Whisky Park, Ugly Mug, and Be'wiched Deli: Downtown delights

Good food shows up in Minneapolis in surprising places

On a Thursday night, just before 7 o'clock when the drinks go full price, the cavernous new Whisky Park in downtown Minneapolis is as empty as an echo chamber. Along the perimeter there's a sparsely inhabited bar, a few unoccupied lounge seats, and an unwatched television the size of a theater screen.

But on weekend nights, when the hip hop is loud enough to cause physical vibrations, the Whisky warehouse is full of people crowded around a mechanical bull, penned in by a padded ring. The beast twirls and bucks the brave souls who want to experience the adult equivalent of a tire swing "spinny."

Whisky Park was conceived by Gene Suh, who owns Lyndale Tap, a neighborhood bar known for its beer list and pit beef sandwiches. The design firm Shea turned the former home of Banana Joe's nightclub into a country bar by bringing in a few whiskey barrels and black-and-white portraits of Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. Except for the length of the waitresses' jean shorts, the place is fairly clean-cut. With just one shuffleboard table in the corner, there shouldn't be any pool cue-incorporating bar fights like the ones Patrick Swayze broke up in Roadhouse.

Be'Wiched Deli now serves Sunday brunch
Emily Utne
Be'Wiched Deli now serves Sunday brunch
Eggs Benedict
Emily Utne
Eggs Benedict

Location Info

Map

Be'wiched

800 Washington Ave. N., Ste. 101
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

Be'Wiched Deli
800 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis
612.767.4330; www.bewicheddeli.com
brunch items $8-$14

The Ugly Mug
106 N. Third St., Minneapolis
612.343.5930; www.uglymugminneapolis.com
breakfast items $6-$14

Whisky Park
15 S. Fifth St., Minneapolis
612.545.5235; www.whiskyparkmpls.com
appetizers $4-$13; entrées $9-$13

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The whiskey cocktails—Dolly-Would, Ring of Fire, and the Bull Rider, among others—sweeten up the reputed old-man's spirit with the likes of sour mix, orange juice, and Red Bull. The drinks are served in pint glasses, sometimes with maraschino cherries, and are generally inoffensive, especially during the two-for-one weekday happy hour (food is half-price, too).

Whisky Park won't entice or develop whiskey connoisseurs, but it sets its more modest sights on simply getting the younger generation to sip something they'd normally bypass for Bud Lights and Appletinis. There are 34 whiskey selections on the menu, helpfully grouped by origin (Irish, Canadian, Scotch, etc.), and few are unusual or rare—nearly all the brand names would be recognizable to anyone who's ever set food in a liquor store. There are no tasting notes, or prices, for that matter, to orient or educate a newcomer. The waitresses are unlikely to offer more information beyond what brands are popular.

It's too bad that the Whisky Park experience doesn't replicate what Barrio is doing with tequila—educating drinkers and broadening their horizons. (If you want to drink Wild Turkey, Canadian Club, or Glenfiddich, why not just pick up a bottle at Hum's?) But perhaps the demographic Whisky Park is courting thinks learning should be restricted to the classroom, not mixed with partying.

While the beverage program at Whisky Park is disappointing, there are a few hits among the food offerings, including homemade beef jerky sticks, shaped like grissini and served in a paper-lined pint glass. They're not great date food, being characteristically tough to chew, but their kick is spicy enough to make one nostalgic for the gas-station snacks of cross-country road trips. Pizzas have wisp-thin crusts but stay crisp under the weight of their toppings (the Buffalo chicken pizza is a safe bet). But the barbecue beef brisket sandwich is a better one. The thick stack of juicy meat, accented with a few raw onions and a swipe of mayonnaise, is wedged between two slices of browned Texas toast, and giddy up, is it good. (Oddly, the pulled pork sandwich was a disaster, combining bland, barely sauced pork with dry, stale-tasting toast.)

The "XXX" hot wings, which the menu describes as being served "with ranch and tears," are coated in a thick, fried-chicken-style batter. When I had them, the vibrant hot sauce, served on the side, seemed carefully calibrated, with a vaguely Asian sweet-and-vinegary tang and a long, smoky burn. The accompanying celery sticks not so much, being gray and dry at the ends, as if they'd been cut days ago. But I suppose it was nothing that a few sips of Grape Ape—adult Kool-Aid—couldn't rectify.

IN CASE YOU NEED to "check yourself before you wreck yourself" at the Ugly Mug, one of downtown's barely distinguishable First Avenue bars, look no further than the wall-mounted Alco-Buddy between the arcade versions of Big Buck Hunter and Golden Tee. Alco-Buddy turns breathalyzing into a game: Blow into a straw and a green or red light will indicate the severity of your intoxication level.

On a recent visit to the Mug, signs of last night's debauchery were everywhere: The women's restroom had a broken stall door handle and the men's room had a hunk of broken glass on the floor. Near the video games someone had left behind a broken plastic tiara—hopefully the only goods damaged at that bachelorette party. Nothing about the scene boded well for a good breakfast.

The Ugly Mug is among the last places you'd expect to order an omelet made with duck confit and manchego cheese, but it's a rich, salty meal with more swagger than the usual bacon, mushroom, and cheddar-stuffed versions. At the Mug, eggs Benedict can be ordered with bison sausage. The meat is dense and a little dry, but its flavor melds well with a chile-and-roasted-tomato-spiked hollandaise. There's also a bar version of migas, a sort of nacho-style take on the Tex-Mex breakfast with scrambled eggs courtesy of an Owatonna farmer, crumbled chorizo, pico de gallo, and melted jack cheese on triangular chips cut and fried from whole, locally made La Perla tortillas.

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