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Dan Kelly's Bar Grows Up into a Pub Paragon

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The Twin Cities seems to be in the midst of an Irish pub food craze. First, the heretofore divey yet beloved Halftime Rec went practically mod by teaming up with top local chef Jack Riebel (formerly of Butcher and the Boar) to create Paddy Shack, with probably the most upscale bar food program in town. Riebel takes traditional Irish fare, magically eliminates any of its inherent heft or grease, and somehow makes things like potato pancakes and shepherd's pie sing with levity and grace.

See also: Do Low Points at Salt Cellar Indicate a Deflating Restaurant Scene?

St. Paul stalwart Dixie's on Grand, which has managed to keep one foot planted in some facsimile of New Orleans-style food (gumbo, oysters, andouille) while simultaneously dipping into lowest-common-denominator bar food (loaded fries, quesadillas, nachos), is gradually phasing in Emmett's Public House, next door to Dixie's. The kitchen is testing new dishes like corned beef hash and Reuben wontons alongside the shrimp étouffée.

Meanwhile, across town, Matty O'Rellly (of Republic and formerly of Aster Cafe fame) and his partner Rick Guntzel scooped up and revived the old Dan Kelly's Bar, that landmark drinking man's watering hole on downtown Minneapolis's Seventh Street. It's now Dan Kelly's Pub, and like a C-student bad boy who went away to college and came back a gentleman and a scholar, the new iteration is elegant and adult with just enough edge for intrigue.

The room is a dark pool of oak gentility — tall-backed privacy booths are like confessional booths for on-the-spot sinning. The kinship to church doesn't end there — glowing stained-glass windows behind the bar seem to offer the only light, and of course worshiping at this wet altar is the Irishman's (and the Irish at heart's) preferred invocation.

Luckily, the restoratives flow like rivers of liquid gold. O'Reilly is well known as being one of the first guys (along with the Muddy Pig and the Happy Gnome) to put good beer on the podium of serious eating and drinking in this town, to rise up, chalice in hand, and cry: "Down with piss water beer!"

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So all of the things you've come to expect from him are on display here — a comprehensive local-leaning selection but with an eye on the national scene instead of just touting local for the sake of local. O'Reilly is also beating the drum for more good cider on tap. Until recently, local cider offerings have been mostly limited to bottles of candy-sweet concoctions and cans that only appeal to the kind of drinkers who travel in packs like wolverines, howling at nothing much.

Instead, quaffs like DKP's exclusive run of whiskey-oak-aged Sweetland Orchards Bareknuckle Cider drink dry and complex like fine wine. Their selection of Irish whiskeys, about 40 in all, might be second to none in town.

And O'Reilly hasn't supplanted the old guard of liquid salves just to institute throwaway pub grub. He's tapped name chef Kevin Kvalsten, also of the Republics but additionally noted for his work at Napa Valley Grille, Barbette, and Corner Table. While his menu lacks the whimsy of Riebel's take on Irish fare (say, a hot dog wrapped with streaky bacon and topped with beer cheese mac), Kvalsten's signature Irish is a little like fine dining, minus the self-importance and firmly rooted in the land of salt-of-the-earth.

Remarkably, salads are sheer delight here. A cheddar salad gets batons of serious, powerful Irish cheese, tender fingerling potatoes, delicate bibb and Lolla Rossa lettuces, and a lick-the-plate cider vinaigrette. A smoked chicken salad is made lovingly with local bird from Wild Acres, delicately smoked, cooked tender, and shredded over the assertive and bracing freshness of radish, celery, and arugula offset by the fragrant perfume of tarragon, time-honored life partner to chicken. Lovely.

An appetizer of Brussels sprouts makes veggie candy out of your daily dose of vitamins, with bacon, butter, and "two jigs of cider." They're worth fighting over, so consider two orders if sharing is mandatory.

Fish and chips are outstanding — translucent wild-caught cod cloaked in superior, tempura-like batter crunch. A debate over whose is better, Kvalsten's or Riebel's, might end in fisticuffs. It's futile. Have another cider.

Dan Kelly's Pub Burger stands up to any of the best in town, with local Peterson farms beef cooked properly to medium rare precision, local Fischer Farms ham, pickles, and cheddar on a potato bun.

Even entrees stood up to inspection. A local Star Thrower's lamb stew was one of nicest dishes we've had in recent memory, with such balance of seasoning you almost can't believe your tongue: gracefully handled tender lamb paired with root vegetables and a single scoop of the silkiest champ (mashed potatoes) ever. It's all served in a little skillet tied prettily with a linen dish towel. Winter got you in a seemingly irreversible funk? Ingest this for sure revival.

Salmon is one of those entrees you usually look at askance on a menu— it tends to exist as a platitude for the unadventurous. But here it's delectable — glossy and plush within, served proudly on a bed of honey-glazed parsnips, pretty baby carrots, and more of that champ, all finished with a dill compound butter to round out the deceptively straightforward dish.

There were a few missteps. Beef brisket on the corned beef sandwich was tender but subtle and so bombarded with powerful brown mustard it was impossible to enjoy. Even after stripping off the bread there was something unemphatic about the meat. A shepherd's pie was flummoxing — all potato and no meat, it was almost like baby food in its banality. And one small but critical point that I take up as a personal cause: No house-made ketchup ever has, nor ever will beat Heinz at its game. There is no Heinz onsite at DKP. You have been warned.

You'll want to rush right over for daily happy hour, where a miniaturized version of fish and chips is available for seven bucks and an Irish cheese plate makes for simple snacking. A half Irish breakfast of a fried egg, potato, tomato, and ham is probably the most prudent way you'll ever spend $6. Select libations are $4.

And finally, a word on the staff: After lots of dining out it becomes easy to tell whether a place is a good one to work in, whether it is a bad one to work in, or whether it is just a means of keeping Pampers on the kids. DKP is most probably an excellent place to work. Greetings are a symphony. Barmen do not serve, they execute. Food does not arrive, it achieves. Let's drink to that. Let's drink to it at Dan Kelly's Pub.

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