Pub and Grub

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery
1430 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., (612) 339-8696
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m.; Sunday 4:00 p.m.-midnight; happy hour Monday-Friday 3:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m. ($2.25 pints, $8 pitchers); $2 pitchers Monday-Friday after 10:00 p.m.

You've got to figure that every culinary invention is the result of tinkering--games of What If with inexpensive ingredients in quiet kitchens. You've got to figure that the first chocolate mousse was preceded by a bunch of chocolate flats, the first sparkling apple ciders came after a string of apple rottens, the first chili dog followed a series of discarded beef-bourguignonne dogs and clam-chowder dogs.

Well, maybe not that last one. But you've got to give the tinkerers credit. And I'm ready to crown Mark Meyer, the chef at Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Tinkerer King of the Twin Cities. Meyer has authored a menu that's nearly Dr. Seussian in its madness: Pasta in a cream and buffalo-wing sauce. Cajun chicken cordon bleu. Greek salad with a jerk-chicken option. Linguini with bratwurst. Pecan-bourbon barbecued beef tenderloin. Teriyaki chicken with mayonnaise, grilled pineapple, Provolone cheese, and sprouts.

Kristine Heykants

Location Info

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Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

1430 Washington Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55454

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Are these things any good? Nah. The buffalo chicken penne ($9.95 at lunch, $10.95 at dinner) is weird, sweet, cloying, and thoroughly unpleasant. The Town Hall Nachos ($7.95), made with fried won ton skins instead of corn chips, are soggy and oily, and they aren't helped by an inoffensive "goat cheese cream" and a strange, stewed tomato salsa. The teriyaki chicken sandwich ($7.95) just tastes intense--it reminded me of tasting sauce out of a jar.

The menu features another 60 items, and after going for the creative dishes, I turned my attention to the tamer ones, but I didn't have any success there, either. A meatloaf ($9.95 lunch/$10.95 dinner) wasn't bad, but the accompanying mashed potatoes were greasy and the gravy tasted like a doctored mix. A Greek salad ($7.95 lunch, $8.95 dinner) was dressed with sugar-bowl-sweet dressing and had doughy tomatoes in it. Even the hickory-smoked pork chops ($15.95)--which Pete Rifakes, owner of this Seven Corners brew pub, assured me were the best item on the menu and irresistible--were terribly dry, tasted suspiciously like liquid smoke, and provided nowhere near the experience they should for the cost.

Maybe I'll eat my words one day and Rifakes and Meyer will usher some phenomenal dish into the world, but for the time being, this place is the spiritual home of the clam-chowder hot dog. I mean, even the burgers were disasters--and that's the last thing a brew pub can afford to fall down on. The menu boldly asserts that Town Hall "makes the best burgers in Minneapolis." Perhaps that's why I was so supremely disappointed in these patties, which are terribly overpacked, sand-dense, tough, grainy, and sit on cottony buns. I can think of a dozen places with vastly better burgers in Minneapolis alone--Morton's, the Convention Grill, the 5-8 Club, the Gay 90's, and Bar Abilene, to name just a few. In a phone interview after my visits, I asked Rifakes whether he'd ever had the burgers at the St. Paul Grill--luscious, plump, delectable things that are to Town Hall Brewery's as omelets are to crackers. Not for "a really long time," he said. I asked whether he thought Town Hall's burgers were comparable to the St. Paul Grill's. "Absolutely," he insisted. Eventually he acknowledged that he doesn't even eat his restaurant's burgers--he simply makes his own at the restaurant when the mood hits him.

A few weeks ago in this space, I pointed out that running a restaurant isn't rocket science--and Rifakes's remark perfectly illustrates how restaurateurs behave in ways that would seem to violate the most basic common sense. Imagine a filmmaker saying, "I don't watch other people's movies," or a florist saying, "I won't look at other people's designs." Apparently it's as nothing for a restaurant owner to decide not to leave his four walls and call them paradise--or, for that matter, not to even sample what's cooked within said four walls.

Well, whatever. I'm still inclined to cut Town Hall a little slack because brewmaster John Haggerty, who got his start at Seattle's Big Time Brewery and Alehouse, brews some awfully good beer. The India Pale Ale is as crisp as a glass bedsheet, with fierce hops and a nice overall balance. The Scotch Ale is warm and toasty and has a big, round body. I was particularly impressed with a seasonal brew offered on my visits, an Australian Sparkling Ale with a close resemblance to those Belgian beers that get their characteristically fine bubbles and fizzy texture from a secondary fermentation. This delicious summer brew is lively and astringent, with an almost citrusy zing to it.

So what's with the vast disparity between pub and grub? I'd distill it thus: When it comes to beer, Town Hall has its eyes on national benchmarks. When it comes to food, they're myopically focused right down the street. Quoth Rifakes: "We're on our fourth chef right now. We started with a white-tablecloth guy, but on the West Bank it was difficult to be successful with that menu. When Mark started about eight months ago, he and I went to revamp the entire menu. You've got to understand [that] while I wouldn't say we compete directly with anyone, Grandma's is packed every day, and we needed to compete at least on a lunch level with Grandma's."

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