Granite City Food & Brewery (Eagan, MN)
There's one thing you can say about chain restaurants: they have standards. Everything from how often the bathrooms get cleaned to how much salad dressing to put on a dinner salad is set down in some manual somewhere, so that the experience can be duplicated.
There are advantages to this. Uniform rules make it easier to train new waiters and cooks. Portion control keeps food costs down. And the customers know what to expect every time they visit.
The downside is that too often the food is bland and uninspired. Even though they promise "non-chain-like food" at this chain restaurant, much of the Granite City menu failed to excite us.
The Monterey crab wontons were overpowered by cream cheese, and we didn't taste crab. Likewise, the spinach and artichoke dip was too cheesy and barely tasted of artichokes.
The French onion soup tasted more of salt and less of onion, and should have been hotter. The ale and cheddar soup was odd, and we wanted popcorn, not croutons, in it.
Moving to the entrees, the chicken parmesan was a boneless chicken breast, breaded and fried, and served with pasta and marinara sauce. Basic enough, but this one was lost under the sauce, pasta, and cheese.
The grilled salmon Oscar was a decent piece of broiled fish, but the béarnaise sauce was bland, there were only three small pieces of asparagus, and if there was any crabmeat we couldn't find it. The rice -- a mixture of white and wild rice -- was tasty enough, and the sautéed vegetables were fine, but that's the best that can be said about this dish.
Over on the sandwiches side, we tried the Cuban sandwich. Normally this is a lively sandwich of ham, garlicky roast pork, cheese, and pickle, grilled in a press until it's warm and all the ingredients meld together. The key here is the bread, which is supposed to crunch. Ours was soft and unpleasant.
Don't even think about ordering the spinach artichoke chicken sandwich. Just don't.
Possibly the best thing on the menu are the burgers. Not that they're extra tasty; but aside from being too well done there was nothing wrong with them.
All the beers were quite drinkable. The stout, with its bitter coffee notes, didn't go well with our food, but the pale ale was fine and flavorsome.
On a busy Saturday night, Granite City is swarmed with people. We counted 70, all waiting an hour or more. That's your only option, since the restaurant does not take reservations or offer call-ahead seating. The staff left a table empty for eight minutes during our wait, which unacceptable. But the manager walked among those waiting, offering pieces of chalupa, which was a nice gesture.
We don't believe there's any reason to wait an hour for a table at Granite City. A 20-minute drive will get you to dozens of better restaurants, any of which take reservations and all of which offer you a far better meal, party, date, or family outing.
3330 Pilot Knob Road, Eagan
Phone: (651) 452-4600
Atmosphere: Bland, with television sets
Service: Fast friendly servers, impressively fast kitchen
Sound level: Noisy, but it could be so much worse
Recommended dishes: Burgers and salads
Prices: Appetizers $7–$10, salads $10–$12, burgers $5–$8, pastas $10–$13, sandwiches $7–$10, entrees $11–$20
Children: Special children's menu