Tag Archives: Life

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.

Cheers,
Charlie

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).

Cheers,
Charlie

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. 

Cheers,
Charlie

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…

Cheers,
Charlie

The Nigerian Prince Wants to Rent You a House

My wife and I are currently in the process of house hunting.  Well, house rental hunting, because we want to have far more money in our accounts for down payment, hopefully more secure employment for myself, and because we’re hoping that in a year houses actually start selling at the lowered value they’re alleged to have but right now the owners are holding onto their homes rather than selling at the lower price (that was a doozy of a sentence.  Good job if you got through that the first time without having to go back).  Unfortunately, it appears that most houses/townhouses advertised for rental at this time have owners who aren’t willing to rent out the place beginning the end of August.  As such, we’re in a limbo between having given our move-out notice to our apartment complex and having a place to live come the end of our lease.

Interestingly, only a week after we made some inquiries into some places (we actually used newspaper classified ads, if you can believe.  Not only that, we actually bought a paper newspaper to look at the ads.  Who knew paper newspapers still existed?), we’re starting to see some places that might be available at the time of our preferred move-in date.

We’ve seen a few places online that look promising, but were quite taken aback by the new Internet scam.  I never knew that Nigerian princes rented out houses in addition to dying and leaving inheritances.  They’ve branched out from their regular “My husband died and we need someone to inherit his $9,000,000,000,000,000,000” emails, and now advertise on places like Craigslist using someone else’s house information in order to swindle a person to “rent” from them.

We’ve only seen one so far, but we haven’t made too many inquiries yet.  The ad in question copied a fair amount of information from another online rental site, including the homeowners’ names, and created an ad on Craigslist complete with a yahoo email address which included the owners’ names.  The ad itself was promising, and was not clearly a scam on its face, other than the rent was a pretty good deal (but not so outlandish that it stood out).  It did not include any phone numbers, but did include the aforementioned email address.  As such, I emailed the address asking a few questions, as well as asking about taking a look at the place.  What I received in return was the following (with name and contact information redacted):

Hello ,
Thanks for the email. I own the house and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer to West Africa, Nigeria that makes me and my wife to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent and looking for a responsible person that can take very good care of it as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean all the time and the person that will rent it to take it as if it were its own. So for now, We are here in West Africa and will be staying here for the next 3 years in our new house and also with the keys of the house for rent, we try to look for an agent that we can give this documents and the keys before we left but could not find, and we as well  do not want our house to be used any how in our absence that is why we took it along with us. I and my wife came over to Africa for a missionary work, so i hope you will promise us that you will  take very good care of the house. So get back to me on how you could take care of our house or perhaps experience you have in renting home. Hope you are okay with the price of $1000 per month..ADDRESS……….XYZ, West Bloomington, MN 55437
SO IF YOU ARE REALY INTERESTED I WILL WANT YOU TO FILL THE RENTAL APPLICATIONS FORM BELOW
RENTAL APPLICATION FORM
Pls let me get this answer.
1)Your Full Name
2)Your Full Address & Phone Number
3)How old are you?
4)Are you married?
5)How many people will be living in the house?
6)Do you have a pet?
7)Do you have a car?
8)Occupation?

Looking forward to hear from you with all this details so that i can have it in my file incase of issuing the receipt for you and contacting you.Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how to get the document and the key to you,please we are giving you all this base on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words,you know that we do not see yet and only putting everything into Gods hand, so please do not let us down in this our property and God bless you more as you do this.
Thanks and you are welcome
Regards.
Thanks

If you’re going to create an Internet scam of any sort, shouldn’t you NOT use Nigeria?  What screams an Internet scam more than someone who claims to be from Nigeria?  I could point out the myriad of ways this just screams scam, but I should hope that even the least Internet savvy person could figure them out (although, judging by the amount of people who still visit my email scam blog posts with search terms from the scam email, a lot of people have no clue).  However, I am amused that the writer thinks that there is a “West Bloomington,” but more amused that this letter essentially says the house is empty, while the ad specifically stated that the house was currently occupied.  And why do non-lottery Internet scams almost always include some sort of “God bless you” type language?

After receiving this email, I decided to check out how they had pictures of the house as they used in the ad.  I googled the address and came up with the aforementioned other rental site.  The ad on this other side, which I assume is legit, charged $450 more in rent per month than advertised on Craigslist, did not have an email address, and did have two local phone numbers.

Again I wonder how anyone can fall for scams like these, but because I watch Judge Judy, I’ve actually seen multiple people who do.  I’m not entirely sure how this scam is supposed to work, but I assume it has to do with us sending this person a security deposit and rent, inside of house unseen, and they “promise” to send us the keys (and “the document”?  What the heck is “the document”?) once they receive the rent.

I think the weirdest part of this is that the rent for the house wasn’t such that it made it a “must rent,” so that we wouldn’t take normal precautions by actually seeing the place in person first.  But again, you never know with some people.  As far as I know, phrases from the email posted here might lead to an overflow of visits to my blog.  If that was you, c’mon now.  You must have known this was a scam, right?

Cheers,
Charlie

I Finally Get Myself to Go Jogging Again… Again

And finally, I get myself to go jogging for the second time since I reinstituted my jogging regimen.  Okay, okay, it’s not so much a regiment since it’s only twice, and it’s not so much a regiment when each time has been less than a half hour, and it’s not so much a regiment since my first time was two weeks ago, but I’ve been sick, darn it.  And it didn’t fit into my schedule.  And I just ate.  Or something like that.

Anyway, it’s silly to make excuses for why I haven’t been jogging more often (although, I really was sick), since I’m only justifying it to myself… and the random member of the jogging-stapo who can run 56 miles while drinking their morning coffee (which they of course got at Caribou or Starbucks) and came across this post because I happened to add a “jogging” tag to the end.  To that person, I will never satisfy.  To the jogging-stapo (“jogstapo”?), well, they’ve moved on already anyway since I haven’t started talking about Trader Joe’s yet.

But yes, I finally got myself to go again, and surprisingly, even after it being two weeks, and with me still not feeling 100 percent, I did better than last time.  Of course, doing better than last time means little more than not feeling like vomiting after two minutes of jogging, but I take my victories as I can get them.  The jogging I did today will at least have burned-off half of the half malt I had at the Convention Grill yesterday (oy, have I been craving one today).

It really wasn’t that bad this time, but I’m absolutely nowhere near where I was when I jogged in my college days.  Back then, 20 minutes wasn’t a problem, and once I got into a routine after a few times, I was able to go 45-60 without too much difficulty.  In law school, well, I was much worse, but could still go 25-30 without the difficulty.  I don’t plan on being the hyper-mega-jogger (as is obvious since I’m distancing myself from them, making them sound all crazy, the jogstapo that they are), nor do I really plan on being a person who exercises for at least an hour every other day.  I simply just plan on jogging fairly often, where it’s no longer a rare thing.  If I only do 30 minutes at a time, no big deal.  In fact, that’s my goal.

Anyway, it’s now two times I’ve gotten myself to go jogging.  Maybe, just maybe I can get myself to go a third… in about two more weeks

And now that I’ve exercised, time for beer.

Cheers,
Charlie

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.

Cheers,
Charlie