Taste Test: Bar Luchador

Before we headed down to Stub and Herb’s for Darkness Eve, we were warned that there was a hockey game that might make things a bit crowded (on an already busy night) and they suggested stopping by Bar Luchador for food on the way to the bar. Having just mentioned that we should check out the new taco joint, we took Stub and Herb’s advice. The advice wasn’t entirely selfless, the same team owns both bars. But since we like the team behind Stub and Herb’s, this was promising news.

Bar Luchador was also busy but we were able to get seats at the bar and order a couple of things – the chilaquilas nachos fill up a quarter sheet tray with mounds of thick corn chips, shredded chicken, and “crumbly cheese” (which I assume is their name for queso fresco). The quesadilla was stuffed full of pulled pork and caramelized onions, topped with a smoky/tangy red sauce with just the right level of heat. My date also got to try a fish taco that didn’t make it to its destination in time – he thought the fish was perfectly done and the batter stayed crisp even if it was a bit cooler than intended (hence why it got passed along to us and the paying customer got a fresh one).

LuchadorThe small (and busy!) bar was also producing some simple but fabulous drinks. It was a damp and rainy evening so I tried the cinnamon whiskey cider, hoping to warm up a bit before we wandered back to the dark beer event. Rather than using one of the many (and vaguely terrifying) cinnamon whiskies on the market, this appeared to be a housemade cinnamon syrup added to Cabin Still bourbon and then topped with a dry Loon Juice cider. This deceptively simple drink was surprisingly delicious. I think a homemade cinnamon syrup is going on my to-do list ASAP. We also got to try the Rum Horchata on the rocks which was good, but I don’t think Horchata is my thing.

We witnessed a few service mistakes but given how busy they were, I think they recovered from them very well. Even the over-worked bartender managed to check in with us and kept her cool as drink orders kept pouring in.

We’ll definitely be back to try some more of the taco and drink options – and to eat that quesadilla again. Great concept, simple but nice space, and a perfect fit for the area.


Weekend PreCap: October 16-18

In a rare but welcome turn of events, I have literally nothing on my schedule this weekend. NOTHING. I’ll probably help take some kids shopping for costumes and we may go to a movie, but I anticipate a weekend full of cleaning, relaxing, and cooking. Fall makes me want to bake, roast, and simmer all the things.

If you would like to have a more exciting weekend than me, here are a few ideas:

  • Musician-in-Residence: Brian Laidlaw – Friday – 6-8pm – @ArtsMia – This month’s musician in residence will be performing a free acoustic performance in the museum. Be sure to check out Notes on Creativity while you’re there.
  • Tunes ‘N ‘Toons – Saturday – 10am – @TurfClubMN – Enjoy a fabulous brunch at the Turf Club while watching classic cartoons. This weekend, Hymie’s Vintage Records will be on hand to spin and sell some vinyl. There is also a Groupon available for brunch at Turf Club!
  • Zombie Pub Crawl – Saturday – Can I really do a weekend roundup and leave out the Zombie Pub Crawl? Of course I can’t. Every year this looks like an INSANE party – the music lineup this year promises it will be bigger and better than ever. I told Gabe Douglas of the 4onthefloor to dress up as Shaun from Shaun of the Dead, someone please report back!
  • Harvest Beer Festival – Saturday – 1-5pm – Bachman’s on Lyndale – We have a lot of beer fests in Minnesota, but this is the only one I know of that has a special focus on fresh hops. Hosted by local food writers Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl and Stephanie March, this should be a fun and tasty event for all the hop lovers out there. $10-50
  • Minneapolis Craft Market – Sunday – 12-6pm – @InsightBrewing – This outdoor craft market will feature local artisans selling everything from jewelry to clothing to metalwork and more. Get an early start on your holiday shopping, and enjoy a beer at the same time!

Epic Weekend Day One: @TurfClubMN – 11 Wells – @FlatEarthBrew – @MarvelBar – Trylon


When we first booked the tickets for Notes on Creativity, we kind of consciously blocked out the rest of the weekend in case we needed to recover from the awesomeness of the talk and tasting. When I’m REALLY excited about something, I often have a bit of an adrenaline drop afterwards and have to just chill out. For almost two months, we kept Saturday and Sunday completely free of preplanned events.

