Pop! (Minneapolis, MN)

By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
The Mix
March/April 2006

Pop is a cool neighborhood restaurant featuring brightly painted walls, 16 tables and a small counter, terrific and friendly staff. Pop is not a bit pretentious. It's the kind of place you'd love to have within walking distance of your house. Our main question going in: is it a restaurant worth driving to?

Pop's appetizers shine. Everyone should order the shrimp and black bean fritters. They're golfball -- sized, delicately fried, and too good to share. You get two dipping sauces: a perfectly fine chipotle sour cream, and a tart Venezuelan avocado dip called guasaca.

Also tasty were the meat-filled empanadas, served with a chimichurri sauce on a bed of greens. And we loved the chicken corn tamale, topped with chipotle-lime sour cream and a green tomatillo salsa.

Unfortunately, things slipped after that. The beet salad was a disappointment. We usually love a spinach and beet salad, but this one came hot -- almost a stir-fry, not a salad. The bacon vinaigrette and pancetta pieces overwhelmed, and the walnuts just didn't work with the hot beets and wilted spinach. And the garnishing blue cheese was a single unattractive hunk, not crumbled.

We also wish we could say nicer things about the pork tenderloin. We liked the achiote marinade on the pork, but the meat was too dry. The chorizo-cornbread polenta with the cranberry relish was fine but needed a better accompaniment than sautéed spinach and cucumber.

The grilled salmon was also only OK: good ingredients that didn't go very well together.

The "POP!uLure Sandwich" is a filet of zander, a European perch much like walleye. Some local restaurants have even substituted one for the other without telling the customer. At Pop, the fried zander is breaded with coarse Japanese panko breadcrumbs. On the sandwich is a slice of bacon, some salad greens and an herbed tartar sauce. Ask for an extra side of tartar sauce. First, the sandwich wants a bit more. And second, it's great with the mound of excellent French fries you'll get.

The entrée portions are unfinishably huge. We even ended up taking home part of our zander sandwich. But honestly, we would happily trade our extra-large portions for a few better dishes.

Of course, Pop offers a variety of specialty pops: Jones Soda Company, Stewarts and Izze. If you've never had an Izze, we recommend trying one. Our favorite is blueberry.

We like to see restaurants offering food-friendly wine at prices under $25 a bottle, and Pop's list definitely fits that bill. If you're looking for some recommendations, here's our list. The Prosecco is a fine sparkling wine to start your evening off, and even better at $10 for a half bottle. For whites, we like the Raimat Chardonnay or Le Grand Noir Viogner (both $22). If you prefer a nice red, order the Durius Tempranillo ($25) or the Vega del Crienza Rioja ($26).

So, worth the trip? Yes, but. You can't count on everything being exceptional. Order a bottle of wine and some appetizers to share. Then tread carefully.

earlier review: Royal Orchid (St. Paul, MN)
later review: The Marsh (Minnetonka, MN)
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Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

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