Restaurant reviews: 2006 Archives

Renegades Bar & Grill (Burnsville, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • December 27, 2006

Sometimes, we like to be reminded of how much fun it can be to hang around in bars. Not that we favor a steady diet of bar food or bar fun. But once in a while, meeting up with friends for beers and classic rock music is a simple pleasure. It’s even better with some decent food.

Renegades fills the bill with its excellent jukebox and acceptable beer selection. It was the non-ironic playing of “Free Bird” that sold us, along with the Blue Moon beer served with an orange slice.

The entire menu isn’t stellar, but there are some good eats here.

Best of India (St. Louis Park)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune West
  • December 13, 2006

Can we have a better term than “ethnic restaurant”?

We know what it means: immigrant food from someplace that it isn’t here. Italian was mainstreamed in the 1950s, and Mexican a couple of decades later, but we tend to lump every other cuisine into a broad category called “ethnic,” as if injera and pita and tortilla were similar enough to be interchangeable. They’re not, of course.

We especially like Indian food, because we can taste combinations we can’t get at Perkins or Chili’s. The spices are blended and complex, and intense flavor doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too hot. It’s interesting without being inaccessible…

Nalapak (Columbia Heights, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune North
  • December 6, 2006

Nalapak is the new name for Udupi Cafe, the long-beloved Indian vegetarian restaurant in Columbia Heights. There’s a new owner, but the menu is exactly the same. Unfortunately, there are new cooks in the kitchen and the food was not nearly as good as it was the last time we’d been in.

Gobi manghuriani has long been our favorite dish, and it’s still good. It’s cauliflower florets, marinated and then cooked in a delicious spice blend. The pieces are a brilliant red and so hearty and substantial that you almost believe this is a meat dish.

We liked the special vegetable curry: a mixture of vegetables in a yellow curry sauce. We also liked the dal fry maharani, which is a lentil dish cooked in Indian spices. These aren’t standouts the way the gobi manghuriani is, but they are competent versions of basic South Indian cooking…

Pablo's Mexican Restaurant (Shakopee, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • November 29, 2006

Pablo’s has been around for 20 years, ever since Pablo and his family moved to Minnesota from Southern California. The food isn’t the traditional Mexican you’ll find in the taquerias in South Minneapolis, nor is it really Tex-Mex. It’s Cal-Mex, an Americanized version of Mexican food created by early immigrants who settled in California. Think Taco Bell, only much tastier.

As served at Pablo’s, “Americanized” means “not at all spicy.”

Pablo’s menu consists of mostly Mexican standards — tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos and so on — in a variety of combinations. Some of the combinations come with both refried beans and Spanish rice, while others come with beans or rice. Fillings include seasoned ground beef, spicy shredded beef, chicken, pork and beans…

Spoonriver (Minneapolis, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • November/December 2006

We don’t know Brenda Langton personally, but we see her around town at the groceries and markets. She’s involved with the local organic food scene, and was the driving force behind the Mill City Farmer’s Market.

We’re also sure that Cafe Brenda is where we, like many of our friends, were first introduced to croquettes, which were exotic then but now seem an unpretentious and practical way to use up leftovers. It was certainly where we were all introduced to vegetarian fine dining.

But we’re all grown up now, and Brenda’s new restaurant Spoonriver reflects that. It’s healthy, but welcoming to omnivores. And it’s the best vegetarian first-date restaurant in the Twin Cities…

Moe's (Mounds View, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune North
  • October 11, 2006

Who would have thought you could find culinary perfection in Mounds View? At Moe’s, it’s on the menu. In several places.

There are a lot of hot spicy wings out there, but only one true Buffalo wing. It’s not breaded, mildly hot, and served with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. Moe’s has them, and they might just be the best wings in the metro.

Moe’s also serves the excellent and deservedly famous Mayslack’s garlicky roast beef, piled high on a dark rye bun. No need to drive all the way to Nordeast for this feast; we love this sandwich…

Naar Grille (Eden Prairie, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune West
  • September 20, 2006

The best spinach salad we’ve ever had was at the Naar Grille in Eden Prairie.

We’ve been fooling around with vinaigrettes at home, trying to find the smooth but biting blend that makes a salad great. The dressing on the spinach salad at Naar was in every way ideal. The olive oil and lemon juice each stood out as individual flavors but supported each other as vinaigrette is meant to. The spinach leaves were tender and fresh. It was simple food done perfectly. We encountered this marvel on the shrimp and scallops entree. It’s also available as a side dish…

Town Talk Diner (Minneapolis, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • September/October 2006

Ah, the diner. This classic establishment was brought down by chain restaurant aggression and the upmarketing of the American palate. The tiny and charming Town Talk sat empty for too many years.

But a good space is a good space, and the renaissance of Lake Street continues. Nostalgia for the old days shows up in restaurant menus and concepts all over the place, and hey, presto! The Town Talk is open once again.

The tiny old counter serves as the bar now, with precious little room to wait until a table opens in the newly annexed storefront next door. Look for upscale diner food, with old favorites jazzed up and trendy combinations well made. It’s all pretty good…

Piccolo's Pizzeria (Eagan, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • August 30, 2006

During the sweltering days of summer, nothing suits us better than the pure classic simplicity of a chocolate malt. At its best, the cold ice cream is perfectly offset by the chocolate and malt, creating the reigning champion among soda fountain treats.

Unfortunately, a proper malt, tasting of malt powder, is darned hard to come by. We’ve visited some of the top names in the business locally and haven’t been impressed. Even ordering extra malt hasn’t brought us a malty-tasting chocolate malt.

And this was our frame of mind when we wandered into Piccolo’s recently. But the sublime happened. We received a nearly full can, along with our glass of chocolate malt, and, oh, it was perfectly chocolaty and malted and so good…

Neptune Eatery (Blaine, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune North
  • August 9, 2006

You know as well as we do that being a restaurant critic is fun. But the very best part of the job isn’t, as you might expect, free restaurant meals. What’s really great is when we get to share the news about someplace that’s truly special. And we have one for you this time.

Everybody pile in cars and go to Neptune Eatery. Though it’s located in a nondescript strip mall and has counter service, don’t let any of that keep you from what’s going to be a great meal. It’ll be delivered with a smile and cooked with heart. And it’s all delicious.

Neptune Eatery has a wood-fired pizza oven, and they use fresh ingredients, good quality cheese, and a flavorful sauce. We particularly liked the simply elegant Margherita pizza, with tomatoes and basil, although the pepperoni and sausage pizza is also delicious…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.