The Sporting Gourmet
1501 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.
THE PROMULGATION OF packaged foods means we live in an age when the origins of the things we eat remain a mystery to most people most of the time. Then again, the lure of knowing your prey has its appeal. At any rate, you'll find the likes of buffalo on the menu at Up North, as well as rabbit, quail, trout, and pheasant.
Up North has expended much effort creating a theme that pays full homage to beast, fish, and fowl, or at least to the hunters of those magnificent animals. A mechanical bird twitters furiously in the foyer, creating an overture to the lodge-type room filled with stuffed and mounted fish, old farming gear, hunting apparel, rusty saw blades, and fake fir trees. The restaurant contains numerous intimate nooks in which you can ensconce yourself, and the merry sound of wine corks popping mixes nicely with guffaws and whispered confidences. If you're not in the mood to talk, you'll find a multitude of TV sets variously channeled so that you can catch a hockey game and your favorite game show in one fell swoop.
The atmosphere is friendly in a collegiate sort of way; the wait staff answers requests with "you betcha," and cheers erupt each time a glass breaks or a platter of food falls. On occasion you can spot a waitress limbering up against the wood rail, ready to begin another harried trek across the dining room floor. This casualness makes for a nice contrast with the menu, which serves particularly innovative and unique fare. How many sports bar-type places serve anything like the gooseberry venison ($13.95) that my friend recently indulged in? The grilled medallions were cooked to a perfect--that is, extremely rare--state and topped with a lovely, tart sauce made from Chambord, blackberries, and bing cherries.
The pheasant pot pie ($10.25) that I partook in wasn't as rustic as we'd dreamt (the puffed pastry shell seemed a bit woeful), but was tasty nevertheless; it featured tender, thin strands of pheasant, green beans, corn, and potatoes all happily swimming in a savory gravy. And if you miss the point that this food is meant to remind you of camping in the woods (which, if you're like most of us hot dog and marshmallow folk, might escape you), all food comes serves on blue speckled tin camping plates.
Other highbrow ponies on the menu include the tempting-sounding "pheasant forever" ($12.95), a roasted breast of pheasant finished with a homemade orange cranberry glaze (though, as my friend notes, forever is a very long time); rainy river trout ($11.50), a boneless filet of rainbow trout, lightly sautéed in olive oil and lemon; and koochiching quail ($11.95), semi-boneless and brushed with a house marinade and grilled. For those who like to stick (literally) with the more familiar, the house offers sticks-o-chick ($9.25), chunks of marinated chicken breast skewered and grilled with onion, green pepper, tomato, and mushrooms.
Dinners are served with a fresh, simple house salad, a nicely turned wild rice pilaf, fresh vegetables (which, on our visit, turned out to be some lovely stalks of asparagus covered--somewhat oddly, we thought--with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese), and cushy dinner rolls. Pasta selections are quite inventive here, served with your choice of marinara or parmesan cream sauce (or both, if you have trouble making up your mind). The most curious-sounding include the wild wings ravioli, a garlic-parsley concoction stuffed with pheasant and seasoned with port wine and thyme ($11.95); wascally wavioli, offering rum- and rosemary-seasoned rabbit in a carrot-flake pasta ($11.95); and tahtonga ravioli, which consists of buffalo mixed with sun-dried cherries and spices in a chive pasta ($11.95).
Be you diner or lounger, Up North tries to accommodate all comers, with fittingly mixed results. If you aren't looking for too much glamour, then you probably won't mind nibbling on your smoked salmon and rye appetizer ($6.95) or grape-studded pheasant wild rice soup ($3.75/$4.50) amid the beer-swilling dart-throwers and Scrabble players. And should you feel guilty about consuming any of the various beasts on the menu, bypass the flesh and treat yourself to the odd but thrillingly decadent combination of a glass of wine (the list here is quite extensive) and a
hot fudge sundae ($3.25). Or if you fancy yourself more mature, perhaps the apple cherry orchard ($4.25), a light mixture of bing cherries and apples atop a shortbread crust, will do the trick.
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