Then one of us noticed a movie we’ve been wanting to rewatch would be at the Trylon Microcinema on Saturday night. Figuring that a movie is pretty low key, we bought tickets. Then I noticed that 11 Wells would be open for the art crawl so we penciled that in. When we found out you could sign up for a free class and tasting, it went from pencil to permanent marker. And then, Friday afternoon, my partner noticed a “Tunes ‘n ‘Toons” brunch at Turf Club on Saturday morning. Since we had a Groupon to use and needed to eat before the 11 Wells class, that went on the schedule. Oh, and we found out about a fancy fundraiser for Mia being hosted at The Bachelor Farmer, with Ferran Adria as the guest of honor. We couldn’t afford the $2,000 dinner but did hear that Marvel would be open so that got added  to the list as well.

This, my friends, is how my life goes. And that is not a complaint!

Let’s break it down a bit more…

A little over a year ago, the Turf Club reopened after a bit of a face lift and started serving food. Living just a few blocks away from a place serving a damn good brunch has been a dangerous but awesome problem. This is no stuffy brunch – this is hearty “lay a foundation before going to a distillery” brunch. And every Saturday in October it’s also “Tunes ‘n ‘Toons” brunch from 10am to 2pm. The TVs are playing classic Saturday morning cartoons while a local record store spins (and sells) some vinyl. Our other favorite thing about Turf Club brunch? It’s served until 4pm.

11WellsClassFrom brunch, we fought road closures over to the Hamm’s Brewery for our class at 11 Wells. The distillery got their bottle sale license just in the nick of time before the art crawl so now they can sell half-bottles (375ml) at the distillery. (The law only allows one bottle per person per day, but it’s a start!) We saw several familiar faces as most of the people involved in 11 Wells are often found behind bars (of the cocktail variety) or at cocktail events. Head Distiller Lee Egbert gave a fabulous class on the history behind some of their spirits, why they’ve chosen their line up of products, and cocktail technique. More about the class (I took notes!) will be posted over on drinkingincontext.com. There are some exciting new things coming out of this tiny space, and I can’t wait to try what’s next!

We knew that Flat Earth was near 11 Wells these days, but we didn’t quite realizeFlatEartTap how near. (This become a theme for the weekend.) With a bit of time to kill, we decided to go check out their new taproom, also in the historic Hamm’s Brewery complex. I never made it to their old brewery but the new space is spacious, sunny, and elegant. Lots of historic details remain including unique curved ceilings and exposed brick. The elegance of the taproom feels a bit incongruous  in a building that looks like it’s barely holding itself up, but I’m so glad these spaces are being used instead of destroyed or forgotten.

Hamms4There’s no way I’ll go climbing up and in these old buildings, for a variety of reasons. But I will happily walk around them and peek inside, looking for remnants of history. Some corners look like they were just abandoned yesterday, with chairs and work gloves waiting to be reclaimed. Other areas have been covered in graffiti and look worn down by time, people, and nature. I find a strange beauty in urban decay, use and disuse.

After our walking tour of the Hamm’s complex, we headed over to Marvel Bar. Now, if you’ve read this blog or my tweets at all, you know that it takes literally zero persuading to get me to Marvel. I love the place and I love the people. But I admit, we specifically went in the hopes of “crashing the party” this time. The Bachelor Farmer and Spoon & Stable co-hosted an amazing dinner with chefs from all over town as a fundraiser for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts – TBF posted about the restaurant being closed for the event but Marvel still being open. MarvelWe couldn’t resist the chance to pop in at 5pm and enjoy the people watching! We ended up extra glad we’d gone as there were a few amazing Patisserie 46 nibbles left up for grabs and we got to sample four special drinks made for the event. It looked like the tail end of a fabulous event and I can now say I’ve had a drink [while in the same room] with Ferran Adria. Hey, I’m counting it.

From Marvel we made our way to Trylon Microcinema for a screening of Eyes Wide Shut. If you’ve never been to the Trylon, it’s a great little theatre with only 50 seats and a constantly changing list of films. As you might expect, the October focus is on thrillers and horror films. I am by no means a film buff, but I’ve been here for two events and really enjoy the space, the crowd, and the delicious popcorn. Definitely worth checking out!

After all this, we went to bed. Then we got up on Sunday and did some of it all over again.

More Hamm’s photos…

Continue reading “Epic Weekend Day One: @TurfClubMN – 11 Wells – @FlatEarthBrew – @MarvelBar – Trylon”

Coming Soon: The Sheridan Room

I was on my way to a much needed haircut at Bourbon and Bows, above the 331 Club, when we noticed paint and construction happening in the former Modern Cafe space. It turns out the restaurant space was purchased by Jon Oulman, who is very familiar with and in the neighborhood as owner of the 331 Club, along with his son Jarret and their business partner Joshua Mandelman. The trio also own Amsterdam Bar & Hall and Como Dockside.

