Category Archives: Restaurants

The Quest for “Our Place” – Part 6: Groveland Tap

I never intended the Comrus blog to be primarily about restaurant reviews.  Back in the Xanga days, it mostly contained humorous essays on random things about life.  But since I now have a job, and especially now that I’ve been working overtime for a few months, the desire to sit down and blog has been at a minimum.  The only thing that has interested me enough to finally sit down and write has been my interest in laid-back restaurants, under the heading of “Quest for Our Place,” and even then not so much.  In fact, I haven’t had the motivation so much so that I still have not yet written about my favorite discovery, first visited many months ago.

And so, yet again, instead of a humorous essay, I find myself with another restaurant to talk about (quite briefly, too be honest).  And also yet again, it’s not about the aforementioned favorite discovery.

So, first up in the lineup of places that are far better than The Nook (and believe me, that’s a really long list), the Groveland Tap, 1834 St. Clair Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105.  Also in Highland Park, the Groveland Tap features wooden booths, a non-dive dive type atmosphere, and a very large beer selection.

As previously described, the purpose of our search is to find a laid back place, with good food, preferably with great hamburgers, where you can also enjoy sitting back and having a few beers.  The Nook failed on most of these counts, and the Groveland Tap quite succeeds.

The burger itself is nicely juicy, with fixings that have flavor but don’t overwhelm.  It does have a nice griddle/grease flavor, but could use a bit more bite and spice.  But otherwise, it’s everything I’m looking for.  It’s anything but dry, and the cheese is nicely melted.  The accompanying fries were nice and fresh.  They weren’t fabulous, but were good, salty, and satisfying.

And yes, for those Juicy Lucy nuttos, the Groveland Tap has those as well.

Perhaps the thing that stood out to me most, though, was the Groveland Tap’s large draught beer selection, including many various pale ales, amber ales, lagers, etc.  Better yet, seven days a week, from 11:00 AM to 5:30 PM, they have Summit pints for $2.25.  That’s the best Summit deal I’ve ever seen in the Twin Cities.

As such, I can certainly see myself grabbing a few pints on their front patio this summer.

One of the main failings of The Nook, not counting the mediocre burgers, is that it’s constantly jammed with people, so getting a table is a process.  We’ve only been to the Groveland Tap once, and it was quite empty when we went, but it was on a Sunday afternoon. Almost undoubtedly, the place gets very busy in the evenings, especially with their beer selection.  But because of the food and the atmosphere, I’d be far more willing to wait for a table there.

Overall, the Groveland Tap is very comfortable, with friendly wait-staff, and very good bar food.


The Quest for “Our Place” – Part 5: The Nook

And finally, we get to The Nook.  I’ve been avoiding doing this for a long time, since it’s a big favorite here in St. Paul.  The Nook is perennially on “Best Burger” lists, and has periodically won awards for the best Juicy Lucy’s.  Located at a small site in Highland Park in St. Paul (492 Hamline Ave. South), The Nook is almost always spilling over with patrons.

There’s little about The Nook that I shouldn’t like.  It’s a nice smallish dive-y bar, with a focus on burgers.  In all honesty, the “dive” feel is more of a slightly yuppie idea of a dive, but since it’s not overly yuppie, unlike the St. Clair Broiler, it still can be a fun place to eat.  Unfortunately, though, because it’s always super busy I’ve never felt comfortable just sitting back and enjoying a few beers.  This place is definitely more for meals, so it fails on that note to be the “our place” for our quest.

The main menu items are burgers, of course.  This place has plenty of burger options, but the most popular is probably their version of the Juicy Lucy, The Juicy Nookie.  To be honest, I’ve learned that I really don’t enjoy Juicy Lucy’s anywhere.  They are way too over-rated.  Yes, gooey cheese inside a grilled burger sounds brilliant, but what you end up with is an over-cooked dry burger with cheese in the middle.  If you want gooey cheese, get the cheese on top, so that the burger can be cooked appropriately.

