Thanks to a really long wait, we weren't sure what to expect from 4 Bells, which before that was set to be Triton, in the old Joe's Garage space, which has been in a state of construction for over a year. But if Joe's was a garage — and it was, kinda — then 4 Bells is its impressive, glittering mansion on the hill.
Sleek, dark, masculine, a little industrial, and maybe even a little nautical but not cramming any of it down your throat, the place feels like a restaurant for all reasons, with an expansive buildout meaning a lot more space, as much bar area as dining room (super savvy these days), and even a private dining area upstairs to overlook Loring Park. A raw bar and open kitchen round out the experience, with a lot of pro servers and some pretty stellar food, already on day two.
Things you will want to cram down your throat: They say they're taking their culinary inspiration from "North Carolina low country cooking," but if that doesn't mean much to you, think sister restaurant Butcher and the Boar, but with a departure from pork and lots of emphasis on seafood and, wait for it, fried chicken to rival Revival. More on that later.
While you can't swing a bag of oysters without hitting a raw bar program around this town these days, don't overlook the one here. All the oysters are East Coast lovelies, yet wildly diverse from one another, and served pristine on the half shell with no hint of grit. They've been handled properly as fine jewels, and starting with a few of these sets the tone for what's to come. Another pro move: Don't miss the ceviche, a wonderland of flavor made with little chilled cubes of snapper, chile relish, pine nuts, mint, and yogurt marinated in citrus. Do push aside the attendant crackers that just get in the way of an otherwise sublime experience.
The chicken: Interestingly, our reigning king of chicken around here, chef Thomas Boemer of Revival, has also taken his culinary inspiration from North Carolina, where he spent his childhood, and so how's that for some hyper-regional Southern cuisine for us landlocked Midwesterners to boast about?
The fried chicken at 4 Bells doesn't compare to Revival's in any way except that it's just as good, only different. Here, the bird, available in half ($17) or whole ($24), sees a pickle brine, and then a tempura-style batter that has me thinking about Willie Mae's, the reigning queen of New Orleans fried chicken that forever turned me out on the stuff. To pretty seriously up the ante, you get a choice of four accompanying sauces: lavender butter, pepper gravy, watermelon hot sauce, and delta sauce (think spicy ketchup/cocktail sauce). Pro tip: Order them all and get a different experience with every bite. Super pro tip: Get the delightfully powdery buttermilk biscuits and slather on that lavender butter for an experience that's fine as French pastry. Swoon.
Sides and desserts could still use a bit of tweaking — a poppyseed coleslaw was technically sound but unemphatic, and sautéed rapini was all butter and no zing. Peach milkshakes and Coca Cola cake hold all the appeal of a soda fountain, and we didn't get much peach or Coke out of either, respectively. Good if you're appeasing a kid, perhaps less good if you're after something more nuanced, though to be fair we've yet to try the southern influenced pies like shoofly and brown derby or hummingbird cake, which could very likely hold more appeal.
1610 Harmon Place, Minneapolis
Monday-Thursday: 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Friday- Saturday: 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday: 4 p.m-.10 p.m.