The front counter at the newly opened Chef Shack Ranch in Seward
We stopped by to see what they have done to transform the interior of the building, which was formerly home to Lucy's Ethiopian restaurant, and to sample some meaty barbecue, cowboy-approved pub food, and delicious sweet and savory desserts.
Summers and Carlson have outfitted the walls, tables, and front counter service area with lots of rustic farmhouse and country-western touches. Pages of old issues of Sports Afield and Farm Journal paper the bathroom walls and they've re-purposed some old window frames, sponge cake pans, and other industrial equipment as decorative wall art and hanging fixtures.
The menu is short and sweet -- about half a dozen items, plus some a la carte sides, and three desserts. Since the Ranch's liquor license is still pending, no beer or wine is available for sale yet but they're estimating they'll be ready to accommodate drinkers by next week.
True to their food truck roots, Carlson and Summer have opted to go the counter service route rather than doing full-service dining, but servers do wander through the dining room to deliver food, re-fill waters, and collect plates. It keeps the vibe casual and makes for quicker turnover once they get busy.
The tempura wings, made with whole joint chicken wings from Kadejan, were so crispy and intriguingly seasoned that we had to double up on our order. They're $7 for three wings or $13 for six, but they are big 'uns.
The wings are dry rubbed with a hot and slightly sweet combination of spices, finished with sliced jalapeños for a little pickle-y heat, and served with a sweet, almost juniper-scented sauce made with cranberries -- very seasonally appropriate.
Larger plates include a creamy veggie curry with beans, squash, toasty rice, and a lovely, creamy coconut-almond-tomato sauce. It's hearty, nicely balanced, and just about your only option here if you happen to be a vegetarian.
If you're not, go for the half ($15) or whole ($25) Big Boy Ranch Plate, which may be the closest thing we have to a meat and three
here in the Twin Cities. Chef Shack's is a sampler platter with thick slices of smoked brisket; some spicy, juicy pulled pork; a garlicky griddled sausage; a crunchy, vinegar-heavy red cabbage slaw with flecks of cilantro; a crumbly butter biscuit that's almost closer to a scone in texture; a scoop of mustardy German potato salad and another of brown sugar baked beans. It's a great way to get a little taste of almost everything they do here, and the pulled pork was especially tasty.
There's also a beef burger with house-made pickles, white cheddar, tomato, and a fried egg all piled onto a Salty Tart bun, which frankly, kind of outshined the burger patty, but helped pull off the sandwich as a whole.
Desserts include a rich, dark chocolate truffle that's roughly the size of a baby's fist, rolled in nuts and other crunchies, and served with a scoop of super-smooth peanut butter ice cream and a single chocolate-dipped potato chip. It would be gluttonous to eat this yourself, so prepare to share. There's also banana cream pudding, and of course the Chef Shack signature Indian-spiced mini donuts, made to order and served hot and sugared.
The vibe is laid-back, the country crooners soundtrack is soothing, the food is solid and crowd-pleasing, and once they get beer and wine there will be almost no reason not to go here when you're in Seward. Carlson and Summer's years of practice have served them well in developing this concept, but we were particularly impressed with the barbecue, something we could always use more of in the Twin Cities.
Chef Shack Ranch
3025 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
Hours: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
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