Just off 35W and County Road 42 in Burnsville sits an oasis of food and ambience that is in short supply in the southern suburbs. Porter Creek Hardwood Grill looks rather suburban generic from the outside, but inside it is rustic and casually elegant without being pretentious. You could show up in shorts, or decked out in your date-night best, and feel equally at home. The same can also be said for the menu. There’s something for every mood and appetite, from happy hour snacks to burgers and sandwiches to entrees worthy of a splurge.
The vast restaurant (it can seat around 300 people) manages to feel cozy thanks to being divided up into distinct dining rooms, each with a personality of its own. The main room is done in plush steakhouse style, with booths you can sink into and a view of the kitchen. Through that room, you enter one that feels as if you’ve stumbled into the Wyoming retreat of a corporate CEO, with exposed beams, oversized chandeliers, massive wood tables, and a vast fireplace to warm Minnesota winters.
But right now it’s our all-too-brief summer, so pass through this dark wood and stone-clad interior to emerge onto one of the most beautiful outdoor eating areas in the Twin Cities. The patio runs the length of the restaurant, and no matter where you sit, you’re surrounded by lush foliage, flowers, fire pits, and fountains. There’s even a waterfall table. Yep, you read that right. A centerpiece of the outdoor area is a high-top table with a waterfall cascading off the edge. Who wouldn’t want to toast the end of the work week lulled by the sound of a mini Minnehaha Falls?
Unlike some other popular outdoor summer dining destinations in the metro that shall remain nameless, Porter Creek doesn’t rely merely on its good looks and perfect summer days to attract customers – the food lives up to its surroundings. Bold flavors and eye-pleasing plating let you know that the kitchen is paying attention to the details.
The list of appetizers includes the tried-and-true, like an artichoke fondue kettle, but also more inventive choices like the crispy goat cheese balls with roasted beets. The fried goat cheese is like a high-class cheese curd, with a crisp exterior protecting the melted cheese within. The beets provide an earthy counterpart to the richness of the goat cheese. Prices for appetizers hover around $10; if you’re with a group, take advantage of sharing so you don’t have to pick just one.
The flat breads can be shared as a starter, but you might want one all to yourself, especially the smoked peach and shrimp version that gets a little kick from Thai chili sauce. If you’re craving a burger, make it the lamb burger with jalapeno goat cheese and red pepper mint jelly on a brioche bun.
Salad for dinner is what you crave on a balmy summer evening, and there are lots of satisfying options, all priced around $13. The prosciutto and watermelon salad proved to be a light and refreshing choice, with the addition of cucumber, feta, and arugula lightly dressed with a lemon zest vinaigrette.
The toasted quinoa chicken salad is more substantial, combining cucumber, red bell pepper, corn, arugula, scallion, mint, basil, lime, and crispy shoestring potatoes over roma tomatoes in a curry vinaigrette. There’s a lot going on, but quinoa needs plenty of supporting players to keep it from being bland; here it's livened up by fresh herbs and aromatic dressing. In addition to adding crunch and flavor, the contrast in textures and colors also makes for an interesting presentation; the salad comes to the table plated like a pretty pyramid.
There’s an emphasis on meat in the entrée selections, which range from just under $20 to just over $30, heading off to special-occasion territory. If you’re going to go big or go home, since the name of the place includes “hardwood grill,” you really should try an entrée that takes advantage of the flames, like the teres major, a shoulder cut you don’t see often; the 8-ounce steak is served with asparagus, carrots, and roasted beets, along with a potato cake and a basil-blue cheese sauce.
Fish and seafood fans also have abundant options, including the obligatory walleye. But you can get that just about anywhere. Instead, go for the scallops with squash ribbons served with a sriracha butter sauce with just enough spice to make things interesting.
For dessert, skip the molten chocolate cake (been there, done that), and head directly to the custard shots, served as a trio of strawberry, lemon buttermilk, and milk chocolate pot de crème. Since there are three, you might be tempted to share; just be warned that spoon wars may ensue.
While we’re on the subject of shots, the restaurant mixes a good drink, including specialties, which they call culinary cocktails. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the beet margarita. For something that’s easy (maybe too easy) to sip on a warm day, try the blueberry basil lemonade or the kinky sangria. The bar offers a different drink special from 3 p.m. to close Monday through Thursday, ranging from half price wine to $2 off culinary cocktails.
Porter Creek has two daily happy hours, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and again from 9 p.m. until closing time. Get $1 off beer, wine, and cocktails and $2 off appetizers and flatbreads. If you’re lucky, you might get to enjoy your food and drink at the waterfall table.
Porter Creek Hardwood Grill
14201 Burngarten Dr., Burnsville
Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m. - midnight