These are a few of my favorite things:
1. Whiskers on kittens 2. Just kidding 3. Live music 4. Booze (all the boozes) 5. Food 6. Bodies of water 7. Eating outside 8. Dogs — big ones, little ones, funny ones, cute ones — all the dogs
And now there's a place to have all of it, every night of the week, all summer long:
Park pavilions, those once quaint edifices where a guy might pass you a Bomb Pop through a window while you stand dripping from your swimsuit bottoms, are no longer the simple snack counters of days gone by. Now we expect our fish sandwiches to be crafted by the best chefs in town, we want handmade ice creams, we want gin and tonics! And damn it, we shall have them. And even though Doug Flicker of one-of-the-finest-restaurants-in-the-country-famous Piccolo is running Sand Castle at Nokomis, and restaurant mogul Kim Bartmann is running Bread and Pickle at Harriet, and Sea Salt gives us seafood as good as any Caribbean beach shack, I've seen the swankest, coolest pavilion yet, in Como Dockside.
First, and possibly foremost, Como Dockside offers free live music and other performances — even theater — pretty much every single night of the week. (The place is now under the auspices of Jon Oulmann, local music promoter extraordinaire). And then, and this is no small point, the pavilion overlooks Como Lake, and if you're a denizen of Minneapolis's Chain of Lakes, you might have forgotten its many charms. It's small, still, practically a mirror for the setting sun. And the pavilion itself is enormous — easily big enough for hundreds of guests at a time, including picnic tables for dining, and just benches for doing nothing much at all.
The indoor dining space is almost swank enough to evoke feelings of fine dining, with enormous hanging chandeliers, cushy armchairs, and a full bar. A full bar! At the park! So how posh are you, sitting there with your dirty martini and your wide brim hat? Pretty damn posh.
So priorities now properly in order (music, cocktail, lake), on to the food.
If I had a magic wand, after brandishing it many times with great flourishes, I would tap certain chefs upon the head with it. Post tap, they would awaken from a deep and restful slumber with this phrase running through their minds: "I shall go forth, and serve 12 to 15 menu items to the people! No more and no less, but certainly no more! And these items will be always fresh, they will always be excellent, always textbook perfect, and always the categorical best!"
And the people will be happy.
Forty menu items make my brain hurt, usually because it is nearly impossible to serve that many items well, much less perfectly, and the sum total is almost always "meh," when instead we could have had "Hey! That was great!" Even in a wee, 50-seat restaurant, it is nigh impossible to serve that many items and serve them well every time, but then consider what might happen when hundreds of guests are filing through every night, for the music, for the water sports, for the dog walking, for the kid frolicking, and then you've got a few persnickety foodies sprinkled in for good measure? Now what you've got is a real challenge, my friend.
So I'm happy to report that with this challenge in mind, the food wasn't bad, and showed real promise, though we waited over an hour for it (they did warn us that it would be so, to be fair).
Sort of a loose interpretation of Southern cuisine with a bit of New Orleans and a bit of barbecue influence too, the menu is appropriate, I'd say, in terms of thematics: Most people like it, and it's casual yet classic enough for the setting. But then, why serve mac & cheese if it's not going to be elbow macaroni with yellow cheese baked into a pan and cut into squares and crisped to a toasty brown on top — nothing too fancy, but everyone likes it — and instead insist on a cheese sauce that doesn't set properly and tastes of nothing? Or an otherwise lovely butter lettuce salad with fat chunks of bacon and batons of chive but the lettuce can't stay crisp because lord knows how many they need to make at once and for how long they will sit?
Truly fantastic was the eggy, porky potato salad (a well thought-out make-ahead item), and ditto the spicy pimento cheese served with crisp garlic toasts. A catfish po-boy would have been passable had they toasted the bread, but then why a selection of eight po-boys? Eight! (8) Po-boys! How about one or two, and make it the best damn one anyone has ever had, and the people, they will be happy?!
But, still. This is a magical place. Take the food for what it is — trying to do too much, too soon, and choose carefully. Just a starter or two, the simplest things, and maybe a dessert of a plate of beignets or a rhubarb shortcake, and be prepared to wait. Go with someone you like a great deal, order a wine and then another, and tie the dog to the leg of the chair. Watch the sun set over Como Lake and listen to the pretty ladies sing "Sweet Thing." And be happy, because right here, right now, you've got (almost) all of your favorite things.
1360 Lexington Pkwy N., St. Paul 651-666-9491 comodockside.com Sunday - Thursday 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday 8 a.m.-12 a.m.
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