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The Depot

10 Jun

We’re no Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, but we do like to eat and like it even more when we get to try out food before a restaurant opens. The Depot Tavern, the much anticipated restaurant/bar from the fine folks at First Avenue opens up to the public on Friday and it does a lot for our late-night eating options downtown. Hell, we would have been happy with a Best Wurst cart on the corner (and given that the Minneapolis City Council is moving ahead with street vending permits, we might still get that) but The Depot should become a place to be, not only when stumbling out of the Entry late at night, but also for afternoon meals or dining out with friends. The Depot pulls off one of those great things, food that should be great while hammered but you would also happily eat sober, and with its comfortable atmosphere and clean, open design, you can feel good about eating there anytime.

At the press preview on Wednesday night, about a third of the menu was available for sampling and in the true spirit of DIY journalism and starving artistry, we tried to eat as much as possible. Executive Chef Karl Lichtfuss said that his vision for the menu at The Depot “…was to have a lot of fun and creative things that people still recognized as good bar food. It’s really just the kind of stuff I’d want to eat while sitting and having a beer with some friends.” The selections from the “Small Bites” menu started the palate tingling with that bar-food spin with a Guinness Cheese Soup whose tangy cheddar kick was backed by a smooth and rich Guinness flavor that would make our ‘Sconny neighbors jealous. The “Spuds”, fries done up in refined peanut oil had a great crisp and light flavor to them, the Russets were thick-cut and substantial, with a tangy, curry ketchup offered to us a by a diminutive dapper man, where the Sweets, sweet potato fries were light and airy with an electric rock salt twist. To end up the Small Bites section, the Coconut Curry Chopped Salad appeared to be plain lettuce and tomatoes, but a single bite was a revelation and the salad is imbued with a subtle and totally addictive mix of cumin, sweet coconut and curry spices so that before you’ve figured out what all the flavors are on your tongue, you will have scarfed down the healthiest drunchies around.

From the “Big Bites” porting of the menu, both the Green Pork Chili and New Orleans Po’Boy had slow cooked, fork tender meats going for them, a tantalizing pork swimming in a rich mix of tomatillo and peppers for the Chili and finger-licking mess of gravy-laden beef slopped on the Po’Boy. The Po’ Boy is one of those sandwiches that could haunt you, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and think, “I could really go for one of those Depot Po’ Boys,” it’s just basic done so right. We are inveterate watchers of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and he’s always after the late-night meat-and-starch combination to soak up the booze, and we might finally have it here. The Baked Mac & 4 Cheese worked better in it’s towering presentation than in actual consumption- it was a touch dry and despite the promise of cheesy zest, fairly ordinary. Maybe instead of the dusting of paprika, some cayenne to give it some oomph? We are, however, partisans of the Penne & Cheese at Eli’s on 12th & Hennepin, so maybe Chef Lichtfuss should head around the corner and have himself a plate there.

Rounding out the snacking for the evening were a couple bites of the Veggie Burger- there are a number of vegetarian-friendly menu items- and the patty was not a disappointment. No dry black bean or Morningstar patty slopped out of shrink-wrap here, this succulent mix of lentils, ground chickpeas, onions and spices was more like having a samosa filling between a bun and was a substantial and hearty fix, especially when paired with the Sweet Spuds in a basket. The Monte Cristo was a lovely bit of architectural layering and again, maybe a little dry, but there was no arguing with the flavors- the salt of the ham and turkey slices up against the sweet blackberry preserves, held together with a beautiful fried egg, that’s late night eating like a king. With hours until 2am, a roll-open garage door that turns the front room essentially into a patio, TVs to watch the action in the Mainroom, Entry or over at Target Field, the Depot just makes it hard for us to think that we would ever leave First Ave. If they open up a hotel, we’re in real trouble.

Check out all of Staciaann’s pictures of the venue, crowd and food here at her Flickr.

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  1. Press « The Depot Tavern - September 14, 2010

    […] ‘…the Depot just makes it hard for us to think that we would ever leave First Ave…”  – Cake in 15 […]

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