Saturday, June 30, 2012

St Clair Broiler (St Paul)

The St Clair Broiler is a local diner that's been around for a long time, over 50 years.  We stopped by for dinner, looking for something relatively light and quick.

With some help from the waitress, I went with the California BLT.   It's a BLT with avocado and sprouts.  I think both of them qualify as "Californian".  The bacon was very crispy, the avocado was creamy, the wheat bread I chose (there were three choices, and wheat seemed best) was toasted but not dry - this was possibly one of the better BLTs I've ever had. It was supposed to have a garlic aioli, but I couldn't taste that; I'm kind of glad it didn't, because the garlic might have overpowered the rest.  It came with either chips, beans, slaw, fries, or tater tots.. and I chose the tater tots.  These were also cooked almost perfectly - crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and hot when they came to the table.

The wife chose the beef medallions, which came with a mushroom sauce and garlic mashed potatoes.  She said the sauce could have used some salt, but the mashed potatoes were very garlicky, which makes sense for garlic mashed potatoes.

We discussed dessert, and decided to pass on a shake, since we couldn't agree on the flavor.  We decided to share a stuffed chocolate chip cookie.  Two chocolate chip cookies, with ice cream in between, drizzled with chocalate sauce, and a little bit of whipped cream.  The ice cream was very good, but one of the cookies was burnt a bit.  Not charred, but overbaked which detracted from the overall flavor.  They advertised 'home-made', and since that occasionally happens to home-made cookies, I think I can forgive them for that.

Prices were very reasonable for what we got.  The decor...well, it is a 50's diner-style restaurant.  There was a poster for Lord of the Rings on the wall, and some random artwork, but the lighting was rather dim, the carpet was faded; in essence, the place really hasn't been updated in years.  Well, to be fair, the front has been recently renovated, but that doesn't help when you sit in the back. :)  However, I don't think people come for the decor - they come for the food and a place to chat, meet with friends, and just generally hang out.  This is that neighborhood diner you always hear about, but is hard to find.  We'll definitely return!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

At Sara's Table ~ Chester Creek Cafe (Duluth)

Took a road trip for Mother's Day, and visited one of our new favorite places in Duluth.  We've been here before, having been directed here through Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives.  This time tho, we ended up visiting on a weekend.

ASTCCC is a local diner, run by locals.  Weekends, all they serve is brunch.  And by 'brunch', I mean 'breakfast items with a couple of sandwich options'.  Having breakfast at 1 in the afternoon is a little...odd, but I dealt with it :)

I went with "Diane's Famous House-made Cranberry Wild Rice Bread French Toast", with a side of two eggs (priced by the egg!) and a side of bacon.  Not only is the name of the dish a mouthful, the meal was too.  The bread was huge!  Think of Texas Toast - now, about 25% larger than that.  The toast was served with a side of locally harvested Maple Syrup and a house-made Oatmeal Stout Beer syrup.  I could taste the maple, definitely.  I wasn't so sure about the Stout.  It was dark, and not like your regular syrup.  I suspect it might be an acquired taste.

The french toast was very filling.  You could see the cranberries and the wild rice.  The rice added an interesting texture, but I was hard-pressed to taste the tartness of the cranberries.  Maybe because it was near the end of the day, and the bread wasn't as fresh as it might have been at 7am.  Not that I'm complaining.  As I said, it was very filling, it was nice and hot, melting the butter almost immediately.  The bacon was nice and crispy, the way I like it (but not burnt-crispy), and the eggs were over medium(ish), as I asked, although I think they edged towards over easy. 

(I've yet to find the right 'over medium' egg.  Over easy is way too runny, over hard is usually 'fried egg sandwich' style, and over medium is too 'easy' for me.  I wonder if I can order an egg 'medium-hard'?)

Overall, a good place to eat.  The interior style was rather 'eclectic', actually making you feel like you were in somone's kitchen or dining room, and not in an actual restaurant.  It's a little difficult to find the first time, if you're new to Duluth, but once you find it, mark it on your map.  You will be back (and so will we!).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Wild Bill's Sports Saloon (Woodbury)

Wild Bill's is a local burger chain.  If I had to give a quick summary, it'd be "Hooters with Burgers".

We went there at lunch on a Saturday, and although it was crowded, there wasn't a wait - always a good thing!