As such, I cannot fault The Nook for having an incredibly dry, tasteless Juicy Lucy.  I can fault them, on the other hand, for vaunting this burger.  It’s a sign about Nook fans that this is one of their favorite burgers.  It’s all style and little substance.  People think it’s good because people say it’s good.  Give me a juicy, spiced burger with cheese on the outside any day over a Juicy Lucy.

Unfortunately for The Nook, the other burgers aren’t all that good either.  Each burger I’ve had has been fairly tasteless.  There’s no bite from the griddle, there’s no juiciness, there’s little flavor.  Worse yet, every time I got cheddar on my burger, the cheddar was only slightly melted, so that it was a burger with a hunk of cheddar on top.  Maybe you do need to get a Juicy Lucy after all.

I’ve given The Nook a lot of chances and every time I’ve been disappointed.  The closest they came to being good was on my last trip when I ordered The Lodge Burger.  This burger is a “spiced” burger (chosen because it was specifically listed as “spiced”) with bacon, cheddar, tomato, and chipotle mayo.  I admit that it was decent, and even had a bit more flavor, but was still dry with an unmelted hunk of cheddar on top.

Luckily for that trip, we did take out.  If I can avoid going to actually eat at The Nook, I do.  I normally don’t like to complain about the service at restaurants, and once seated, the service at The Nook isn’t all that bad.  However, since it’s nearly impossible to get a table, getting the attention of the staff at the crowded bar in order to get put on a waiting list can be immensely irritating.  Every time I try it seems like the bartenders and waitresses have been trained to look away from anyone attempting to get their attention.

It’s a good thing the The Nook has a separate, larger location nearby with the same menu: Shamrock’s, at 995 7th St W.  Shamrock’s has a generic sports bar interior, but it at least allows for far more seating.  It’s a tad unfortunate that it is exactly the same menu, though, since the burgers aren’t good, and they have little else to offer.

And so, with that I wrap up my terribly written pan of a revered St. Paul landmark.  Overrated is an understatement for this place, but I’m certainly not going to be able change anyone’s mind on this (c’mon people, just try to defend the unmelted hunk of cheddar. I dare you).  But seriously, if you’re looking for good burgers in the Twin Cities, there are plenty of better options (e.g. The Convention Grill).


The Quest for “Our Place” – Part 5 (or maybe not): The Nook

Wait, maybe I shouldn’t do this.  Everyone seems to love The Nook, even though their burgers extremely mediocre at best.  I might be lynched.

Okay, okay.  I’ll give them one more shot, even though I’ve had them more than five times.  I’ve heard good things about the Alumni Burger.  That’ll be their final chance. 


The Quest for “Our Place” – Part 4: St. Clair Broiler

It’s been a looooong time since I last seriously blogged.  I blame Twitter for the most part.  I mostly blogged as a way to get out opinions that demanded to be released on the general population (or, at least, to the couple people who stumbled upon my blog).  But Twitter has usurped that outlet, and as such it’s been months since I last seriously wrote anything, even if such opinions needed to be expressed in more than 140 characters.

However, I have been a bit remiss in not revisiting my “The Search for ‘Our Place'” series.  While my wife and I have not been out searching for very many new places of late, mostly due to economic reasons of course,  we have gone to a couple, and have probably come to the closest thing to what will be “Our Place” that is possible. 

Before I get to that (that’ll be in a later post), let me start with a place my wife and I visited today.  The criteria for what we’re looking for in “Our Place” has been laid out in previous posts within this category, so I won’t regurgitate them here, with the exception of saying that we’re looking for a laid-back hangout, probably a bar-like place, with something special, particularly in regards to the food.  Finding great hamburgers was a big element of what caused this search to begin with.

