Uptown Cafeteria vs. Stella's in happy hour face-off
Move over Stella's, there's a new patio in (Up)town. Uptown Cafeteria opened its roof to ravenous crowds last week, so we here at Hot Dish slathered on the sunblock to see who had the best happy hour.
We claim this burger for America.
Uptown Cafeteria 3001 Hennepin Avenue. South 612.877.7263
The hours: Monday-Saturday, 2-7 p.m. and 10 p.m.-midnight; all day Sunday.
Is happy available on the patio?: Nope. The specials are available on the main floor, bar area only. The seating: Seats along the front of the restaurant open out onto the street, good for ventilation and people-watching; in the back, a dozen or so line cooks performed for the customers seated along a counter facing the kitchen. Along the bar was the easiest place to find space immediately, which also meant front-row seats for the World Cup match.
The service: We passed up several spots at the bar that hadn't been cleared yet, and when we sat down, one of the servers was busy apologizing to another group and asking them to give the restaurant a second chance after its opening week. It was unsurprisingly hectic, as soccer fans, brunching families, and happy-hour revelers swarmed throughout the restaurant. However, the servers and bartenders stayed cheerful even as they panted to keep up with new waves of customers, and we didn't have to wait long for food or drinks. The only complaint--our male server referred to us repeatedly as "girls." Maybe when we're past 60 we'll take it as a compliment, but for now, simply saying "you" will suffice, thanks.
How hidden was happy hour?: Not very. The happy hour specials are on the drinks menu, and the options are so limited (three drinks specials, three food specials) that the server could quickly explain them all to us.
Would you like a sandwich with those fries?
The food: The $3 fried egg sandwich was a steal for coming with a side of fries, but the sandwich is minimalist to the max: It's literally a fried egg slapped between two toasted slices of wheat bread. The $3 bacon slider, adorned with an American flag toothpick and served with a side of fries, earned contented grunts. We skipped the third option--disco fries--not sure we'd be able to hold down gravy-slathered fries.
The drinks: The $3 Happiness shot--mango, pineapple, and strawberry juice the day we visited, mixed with citron vodka--was fruity and refreshing. The $5 Good Girl Martinis (read: more sugar, less booze) are so cheap they seem like a happy-hour deal, but they're available all day. We couldn't resist trying one anyway: the Uptown Girl was simple but satisfying--a touch of syrupy sweetness from the apricot brandy base, balanced by just enough tartness from the lime juice. All 18 beers on tap are also only $3 during happy hour. Stella's Fish Cafe 1402 West Lake Street (612) 824-8862 The hours: Monday-Friday, 3-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-midnight; Saturday and Sunday, 12-6 p.m. and 10-midnight.
Is happy hour available on the patio?: Unbeknownst to us, yes. Here's what happened: We were seated immediately at the patio at 5 p.m., enjoying the view and the shade of the umbrellas, only to learn from our waitress that happy hour wasn't available on the patio. We spent happy hour on the main floor dining room.
However, when we called back to double-check happy hour details later in the week, we were told this summer is Stella's first doing happy hour on the patio--but we were too late to catch it Sunday. Every day 3-5 p.m. and Sunday-Thursday 10 p.m.-midnight, the patio happy hour features the same $5 appetizers offered on the main floor, but different drink specials: $3 tap beers, a $3 drink of the day chosen by the bartenders, and a $10 bucket of Heinekens and Coronitas.
The seating: Seating was plentiful in the happy-hour area of the main floor, but the dimly lit space doesn't lend itself to enjoying summer afternoon cocktails. Plus, the din from the happy-hour crowd and families with small kids made it a bit hard to hear.
The service: Our server on the rooftop gave us a skeptical squint when we decided to forgo the view and the vitamin D for the discounts of the darkened main floor; the service made us understand why. While our server was friendly and willing to make recommendations on the happy-hour menu, when he brought both 2-for-1's at once it gave the impression that the fewer times he could check on a happy hour table, the better.
We also had the same problem here as at Uptown Cafeteria: the male server insisted on calling us "girls."
The food: The appetizers were underwhelming. The half serving of the Philadelphia roll worked out for a bite and a half each for three of us, while the chips accompanying spinach and parmesan dip were oily and undercooked. While the salmon sliders were filling, their fishy odor didn't do much to inspire confidence in their freshness.
The drinks: We opted for straightforwarded 2-for-1s of beer and wine, but Stella's also offers 2-for-1s on call drinks, basic mixed drinks made with better-than-rail-quality spirits. The verdict: Based on our experience, we would recommend Uptown Cafeteria. Downstairs is as light and airy as the patio--without the risk of sunburn--and working through $3 pours of the 18 beers on top sounds like a good way to fill a few happy hours, especially if there's another World Cup match you'd like to watch.
If you're jonesing for a patio happy hour, though, you'll have to go to Stella's--just make sure you get the hours straight beforehand.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Minneapolis & St. Paul dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.