The retro guts of the Modern Cafe appear to be staying intact but the Oulmans have been rearranging booths and preparing the space for reopening as the Sheridan Room, serving Midwestern Americana seven days a week. There will also be a full-service cocktail bar.

The official word is “opening by the end of the year.” The unofficial gossip is November 15th.


To those dismissing the grief over La Belle Vie as silly…

You’re right, of course. There are bigger problems in the world than a restaurant closing. The world is full of injustice, and here we are crying about a restaurant most people couldn’t afford. How trite of us.

It’s just a restaurant, after all.

Except to the people working there, for them it’s a job or a career. It’s a family.

Except to the people who used to work there, for them it was an education and an inspiration. They took that inspiration and made the rest of our city better whether by opening their own restaurant or applying their skills and work ethic to someplace else where they are needed.

Except to the chef who spent 17 years of his life putting Minnesota on the culinary map, showcasing our home and all it has to offer from local vegetables to white tablecloths.

Except to the people who celebrated there, who loved there, who have memories of people long since departed there.

Except to the people who perhaps only dined there once, dollars saved up for a unique experience they will never forget.

And even if you don’t think any of that matters, then take heart in the knowledge that the human heart and brain are capable of unending joy, sadness, anger and hope all at once. We can grieve a restaurant without forgetting about the rest of the world. We should be thankful that some people are this passionate about “just a restaurant,” because passion is valuable. Passion is what gets things done, whether it’s finding jobs for those who are losing them soon or speaking out against injustice.

May we never dismiss people for being passionate about what matters to them, no matter how small.

La Belle Vie closing October 24th

I am damn near speechless right now. On one hand, I’m not as surprised as I’d like to be – fine dining is an expensive and challenging niche. I was able to eat the full tasting menu twice and enjoyed the lounge a couple of times as well, they weren’t cheap meals but they are some of my most memorable and worth every penny.

The local restaurant and bar scene owes damn near everything to La Belle Vie. The chefs who worked their way through Tim McKee’s kitchen have gone on to be a who’s who of the MSP dining scene.

Jim Christiansen, of Heyday, and Erik Anderson and Jamie Malone of forthcoming Brut. But the list would also include Sameh Wadi of Saffron and World Street Kitchen, Jack Riebel of Il Foro, Mike DeCamp of Monello, Don Saunders of The Kenwood, Matthew Bickford of Icehouse, Lucas Almendinger of Co-op Creamery, Sean Smalley of Smalley’s Barbeque (which McKee still partly owns), pastry chef Diane Yang of Spoon and Stable, Adam Eaton of Saint Dinette, and many, many more.

Then there’s the cocktail scene. At the first week of Iron Bartender, I remember that LBV was going up against Saint Dinette. I *love* Saint Dinette’s bar program but I still thought it was a bit mean to put the newest restaurant up against an icon like LBV. But then…when the Saint Dinette team did their introductions, both of them said their name, and followed it with “Of Saint Dinette, formally of La Belle Vie.” The four competitors, two from a 17-year-old icon and two from a months-old rising star, had all worked together at the La Belle Vie bar.

La Belle Vie was also enormously influential in crafting Minnesota’s beverage landscape. Longtime La Belle Vie sommelier Bill Summerville, now an independent wine consultant, was responsible through his list at La Belle Vie for some significant part of Minneapolis’ focus on wines from small European vineyards. The restaurant also started the local craft cocktail revolution with longtime maverick bartender Johnny Michaels; just last week La Belle Vie’s current bartending team, led by Adam Gorski, won the city’s top bartending competition, Iron Bartender.

Much of my current passion for cocktails exists because of the scene that Johnny Michaels started out of LBV.

I didn’t eat or drink at La Belle Vie as often as I would have like, and I know that makes me part of the problem. As McKee stated, “The simple math of it is: I know a ton of people are going to let us know how much La Belle Vie meant to them. If all of those people would have come in twice more a year, we’d still be open. It’s so important that if there’s a restaurant or business in your community that you feel is important, you’ve got to make it your mission to support them. Otherwise they will close.”

Get out there, support our amazing local bars and restaurants, vote with your feet and your wallet. The reward is so much greater than a little red sticker, it’s more great places, innovative food, and amazing cocktails.