Tag Archives: Food

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.

Cheers,
Charlie

Goodbye Grandma’s Saloon and Grill

Since I apparently don’t update this weblog at all anymore, especially with anything more than a link or two, I feel it necessary to at least do a quick summary of the two events I’ve been meaning to write about, but for which I will apparently not get to long posts.  I’m not one for the descriptive writing, so bear with me.  The first event I speak of is the shame of the closing of Grandma’s Saloon and Grill in Minneapolis.

In my law school days I would routine the restaurant far more often than I’d ever want to admit.  Their burgers were the best in Minnesota, hands down.  They had a great amount of greasy/juiciness, with just the right amount of bite from the grill.  Complete with tomato, pickles, mayo, and caramelized onions, they were unbeatable (and I’ve tried a number of the “best burger” places in the Twin Cities, and there is no comparison.  Matt’s Bar or The Nook?  Please, those are second-rate rather tasteless hunks of meat with cheese in the middle).

In addition to the best burgers, Grandma’s also had wonderful mozzarella sticks.  You haven’t had mozzarella sticks until you’ve had Grandma’s.  The stick is far larger than your average stick, and is always full of melted, stringy mozzarella, with no cavities like most sticks.

See, I like food, and while I’m generally not into the more gourmet-fare, I am an aficionado of the medium-brow food.  So much so that I am completely convinced that the best medium-brow food can beat the best high-brow food any day.  Give me a slice of Ginelli’s pizza, and I’ll show you the gateway to heaven.  Give me a filet mignon, and I’ll, well, eat it and enjoy it, but I won’t absolutely love it.

Because of this, I am very unhappy that the Grandma’s in the Twin Cities closed on May 22nd.  My wife and I made sure to make three trips within a two week period to get as much as possible before it closed, and even though it was a bit too much grease in too short a period, I now find myself desiring one of their burgers.

As I said, we’ve tried other burger places, and are now on a quest to find a replacement.  I was quite surprised to find that the burgers at Fuddruckers were pretty good.  It reaches nowhere near the level of Grandma’s, but still better than your average restaurant, where what passes for a good burger is a non-spiced pre-made patty topped with “special” items.  No people, a good burger is not solely about what it’s topped with, it’s about the juiciness and flavor of the burger itself.  Most places don’t understand this, including many of the “best burger” places in the Twin Cities.

As for Fuddruckers, like I said, the burger was good, not great, but the main problem is that it’s just not what could ever become “my place”.  It’s too generic, and too family oriented.  In addition to the great food, Grandma’s was a fun bar and grill atmosphere.  It was near a few professional schools at the University of Minnesota as well as fairly near the Metrodome, giving it a decent clientele.  Almost all fixtures and booths were made of wood, there was plenty of silly kitsch on the walls, and the windows were accented with stained-glass.


Please forgive the bad cellphone pictures.

The three-story building itself is quite a fixture of Minneapolis, and I’m afraid that it will probably be torn down to build a smaller version of what’s across the street; a monstrosity of yuppie-ville apartment living.  It’s obnoxious modern apartment architecture that will inevitably look as bad as 70s design looks to us now.

This would lead me into my second topic, but I’ve written far longer on Grandma’s than I ever expected.  As such, medium-brow food tour of Iowa City, complete with more rants about yuppie-ville architecture encroachment, will have to wait until later.

For now, I just want to say goodbye to Grandma’s.  There are still a couple near Duluth, and that will probably finally give me the final motivation to actually make a trip there, but I’ll very much miss having Grandma’s as our go-to restaurant here.  Oh, the burgers.  I want one now.

Cheers,
Charlie

July 24, 2008 Update:
It appears that Grandma’s is now an Applebee’s.  This could hardly be more of a kick in the teeth.

August 4, 2008 Update:
Correction, Grandma’s is not now an Applebee’s.  It’s currently empty.  I don’t know what my friend was thinking.

The Best of Comrus: The Minnesota State Fair

Since it’s finally starting to get warm outside, I can’t help but think of what the summer has in store for us, as well as what comes at the end of summer: the Minnesota State Fair.  As such, what better way to start off the “Best Of” posts than with a State Fair post?

This originally appeared on August 31, 2006 at http://weblog.xanga.com/ComRus/524803174/minnesota-state-fair-i-had-to-try-this-title-thing.html 

Ah, the Minnesota State Fair… my stomach is finally settled.  I kid.  My stomach actually settled by the morning.  I topped myself in the amount of food consumed this year, but it was basically at the expense of beer, so it’s hard to say whether I came out on top.

The day started, of course, with the pronto-pup.  The day must start with the pronto-pup.  For those who don’t know (i.e. non-Minnesotans), the pronto-pup is basically a corndog but the hotdog is dipped into a wheat-based batter rather than a corn-based batter.  It is far and away better than the corndog, although many a riot has been started at the fairgrounds over just this issue.  Naturally corn-dog people are wrong, but they just don’t listen to reason.  It’s a similar argument as to which stand has the best mini-donuts.  Some people say Tiny Tim, and the right people say Tom Thumb. 

