Urban Eatery, 50th St Cafe replace old restaurants
Just four days after Edina's most iconic restaurant, the 38-year-old Pearson's, shut its doors, the 50th Street Cafe opened in its place. Needless to say, little about the vintage decor was changed. The booths are still wrapped in quilted vinyl, the tabletops laminated with Formica, and the wall behind the diner-style counter covered in glazed ceramic tile. The carpet looks better suited to a 1980s-era country club, and the orange ceiling panels and globe-shaped light bulbs might have been ripped from a 1970s rec room.
During the transition, a wall was built to divide the large restaurant space in two, and the owners of the Muddy Pig in St. Paul plan to convert the other half to a pub called Pig & Fiddle later this summer. The layout that remained for the 50th Street Café feels a little unbalanced—the waiting area is relatively vast compared to the snug seating arrangements. (The back booth sits close enough to the restrooms that one could practically wash her hands without getting up from the table.) But on weekends the lobby quickly fills to capacity with lots of young families, so its size is probably a necessity.
During the week the restaurant tends to be populated mostly by the old Pearson's crowd, recognizable by their canes, reading glasses, and white hair fixed in permanent waves. (Put it this way: There's roughly zero percent overlap with the clientele at Cucina del Barrio down the street.) One group of retired businessmen has held court at the so-called Wisdom Table for roughly three decades, and they continue to ensure that the morning's baked goods pass muster.
The 50th Street Café's logo will look familiar to anyone who's ever visited the Uptown Diner, Woodbury Café, Louisiana Café, or Grandview Grill owned by restaurateur John McCarty. Each of McCarty's restaurants offers a similar menu of simple, classic breakfast and lunch dishes, such as biscuits and gravy and burgers, with hints of Cajun influence. Other than, say, andouille sausage in the scrambled eggs or a zingy cilantro-lime dressing on the chicken salad, the fare is fairly straightforward.
Upgrade from a basic egg and toast breakfast to a full plate with blackened walleye fillet and a pile of crispy hash browns—and tack on one of the ultra gooey caramel rolls while you're at it. The café's pancake list offers a few twists, including pineapple upside-down cakes that don't really have a top or a bottom but still taste sweet. Cookie dough connoisseurs, however, will likely be disappointed by the small chocolate chunks of the stuff in the cookie dough flapjacks.
McCarty has upgraded the diner concept with a few progressive touches. The restaurant serves fair trade, organic coffee and provides compostable takeout containers, for starters. The menu drew one small quibble for its description of "pure squeezed" orange juice. Would we expect it to be impurely squeezed? Contaminated? Minute Maid uses the same "foodie-washing" tactic but it still feels like a trap for luring lazy readers into thinking the oranges are squeezed on the premises.
Regulars of the previous regime will be happy to recognize Phil Pearson, a third-generation member of the Pearson family restaurant dynasty and longtime employee, who has stayed on as the new restaurant's manager. (Pearson started working in his family's restaurant when he was six years old. "I tell people I came with the building," he quips.) And while a few of the old Pearson's favorite items remain, including the Swedish meatballs, Reuben sandwich, and chicken potpie, there's one conspicuous omission: the (in)famous holiday lutefisk.
THE RESTAURANT SPACE at 2730 W. Lake St. in south Minneapolis offers such prime proximity to Calhoun's waters that the previous tenant named itself after the vista. But the View's owners, Kaskaid Hospitality (the team behind the Crave chain as well as the newly opened Sopranos), recently rebooted the restaurant with a new concept called Urban Eatery.
A large, square bar with multiple overhead televisions still anchors the main room, but the sports-bar vibe has been softened by the weathered wood on the walls and antique-style light fixtures—they look rather like brewer's carboys turned into incandescent bulbs. The space feels cozy and classic, though it will likely be upstaged by the patio once the weather breaks and every Uptown Girl in town is looking for a place to sip her namesake drink, a refreshing blend of Hendrick's gin, cucumber, mint, and fruit-flavored X-Rated vodka.
