The words “Nordic” and “BBQ” go together like “mittens” and “Caribbean.”
So naturally, people were confused when they heard Erik the Red, the new restaurant across the street from U.S. Bank Stadium, would be serving just that. Nordic BBQ? What the hell is that?
Erik the Red stands quite literally in the shadow of the stadium, in the old Hubert’s space. It's an enviable location for any bar or restaurant hoping to cash in on game traffic. So, yes, it’s a Vikings bar. And it's destined to be full of dudes. Any other business plan besides meat, Nordic stuff, and beer would have probably been a ludicrous misstep.
And, upon closer inspection, it appears as though they’re pulling it off.
The bulk of the front room is standing-room bar space, another boon for game days when renting a tile of real estate with beer in hand will be the first order of business. The circular bar has a perimeter of booths at the windows, a loop of TV screens above those like a glowing halo, and a large dining room toward the back. A moderately sized patio space awaits sunny days behind that. In short, it's perfect for its intended use.
Thomas Boemer, our local North Carolina transplant, reigning king of fried chicken at Revival, and tinkerer of all things BBQ, has said that he’s in the process of making BBQ that makes sense for us here, in the north. That process will no doubt take time, intellectualism, smart product sourcing, and a confluence of details that remain to be seen.
That’s not what’s happening at Erik the Red. What you have here, instead, is a simple mashup of BBQ and Nordic favorites. And that’s fine because they seem to be doing decent things with both.
We were hoping we would never have to read the phrase “lingonberry barbeque sauce," much less have to eat it. Surprisingly, this one is bright, spicy, fruity, and balanced. It also arrives on the side of the prodigiously smoky dry rub chicken wings, so you can dive in, or not. Either way these smoky wings are winners, the flesh pudgy with brine, the skin crisped and amber.
BBQ is available in almost every permutation: smoked turkey legs, braised short ribs, lamb shanks, brisket. The brisket we chose was delicate and moist, not overly smoky, but enlivened with a house horseradish sauce. Accompanying mac and cheese was powerfully decadent with fat noodles dripping in good smoked gouda cheese sauce and a raft of crunchy Parmesan bread crumbs. But the slaw didn’t benefit from the addition of bacon and was a little weak in general. The meat plus two sides goes for $22, pretty steep considering the portion sizes, but considering the real estate, not so much.
Smorgasbords come with the expected MN-friendly cliches -- pickled herring, smoked salmon, dill cream, smoked white fish, rye, and lefse. But these things are undeniably good next to a pint of beer and in between full meals. Who can argue? Plus, the Vikings. And if the actual Vikings were to have dined on anything it’s probably things such as these. So, that said, Erik the Red is on message.
Naturally, there’s a good beer list, a not-so-good wine list, a full bar, and servers dressed in black and red flannel like lumberjacks. (Unless you’re thinking of the lady servers, who are dressed like Frederick's of Hollywood sexy lumberjacks. Sigh.)
In a dining world where the combo of excellent and friendly service is never a given, we can give Erik the Red extra kudos for offering both, at least on this initial visit. When you’re lurching around near the stadium, parched and lusting for meat, you know where you can go.
601 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis