9 p.m. on a Friday night at Merlin’s Rest. I can’t remember the last time I saw so much fun packed into such a small space. Every table in the bar is taken, and nearly every seat at the bar. In one corner, nearly dozen musicians playing jigs and reels and traditional Celtic music, on fiddles and flutes and pennywhistles, with a guitar and tenor banjo keeping time. (Every Friday, starting at 8 p.m.) But you can barely hear them over the animated din of scores of beery, cheerful conversations. Then suddenly, the decibel level jumps, as a man in a kilt starts his grand procession, circling the bar, playing an ancient tune on a set of bagpipes.
Shown here, the pie and a pint special – for $11.75, you get the savory pie of the week, plus the beer of your choice. Mashed potatoes, chips or tater tots are $1.50 extra.The pie was tender boneless chicken in a Shiraz wine sauce, baked in flaky puff pastry, which I washed down with a pint of Guinness.
Monday evening at Tin Fish on Lake Calhoun. I discover that I have arrived just in the nick of time – it is 7:25, and a sign in the window informs that Tin Fish now stops serving at 7:30. There are half a dozen customers in line ahead of me, but I manage to place my order before the kitchen closes. In a few more weeks, on October 7, the owner tells me – Tin Fish will close its fish kitchen, and a week later, they expect to stop serving entirely.
Checking Tin Fish’s website, I made a happy discovery: any dish on the menu can be ordered in half-portion, for half-price plus $1. I order a half-portion of the Tin Fish Platter ($19 for a whole order, $10.50 for a half) – and get a big scallop, a couple of shrimp, and several spears of firm, very fresh fish, all coated in a very light cornmeal breading and deep-fried, served with waffle fries and a little cup of coleslaw. Even the half-portion is nearly more than I can eat. Delicious. I wash it down with a pint of Pilsner Urquell, and look out over the lake as the last rays of sunset disappear.
Thursday, lunchtime at the Black Forest. Lunch at the Black Forest has been a summertime ritual for as long as I can remember – there is no place I would rather be on a sunny summer day than in the BF’s courtyard patio, eating bratwurst and Minnesota’s best apfelstrudel, and washing it down with a glass of German beer. (Or Pilsner Urquell, depending on my mood.) But this year, the summer flew by so fast that I suddenly realized last that September was already here and I hadn’t been dined in the courtyard even once. I am trying to eat healthier, though, so just this time, I decided to try one of the summer specials – green bean salad with sausage – not bad, but next time I go, I’m going for the bratwurst. (Actually, I won’t have that choice, since the green bean salad is no longer on the menu.) Or maybe the Wienerschnitzel ($12.25 for pork / $16 for veal.)