When Muddy Waters Bar & Eatery re-opened in Minneapolis about four years ago, it seemed like the most genius hybrid since the Prius. One part coffee shop/bakery, one part hard drinking bar, and one part pretty serious restaurant: This was the place you wanted in your own neighborhood unless you were in need of a head examination. There's nothing you can't use it for, any time of day, regardless of whom you're with and what your intentions may be. It was the little black dress of establishments. It's truly a wonder, lo these many years later that no one else has followed suit.
Well, you know what they say: if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. So, good on the Muddy Waters team for opening Dark Horse Bar & Eatery on the other side of the river, different than Muddy's but similar too, and similar for the best reasons: its likeability.
No coffee shop this, but a wholly amiable lunch, dinner, and happy hour hangout with a big, big bar, lots of brews, and plenty of bourbons and whiskeys.
Like Muddy's, which has almost a psychic pulse on what people want to eat (burgers, pizza, Red Table ham sandwiches, fish tacos, gnocchi) the menu is diverse and varied. The very good pizza is here, and the burgers, but also wings and baba ghanouj. And here, there's a distinctive Eastern bent not seen at Muddy's, with an emphasis on Asian and Indian flavors.
Baozi (Chinese steamed buns) were delectable, with rustic pastry revealing braised pork belly and kimchee in a yellow pepper coconut emulsion with Sriracha (instead of the promised Ponzu) that was everything you want in a spicy, likable bar snack, more Thai than Chinese. We could have eaten ten.
Less impressive were the vegetarian street noodles, bland glass noodles in blander broth bombarded with barely steamed veggies. It brought to mind the most banal of spa cuisine — like something you were relegated to eat rather than be treated to. We imagine the kitchen can do better, and we imagine that eventually, they will.
We also spotted Indian curried rice with a sunny egg; coconut lime rice with braised pork and mango corn relish; and Eithiopian bere wings. It's also a smaller menu than at Muddy's, with only around 20 items at dinner. It will be important for them to keep a close eye on quality, especially considering the peculiarity of the dishes, and the surrounding competition. Lowertown is no slouch anymore, with most excellent Saint Dinette, Big River Pizza, and OxCart Ale House within stumbling distance. Good idea to differentiate themselves, so long as they can pull off the trick.
Speaking of tricks, Dark Horse is housed in the old Twin Cities Magic and Costume space, and for whatever it's worth, this seems like a better use of the real estate. The space is that friendly brand of industrial chic; all masculine steel and exposed brick offset by natural light and pretty chandeliers that makes it so you can't think what not to use it for.
One of the wisest ways to use the place is for their twice daily happy hour (3 p.m.- 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.- 2 a.m.), with excellent prices on select beer and wine ($2.75-$4) and great food specials including $6-$8 pizza, $5 sliders, $6 brats and hot links, even a $5 Cubano slider with Red Table ham and ancho braised pork. With numbers like this there's no mistaking it— you're not in Minneapolis anymore.
250 E. 7th St., St. Paul