All hail the unreconstructed, non-reimagined meatloaf, the Neanderthal meatloaf, the meatloaf untouched by 50 years of culinary progress. There is something disarming—hell, downright lovely—about its naked honesty.
If it's fair to describe something covered in thick brown gravy as "naked."
For 60 years, Curran's Family Restaurant has been serving unalloyed, unpretentious, unself-consciously earnest American classics at its Nicollet Avenue and 42nd Street location. Although Curran's is nominally Irish (tracing its family roots back to County Kerry in 1861), you won't find anything particularly Gaelic-inspired here, beyond the baked potatoes.
And while change has pecked away at the edges of its menu (Wednesday night features a chow mein special, a quasi-ethnic touch that could easily be 30 years old), the heart of its repertoire is as solid as an oak dining table: hamburgers, spaghetti and meatballs, pot roast, beef stroganoff, malts and shakes. And, three nights a week, a mildly but appropriately seasoned and perfectly moist meatloaf and gravy ($8.99) that will astound and delight diners with its classic form.
The overall feel of Curran's is that of a Perkins from a parallel, entirely benevolent universe—same neutral decor, same comfortable booths, same unpretentious American favorites on the menu, but with food prepared with the intention of pleasing diners, not sending them into a murderous depression. Curran's dishes stealthily exceed the low expectations of its unassuming menu. Spaghetti and meatballs ($8.35) is nothing surprising on the plate, but the understated red sauce is zesty and slightly sweet, pleasingly bright when combined with the large, competent meatballs, which achieve a sort of Zen state of nonachievement—neither dry nor greasy. In a word: comfort. The pot roast special ($9.85) is also reassuring—fork-tender, rich, salty (but not overly so), and served with what appear to be—holy moly, they are!—real, rough-hewn, fresh-tasting vegetables. It's the kind of pot roast you'd get from a mother who knew her stuff and took her time in the kitchen.
Hamburgers are similarly unpretentious, and similarly successful. A California burger ($7.45 with a side of fries) arrived with an appropriately restrained amount of dressing and lettuce, cooked medium-well on an honest-to-God toasted sesame seed bun. This is not a hamburger for the ages—the Nook has nothing to fear here—but it's delicious in its unadorned glory. And, frankly, if we ate Jucy Nookies every week, what kind of animals would we be? Fat, for starters. Walrus fat.
What a hell of a shtick for Curran's to pull: Nothing! No shtick whatsoever! No molecular gastronomy, no obscure Peruvian-inspired side dishes, no elderflower wine vinted on-site. No mock-sushi rolls, no $11 mango "martinis," nothing served on fire. Just honest, Midwestern food, friendly service, chilled-out decor, and the overwhelming sense that everything's going to turn out beautifully...and precisely as expected. It's like going on vacation in the past.