And so, with that in mind, we head off to the St. Clair Broiler, at the corner of Snelling and St. Clair in St. Paul.  Now, this place doesn’t fit our theme exactly, as my wife has been there many times before when she was in college.  In fact, on one of our early dates we had gone there.  My wife raved about their fried chicken drummies (she is a bit of a fried chicken nut, actually), so I had to check them out.  Back in the day (i.e. ~3-4 years ago), the place had a bit of a dive diner/malt-shop interior.  I don’t remember much about the food back then, but I remember thinking the drummies were decent, but were in serious need of spice, and the rest of the food was rather average.

Given that, it was surprising how interested I was in visiting the restaurant today.  I really shouldn’t have been.  See, if you’ve read the previous posts in this category, you’d pick up on the fact that I like dive-y places.  They’re generally more fun as they have more style than your average restaurant, especially your average cheaper restaurant.  And that’s the main thing the St. Clair Broiler has screwed up.  They recently renovated, and now offer a décor that can only be described as generic Highland Park yuppie “diner.”  Or, as my friend aptly described it, it’s no longer the St. Clair Broiler, but rather the St. Clair Bistro (that actually applies to the menu as well).  It is completely without any style at all.  It reminded me greatly of the damage that was done to the Shantytown Grill (about which a mini-rant can be found within this previous post).

But, of course, since this place was never going to be a hangout given its relative lack of drinks (it does have a beer and wine license, but it almost feels like ordering a beer at Perkins), the atmosphere isn’t the be all end all.  The food is what matters.

In addition to making the style of the restaurant very bland, the owners also neutered the menu.  It used to be a dive-like menu, with a few options for burgers, chicken, and sandwiches.  It’s now a menu the likes of which you’ll find absolutely anywhere.  Don’t get me wrong, the menu isn’t really anything to complain about, but they took away the style.  They also took away the drummies.  For shame.

But really, the place is about the burgers and malts anyway, so I ventured forth… and didn’t order a malt.  To be honest, I just wasn’t in the mood.  I had recently gotten a terrible, terrible DQ malt (I know, redundant) right before I got really sick, and I now have the connection of bad malts and nausea in my head.  Luckily, good malts are safe, but since I wasn’t thoroughly impressed with the Broiler last time, I didn’t want to risk it.

I did, however, have a burger.  It came with everything I generally desire with a burger: cooked onions (although I’m good with raw too), tomato, pickles, and mayo.  The burger itself looked nicely grilled, and I looked forward to biting into grilled-burger goodness.  And then I was disappointed.

The burger wasn’t bad.  Most importantly, the burger wasn’t tasteless.  It was, however, only a little distinguishable from your average Burger King burger.  Both are flame-broiled, and both are rather dry.  Worst yet, the burger was overly charred, so that I tasted little besides the charring.  And for a burger with that strong of a “flavor,” the onions need to be raw, not cooked.

I do have to repeat, the burger wasn’t that bad.  It was tasty enough, but there’s absolutely nothing about it that would make me choose it over almost any other burger place out there.  I had the burger with a side of kettle chips, which were also decent, but again nothing to write home about.

My wife had a grilled ham and cheese, and when she ordered it, she asked for sourdough instead of white bread.  On the menu, they have sandwiches listed as having sourdough, after all.  The waitress told her that while the menu does say that, they just actually use white bread in those sandwiches.

Yeah, that’s something you probably don’t want to admit.

Anyway, the St. Clair Broiler, used to be rather average food, but with decent style, now has very average food with no style at all.  For the love of Bob, my burger even came on a rectangle plate.  Yuppie-ville.

As for the place that will probably finally be “Our Place,” as mentioned, I’m just going to have to delay that until next time.  I have also just noticed that I have somehow not written about The Nook, besides a really quick blurb-slam.  We’ve since moved only a few blocks from The Nook, and I do have a different perspective than when I originally blurb-slammed it.  But let me tell you, it’s still not good (and there’s your blurb-slam #2).  Until then…


The Quest for “Our Place” – Part 3: Convention Grill & Fountain

The title to this series has been a bit of a misnomer.  So far, it has been not so much a quest for “our place,” but rather a quest for a burger to replace Grandma’s as the best in the Twin Cities.  Grandma’s had two things going for it, it had wonderful burgers, and it was a great restaurant/bar to hang out.  As such, when it closed, the quest began and somehow became completely focused on the burger, with the “hang-out” portion being only incidental.  That will have to change.

