Kings Wine Bar cooks royally tasty menu from scratch

Kingfield hangout even has its own book club

What does it take to be hip these days? Not long ago it was a mullet, a PBR tallboy, and a pair of tapered jeans. But after a few visits to Kings Wine Bar in southwest Minneapolis, it looks like the new standard-bearers are sporting a glass of red wine, a 55419 zip code, and an infant wearing a onesie over a long-sleeved T-shirt.

Those of you who know Kingfield know that it's one of those neighborhoods attractive to grown-up Uptownites who have paired off and started to raise families. It's largely residential, with most of its commercial activity limited to its borders. Considering the relative affluence of its inhabitants, Kingfield is something of a restaurant/café dead zone: It's the kind of neighborhood you want to hang out in, but it lacks a real neighborhood hangout.

Kings Wine Bar aimed to change that when it opened this fall across the street from one of the area's few restaurants, the likeable but inconsistent Café Ena. The new wine bar/restaurant/coffeehouse was launched during a period of rebirth for sisters Samantha Loesch and Molly Hanson, who had recently been separated from their husbands through death and divorce, respectively. Already Kings has become a gathering space for a crowd that's a bit too mature for the bar scene taking place between 31st and First streets. Put it this way: It's not easy to find a place with a liquor license that also has its own book club.

The royal treatment: Chef Pete Maccaroni with pork chops, tater tots, and beet salad
Jana Freiband
The royal treatment: Chef Pete Maccaroni with pork chops, tater tots, and beet salad

Location Info

Map

Kings Wine Bar

4555 Grand Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55419

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Southwest Minneapolis

Details

KINGS WINE BAR
4555 Grand Ave. S., Minneapolis
612.354.7928, www.kingsmpls.com
appetizers $5-$9; entrées $8-$16

Kings' decor has an urban, industrial look, reminiscent of the cheap-chic office spaces that popped up during the dot-com boom. The walls are beige and the ceilings are snaked with mechanical ducts; the bar and most of the furniture are painted glossy black. A back nook has a wine display on one side and flocked wallpaper on the other. A corner lounge resembles a Design Within Reach window display with its cushy mod furniture. On one side is a dartboard, on the other, a gold statue of Buddha.

The design reflects Loesch and Hanson's intention to have Kings be a multiuse space. One night, the dinner crowd included a woman sitting at the bar reading a book and another pecking at a laptop. Typically, there may be a few twentysomethings—I saw one toting a helmet bearing a skull and crossbones and a Pizza Lucé sticker—but most of the crowd looks a little too old (and too preppy) to blend in at Caffetto or the CC Club. In many ways, the vibe at Kings reminds me of Armatage's wildly popular Café Maude—iPhones are scattered across tabletops, SUVs are parked outside, and the kids are probably a few blocks away, having just been tucked into bed.

While Kings bills itself as a wine bar, I'm not sure that's its strength. Loesch and Hanson's brother, Mike Barnes, a sales rep for the Wine Company, helped them develop the wine list, but, particularly while servers are relatively new, its benefits aren't always being well communicated.

The beer list, in fact, feels better curated, particularly for its size. When I was there, the bar's four taps included the regional Farm Girl Saison and Bell's Two Hearted, along with two other interesting domestics: the crisp, hoppy A Little Sumpin' Sumpin Ale from Lagunitas Brewing and Left Hand Brewing's caramel-smooth Milk Stout. Hopefully the servers will soon be explaining the beers with the same thoroughness as the descriptions spooled out on the Kings website.

Kings' casual atmosphere suggests that it's the kind of place to go for a sandwich or a snack. In fact, Loesch and Hanson's original intent was to hire a kitchen manager to oversee just a brief list of pizzas or tapas dishes. When they connected with chef Pete Maccaroni, previously of the Sample Room, they soon found themselves elevating their ambitions.

Maccaroni's style is similar to that of his previous gig: local, seasonal New American cuisine. In the appetizer section of the menu, homemade tater tots attract the most attention—"Midwesterners go crazy over tater tots," Maccaroni notes. To achieve his goal of running an all-scratch kitchen, Maccaroni eschews frozen tots for weekly 400-pound deliveries of potatoes from Wisconsin's Dragsmith Farms. The potatoes are peeled, soaked in saltwater, and shredded; then resoaked, shredded again, and rolled into a dough and cut into squat cylinders roughly the size and shape of 35mm film canisters. When they come out of the fryer, their shells are crisp and their guts have a moist, glutinous consistency that reminded me of sticky rice.

You have to admire Maccaroni's commitment to his cooking, because, while the tots are great (be sure to dunk 'em in the bacon-Gruyere sauce), I'm not sure, from a sensory perspective at least, that the mass-market tater tot is something that asks for improvement. You could probably douse a batch with antifreeze and Hot Buck Scent and Midwesterners would still eat 'em by the casserole bowl-full. Still, I think the integrity of the ingredients justifies Kings' extra effort. Apparently, there's one guy in the kitchen whose sole duty is to make the tater tots. "It's an unbelievable task," Maccaroni admits. "A lot of love goes into those."

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