantastic), with cilantro aioli, a bean spread, avocado, cotija cheese, onions, tomato, and salsa verde. Structurally, this dog held up really well to the final bite, but the flavors were really magical. The southwestern flavors were a perfect complement to the really meaty dog. A wonderful ratio of ingredients to meat, obviously helped, but overall, I would absolutely get this dog again.

I look forward to going back and getting some of the house-made sausages and more of the appetizers. I think this place is underrated, and I’m going to do my part to make sure I talk about it more to all my friends. (Sorry, friends.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Afro Deli – St. Paul, MN

The entire time the Afro Deli was open in Minneapolis, I never found time to go there, despite attending the U of MN across the street. I now know what a huge mistake that was. D.Rough is a regular at the new downtown St. Paul location and has raved about it, so I met her there for lunch. So glad I did.

The menu is on a big board when you walk in, so be courteous and don’t stand in the ordering line until you know what you want. You’ll want everything, but you’ll need to narrow it down a LITTLE.  Thankfully, I had an expert who offered her own advice as to what I should get. Thanks, wife! I got the Chapati Wrap with gyro meat (it comes with a salad), and a side of sweet potato fries. I also got two Beef Sambusas. D.Rough got the Somali Steak Sandwich.

The food takes very little prep time, so I was pretty happy with the short wait during the busy lunch hour. The salad was pretty standard, but who really reviews a salad? No one. The Chapati Wrap was wonderful. Lots of meat and plenty of peppers and lettuce and rice and such. Great flavor and not sloppy like wraps sometimes get. Super solid showing on this wrap.

The sweet potato fries weren’t stellar. They had good flavor but were a little soggy. I have heard their regular fries are the way to go here, so maybe I’ll try those next time. I certainly won’t complain about these (because I love me some sweet potato fries), but I’ve had better.

The Sambusas were really really good. I liked these a lot and maybe wouldn’t share next time. They are filled with ground beef onions and cilantro, but the bright green spicy dipping sauce (“basbas”) was perfect. I loved these things.

But the winner for me was the steak sandwich. It’s really thin sliced steak but seasoned in really spicy ingredients that make this thing pop. It’s a bit on the slide-y side when you eat it, but you’ll get over it when you have the first bite of this meat. It’s fantastic.

There are so many other things on this menu I need to try. The Chicken Fantastic looked amazing, and the Curry also looked like I needed to try it. I’ll be back!

Top 5 things about Afro Deli
1) Somali Steak Sandwich
2) Beef Sambusas
3) Chapati Wrap
4) It’s verrrrry reasonably priced
5) Having a location in both cities is really smart, especially in the business district of downtown St. Paul

Bottom 5 things
1) Sweet Potato fries
2) Parking isn’t ideal, but you can find it on the street
3) The place gets packed at lunch
4) There were a lot of people eating quesadillas here – super disappointing since everything ELSE is so good (probably the Minnesota spice tolerance issue…)
5) No other negative points – I tried really hard to find something else!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bane and Axis – Triple Rock, MN

I’ve never been a huge fan of the band Bane, but a friend of mine had an extra ticket to see them on their final farewell tour. They’re a pretty influential band in the positive (or “posi”) hardcore scene, so I thought I’d better check them out one last time. I’d seen them before, but it’s been a few years, so why not!?

The opening band was a band out of Florida called Axis. Actually, these guys were pretty awesome. Lots of energy and good (i.e. professional) equipment. These guys were all over the small stage at the Triple Rock and lots of folks in the crowd knew their stuff. I’d better check these guys out on CD – hopefully, this isn’t THEIR farewell tour, as well.

Bane took the stage and sounded fantastic. They’ve got great energy – it also helps that everyone in the crowd knew all the lyrics, so when the singer was sick of singing, he just held the mic out for the crowd to sing. The band is great at what they do. The singer, in typical posi fashion, had a lot to say about the state of the world, the state of the people dancing in front of the band, and a lot of other topics. That’s all well and good, but I come from a more negative hardcore background where you show up to see bands and knock people down. It’s not bad, it’s just a different style than I’m used to. I’m an adult and know when not to roll my eyes. Again, this band is dead solid and looked like they were having fun on stage – that’s all I ask.

Monday, April 11, 2016

My Wife is a Wizard – West St. Paul, MN

I brag about my wife, D.Rough, probably more than all of my readers care for. Well, she’s awesome and I need to tell people about it. My apologies.

We went to a dinner party the other night and she thought she’d try some fun things. She’s got some significantly more advanced cookbooks and recipes than I’m comfortable tackling, and she pulled a couple of things from them for this party.

This party, she made Kimcheez-its from scratch, along with a nice blue cheese dip. Yes, there’s actual kimchee in the crackers she baked, combined with the orange powdered cheese from the blue box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Yes, we now have a box of JUST macaroni in our cabinet with no accompanying cheese dust. It was 1000% worth it, though!!!

For dessert, she made Fruity Pebble-milk ice cream. Yes, she actually steeped crushed up Fruity Pebbles in milk to extract the flavor and some various bits of colored flecks, and threw that into the ice cream maker we own. Then, because for some reason she felt that wasn’t awesome enough, she made a fruity pebble crumble for the top. I have no idea what else was in it, but I remember Fruity Pebbles and butter being involved.

Needless to say, we’ve now been forced to make Fruity Pebble-milk ice cream for additional parties. And, we’ll probably continue to make it because it’s quite amazing.