It will particularly have to change because I do believe we’ve found a burger very nearly as good as Grandma’s.  This time, number ten in Citysearch’s Top Ten Burgers in the Twin Cities for 2008: The Convention Grill & Fountain at 3912 Sunnyside Rd., Edina, MN 55424.

The Convention Grill is of the malt shop variety rather than a bar and grill.  The menu is very limited, and consists entirely of burgers, a few sandwiches, and multiple ice cream options.  It’s a sit-down restaurant with a pay-as-you-leave policy.  Since it’s a malt shop, it’s inherently not what we’re looking for in “our place.”  However, it does have the other thing we were looking for, the exceptional burger.  Even better, it has two other items that are almost more worth a mention.

To reiterate yet again: “As I’ve said before, the best burger is not a pre-formed patty with ‘special’ toppings.  The best burger is juicy with just a decent kick of bite from the grill.”  And this is exactly what the Convention Grill offered.  I had a California Burger (lettuce (for me, sans lettuce), tomato, pickles, mayo) with swiss and grilled onions.  The burger was the closest thing to Grandma’s I think I could ever find.  The burger was very well cooked, with that bite from the grill (or, more correctly, griddle), I’ve been looking for.  The onions were flavorful without being overwhelming (although, I had to take half of them off since the burger was loaded with them), and the tomato was strong enough to add juice and flavor without taking over the flavor.  The pickles left a bit to be desired, as I prefer regular hamburger chips and these were more traditional fresh cucumber pickles, but did not detract.

I left the Convention Grill wondering exactly why the burger was extremely good, but didn’t quite reach Grandma’s level.  My wife and I have come to a consensus that while the burger wasn’t dry, it wasn’t as juicy as Grandma’s normally is either.  That said, however, the burger was still very good.

Almost more importantly, though, were the fantastic fries.  I’m generally not a french fry connoisseur, I leave that to my wife, but one bite into the crispy fries made me a believer.  The fries were exactly what I’ve been trying to make at home.  Freshly cut from real potatoes, fried to the point of crispiness, and not over-fried, these fries are what the State Fair fry places try to make.  The fries weren’t greasy or too salty, and did not have the harshness that “fresh” fries can sometimes have.  They were simply perfect.  A warning, though.  We ordered a half-order of fries, and that was far more than we ever could have eaten.  After our meal, we had failed to finish off enough fries to bring the fry level down to that of the lip of the basket they came in (on our second trip we ordered only a side order. As shown in the above picture, the side order of fries is still more than enough for two people).

I could already recommend the Convention Grill very highly after just these two items, but there’s one thing that makes it exception: the malt.  There’s a place in Bloomington I used to regularly visit when I was younger called The Shantytown Grill.  It was a bit of a dive, kind of like what I’m looking for now.  The menu was full of at least 24 different burger choices, and they had absolutely fabulous malts.  The malts were creamy even when melted, and didn’t have the generic vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup taste you get at most places.  The place was eventually purchased by new owners, who stripped half of the burgers off the menu (one of which was my favorite), and eliminated the one-of-a-kind malts off the menu.  The burgers that were left were the unspiced, pre-made patties, with odd toppings. 

Needless to say, with one exception, I haven’t been there since.  I no longer feel that loss.  I do not feel that this is an overstatement in any way, and any one who knows me will probably be very surprised by this, but these malts are as good, if not better, than the malts the Shantytown Grill used to have.  I had given up looking for a replacement, with Culver’s being the closest thing so far, but the Convention Grill malt is a more than suitable substitute.

