Cowboy Slim's runs roughshod over old Uptown

These rustlers patronize in packs

The first time I drove up to Cowboy Slim's, in the former home of Campiello on the corner of West Lake Street and Girard, my first instinct was to turn around. Slim's back patio looked like a fraternity party, with its swarms of young people standing around smoking cigarettes and clutching plastic cups. I pulled into the lot and found a spot before realizing how much it cost: $9 for the privilege of parking in Uptown? Seriously? Where the McDonald's across the street lets its customers park for free? (Turns out the Cowboy Slim's folks don't manage the lot, but still, it makes a poor impression of their hospitality.) As I crossed the lot, several steel-pony-riding hellions blasted past, revving their engines loud enough to create the sonic equivalent of a drive-by shooting. I hadn't yet set foot in Cowboy Slim's when I uttered the phrase, "I hate this place already."

I wasn't really sure if I wanted to review Cowboy Slim's in the first place, as it seemed more like a bar than a restaurant. But news of its arrival in Uptown had carried significant heft, and I knew a lot of people were curious about it. Cowboy Slim's, and its new sister restaurant in Plymouth, Cowboy Jack's, are owned by the group that runs the Cabooze, the Joint Bar, and Sally's Saloon and Eatery in Minneapolis, among others. They were promising a full menu of Western-style, scratch-made food, and a little part of me was dying to see the party girls eat tater-tot hot dish.

So through the swinging doors I went, into Cowboy Slim's faux saloon. The large, open room looks as rustic as a horse barn with its plank floors and wooden-barrel tables. It's furnished with all sorts of Western schlock: lanterns, wagon wheels, saddles, and skulls. On the host's stand, a few small cacti had been plunked into a ceramic pot shaped like a pair of Daisy Dukes. The feel is less authentic than gimmicky—like so many tropical, gangster, or outer-space themes designed to help guests remember which of the interchangeable watering holes they visited the previous night, even if they can't recall what they drank.

All hat, no cattle: The crowd at Cowboy Slim's
Jana Freiband
All hat, no cattle: The crowd at Cowboy Slim's

Location Info

Map

Cowboy Slim's

1312 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

Details

COWBOY SLIM'S
1320 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
612.353.5156;
cowboyslims.com
appetizers $4-$12; entrées $12-$23

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The Cowboy Slim's patrons milling around in amoeba-like collectives looked to be in their early 20s, or perhaps a little older—though not yet past the age at which one stops basing weekend plans on whatever everyone else is doing. This was a crowd that put effort into its appearance but didn't stray too far from social norms. A few people watched a basketball game. Several flirted. All drank. The scene looked a little like New York's famous Coyote Ugly, though the evening was a little young for Midwestern women to dance on the bar or tack their bras to the wall. And I'm pretty sure I was the only person in the place who had brought her parents.

I had somewhat accidentally invited Mom and Dad out for a night at Cowboy Slim's, and they were a good three decades out of their comfort zone. Fortunately, my parents are the ultimate good sports. Waiting beside the host's stand, they stared openly at an older woman dressed like a teenager who appeared to be having her thigh rubbed suggestively by a stranger, but they didn't complain about the rock-show-like decibel levels. I approached the hostess, who was dressed in cowboy boots and a miniskirt, and told her that we'd like to eat. "Let me figure that out," she said, scanning the dining area, where a burly employee in a beer T-shirt moved large wooden tables by hefting them onto his back. I turned around to see my father reach his hand into a barrel, shell a few peanuts, and toss their husks on the floor. "This is my kind of place," he enthused.

The hostess seated us in a roomy booth, and we scanned the list of pork chops, pizzas, sandwiches, ribs, and steaks—a more ambitious menu than you might expect from a saloon. We ordered the meatloaf sliders and rated them average bar food (good buns, but the meat and barbecue sauce were rather bland). The pan-fried sunnies were better, as their crisp, peppery breading had a little kick of heat, though they could have used a spritz of lemon. Knowing that most cowpokes rarely see fresh rations, I was impressed that the fish came with a side of roasted red peppers, zucchini, broccoli, and onions. When I called Slim's later, I was told the vegetables are seasoned simply with salt and pepper, though I could have sworn they were splashed with some sort of balsamic vinegar-herb mixture, which overpowered their inherent flavors. My mother commented on the cuteness of the bright red Fiestaware.

The crowds cycled between the bar and the patio at a traffic jam's pace as the stereo played the sort of classic-rock tunes found on a Guitar Hero play list, including "Free Bird," "White Wedding," and "Pour Some Sugar on Me." I watched women teeter past in high-heeled boots, stilettos, and wedges, and worried about the peanut-shell hazard. "There are a lot of guys who look like deer in the headlights," my mom remarked. "And the girls are all traveling in packs." I struggled to finish my Cowboy Slim's ale, a sweet, malty brew that's both an easy drinker and something to be tired of quickly—a description that might also apply to the sort of person a Cowboy Slim's patron might go home with at the end of the night.

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