For an appetizer, we went with the "Bleu Poker Chips".  Potato Rounds (not fries) sprinkled with Blue Cheese crumbles and chopped up bacon.  When they were delivered, they were still hot, crispy on the outside, and potato-y on the inside.  The bleu cheese was a little skimpy, although there was plenty of bacon.  The dipping sauce was a Southwestern Ranch, and wasn't spicy.  I couldn't tell the difference between it and regular ranch, to be honest, except for the color.

I orderded the Wild Bills Works burger - American and Swiss cheese, bacon, sauteed onions, and sauteed mushrooms.  I also went ahead and got the lettuce, tomato, and onion (optional, and they ask if you want it rather than making you ask to add it).  I got the default fries as well.

When the burger came, it was hot as well.  It was cooked medium well (closer to well).  I took off a few of the onions (didn't want to overload the burger with 'all onions all the time').  It was a decent size burger (8 ounces), but I didn't need to cut it.  The burger was well seasoned - I could taste it, even under the cheese, bacon, onions and mushrooms.  The lettuce was crisp, not wilted, the tomato was firm and ripe, and even the onions didn't give off too much of an onion-y taste.

The fries were cooked well, too. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, just like the potato rounds.  However, I did make a mistake there.  Potatos for an appetizer, and potatos as a side dish...oof.  I was able to fnish my meal though.  No desert for me!

The place was crowded, and I guess one of the draws was that they were having a bingo game going on, starting about a half hour after we arrived.  The 'annoyance' factor went up a little bit, as we were first bugged if we wanted to buy a bingo packet, then a little more as we had to listen to a bingo caller during our meal.  If you're looking to have a nice relaxing time, noshing on a burger, don't come Saturday afternoon.

I will come back here again.  The burger was cooked and seasoned properly and service was quick and attentive (never had to wait for a check or a refill).  One thing to remember - don't get two types of potatos!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Maverick's (Rosedale)

Maverick's is a local restaurant focusing on Roast Beef.  They're a no-frills, all expenses spared kind of place in a small strip mall, and if you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't see it.

Once upon a time, this place got rave reviews for it's food - there's all kinds of clippings from magazines and newspapers attesting to this.  However, I think things have changed.

First, as soon as you walk in, you're bombarded with the question of whether you want anything fried with your meal.  If you haven't read the menu, how would you know?

I went with the BBQ Beef sandwich (a large) and Onion Rings.  Since they had to fry the rings, they put a marker on my tray so they could bring them out to me when done (the marker was an upside down plastic cup with some tape on it).  We got a table, and as I was heading to the beverage machine, they brought me my rings.  At the soda machine.  What am I supposed to do with them at the soda machine?  I ended up taking them back to my table, then going back to get my soda.

The sandwich was messy.  They put too much BBQ on the bun, in my opinion.  In addition, they used a soft bun, which ended up being just squishy, and couldn't hold up to the meat.  The BBQ didn't have much noticeable flavor to it, at least nothing I would rave about and say 'better than Arby's'.  If you've had an Arby-Q, you've had this.  Which is sad for a local, non-chain, restaurant that's supposed to be focsued on Roast Beef.  The onion rings, for being 'fresh', were overcooked, frying out all the onion-ness.  I like a crispy onion ring (or fry, for that matter), but I want to taste the flavor of the thing, as well, not just 'crunchy'.

While we were eating, someone came over (the manager? the owner?  they never identified themselves) and learned that one of us had never been there before, and so he had 'samples' brought to our table of the Roast Beef sandwich and the Beef Brisket sandwich.  The samples were simply a sandwich cut into quarters.  When it was delivered, the server said "If you like, it tell all your friends.  If you don't, keep it to yourself".  I assume that was in jest, but rather poor.  I'd think they'd want to know if I didn't like it, why, and how they could make it better.

The Roast Beef had no flavor, and again the soft bun turned to mush.  The Brisket did have some flavor, but was way overpowered by the Rye bun it was served on.

Maybe they were having an off day.  Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for hijinks (I was fighting a headache).  Maybe not.  I don't know that I will be headed back there any time soon, though.  There are other, better places in town to get sandwiches with actual flavor.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jake's City Grille (Woodbury)

Jake's is a local chain restaurant, with 5 locations.  Since it was the closest, we visited Maplewood.  At 8 on a Friday, the place was busy, but not packed.  There was no waiting for our party of two, but as we walked to our table, I noticed that a larger party probably would have waited.  The patio was open, but eating in the dark isn't really my thing.

