The hottest new trend on the Twin Cities dining scene is the gastropub, which combines a big selection of craft beers on tap with a menu that’s several notches above traditional bar fare. In the past year or so, we’ve seen the arrival of Pat’s Tap at 36th and Nicollet, Republic on the West Bank, the new Muddy Waters Bar & Eatery at Lake & Lyndale, the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in downtown St. Paul, and the Pig and Fiddle at 50th and France. The New Lowry Uptown Cafe also fits the format pretty well.
It’s a format that’s easy to love – a casual ambience, a sociable mood, and very reasonable prices. If you order a burger or mussels and fries, you can dine at most of these places for $10-$12, plus the cost of a pint of beer – usually in the $5-$7 range
My current favorites from that list are Muddy Waters and Republic. Both have great beer lists and an inviting pub atmosphere, but I’d give Muddy Waters the edge for food. I don’t recall ever setting foot in the old Muddy Waters at 24th and Lyndale, which was basically a coffee house with a limited food menu, but the new Muddy Waters is a whole different thing, with a full bar, a bakery, open for breakfast (coffee and pastries, mostly), lunch, weekend brunch and dinner.
On a weekend visit for brunch, back when the outdoor patio was still in use, I enjoyed a plate of crisply fried chilaquiles (tortilla strips) bathed in a lively red guajillo salsa, topped with a fried egg ($7), while Carol had the smoked trout hash ($8.50) – a bit short on the trout, but still quite tasty.
The dinner menu offers some traditional bar fare — burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings, pizzas, and a lot of more interesting dishes, ranging from pot roast braised in Surly Bender with creamy collards and a mushroom farro risotto ($17); and pumpkin ricotta gnocchi with brown butter, brussel sprouts and sage ($14) to steamed mussels with shallots, garlic, saffron, Yukon potatoes and foccacia ($11).
We opted for the fish tacos ($8) – a pair of beer-battered fillets in flour tortillas, topped with chopped cabbage and crema (Mexican sour cream) and the soft shell crab banh mi sandwich ($11), stuffed with pickled vegetables and topped with a remoulade dressing. Though Mexico and Vietnam are half a world apart, these two dishes seemed like imaginative variations on a theme — rich in flavor, with a delightful contrast of crunchy and tender.
The only dish that disappointed was a sweet potato panzarella salad ($8) — the diced sweet potato bread croutons were quite sweet, as were the craisins, and the cherry balsamic vinaigrette lacked the tartness to balance the sweetness. But a slice of ginger cake with rum raisin sauce and a dollop of whipped cream provided a satisfying finale.
Muddy Waters features a full bar, and a limited wine list, but the real attraction here is the beer selection — over 30 domestic and imported beers on tap, and again as many in bottles.
As a beer lover, I am always delighted to find a brew I have never tasted before, especially a local one. At Muddy Waters, I found Steel Toe 7, an IPA-style ale from the newest brewery in the Twin Cities — the Steel Toe Brewing Co. opened in August in St. Louis Park. It’s a hoppy but balanced brew, not quite as aggressively hoppy as Surly Furious, but still quite lively. There are lots of other interesting choices, including the distinctively sour Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge from Belgium to Founders Breakfast Stout from Grand Rapids, Mi.
Muddy Waters opens at 7 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. weekends, and serves food until 2 a.m. every night of the week.
Muddy Waters Bar & Eatery, 2933 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis.