Serum's Good Time Emporium (Anoka, MN)
By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
Serum's is the kind of restaurant that has been endlessly reproduced in national chains. It's just that Serum's has no forced kitsch about it. The building is over a hundred years old, with all that 19th century charm. It's a long narrow space with incredibly high tin ceilings, exposed brick, and well-trod wood floors. Tables and booths take up the front as you enter; there's a large bar in back. Upstairs there's another room with live music on weekends.
The cool old junk hanging from the walls and the ceiling is all real, and it's all fun to look at: old advertising signs, a tricycle collection, children's furniture. But don't let the interesting stuff around the room distract you from the menu, which is both inexpensive and good..
The chicken wings are delicious, and are among the best in the area. Owner Gary Serum bought the recipe from a restaurant in Hilton Head, SC. You can order your wings with any of 21 different flavored sauces. We can guarantee that you'll love one of them. Unfortunately, you may have to wade through a whole bunch you don't like in order to get there.
We liked the traditional Buffalo-style sauce. It's available in five different hotness levels. Underestimate a bit, and then work your way up. Perhaps our favorite is the Goldrush. A honey-barbecue sauce, it's a perfect blend of sweet and hot, with a lingering spicy finish.
Other good wing sauces are the Wild West and the mild Ranch-style sauce. We don't recommend the Thai, the Ragin' Cajun, or the Island Wind. Order a plate with several different flavors of wings; that's probably the most fun for everyone.
These same sauces are available on their baby back ribs. Unfortunately, the rib meat was fatty and not smoky enough. Even sauces we liked didn't save them.
Like those of national chains, Serum's menu ranges far and wide. They serve burgers and sandwiches, a typical array of bar appetizers, several sandwiches, a few soups, pizzas with a variety of toppings, a few Mexican and Italian entrees, and some larger entree platters.
We liked the fried chicken sandwich. You get a huge chicken breast, not flattened, so it's thick and really worth biting in to. It's dipped in a spicy batter, fried, and served on a good bun with the usual lettuce, tomato, and mayo. It's the batter that really makes this good. The pasta salad side is heavily dressed but nice. You can also get "Big Fries," which are just regular French fries.
The burgers are fine. We especially liked the patty melt, on good bread and piled with plenty of onions.
Avoid the chili, which is bland and uninteresting. The onion rings are in an herb-flecked batter, and taste almost cheesy. We liked them, but have never had anything like them.
Serum's has a special children's menu, but the place is very much a bar, with all the usual mass-market beers.
We like Serum's because it's the real deal: an authentic restaurant amongst the national chains. It's worth the trip for the wings alone, but we're happy to stay for dinner.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.