Minneapolis bites: Bluestem Bar & Table, Sandcastle, and 3 Tiers


Finally made it over to Bluestem Bar and Table, the cozy little bistro tucked away behind French Meadow Bakery & Cafe. BB&T and FMB&C share a kitchen, and you can actually order anything from the FMB&C menu at Bluestem, but Bluestem offers tableside service and its own menu of more upscale preparations.

First impressions: I was charmed by the looks of the place—mustard walls decorated with aspen, a big turquoise bar at the center, a few booths with tabletops of salvaged wood along the side, and another dining room hidden away in the back. The menu has a strong emphasis on local, sustainable and organic, featuring beef from Grass Run, poultry from Wild Acres, eggs from Larry Schultz Organic Farm, etc.

We only sampled four dishes, and three of them were winners: the apple bleu salad, tossed with almonds and St. Pete’s bleu cheese ($7/$11); the very lively trio of rustic tartines topped, respectively, with hummus and avocado, jalapeno artichoke and wild Pacific smoked salmon ($10); and the handmade ravioli, filled with mascarpone and finished with white wine, thyme, lemon and heirloom tomatoes ($16).

The one disappointment was the cornmeal-breaded fried chicken, served over an organic corn waffle with chipotle hot sauce, pink peppercorn syrup and creme fraiche ($12); a striking presentation, but the chicken and the waffle were both quite dry. Still, it’s a promising start, and I would gladly return to try some more items from the menu, such as the pan-seared scallops with sweet chili sauce ($12), the duck confit flatbread ($11), or the French omelette with asparagus, Gruyere and wild mushrooms ($10). 

Doug Flicker is a tough act to follow—especially if you are Doug Flicker, one of the Twin Cities’ most highly acclaimed chefs. Reports that the chef who brought us Auriga and Piccolo was going to operate the food concession at Lake Nokomis led to all kinds of high hopes and wild speculation—at least on my part—about what kind of cuisine his new Sandcastle would offer. What will a chef who creates dishes like soft poached duck egg with hazelnuts, smoked bacon, foie gras, and pine cone syrup offer up to the beach crowd? 

Turns out it’s fried cheese curds, hush puppies, chicken wings, fish tacos, and tube steaks (wieners and franks). Also, sweet pea felafel wraps, a barbecued pork sandwich and a BLT. Flicker makes a commendable effort to make the menu reflect the diversity of the surrounding neighborhoods, with items like the fish tacos, and beverages like horchata, and American Indian fry bread. And he offers up some healthy choices like the watermelon salad and a mozzarella salad whole wheat wrap. 

But, so far at least, it’s a bit disappointing. The grilled fish tacos topped with radish and lime was a bit dry and dull, and the tomato cucumber gazpacho was watery and lacked seasoning. The sweet pea felafel wrap ($7) was better, but a little heavy on the sprouts for my tastes. My favorite so far is the Flicker dog: a beef frank topped with kimchi, cilantro and a fried egg ($5 / $3 for a plain dog). It’s messy enough that it’s hard to eat with your hands, but spicy and juicy and flavorful. 

So far, at least, Sandcastle is really no match for the simple but delicious seafood menu at the top two concession dining spots—Tin Fish on Lake Calhoun, and the more gastronomically ambitious, Sea Salt at Minnehaha Falls. (Of course, those are also really tough acts to follow.) But then again, if you take it for what it is—not a destination restaurant, but just a concession stand at a beautiful Minneapolis lake, next to a kid-friendly beach, offering some healthy, reasonably priced food choices, then it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, and that’s just fine.

We shared a table at Sandcastle with some folks who let us in on their latest gastronomic discovery, 3 Tiers, not far away at 5011 34th Ave. S. When we visited a few days later, we quickly discovered that there was far too much on the menu for us to tackle on a single visit. 3 Tiers started out as a bakery, specializing in wedding cakes, and has evolved into a coffee house and bistro, with an interesting selection of pastries, artisan beers and tap wines. The menu runs the gamut from to flatbreads, sandwiches, Italian pastas and Asian noodle dishes—everything from beef lettuce wraps and a skate fish po boy to banh mi sandwiches with meatloaf or pork, and Korean tacos with black beans, beef, kimchi, bean sprouts and taco sauce. 

I thought the picaritas (masa cakes with salsa verde and queso fresco, $7) were kind of boring, but I loved Carol’s big juicy falafel burger, topped with pickled cabbage and onions, roasted red peppers, cucumber and Sriracha mayo, and my bibim noodles, a spicy, colorful variation on the traditional Korean rice bowl, bibimbop, brimming with rice noodles, pickled veggies, shredded beef, sprouts and more ($12).