The Hole, Uncle Moe's open near U of M
As a nonstudent, non-sports fan, and non-Bob Dylan pilgrimage-maker, it's not too often that I have occasion to venture into Dinkytown. Well, every so often I have to quiet a craving for the biblically good milk and honey malt at Annie's. Oh, and I'm also easily cajoled by the lean, richly flavored elk carpaccio at Dinkytown-adjacent Restaurant Alma. And it's true that I'll jump at just about any chance to eat the steamed bundles of joy that are Tea House's signature juicy buns. From time to time I'll swing into nearby Santana Foods to wolf down its salty, deep-fried cauliflower, which incidentally, is the perfect late-night snack. Okay, so I have some occasion to go there, but I imagine it's more common that you find yourself cruising down this part of University Avenue because you're looking for a parking spot for a Gophers game or pedaling to a sweaty dance night at the Kitty Cat Klub. Depending on your situation and time restrictions, you'll be looking for either a place to grab and go or somewhere to kill a little time.
Lucky for you, there are two new places in that general vicinity to hit up on a whim. The first, Uncle Moe's Deli and Drafts, features the garlic roast beef sandwiches they used to serve at Northeast blue-collar haunt Mayslack's, plus other things you can eat one-handed while riding off on your fixed-gear. The other, the Hole Sports Lounge, is a stadium-adjacent spot where you can treat your crew to darts or arcade games while you await re-imagined bar food favorites, including piquillo pepper poppers, generously stuffed with cream cheese and manchego, rolled in crushed almonds, and served atop garlicky pesto. Dinkytown — it's not just for burritos anymore.
Uncle Moe's Deli and Drafts, on the corner of 15th and University, was mostly just deli when we visited, and an empty deli at that. "We're about to get the beers on tap in about a week," our server explained. "Hopefully the people will follow." It remains to be seen how much serving alcohol will affect its business, but it's a safe bet for any restaurant on campus that beer on tap will attract more customers. Several prewrapped items are available in the deli case, but Uncle Moe's does make everything in-house and boasts about its use of locally grown rooftop tomatoes. Salads were underwhelming but serviceable, and the flatbread pizzas made on naan or crispy wheat crust in the wood-fire oven were fine, if a little meager on the toppings. Some of the more winning items on the menu were the Mayslack's-style roast beef sandwich with vinegary banana peppers and plenty of au jus, echoing the original version, and the diminutive key lime tart that delivered a surprisingly sour punch. But the best find, aside from the more-than-reasonable prices (everything is under 10 bucks) and super-fast service, was the New Ulm burger, an Old World take on a fast-food favorite. The burger can be made with a turkey, beef, or vegan patty but is always served on a billowy pumpernickel bun with sweet apple-braised cabbage, havarti cheese, and a smear of mayo spiked with tart lingonberries.
Moe's doesn't have a whole lot in the way of atmosphere, but it does offer plenty of convenience. Fries, slaw, and mac 'n' cheese all come in drink cups or disposable bowls that can easily go from table to between-class commute, and once the beer starts flowing (which is scheduled to be about the time this goes to print), so should its dinnertime traffic.
About 10 blocks further down University, the Hole Sports Lounge entertains a mixed crowd of equal parts students lingering over happy hour beers (pro tip: Hole Sports is one of the handful of bars to carry the newly released Summit Unchained #9 Dunkel Weizen on tap) and families dropping in to share a few pizzas and either watch a game on the big screen or wait for the game to start right next door. Despite being called the Hole and having all the creature comforts of a sports bar, the place is actually doing a stand-up job in the food department, thanks in large part to the culinary experience of chef Ian Pierce, whose employment history includes such impressive establishments as Wolfgang Puck-owned 20.21 (which might explain the Thai fish cakes on the menu), 128 Cafe, and the Modern Cafe. It's the little touches that make it obvious this is more than just your standard bar food: the homemade pickles with all the sandwiches, the spices ground from whole seed that flavor the taco burger and pizza (instead of some onion-salt-laden, pre-mixed crap), and the lovely marriage of flavors in the coconut and lemongrass coulis that comes with the curry chicken satay.
You should not skip the appetizers here, especially not the aforementioned piquillo pepper poppers, regardless of any aversion you might have to poppers, shooters, or other TGI Friday's type of fare. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea to just make a meal of them. The teeny, delicate threads and rings of calamari were crispy, with just a slight sheen of grease, and though they were already seasoned very well, the thin, acidic lime aioli that accompanies them is potentially habit-forming.
Sandwiches were all huge, but the two of note were the braised pork shoulder, with the sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce, and the fancied-up tuna melt, with bright notes of lemon zest and fresh herbs. The burgers may not be quite on a par with say, the Bulldog's — ours all tended to be a little overcooked — but ingredients are used creatively here, especially in the Euro, which features the return of the sweet and playful piquillo pepper and pairs it with salty notes from green olives and prosciutto.
These two new casual Dinkytown eateries serve separate purposes, of course, but if you're in the area and aren't running from a chemistry class to a cadaver lab, I'd say the Hole is the one worth digging into.
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