Tag Archives: craft cocktails

SW Craft {Closed}

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I would have never known about SW Craft Bar had I not seen it on Groupon. I had never known there was a craft cocktail, beer and burger bar in Lowertown St. Paul. We absolutely love The Bulldog Lowertown, known for its excellent selection of craft beer. But it’s nice to know that there are some other options in the area, too.

So when I saw the Groupon offer for two flights of beer and two burgers (or sandwiches), I thought that the deal had Rob’s name written all over it! I snatched it up.

There is a good reason why there is a Groupon out there for SW Craft Bar. It needs a little advertising because it isn’t very well marked. It’s located in the Kellogg building and we had to walk around a bit to find it after parking.

The interior surprised me, too. It was about 5:30pm on a sunny summer afternoon and it was so dark inside! There were very few people there, too, despite that it was Happy Hour, which I’d like to point out includes more than your average bar food! Check out the online menu.

Another thing to note is that while SW Craft Bar may not have the as many craft beers on tap as, say, the Bulldog Lowertown or The Happy Gnome, they do have a varied selection. There weren’t a lot of my favorite styles on tap, which forced me to order outside the norm and try something new! It wasn’t until now that I realized how the growth of my beer palate has stunted. {Huh?}

Here were the selections available when we were there:

{The beer list is ever changing. I love that!}

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I love when bars list what is “on deck” so you know what kegs are waiting to be tapped. It’s a great way to bring customers back to try something new. Every single one of those craft cocktails {to the right} looked mighty interesting to me, too!

Here was the flight I put together and my thoughts on each beer:

  • Square Mile Dry Hopped Cider (OR) – I was a little iffy about ordering this because of some of the cider-beer hybrids I’ve had at our local Sociable Cider Werks; but I gave it a shot because it was new to me. I’m so glad I did! It had a ton of apple flavor going on and I’d easily order it again.
  • Millstream Brewing Bitter End Imperial Brown Ale (IA) – This was a pretty decent brown, but nothing screaming, “Special!”
  • White Birch Brewing Son of Ned the Red Flanders Red Ale (NH) – The bartender warned me that this is a sour. I’m glad he did because I’m still working on acquiring a taste for sours. In fact, that is why I decided to give it a try. Still, this one was a little too much for me. It didn’t taste very balanced; but I know nothing about sours, so I can’t really make that call.
  • Rodenbach Grand Cru Sour Red (Belgium) – Yes, another sour! And do you want to know something? I loved this one. It was a bit sharp on the palate for me at first, but it continued to grow on me. I will definitely order this again. This must be a good example of a well-balanced sour because Beer Advocate gives it a 95 (The Bros-100)!

Here is where I’d normally suggest that if you are doing beer flights with someone else that you select all different beers so you can double the number of beers you get to taste! But there weren’t eight beers I wanted to try. And I think we were both feeling a bit selfish.

For that reason, you’ll see two repeats in Rob’s lineup:

  • Northgate Brewing Parapet ESB (MN) – I was surprised Rob ordered this because I thought we had tried it when we went to Northgate and weren’t all that thrilled. During this taste he said it was fine.
  • Square Mile Dry Hopped Cider (OR) – Rob was in agreement with me on this one.
  • Local Option Sweet Lief Biere de Garde (IL) – I was also surprised Rob ordered this one, but he didn’t mind it.
  • Millstream Brewing Bitter End Imperial Brown Ale (IA) – Rob said he’s had Millstream beers in the past and hasn’t been too impressed. This one shows improvement by leaps and bounds! I think it was his fave of the four.

Our deal included a choice of a burger or sandwich.

