I’m not sure if this is sign of the economic times, but the hot new restaurant category these days seems to be the neo-retro neighborhood tavern. In the old days, the neighborhood tavern was the dark smoky place where you could expect to find cheap beer — especially Hamm’s, cheap burgers, and maybe bags of chips. The older generation of neighborhood taverns is nearly extinct in the Twin Cities, but in the last year or so, there has been an explosion of new places that pay homage to the vanishing institution – Republic, the Lowbrow Cafe, and most recently, Pat’s Tap at 35th and Nicollet, which had its official opening last week.
Pat’s Tap, which replaced Casey’s Bar at 35th and Nicollet, is the newest addition to the rapidly expanding Kim and Kari Bartmann restaurant empire – which also includes Bryant Lake Bowl, Barbette, Red Stag, Gigi’s Cafe, and the Bread and Pickle concession at the Lake Harriet Bandstand.
Like the originals, Pat’s proudly features beer and burgers, and retro touches like fried cheese curds, skee ball machines and a pool table. But there’s also a lot of trendier fare on the menu, and the prices wander outside of neighborhood tavern range. The cheese curds come from Castle Rock Creamery in Wisconsin, and cost $8 a serving, and the basic burger comes in variations that include a cheeseburger ($12), black rice veggie burger ($12) a bacon burger ($13), and a duck burger ($14). Add $2 if you want to substitute fries for chips, or $3 for a side salad.
The beer list pays homage to tavern tradition, with classics such as Grain Belt Premium, Hamm’s and Miller High Life, all served in cans, but Pat’s also has an impressive list of micro-brews on tap, including a good selection of local and regional beers: Harriet Westside IPA and Saison and Fulton Sweet Child of Vine from Minneapolis; Flat Earth Angry Planet Organic Ale from St. Paul, Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison from Stillwater, and Tyrenena Rocky’s Revenge from Lake Mills, WI. The Harriet Westside IPA is a recommended – lively, but not as aggressively hoppy as, say, Surly Furious.
We only tried a few items – the cheese curds (pictured above), a cup of the tomato bisque ($3/ $6), the mussels in white wine and garlic (about a dozen for $12) and the socca, an odd little flatbread made from chickpea flour and topped with Manchego, mushrooms and arugela ($7). It was all pretty good, but more in a plain home cooking sort of way than what you might expect from a place that bills itself as a gastro pub.
But there is a lot more that I would like to try, including the pesto pasta ($15), the “steak” frites with braised beef shoulder ($18), grilled pork tenderloin with cheddar grits and rainbow chard ($16), vegetable curry ($14) and the lamb meatballs with mint and yogurt sauce ($9).
Prices seem a bit high, compared with other taverns and casual restaurants — a plain burger and fries at Pat’s costs $12, vs. $7.75 at the Lowbrow, and a grilled cheese sandwich with tellegio, fig and arugula, and side salad is $15, versus $6.75 for Lowbrow’s lowbrow rendition, which has tomato, avocado and red onion available for 50 cents extra each. And a can of Hamm’s at Pat’s is $3.50, vs. $2 at Republic and Lowbrow.
Pat’s Tap, 3510 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis.