Oh boy, pot roast! But not just any pot roast – this is pot roast as prepared by Kevin Kathman, the new chef at Jack’s, the former Java Jack’s at 818 W. 46th St., Minneapolis, which now bills itself as “the most exciting place to eat in Minneapolis.” Them’s fighting words, if you ask me, but Kathman does have some impressive credentials, most notably a stint at the French Laundry, and locally at Barbette and Restaurant Max.
“We welcome you to experience a new way of dining in the Twin Cities, where you will experience a variety of flavors, textures and food delights via a menu of bites and smaller plates,” blurbles the website cheerfully. “What separates us is our level of technique and dedication, our willingness to do whatever it takes to better ourselves and our food.”
We only sampled a few dishes, and though I am not sure this was either “a new way of dining” (lots of places offer small plates) or “a dining experience that is unparalleled in the Twin Cities,” but everything we sampled was delightful.
When I hear the words “bites and small plates,” little cash registers start ringing in my head, but these plates weren’t as small and precious as I had feared. They were petite enough to make me stop and savor them, one bit at a time, which is a good thing. Carol and I shared five dishes between us, and went home satisfled. It isn’t a lot of food for the money, but the flavors and presentation were outstanding.
In addition to the pot roast with carrots, potatoes, onions and celery root puree ($16), we sampled a sublimely savory white truffle custard with mushroom ragout, sherry vinegar and tiny croutons ($6), a delicate and flavorful salad of baby beets with hazelnuts, goat cheese and slivers of radish ($8), a vegan entree of squash with quinoa, shiitake mushrooms and a maple emulsion ($15) and a passionfruit pannacotta with ruby red grapefruit and basil. Tuesday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., Jack’s offers a happy hour featuring $1 off of their craft beers, $4 glasses of the house wines, and food specials that can include items such as lamb sliders with a fennel slaw ($8) steamed clams in garlic and white wine ($6) or a cod sandwich wasabi aioli ($8).
From 6:30 to noon daily, Jack’s is still a lot like the old Java Jack’s with a menu of coffees, pastries, breakfast items and sandwiches. Brunch is served on weekends.
If you are going to fall off of the veggie wagon, as I do about three times a week, there’s no better place than the St. Clair Broiler, 1580 St. Clair Ave., a St. Paul institution since 1956. It’s the kind of place where they greet the regulars by name, at least if the regular’s name is Nick Coleman.
I hadn’t eaten at the St. Clair Broiler in years, but when Nick asked me to meet him there for lunch, I figured I better try what they are famous for, their black Angus burgers broiled over an open flame. This one ($8.75 for six ounces, $9.75 for an eight ounce patty) was done to perfection (medium rare) and topped with a big mound of french-fried onions. Comes with a choice of french fries (also excellent), tater tots or baked beans.
Stopped in for a beer and a brat at the Town Hall Tap, 4810 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis before a movie at the Parkway Theater. The THT is an offshoot of the Town Hall Brewery, offering the same selection of beers as the West Bank location, and a more limited food menu. Okay, it’s a beer and a brat – but not just any beer, and not just any brat. The beer is a cask-conditioned Town Hall Brewery 1800 English IPA, and the brat is specially made with Town Hall beer by the Seward Co-op. Cask conditioned means that the beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized, and allowed to ferment and carbonate naturally in the barrel. The fries were great, too, by the way, as was the walleye sandwich.
Zen Box Izakaya, an offshoot of the ZenBox lunch spot in the Minneapolis Skyway, opened a few months ago at 602 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis. Based on customer feedback, they have since done a major makeover of their menu, and held a press tasting event last week to publicize it. Prices have been lowered, and some of the dishes, like the mini donburi (rice bowl) dishes that previously were only available at odd hours are now featured on the all-day menu. One big improvement — the ramen is now made with a slow-simmered pork stock, and seems more robustly flavorful than the previous version.