Rob, of course, chose a burger!

el presidente angus beef patty, refried beans, chihuahua cheese, caramalized onions, roasted sweet peppers, sauteed mushrooms, mayo, crispy bacon, house-made adoba bbq sauce

el presidente  angus beef patty, refried beans, chihuahua cheese, caramalized onions, roasted sweet peppers, sauteed mushrooms, mayo, crispy bacon, house-made adoba bbq sauce – $10.95

All sandwiches are served with a side salad with a choice of ginger vinaigrette or spicy sesame dressing. You can upgrade to fries for just a buck, which is exactly what Rob did here. The fries were pretty basic, but well-seasoned. Rob finished them all before moving on to his burger, which he said wasn’t really seasoned and that the flavor was in all of the toppings. That kind of makes sense because if you read the description, there is a lot going on there! The bun was nicely toasted, too.

One thing that I didn’t realize until his burger came out was that he was never asked how he wanted it cooked. It looked almost well-done to me, but Rob said it was about medium. {We both prefer medium rare.} For the record, Rob did not get the refried beans on his burger because he is allergic.

All of the sammies sounded so flavorful, that I couldn’t decide at the moment. I enlisted the help of our bartender. He noted two of his favorites and I chose one.

torta de carnitas slow roasted pork, chihuahua cheese, refried beans, guacamole, tomatos, pickled red onions, cilantro, arugula

torta de carnitas – slow roasted pork, chihuahua cheese, refried beans, guacamole, tomatoes, pickled red onions, cilantro, arugula – $9.95

I loved this sandwich! My bun was perfectly toasted, to the point where it was crunchy without being hard. Rob took a bite. Whoops! I forgot there were refried beans on this sandwich until I started writing this post! However, that night I did note that they looked like black beans {which he can eat} rather than the usual pinto beans that are often assumed when I read “refried”.

He didn’t think the pulled pork had any flavor or seasoning; but I disagree. It was juicy and tender and not as salty as how mine tends to turn out at home in the crockpot. And I loved the mixture of flavor from the toppings. This one was right up my alley! I ate the entire thing.

Rob finished off the night with a glass of the Odell Stalwort English Strong Ale, which neither of us have had before. In fact, after tasting how smooth {and dangerous at 11% ABV!} it was, we looked it up on both Beer Advocate and RateBeer, neither of which have ratings yet. We’d give it a high score if we were so inclined to post on those sites.

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I could see SW Craft Bar as a great place to get a beer {or flight!}, cocktail or bite to eat before after an event in Lowertown. In fact, their website boasts free shuttles to events at the Xcel Center, Ordway or Fitzgerald Theater. {Just call in advance for times.}

It would also be a great alternative to other establishments in downtown St. Paul when everything seems a little too packed. Just be willing to walk a bit or take said shuttles. You just might try something out of the ordinary!

Do you like to do flights of beer, wine, cocktails or bacon?

If so, how do you choose if they aren’t pre-determined?

Cheers~
Carrie

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Thirsty Thursday – Tongue in Cheek

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As part of our Thanksgiving Staycation, we had a lazy day that Sunday. We had breakfast, sipped coffee and hung out in our pjs catching up on the DVR. {Well, that’s pretty much every Sunday morning for us.} 

We never did eat lunch, so we opted for an early dinner. There was only one problem: The Packer game was on at 3:25pm.

That just would not work. I didn’t want to go to a Sports Bar to watch the game for three hours when it was on local television and could watch it in the comfort of my own home.

But I had an idea. I scanned through our Groupons and looked up each restaurant. Finally, I chose one that did not look like it had an TVs:

Tongue in Cheek – in St. Paul

We would DVR the game and watch it afterward, sans commercials. This also meant Rob couldn’t be on his smartphone during dinner to check scores. Win for me!

The bar at Tongue in Cheek opens at 4pm. Since our tummies were empty, we took full advantage of that! We also took advantage of their Happy Hour.

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We started by splitting the flight of Cock(tail) Teasers. I don’t believe you can order these teasers outside of Happy Hour. I didn’t see them on the regular menu. Rob said that he couldn’t imagine having to create these miniature cocktails for just $2 each. He thought, “How annoying for the bartender!” But they’ve thought of everything here. They make the teasers ahead of time, so that they are ready-to-serve with only a garnish needed.