Thanks for being a wizard in the kitchen, D.Rough.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Copper Hen – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I thought it would be fun to take her sister, SalsaSandwich, out for a nice birthday lunch. Mainly, we knew Copper Hen had brilliant desserts, which is a favorite of both my wife and sister-in-law. The Copper Hen is a very quint “farmhouse-chic” restaurant and bakery with farm-to-table food and a nice-but-still-casual atmosphere. 

The first thing you see when you walk in the door is the dessert display case. It’s got all kinds of upscale and unique cupcakes and cookies, and even some gluten free items. I’ll get to the desserts later, but here is a photo of SalsaSandwich in front of the case. It’s hard to tell whether she’s getting a closer look or genuflecting to the dessert gods for this bountiful dessert manifestation.

The menu has some delicious looking cocktails and a decent beer and wine list. I went with a Bauhaus Uber Duber Bock, and D.Rough got a super delicious fancy Cosmo Chemistry, and SalsaSandwich got a Coke.

The menu has plenty of things to choose from, all of which sounded good, so I felt pretty good when we had it narrowed down quickly. D.Rough and SalsaSandwich were going to split a classic rustic pizza and also a Cheddar Ale Burger. I had the server help me decide between the Pot Pie and the Mac and Cheese. He talked me into the mac and cheese, but added steak on the top – I’m not sure why he and I aren’t best friends at this point.

The Cheddar Ale Burger got a decent review from both D.Rough and SalsaSandwich. They liked it and it was plenty juicy, but I think both of them have had better burgers. Lots of onions and neon orange cheese looked a little unusual to me, but I was happy letting them enjoy it amongst themselves. 

The pizza got some pretty rave reviews (and I even had a slice of this one). I think it’s the cheese mix that made it so good (it usually is) – although, I say that anytime there’s pecorino cheese on something. But, it’s a nice rustic cracker crust and the right amount of toppings. This is a great pizza that makes me want to try some of their more unusual pizzas.

The mac and cheese was absolutely awesome. It’s baked and has breadcrumbs on it, so you know it’s already delicious. It’s a bechemel cheese sauce, so it’s nice and thick and it’s the squiggly cavatappi noodles which rule. The steak on top was just an added punch that made the whole thing even better. I didn’t share much of this with the rest of the table.

Of course, we were all full, but decided to get a little dessert for the road… and wait, maybe just a little something to split for D.Rough and I. So you know, The Copper Hen usually has some sort of boozy cupcake. And by boozy, I mean they have a little booze injector built right into the cupcake. See the photo.

You squeeze the plastic tube and booze goes right into the already moist cake. Brilliant! It’s served in a little jar, which is very farmhouse and cute, but honestly, the cupcake is delicious, and I’m not even a cupcake fan (for clarification, I AM a booze fan, however). 

We had to get a couple more non-boozy cupcakes for the road, since it was SalsaSandwich’s birthday. I don’t even know what these cupcakes were, but they looked fantastic. 

I think you’ll be pretty happy at The Copper Hen, no matter if it’s for lunch, dinner, brunch, or just dessert. It’s pretty fantastic. 

Top 5 things about The Copper Hen
1. Baked Mac and Cheese
2. Desserts
3. Classic Pizza
4. Crafty cocktails
5. Cheddar Ale Burger

Bottom 5 things
1. Parking can be a challenge on Eat Street
2. By the time you buy 300 desserts, the bill will add up (otherwise, it’s really reasonable)
3. It’s a slow-casual restaurant, so be ready for a more relaxed time frame
4. It’s just rude to put the dessert counter right at the front, so all you think about is dessert the entire time you’re eating your other delicious food – I’m SOOOO kidding
5. Totally a minor thing, but I wish there were more photo of the food on the webpage (just ignore me. I just had a really hard time finding any downsides to this place)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Nacho’s Mexican Grill – Hopkins, MN

There’s a taco place near my office that I’ve driven by a few times and haven’t stopped in. There always appeared to be people in it, so I knew it had to be edible food. I thought I’d pay them a visit. First thing first: there are two doors to get inside, and none of them are on the front of the building. Heck, there’s probably a third one on the backside for the kitchen staff, but I didn’t circle back THAT far to verify that.

The menu is on the walls with good descriptions of ingredients and choices of meat. I decided on the Enchiladas in green sauce, mainly because the photos (which are actually super helpful in seeing what you’re going to get) showed me what I was in store for.

I grabbed a Jarritos from the fridge and grabbed a seat. A guy working as a server and bus boy brought my plate over and offered to get me some hot sauce. I went with Cholula, without much thought. The homemade tortilla chips placed in the refried beans like shark fins won me over right away. I’m a sucker for homemade chips. They were great and the beans and rice were decent, as well. The enchiladas were pretty good. Not life-changing, but the meat had good flavor and wasn’t gristly like beef sometimes is. There was plenty of salsa verde on these and with a couple splashes of Cholula, these things were in great shape. I was pretty happy with all of this.

I took this above photo because they appear to be in some sort of remodel situation, but there's a lower ceiling below the higher ceiling, and the ceiling above still has flourescent lights still attached up there. Bizarre. I just thought it unusual. 
It’s good. It’s authentic. It’s pretty cheap. And there’s a good selection to choose from. It also seems to do a ton of phone-in business. I plan to head back here during more lunch hours now that I know it’s good Mexican food.