As for the “our place” aspects, the place is a bit blah as far as that goes.  It’s rather close, and parking was fairly easy in their lot (although, when busy, I can see it being hard to get a parking spot).  Most of the booths are wood, which was nice, but as stated above, it’s just a malt-shop.  It cannot become the go-to place when it’s night and we’re looking for a place to have some good food, a drink or two, and hang-out for awhile.  On the other hand, the quest for “our place” can now officially begin sans the unnecessary burger requirement.


The Quest for “Our Place” – Part 2: Sandy’s Tavern

Round number two (or three, if you count Fuddrucker’s) in the quest for “our place.”  This time, Sandy’s Tavern at 6612 Penn Ave S. in Richfield, Minnesota.  Sandy’s has the distinct advantage of being a rather short drive away from where we live, and has a reasonably sized parking lot so that there are next to no obstacles to getting in the door in the first place.  Although, the Sandy’s is a bit small, so going there on a weekend night might pose some issues in getting a table.

The interior of Sandy’s is what I’d describe as a clean dive bar, which is next to perfect for what we are looking for.  The walls are lined with booths made of wood, and the place has a nice blue-collar, but not too loungy type feel to it, complete with neon signs and local sports team paraphernalia.  It’s just comfortable and quite welcoming.  This place is anything but pretentious.  Although, thank god for the smoking ban, as the place probably would have been saturated with smoke.  So, as far as the search for “our place” goes, it definitely had the style and location down pretty well. 

The food offering was a bit sparse.  The menu basically consisted of bar food off of an a la carte menu.  Not bad, but I was hoping for just a tad more than that since I’m looking for a more distinctive type place.  But the main reason we went to Sandy’s, of course, was for the burgers.  Sandy’s is listed as number eight in Citysearch’s Top Ten Burgers in the Twin Cities for 2008.

As I’ve said before, the best burger is not a pre-formed patty with “special” toppings.  The best burger is juicy with just a decent kick of bite from the grill.  And so, with all Sandy’s had going for it, the burger itself was a let down.  It was quite clearly a pre-formed patty.  Now, this doesn’t doom it outright, but the likelihood of juiciness is slim with such patties.  While it wasn’t dry, the burger just wasn’t very juicy.  It was also a bit thin.  Now, I made the mistake of not ordering any sort of onion on my burger, but I’m pretty sure that even with the onion the burger would have remained a bit bland.  Unfortunately, the burger only had a slight tinge of bite from the grill.

However, I would say that the burger was still above average, and it was mainly due to one thing, and this one thing is something you probably wouldn’t expect.  The burger was still fairly tasty, but it was the bun that made it better than average.  The bun was perfectly toasted, adding its own bit of bite and flavor.  Without the bun, the burger would have been unremarkable.  With it, it kicked the quality up a notch.

Anyway, as I’ve said, the search for “our place” does not hinge on the burger alone.  It hinges a lot on whether or not we’d just like to hang out there and have a few beers, as well as having a distinct menu item.  As such, it succeeds on the hang out requirement, but as of yet, does not quite succeed as far as having the food item.  The menu is filled with items such as cheese curds and chicken strips, so there is a chance we might just find a different food item that solves this issue.

As of yet we have not found our place, but we seem to be coming closer.  Although, as we were eating lunch on Saturday afternoon, a group of four seniors (two men, two women) over 70 came in, sat down and ordered a pitcher of Summit.  Maybe this is my place after all.


The Quest for “Our Place” – Part 1: Annie’s Parlour

Today was the first day since Grandma’s closed that my wife and I tried to find a replacement.  In actuality, we’re looking for two things that we would hopefully find in one restaurant.  The first thing we’re looking for is for fantastic burgers.  The burgers must be juicy, with a hint or so of bite from the grill, and not be a simple pre-made patty topped with random accoutrements (I just used the word “accoutrements” to describe burger toppings.  Ha!). 

