Loring Kitchen and Ginger Hop: The hits and misses

Add these two to the long list of new Twin Cities restaurants

THIS FALL, the former home of the Times Bar & Cafe on East Hennepin was reborn as Ginger Hop, an "East-meets-Northeast" concept of Asian and American fare. The owners are the crew behind the original Thailand-in-Uptown concept Chiang Mai Thai, and they wisely capitalized on the neighborhood's notable lack of Asian restaurants. The space looks as pretty as ever. The bar has its same black-and-white checkered floor, polished wood columns, and barrel vault ceiling; the dining room now looks as if it were lifted from French Colonial Indochina, with its weathered window shutters and rattan chairs. For those with a group event or hot date in the works, the place also boasts a semi-private banquet room and a velvet-curtain-shrouded "kissing booth."

The menu skips, or hops, as it were, around Thailand, Vietnam, and China, and includes a few fusion items such as the Kimchi Kulakofsky, a Reuben sandwich stuffed with Korean-style pickled cabbage. It was great, but not an improvement on the standard sauerkraut version. I also didn't much care for the St. Anthony Sling (Polish blackberry brandy and pineapple juice), so maybe East-meets-Eastern Europe just isn't my thing.

Ginger Hop co-owner Charles Lodge notes that Asian food tends to attract a heavily female clientele, and he says the menu was intentionally designed to balance lighter, vegetable-based stir-fries and such with the heartier, meatier sandwiches that men tend to prefer. Several menu items feature ginger—I'd recommend both the Ginger-or-Mary Ann cocktail and the house-made ginger snaps with candied ginger ice cream—and a few others incorporate beer (hops, get it?), such as the chicken wings with Summit EPA hot sauce.

East meets Northeast: Lunchtime at Ginger Hop
Jana Freiband
East meets Northeast: Lunchtime at Ginger Hop

Location Info

Map

Loring Park

1382 Willow St.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

LORING KITCHEN & BAR
1359 Willow St. S., Minneapolis
612.843.0400,
www.loringkitchen.com
appetizers $8-$11; entrées $15-$25

GINGER HOP
201 E. Hennepin, Minneapolis
612.746.0304,
www.gingerhop.com
appetizers $2-$9; entrées $10-$19

Prices are higher than at local mom-and-pop Asian eateries—the bahn mi will run you $8.75, which is about double what you'd pay on Nicollet or University Avenue—though Ginger Hop offers a classier ambiance than most spots with $10-and-under entrées. Unfortunately, several of the restaurant's standard Asian favorites lacked their characteristic flavor complexity. The Thai Tom Yam soup tasted predominantly of salt and lacked the expected spark of heat, sour zing, and umami richness. It was hard to get excited about flavors that waltzed when I'd expected them to breakdance. The Vietnamese pho had the same problem—washed-out broth—though it did come piled with lovely fresh herb garnishes and beef tenderloin strips. Even the cream cheese wontons were off; their wrappers were too dense and their filling supplemented with odd-tasting caramelized onions.

The Bodhisattva curry followed the pattern of the soups. Its mild, creamy sauce was infused with delicate floral and woodsy flavors, but I wished it would have possessed more fire, pungency, and bite. (This may be partially due to its vegan status, which rules out the use of fish sauce.) It reminded me of a knockoff designer purse: At first it seemed like the real deal, but on closer inspection none of the details were right.

Still, there are several big wins on the Ginger Hop menu, many of which are easy to pair with something from the well-sourced beer and wine lists. For appetizers, I liked the sweet potato fries with spicy ketchup and the beer-battered, deep-fried walleye satay with its plucky wasabi tarter sauce—it could beat out most of the State Fair's skewered foods. I also liked General Tsing's Chicken (again, made with beer), which is a more laid-back version of General Tso's saucy-fried delight that comes with steamed broccoli and jasmine rice. A crispy tofu rice noodle salad has bright, fresh flavors of crunchy veggies and herbs, as does the Hop Laab, or Thai lettuce wraps, made with minced chicken that's seasoned with lime, cilantro, and the nutty warmth of toasted ground rice.

Lodge says he and his crew hope to reopen the basement space—a.k.a. the old Jitters—any day now as a mixed-use venue intended for drinks, snacks, and entertainment. I think there's enough that impresses upstairs to inspire a subterranean visit. 

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