The Tom Thumb donut.  When I was a kid, we would come early in the morning before anything was open except food stands, and the first thing we would do on our walk in would be to head to the Tom Thumb mini-donut stand.  My dad would inevitably order approximately 453 bags for the five of us, and we’d go sit in the audience of some long-dead by now Minnesota morning show.  Channel five, I think.  The donuts were great, nice and hot, and the sugar granules would stick perfectly to the donut.  And that’s the main difference between Tom Thumb and Tiny Tim, the sugar granules actually stuck to Tom Thumb donuts while they fell to the bottom of Tiny Tim bags.  Oh, I’ve heard arguments that this isn’t so, but through my experience, it definitely is.

Another argument, but definitely involving fewer people than the other two arguments, is which cheese curds are best.  I’m of the position that the stand outside the food building on the north side is better than the stand inside, but the only reason I hold this position is because my family says it’s so.  So every year, the cheese curds are purchased at the stand outside the food building.

And onto the next food adventure…  You see, the State Fair is different things to different people, but to most, a huge part is the food.  For me, it’s almost exclusively the food.  I see it as a sort of a challenge to hit all my goals: pronto-pups, Italian Fries, Cheese Curds, Roasted Corn-on-the-Cob (dipped in a butter-bath.  Such an ingenious invention.  How can I register for one for our wedding?), Mini-donuts (and, as previously mentioned, they must be Tom Thumb mini-donuts), and Sweet Martha’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (a bucket, of course.  If you’re given the option of purchasing any food product by the bucket, how can you not choose the bucket?). 

Many people go to the Fair to check out the local news buildings, the kids’ artwork, the animal barns, the odd items on sale, and the musical acts at the bandshells.  But those are secondary to me.  The food comes first, and those things are just diversions to let myself digest.  They’re basically the same every year, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.  It’s bad because it can get tiring seeing the same stuff you saw the previous 15 years, but it’s good because it gives you a sense of familiarity.  The State Fair is a right of passage of summer for Minnesotans, and without the repetition, where’s the real tradition?  

Oh sure, some things have changed over the years.  Sand castles came and went, Machinery Hill (where farm equipment is on display) is no more, and every year features yet another item on-a-stick, but so much is the same.  The Ye Olde’ Mill, the Giant Slide, the Haunted Mansion, the Salsa-chopper-thing sold at the Grandstand along with the super sponge/cloths that soak up two-liters of pop with only a square-inch of material, and the various demonstrations.

And the cows.  There’s no good reason for it, but we like to look at cows in late August here in Minnesota.  No other time of year would we care to pay them any mind, but come late August, people line up to look at the animals.  Well, not really line up, but many make a strong effort to get a glance at some.  We did, for reasons I’m still not sure of.  It’s just a compulsion one has when at the fair.

There is a weird pattern that began a few years ago that has exploded all over the Fair (and everywhere else that draws a crowd, for that matter).  Apparently, you cannot buy normal size strollers anymore.  In a culture where bigger is better, parents are purchasing strollers the size of SUVs.  Strollers that take up three square blocks for a single stroller, and five square blocks for a double.  People in crowds already have done ingenious jobs of blocking you from getting anywhere, but these strollers are the work of a madman.  When you’re trying to pass two slow walkers, who, because they are meandering, are taking up the space of 10 people, the last thing you need to be coming the other way is a stroller that could bulldoze a house. 

Hmm, but that’s bordering on complaining, and as for the MN State Fair, there can be no complaining.  It’s all good, darn it.  Even when I dropped my Peanut Roll to the ground immediately after purchasing it, I didn’t complain.  I picked it up, brushed it off, and dropped it into the plastic bag the Fiancée was holding (so that I could eat it later) which she immediately dropped to the ground because she wasn’t expecting me to drop it in.  It’s all good.  I took a little of Dan Patch Avenue with me.  I opened it up today, and the cursed Roll was still fantastic. 

And as we discuss State Fair food, I cannot leave out the Luigi’s Fries (aka Italian Fries).  I believe I might just be the only person who really likes these things, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who craves these things.  What they are is really basic.  They’re warm breadsticks topped off with a lot of melted mozzarella, with a side of marinara sauce for dipping.  The “Fries” themselves are quite good, but there’s just something perfect about the marinara that makes them fantastic.  Sure, in the end it might be something as simple as Prego (though I highly doubt that it’s actually Prego), but you cannot go wrong with bread, cheese, and a good tomato/marinara sauce. 

The “Fries” were the second thing I had at the fair, and if not for my rule that you cannot repeat food (so that you have room for other food), I would have had a second order.  I’m still craving them today.  In fact, we had breadsticks and cheese in the fridge, and I had a marinara of sorts in the cabinets, so I went ahead and made some.  It just wasn’t the same (or even close, for that matter), and I will now crave them until next year.  Should have had a second order.

And the Fair day ended as it usually does.  The stomach is too full, the legs are too tired, and we still needed to purchase the bucket of cookies.  I cannot leave the fair without the bucket of cookies.  They serve you the bucket with so many cookies on top that you cannot close the lid until you’ve eaten approximately 25 cookies (for once, this is not an exaggeration).  Last year, it’s what killed us.  This year, we had a baggie to take the cookies we couldn’t eat.  However, we did give it the college try.  You have to.  The State Fair officials won’t let you leave unless you at least try to finish off the top of the cookie bucket.

Off to the parking lot, and off to the long wait for the park-and-ride shuttle in a parking lot full of gravel, where you stand in a catatonic state and the reality hits you of just how much you ate and how much walking you did.  Please, God, MAKE THE BUS COME NOW!  It does, eventually, and you drive home and pass-out.  Ah, I love the Fair.

Cheers,
Charlie