Raising the Bar Bar

Is it just beer goggles, or does the Nordeast Bulldog have the best bar food ever?

"When we first opened, we thought we'd make our own mortadella too, but that just got out of control," Schoenefeld said, confessing that the only things his kitchen doesn't prepare from scratch are the tater tots ($3.50, served with ketchup and, to up the bar, spicy, house-made harissa mayo), the pretzels, and the ketchup. Steak tartare is fresh and good ($9), served layered with capers and eggs in a striking pyramid mold beside beautiful, golden strips of buttered toast. It makes the steak tartare at half the steakhouses in town look like last week's jalapeño poppers.

Speaking of jalapeños, Schoenfeld and Emery even manage to unobtrusively gourmet-ify chili dogs ($5.50, with those fries), which are cloaked in a potently fiery, Texas-style brisket chili made big and dusky with the power of smoked peppers. The salads at Bulldog are far more suited to ladies who lunch than guys who do shots—the Green Goddess ($6) was particularly charming, with a lively avocado-and-herb dressing and cracker-like wisps that are a sort of crisp, baked, spiced improvement on the old idea of croutons.

Of course, fine food requires fine drink—and while the Bulldog has a very nice little wine list ($85 Bollinger Champagne with your chili dog, Madame?), the real drinking delights are in its remarkable beer selections. The place has two dozen regional American and international taps on offer, and another three dozen bottles, including a great number of fine Belgian ales, triples, and so forth. I loved having the opportunity to try unusual beer styles and match them with food—the British import Young's Double Chocolate Stout ($6), for instance, starts off with a true cup-of-cocoa nose but mellows into something round and tart as it's sipped with food, reminding me of a big Côtes du Rhone—but the beer goes far better with the chili dog than wine ever could.

Bulldog hits a bull's-eye: Chef Landon Schoenefeld and owner Amy Rowland with some of their too-good-to be-bar food
Jayme Halbritter
Bulldog hits a bull's-eye: Chef Landon Schoenefeld and owner Amy Rowland with some of their too-good-to be-bar food

Location Info


Bulldog NE

401 E. Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: University

Arcadia Scotch Ale ($6) from Michigan was almost like a big, robust, yeasty, sweet iced tea, and goes brilliantly with the Bulldog's sole biggish-ticket entree, chicken and waffles ($14), in which a fluffy, fresh waffle is topped with fried chicken which is itself covered with maple syrup filled with little chopped bits of bacon. All you beer lovers who despair that wine bars have seized all the food-matching good times, cheer up! Bulldog even has the snazzy goblets and similar specially designed glassware to accentuate the various beer notes of yeast and citrus. To all you lawnmower beer types who hate it when people use big words about beer, cheer up! Bulldog also has $4 pints of Bells and Summit, bottles of Grain Belt for $3.50, and TVs on the walls showing lots of different sports, all at the same time.

To what do we owe this rare bird, this bar bar with fine-dining grace notes? To Amy Rowland, mostly. Amy is one of the Bulldog's co-owners, and she opened the place with her husband, Chris, locally famous as the lead singer in Dumpster Juice, and Chris's boyhood best friend, Matt Lakovich, who owns the other Bulldog in south Minneapolis. (The two Bulldogs have little in common except for an owner and a name, and are unlikely to sync up unless some chefs are cloned and a kitchen is rebuilt.)

Amy Rowland is a longtime behind-the-scenes Twin Cities restaurant force—in fact, a wine list she designed at the Modern Café once won a City Pages Best of the Twin Cities prize. She started in restaurants 20 years ago at the Reindeer Fountain and Grill, and has put in time at Origami, the Modern, dear, departed Marimar, and others. It was actually at Marimar where she first met Landon Schoenefeld, who at the time was hardly old enough to drink, but he impressed her so much that when she conceived of the Northeast Bulldog concept, she tracked him down.

"I just kept asking myself, what if you took people with a real fine-dining background, and applied it to bar food?" Rowland told me. "You use local ingredients, you make most things from scratch, you have the best beer, the best wine, the best food you can do, but have it be approachable and affordable? When you work at so many places and try to do a really good job, you start to take ownership of the successes and failures, you start thinking: Maybe I could do this myself. But then you're like: Maybe I couldn't! Matt [Lakovich] wanted to open another bar, with us, but with our two small children, I thought: No, that's nuts." In the end, the Rowlands went for it, and one family's nuts turned into a whole city's gain.

Of course, I am gobsmacked. And I have to wonder: Is this where Minneapolis is heading? Will every SuperAmerica hot-dog roaster soon spin duck-garlic sausages? Will our State Fair cheese curds arrive topped with shavings of black truffle? Is the boil-in-bag beer-cheese soup of our collective soul turning into some kind of sous vide stout-Parmigiano potage? As long as there's a chef who is young, hungry, and willing to spend the wee hours messing with butter and thyme, I say the answer is a definitive: Could be! In the meantime, beer goggles never tasted so good.

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