Service was fairly speedy.  We decided to skip the appetizers, although if we had been earlier, we might have gone for the Beer Battered Mushrooms.  Maybe next time.  The wife started with a cup of clam chowder.  She found plenty of clams, not a lot of potatoes, and said that it was smooth and creamy, and still nice and hot.  I picked a mixed green salad.  The greens were definitely mixed - i recognized romaine, arugula, frisee.  The small plum tomatoes were firm, not squishy, only a couple of slivers of onion - just for flavor, not to overpower the taste of everything else.

For an entree, she had the Prime Rib Dip, which came with fries.  She had them throw some provolone on it, which I'm not sure I would have done to Prime Rib, but it was her sandwich :)  I did have a taste.  The meat wasn't rare, as Prime Rib should be, it was well done.  By itself, there wasn't much flavor, although when dipped in the au jus, the dip added a lot of flavor.  The bread was a bit too toasty, and without the dip was hard to bite.  The fries were seasoned with an in-house seasoning, and were crispy - always a good thing.

My entree was the Cedar Plank Salmon.  Spiced and glazed then oven roasted.  The problem was...the spice and glaze overpowered any taste of the salmon.  In fact, after the first couple of bites, even the garlic mashed potatoes and the roasted vegetables all tasted the same as the salmon glaze.  The texture of the salmon was nice - didn't stick to the plank, flaky, and cooked well, I just couldn't taste it.  If their glaze is the same on their other items (like the pork chops or the ribeye), I'd recommend skipping those, since the flavor is so overwhelming.

Atmosphere wise, this location was welcoming.  Lighting was decent, the televisions in the bar section weren't blaring, the ambient noise level from the other patrons was not deafening.  The sound balance was such that we could hear each other, but not the people on either side of us.  We could hear the party at the table in the aisle, but that might have been because we kept watching their baby, and thus paid more attention to the group. 

Prices were a little on the high side, but that really seems to be the trend for 'grilles' or 'pubs', or maybe I'm just stingy at heart.  I would probably go here again, but as a treat or special occasion, and not as a regular customer.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Five Guys (Oakdale)

Five Guys is a burger chain, and a fairly popular one.  There are six in the greater Twin Cities area (more than I knew about!) but the one in Oakdale is the newest.  It's popular enough that getting a seat on the weekend is tough.

We lucked out this Sunday, though, probably because it was the big game weekend.  We didn't have long to wait, and Five Guys lets you have free peanuts to munch on while you wait, in case you were absolutely starving.

They have two kinds of burgers - regular and little.  The regular is a double, the little is a single.  Each comes in one of four options - burger, cheeseburger, bacon burger, and bacon cheeseburger.  They also do hot dogs, a few vegetarian options and fries.  Fries come in two sizes - regular and large.  "Regular" in this case feeds 2 to 3 people.  Large...4 to 5 people.  Unless you're a family, or you really love their fries, get the regular.

The fries also come with 'overflow' - not sure if that's what they call it, but when you get your order, they throw in a scoop or two more, just for good measure.  I am not a fan of the fries.  They were undersalted, somewhat soggy, and generally unappealling to me.  I am an advocate of the twice-cooked fry, and that is not something they do at Five Guys.  Also, I do feel that making the orders so large just leads to waste, especially when the fries get cold and stale faster than you can eat them, and nobody really likes cold, stale fries.

They have a pretty decently sized list of free toppings for your burgers.  The toppings I chose for my bacon cheeseburger were pretty straightforward: grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, and A1 Steak sauce.  The wife had a cheeseburger with tomato, pickle and mayo.  Too plain for my taste :)  The onions were not completely grilled to translucency, leaving them a bit crunchy.  The mushrooms were done well, however.  The amount of sauce they put on the burger was also disappointing - you could tell there was sauce on the burger, but the flavor profile was lost, and that's hard to do with A1.  The bun was a standard sesame seed bun, but soft, so the burger as a whole was squishy.  The bacon was cooked fairly well, although not as crispy as I would have liked.  I like bacon to snap when I have it on my burger, and I dislike it immensely when I take a bit, and a whole strip of bacon comes out of the burger because it was too chewy.  The burger, like all their burgers, was cooked well-done, but not hockey-buck well done, at least.

