Tamarack Tap Room brings more bourbon, beer, burgers to the burbs

A fraction of Tamarack's 70 taps on display.

A fraction of Tamarack's 70 taps on display.

Although I have driven past Woodbury many times on the way out of town to Chicago, I had never been there until last week, when I ventured forth to have dinner at Tamarack Tap Room. I’m still not sure I can say I’ve seen Woodbury; the only thing off exit 250 was Tamarack Village, the vast shopping area where the restaurant is tucked away. If you want to buy clothes, groceries, hardware supplies, pet food, or get a haircut before or after dinner, you only need to peel off at one of the arteries that shoot off from the main road in every direction like a crazed octopus.

After enduring rush hour traffic to make my way to Woodbury, I really, really wanted to like this place. And pulling into the parking lot, I was hopeful. Despite a very large parking area, there was nary a spot to be found, and I ended up in the Cub lot across the street. Oddly, although the parking lot was full, the restaurant was not. There was plenty of seating available, both inside and out. Tamarack has an expansive and inviting outdoor area, overlooking a fountain and grassy berm that separates diners from the traffic.

The interior, however, is sports bar generic. It reminded me of a Champps, while my dining partner thought it was more like a Granite City. Not that I’m competitive or anything, but I was right — our well-informed server confirmed that up until a few months ago, the place was indeed a Champps.

Despite the off-the-shelf surroundings and the loud soundtrack, I still wanted to like this place. They make a point of showcasing local products on their menu, not something you find in a lot of sports bars (yes there are TVs). Their menu features Natedogs; they have Prohibition kombucha on tap; and their website lists over a dozen other local food partners. But despite the good intentions, the food doesn’t impress much.

Their on-trend slogan is “beer, burgers, and bourbon,” so of course, we had to try a burger. The Short Rib Burger is topped with Surly Bender braised short ribs, horseradish cheddar, and bourbon bbq sauce, served on a brioche bun. The burger was satisfying but not stellar. The accompanying Summit beer battered onion rings were fried crispy but not greasy.

From the non-burger part of the menu, we opted for flatbread and a salad. The half order of the Wedge salad boasted a very good house-made Bleu cheese dressing studded with generous amounts of Caves of Faribault cheese, but the garnishes of tomatoes and bacon were practically AWOL. And the half order was served on an appetizer-size plate that I can only assume was supposed to make the portion look larger, but that also made it hard to eat the salad, which kept slipping off its tiny perch.

They love their beer; this mural depicts the brewing process.

They love their beer; this mural depicts the brewing process.

The wild mushroom, ricotta and arugula flatbread had a great crust from local bakery The Dough Shop in Burnsville. It was crispy yet chewy with a nice yeasty flavor, but the toppings were lackluster; the mushrooms had been chopped up beyond recognition.

So maybe this is not the place for your foodie friends, but with 70 craft brews on tap, it is sufficient for your beer buddies. The beer list is helpfully divided up by category with tasting notes for each beer, and our server helped us make our way through the extensive offerings. Since we had to make it back to Minneapolis from Woodbury, we couldn’t take full advantage of the options, but craft beer aficionados with a designated driver could spend a lot of time here.

Go during one of the two happy hours Monday through Friday (3 p.m. – 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. -midnight) and take advantage of $2 off all tap beers. There are plenty of appetizers to absorb all that beer, including a gigantic pretzel that could easily serve 4 to 6 people and cheese curds courtesy of Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery in Wisconsin. The restaurant also features an extensive list of bourbons just waiting to be sipped and savored as you watch the sunset from a seat on the patio.

Here's hoping that as Tamarack Tap Room matures, the kitchen can do justice to the great ingredients they are using. If nothing else, go so you can visit the men’s bathroom for a good chuckle: The urinals are made from Anheuser-Busch kegs. 

Tamarack Tap Room

8418 Tamarack Village, Woodbury