Two-Fisted Meat

Joe's Garage

1610 Harmon Place, Mpls.

904-1163

          PITY THOSE WHO plunge themselves, their time, and their money into hopes of gaining public admiration. What if their well intentioned strategies go unnoticed? How much sadder can you get than a lonely evening of waiting by the phone or door, anxiously looking out the window, anticipating your guests or audience to arrive and be impressed by your artistry? I felt a small blow of woefulness on a chilly, rainy evening last week as my friend and I visited Joe's Garage. Where are all the good people of these fabulous cities, people who you'd suppose would certainly know how to appreciate a good burger? "Good burgers" might be misleading however, for the burgers featured on the menu here are more than good; these are the burgers of nouveau dreams.

          The decor at Joe's Garage could use a little feeling; if this problem were tackled with some confidence, I think that Joe's would rule the roost. It wouldn't take too much; you know what they say about a little paint going a long way. Right now, the decor is a stripped, emptier version of the space's previous tenants, Randy's Tres Cafe. The icy blue splotched walls, the low white ceilings, the white, cracked floor, the white tables-- you might start feeling like you're stuck in the waiting room of your local hospital, or perhaps at the bottom of your favorite lake. Nice jazz music sifts through the dining area though, and the warmth of the staff and the tasty vittles can't help but make you feel welcome and content. The people-watching from the roof garden on a sunny afternoon (and take heed: there aren't many left this year) is pretty good; I was convinced for a few minutes that I saw Valerie Bertinelli sitting behind the tomato plant, though I don't think it was her. My disappointment was soothed with a glass of J. Pedroncelli merlot, a bit pricey at $6 a glass, but it was the size of a water glass, and the stuff is glorious. Beer is $2.50 per tap and $3.75 for bottles, which include New Castle and Watney's Cream. The menu also offers shakes and malts ($3.25)--this is a burger spot after all--but I personally couldn't stomach the thought of a big, frosty strawberry malt with an herbed chèvre lamb burger ($7.25).

          The menu is made up of appetizers, salads, and burgers; during lunch hours, pasta is also available. Our table eagerly went through the smoked trout mousse ($4.25) and the gingered pork wontons ($4) we ordered to start with. The wontons, delicately fried triangles filled with ginger-marinated bits of pork and served with tamari spiked with chili for dipping, went more quickly than the smoked trout mousse. A cold, creamy mixture served with skinny, cold asparagus tips, diced tomatoes, and lightly baked rounds of French bread and pumpernickel, cold mousse on a chilly day isn't always the ticket. Maybe next time we'll try the roasted red bell pepper risotto cakes ($5.75) instead. The curried yellowfin tuna burger my friend tried was a nice twist, grilled with pickled ginger and sweet onions on thick slices of toasted sesame brioche smeared with wasabi mayonnaise, though the potato salad (made with new potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and green pepper) veered towards the bland. I enjoyed the spicy Asian pork burger ($8), seasoned with a heady mix of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, mint, and chili paste, and served with a tangy Japanese coleslaw and cumin-scented, latticed potato chips. The best of the burgers we tried, I blush to admit, was the classic beef burger, grilled perfectly to specification on an egg bun studded with sesame seeds and accompanied with fresh, healthy specimens of tomato, lettuce, and onions, not to mention a hot mass of skin-on French fries ($6). Of course, you could fancy things up with a variety of cheeses (add $1) or a slice of apple-smoked bacon (add $1.50), but we were extremely happy without it.

          Dessert was our favorite part of the meal. If I had a small child in tow, I would drag them (albeit I imagine they'd be quite willing) to Joe's for a exalted view of the Basilica and an ice cream sundae--a leviathan concoction of Sebastian Joe's ice cream with homemade berry syrup, chocolate truffles, and, for the young connoisseur, topped with a sprig of fresh mint ($3.50). Being grizzled adults with no child in sight (besides, we'd eaten ice cream sundaes the night before), we were forced to order something more mature and called upon the strawberry shortcake ($3.50). Composed of billowy mounds of fresh, lightly sweetened whipped cream sandwiched by buttery, feather-light biscuits and dimpled with lusty, fresh strawberries, it restored every bit of our innocence, adding some that was never there to begin with. Among the paths we regret we were unable to take (though they sure did look good on our neighbor's table): raspberry devils food cake ($3.75), coconut creme caramel ($3), and the coffee chocolate ice cream sandwich ($3).

          Literally and figuratively, Joe's lies between the posh fare at the Loring and the down-home eats at Ruby's. There should be a spot for them; you just need to find it.

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