Chef Jim Kyndberg, chef-owner of the former foodie destination Bayport Cookery, has been overseeing Kaskaid's culinary team for about a year, and he designed Urban Eatery's menu to focus on bar food with an international bent. The emphasis is on quality ingredients, including naturally raised meats from regional farms, and on updating classic foods with a chef's flourish.
So instead of the ubiquitous, American mini-burger, Urban Eatery serves an Asian-style slider—a sausage version of the steamed pork belly bun popularized at New York's Momofuku and once called the "trendy new East Village version of the Wimpy burger." But they're a far feistier version of that bland U.K. snack. The chewy, sweet bun folds over a spicy patty made with Fischer Farms pork, while garnishes of pickled and raw veggies brighten each bite with acidity and crunch. Attention to detail earns Urban Eatery the gastro prefix to its pub descriptor. Even the humble pickle is house-made, in three variations of cucumber, fennel, and turnip.
Chef Joe Gentile, who has cooked at the restaurant since it was Dixie's, continues to head daily operations in the kitchen and is using the old Southern eatery's smokers to prepare the duck that classes up a plate of nachos, with chips made fresh from local La Perla tortillas and dusted with dehydrated lime powder. The pork belly Reuben similarly offers a new take on a classic, though it doesn't best the allure of corned beef's robust, salty cure.
The grilled pizzas come flatbread style, with crisp, cracker-like crusts. There are staples such as pepperoni and olives, but more adventurous eaters can try a pizza that uses the same smoked duck confit found in the nachos, combined with pear, blue cheese, and a drizzle of fig molasses.
Urban Eatery offers six styles of burgers, and while the Kadejan Farms turkey version is perfectly fine, the lamb burger, made from meat produced by Wisconsin's Shepherd Song Farm, is a standout. The burger resembles one Kyndberg introduced at Crave: Its spicy, succulent patty is crisscrossed with grill marks and slathered in pico de gallo and goat cheese, whose funkiness enhances the rich, gamey flavor of the meat. (It's actually been outselling its beef counterpart.) The veggie burger earned its name—the Urban Legend—for its ability to mimic a medium-rare beef patty. It's created like a mock Ju(i)cy Lucy: a pink-ish puck made from a mixture of chickpeas, tofu, and beets for color is encased by a dark brown blend of black beans, wild rice, and bulgur. The burger wins for its visual realism, but it misses the mark for its mushy texture. Fortunately, the French fries are terrific: pale yellow, skinny, and crisp.
Roughly half of the menu's entrées might be characterized as hearty comfort food. The chicken potpie distinguishes itself with a lofty pastry cap that puffs so high it practically floats. Plunging a fork through its flaky, scratch-made crust reveals a rich, savory gravy, tender chicken chunks, and properly firm vegetables. The pot roast is made with bison from Eichten's Farm in Center City, which offers bolder flavors to stand up against curried chickpeas and mashed sweet potatoes.
Lighter dishes wisely acknowledge the restaurant's proximity to the Calhoun Beach Club's gym, though the blackened walleye with rice and beans could use a seasoning boost (perhaps it could take a cue from the abundance of toppings on the grilled shrimp tacos: sriracha mayonnaise, guacamole, pico de gallo, and fresh radish sprouts). Still, sometimes the simplest items are surprisingly delicious, such as a salad that pairs earthy roasted beets with peppery arugula, silky fresh mozzarella, and pickled fennel.
Not all of the kitchen's creativity pans out in execution. The addition of chai tea spices to crème brûlée may be clever, but it doesn't exempt the custard's need to be silky. (The dessert is supposed to be smooth enough to slip down unnoticed, because the tiniest suggestion of texture makes you conscious of the inordinate number of calories you're ingesting, no?) But the culinary team certainly can't be faulted for effort: How many sports bars do you know that make their own ramen noodles?
Budget-conscious Uptowners will appreciate Urban Eatery's free valet service and $1 parking ramp validation, plus the deep discounts on food and beverages during the early and late happy hours. (The specials are attractive enough to have compelled at least one party that arrived for the first happy hour to linger until the second.) For a restaurant that could have skated by on its looks, location, and bar, the extra care put into the food is something to be appreciated.
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