Monday, May 9, 2011

112 Eatery: A Review

It's week five of my New York Times Food Writers School. The assignment this week was to review a restaurant experience of note. Below is the work I turned in.

A Review

The historic Warehouse District in downtown Minneapolis will always be near and dear to my heart. I worked, dined and drank down there for 23 years. Nearest and dearest to my heart during that time was the Loon Café. Worn, wood plank floors and a huge, gorgeous oak bar rubbed to a beautiful patina by millions of elbows, it stood out for it’s casual atmosphere and really good bar food…especially the Burger Loon. A simple formula: ground beef, fresh sourdough bun, fried onions, your choice of cheeses and cooked to perfection.

The Loon Café still stands. But three blocks to the north, away from the Warehouse District epicenter, sits its descendant for the new century. 112 Eatery is an incredible fusion of fine dining meets bar food. The fact that the restaurant has been nominated for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef and Restaurant Award for the last four years in a row gives testament to the gastronomic delights that lie within.

It’s off the beaten path, in the middle of a street void of other restaurants. You have to work to find the entrance. But once inside, it’s so familiar. Worn, wood plank floors and a small, gorgeous oak bar rubbed to a beautiful patina by thousands of elbows. 112 Eatery is small and the tables are jammed together. Greatness requires sacrifice and, in this case, you will sacrifice your personal space. The combination of compressed humanity along with the plethora of hard, wood surfaces creates a din that is more than deafening. It is almost impossible to hear yourself think.

Service is slow. The glass of wine takes ten minutes to get to the table, which gives one ample time to revel in the din. It also gives one time to relish the smells wafting from the kitchen and the aromas drifting from the incredible dishes that are carried past our table. Ten minutes after the wine delivery, time to order. I’m going to ignore the rest of the incredible menu and go for the most basic of bar foods. “Yes, I’ll have the cheeseburger, medium.”

Thirty minutes will pass. Perfection cannot be rushed…especially in a small kitchen. More time to savor the clamor. Finally, my meal arrives.

I lift my cheeseburger and take a bite. The taste of it is deafening. The minute the flavors hit my tongue, the room goes dead silent. I cannot hear a thing.

The burger itself is an astounding mixture of fatty ground beef, beaten eggs, onion, thyme and butter. The charred crust of the burger (thank you, butter) barely contains the delicious juices inside. The patty is topped by two thin slices of Brie which continue to melt throughout the meal. This burger-from-heaven is wedged in between two slices of a heavenly, lightly toasted English muffin. Accompanying the burger is a paper cone of incredibly thin homemade fries, which in turn are accompanied by two phenomenal house-made specialties: tarragon aioli and ketchup.

Ten minutes later the meal is over. The tumult returns. Twenty minutes after that, I have paid the check and I am enjoying the quiet as I walk down Third Street to fetch my car. And while the tranquility is both calming and cherished, I am already plotting my return to the cacophony. 

NOTE: I posted this blog yesterday. When I turned on the news this morning, I was elated to see that Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery and Bar La Grassa was awarded the James Beard Best Chef of the Midwest last evening. I am glad to see his genius receive such deserved recognition. You will serve yourself well by visiting both establishments!

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