As mentioned in the previous post, we had previously tried Fuddruckers, and were generally satisfied.  It wasn’t a wonderful burger, but it was better than average.  However, we’re looking for a fantastic burger.  More importantly, we’re looking for the aforementioned second thing, which is more pressing than the quality of the burger.  We’re looking of a place that can be considered “our place”; a place in which we would almost always want to go, and can easily function as a fallback should other plans fall through.  Fuddruckers clearly fails this test.

The “our place” requirement is stringent, but not too stringent.  In fact, it doesn’t even need to have good burgers at all.  What it needs are a few excellent menu items in general.  The entire menu need not be great, but there needs to be a few things that stand out. 

Quite importantly, the place also needs to have a very laid-back atmosphere, preferably that of a non-generic bar and grill or a somewhat realistic Irish pub.  For the former, we do have The Chatterbox Pub in Minneapolis as a possibility.  But while the Chatterbox has a decent atmosphere (unfortunately, the clientele can be a little yuppie at times), food and drink is expensive, and there are no menu items that stand-out.  They used to have a very tasty chicken with garlic sauce french bread pizza, but they got rid of that a little over a year ago.  So now, when I leave after a meal and some drinks at the Chatterbox, I inevitably find myself rather unsatisfied and my wallet emptier.

For the latter, the Irish pubs, there is Kieran’s and The Local.  While Kieran’s is pretty good as far as atmosphere goes, and a great place to hang out and have a beer, especially on the patio, the food is anything but special.  As for The Local, well, I’ve had my problems with The Local.  Plus, it’s not really an Irish pub.  It’s an Irish pub in a warehouse filled with Nicollet Mall yuppies.  However, they do have two great food items: Irish Whiskey Chicken Shots and Wee Burgers.  So I do find myself there periodically, but it will never be our place.

Enough with my extremely long-winded preamble and let’s get to today’s attempt to find a place.  Number Seven on Citysearch’s 2007 Best Hamburgers in the Twin Cities list: Annie’s Parlour, located in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota, at 313 14th Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

The place itself is located upstairs above Dinkytown shops, and has a nice outdoor patio.  It’s primarily a malt shop, but does serve beer and wine.  The inside is essentially what you would expect from a malt shop atmosphere.  That is, it is very parlour-like (who’d a thought?).  That’s a problem at the outset.  Annie’s does not feel like a place where you would sit around for awhile sipping a beer.  In fact, I would feel a little uncomfortable doing so even on the patio.  It has a very strong family-friendly feel.  That’s not a criticism, per se, but it violates the standards for becoming “our place.”

The food itself was quite tasty.  I did enjoy the burger.  It was nicely juicy, but without the bite of the grill I was hoping for.  The toppings were decent, but the tomato was too strong, and the pickles has a slightly odd flavor.  But again, the burger itself was very good, so I don’t want to knock it too much.  I do want to give them kudos for the malts, though.  My wife and I shared a chocolate malt, and it was one of the best I’ve had in the Twin Cities (far better than Grandma’s or Fuddruckers, which I was never a big fan of anyway).  It’s not something to go there solely for, but it was very good.

And, I hate to do this since it sounds like I’m really knocking the place, getting to and from Annie’s is a bit of a pain.  With the 35W bridge being out, there is no convenient way to get to it (and, depressingly, we had to pass by the empty Grandma’s to get there), and parking in Dinkytown is always a pain.  We went there on a Saturday afternoon and not evening for a reason, we did not want to fight parking.

This was the final straw in the attempt to make Annie’s our place.  While the burgers were good, they weren’t great, and the far more easily accessible Fuddruckers has better.  The atmosphere was better at Annie’s, but like I said, it’s just not the style we’re looking for anyway.

That said, I do want to say that the service was impeccable.  Very attentive and friendly.  Our waitress even informed us that we should order a smaller, less expensive, order of fries because the one we were trying to order would be far too much for us.  And, wow, was she right.  The smaller one we ended up getting was still way too much.

So, in sum, while it was a good place, Annie’s Parlour just isn’t good enough to frequent often, especially given its inconvenient location.

“Inconvenient location.”  Oy, I’m becoming old.