Hazelwood Food + Drink serves up big comfort-food dishes in a relaxed atmosphere

Crunchy, handmade tater tots are served with bacon ketchup; brie cheese curds, with lingonberry ketchup.

Crunchy, handmade tater tots are served with bacon ketchup; brie cheese curds, with lingonberry ketchup. Hazelwood Food + Drink

In just about every field, you’ll hear a lot of talk about innovation. We’re obsessed with what’s new and disruptive.

This certainly holds true in the culinary world. But innovation isn't always what you want. In reaching for something different, a dish may fall flat or leave you wanting more. We’re not saying it isn’t needed or important—just that, in this quest, we sometimes lose sight of the tried-and-true, the ol’ standbys.

How quietly satisfying it can be, then, to visit a restaurant like Hazelwood Food + Drink. There, you can sit back in a comfortable chair, browse the menu, and know that your meat will be substantial, your vegetables straightforward, and your pour of wine generous.

In other words: You will not leave Hazelwood Food + Drink hungry.

The latest member of the Nova Restaurant Group, Hazelwood is in a brand-new building located just east of the Mall of America, ensconced in the surrounding constellation of hotels. For travelers looking for a relaxed atmosphere and quick bite, Hazelwood shines. The space is large and airy without feeling like an airplane hangar, and the substantial U-shaped bar invites folks to linger and snack on bites like brie cheese curds with lingonberry ketchup ($9.25 at lunch).

Manager Jackson Wallace describes Hazelwood as a restaurant that offers a little something for everyone. “We’d never want people to say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to Hazelwood. I won’t eat x,’” Wallace explains. So, where others have moved to tightly curated menus, Hazelwood’s bill of fare is double-sided and includes wings with gochujang, wood-fired pizzas, grain bowls, burgers, salads, pasta, seafood, meat-and-two style entrees, and more. The size of the menu was a sticking point. “How do we have menu diversity,” Wallace says, “without falling into the stereotype of ‘They do a lot, but they don’t do any of them well?’” Luckily, the Hazelwood crew was able to test out dishes at other Nova restaurants and include only the very best on their menu. Each dish was customized to fit the farm-to-table vibe they’re going for.

Still, with so many diverse offerings (and other tables filling quickly at the dinner service we attended), we wondered how the staff would keep up. Looking into the open kitchen, the team was balletic, and our meals arrived promptly. Almost too promptly—we were in and out of Hazelwood in an hour. For some people, this might be a dream; for others, perhaps not.

Order the grilled meatloaf ($18), and you’ll be served a warm-to-the-touch almost-platter heaped with mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and two hefty slices of tender meat generously sauced with mushroom-marsala gravy. You can eat only half of this and have enough for tomorrow night’s dinner. (We told you that you wouldn’t leave hungry.) It all imparts a cozy, cared-for feeling.

But while both the grilled meatloaf and the rotisserie chicken dinner ($17) were hearty, the meatloaf did lack a little oomph. The chicken, however, was juicy, melting, and tinged with woodsmoke. From certain vantage points, you could watch the rotisserie, with its whirling birds and dripping fat, and if that doesn’t make a carnivore’s mouth water, we don’t know what will.

Hazelwood trades in modern comfort food, and this is expressed in its menu of familiar dishes and eye-widening portion sizes. “We’ve never pretended to be at the forefront of culinary experimental practices,” Wallace said. “What Nova does well is create restaurants you want to go to all the time.”

With a menu for every time of a day and dish or drink to satisfy almost every craving, Hazelwood could be that great draw for the Mall of America crowd looking to dine outside the mall and not at a chain. Wallace also said plenty of people have made Hazelwood their meeting place, a convenient halfway point for people in the cities connecting with family or friends from the suburbs.

The all-day menu gives diners the same meals for lunch and dinner, though at slightly different price points. The 10 for 10 is a weekday lunch menu featuring 10 dishes for $10 each from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. Weekend brunch tempts with Monkey Bread, a roasted vegetable omelet, and The Countess, a twist on a Count of Monte Cristo that layers blackberry-poblano jam with ham, bacon, and gruyere. Happy hour lasts a generous three hours (4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and again from 10 p.m. to close). Cocktails are $7, and snacks range from $4-$6.

While few items on the menu might be innovative or mold-breaking, that’s not the experience Hazelwood is going for. “We want each menu item to be approachable and to be the best and most thoughtful version of a dish,” Wallace said.

In a world obsessed with the new, there’s a little something to be said for that.

Hazelwood Food + Drink
8150 26th Ave. S., Bloomington