Parking at the Oakdale location is terrible.  It shares a lot with Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings, Baja Sol, and several retail stores.  Seating was also uncomfortable, at least for me, as the chairs sat pretty low to the ground.  They did have some barstool type seats up against the window, which might have been a better option.  This is not a reading restaurant.  The burgers require two hands, and the design of the place causes the too-loud music to reverb, making it difficult to concentrate.  This is more of a 'get it, eat it, and get out' kind of place, rather than a neighborhood hangout, which I guess works for them - it moves product!

I will probably return.  I'd like to try the cajun fries, which have got to have more flavor than the regular fries, and I'm thinking I might try a littler burger next time, with maybe some less messy toppings (such as maybe relish and tomato).  If we go back, I'll be sure to post the followup!

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Kramarczuk's is a Polish/Ukranian deli with a cafeteria style restaurant attached.  However, cafeteria style restaurant does NOT mean cafeteria style food.

It took a little bit to find the place.  It's on Hennepin, but you have to do a little creative navigating to get back to Hennepin if you're coming down Hennepin from Saint Paul. Confused?  We were, too.  Very little free parking for the place itself, but there's a ramp right behind it that was empty on Saturday.

We'd been wanting to visit here since we saw it featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network.  We were not disappointed.

We both went for the combo platter - a cabbage roll, 3 varenyky's, choice of sausage, and a heaping mound of sauerkraut.  And a dill pickle on the side.  The combo plate is really only for those who can eat a lot, are going to share, or are going to take some home. :)

One thing I found kind of odd - the food is displayed cafeteria style, so you could see and get what you want, and the servers fill your plate with what you want, but after filling your plate, then they throw it in the microwave.  The micro doesn't seem to affect the composition of the food when you get it, so I'm not sure why they do that.  Maybe the food on the line is only par-cooked?

The varenyky's, a kind of potsticker/dumpling kind of thing, normally come in 4 varieties, but they were out of the cheese, so we each got a meat, cheese & potato, and a sauerkraut version.  They come with a horseradish sour cream dipping sauce.  All were cooked through, not doughy, and the potato/cheese one, with the sour cream was the overall favorite.  I could probably eat a plateful of just those (and you can buy them that way as well)!  Each was distinctive, with enough filling to impart some flavor, as opposed to all tasing the same.

The cabbage roll was probably the best I've ever had - a beef, pork, and rice filling, covered with a tomato cream sauce.  The cabbage was firm, not soggy, but fork-tender, and easy to cut through to get to the center.  There was still flavor in it (cabbage is recognizable in that regard, and when overcooked it tastes like..nothing).  The stuffing was well seasoned, not overly so, and the sauce added a bit of creamy-tangy-ness that worked well to offset the cabbage itself.

We went different directions with the meat.  The wife went for the traditional polish, and I went for the Hungarian.  We each tried a bit of the other's, and I have to say the Hungarian was the better of the two.  More flavorful, more spices.  The Polish sausage was traditional, and was good, but the Hungarian was more - exciting, I guess would be the word.  Maybe not the proper word, but it definitely woke up the taste buds!

The sauerkraut was tasty, and didn't have the caraway that a lot of places add (which in my opinion takes away from the sauerkraut flavor).  A bit much though, helping-wise, considering everything else that was on the plate.  (Side note - combining cabbage and kraut in the same meal may lead to an argument with your stomach.  I'm just saying)

I also had a cup of the leek and potato soup, which was one of the soups of the day.  Lots of potatoes, not a lot of leeks.  The potatoes were firm, not mushy, the soup was seasoned well, not too much salt or pepper, but the leeks were noticably missing, which was sad for me, because I like a good leek and potato soup - have ever since my dad introduced me to it all those years ago.

The restaurant itself was not too crowded when we first came in (about 2 or so), but filled up quickly about an hour later.  I noticed there were several college-age kids there, and it appeared to be pretty laid-back atmosphere, where you could bring a book and nosh quietly, or bring a group of friends, share a plate of Varenyky and chat as long as you want.  It was interesting to watch the bussing of the tables as well.  The majority of customers bussed their own, although there were folks that came through and cleaned up as well.  A true neighborhood place!