Flight of Cock(tail) Teasers - $12

Flight of Cock(tail) Teasers – $12

The cocktails are pictured in order as they are on the menu, only from right to left. And that’s how we tasted them. Then we ranked them. Surprisingly, both Rob and I ranked them in the exact same order!

  1. Jack’s Pool – This one surprised me because I’m not a huge rum fan!
  2. Mother of Dragons – Another surprise for both of us. The jalapeno was subtle and the flavors were well-balanced. Who knew I’d like a Jim Beam cocktail?
  3. Cross Eyed Mary – Oh yeah. I love me a good bloody and I actually prefer gin to vodka.
  4. Tickle My Tiny Pickle – What you’d expect by the menu description.
  5. When in Rome – I thought this would be my fave. It wasn’t. But I didn’t not like it! Bottoms up!
  6. Why Not Minot? – Not memorable because, you know, I don’t even remember this one.

Each of these cocktail teasers came from each of their six sensory categories of all of the craft cocktails that they offer. Check them out on the main menu:

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Looking back at that menu, it does look like you can get a flight of cocktails, if you’d like, outside of during Happy Hour. It’s just more expensive. I’m not sure if you get to choose which drinks come in your flight though.

We arrived in our Packer gear and the bartender commented. Rob told him that we were taping the game, so dining here was perfect because we wouldn’t have access to the score. We come to find out that Mike The Bartender is from Milwaukee and it was killing him not to keep us updated!

Mike gave us a ton of menu recommendations, including items that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Like this, for example:

Goldi-Lox - gravlox, horseradish, dill, salmon roe - $2

Goldi-Lox – gravlox, horseradish, dill, salmon roe – $2

All of the teasers on the menu are meant to be one or two bites. This one was much more! The teeny, tiny spoon probably helped with that. And for just $2, this teaser packed a ton of flavor! Not listed on the menu is the avocado puree on top, along with some crispy fried shallots that add a little extra crunch. {Mike did an excellent job describing each dish as he delivered them to our table.} I thought that this taste was perfection!

At this point Rob checked out the beers on tap. I found it to be a nice varied selection of mostly Midwestern origin:

  • New Holland Dragon’s Milk (MI)
  • Summit Winter Warmer (MN)
  • Indeed Sweet Yamma Jamma (MN)
  • Rush River Double Bubble IPA (WI)
  • Cuvée des Jacobins (Belgium)

While Mike poured him a Dragon’s Milk, I sipped on a $3-Happy-Hour Sangria.

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I thought it was pretty good; but the more I drank it, the less I liked it. Not sure if that was because of the oncoming cold or because it needed to be stirred before I started drinking it.

We also ordered a cheese plate:

Artisan Cheese Trifecta - $9

Artisan Cheese Trifecta – $9

There was a blue, a semi-soft goat {which Rob loved until I told him it was goat cheese} and the Wisconsin Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Those little dollops are of apple puree, mango puree and balsamic. It was divine to drag a little cheese through it, despite the fact that purees like this always make me think of baby food! {In a good way.}

But the plain crackers to accompany the cheeses left a bit to be desired – like some fresh bread. Yes, I desired that.

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 Rob ordered us another $2 Teaser:

Charred Feta - strawberry & black pepper jam - $2

Charred Feta – strawberry & black pepper jam – $2

If you think that looks huge, it was really only about two to three bites. Here’s a photo with a fork to give you some perspective.

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But the bites were tasty! The salty… with the char… with the sweet… This was perfect for a taste! Any more than that would probably be too much.

I was originally planning to just order some more teasers for my dinner because a Heavy Table article I read suggested that was the best way to go. But Mike suggested the salmon. And who could argue with Mike?

Wild Salmon - goat cheese risotto, zucchini, tomato-gin consommé - $25

Wild Salmon – goat cheese risotto, zucchini, tomato-gin consommé – $25

Mike was right to recommend this. It’s probably some of the best salmon I’ve had! It was well-seasoned, the goat cheese wasn’t too overpowering and the zucchini ribbons had the perfect texture. My only gripe is that the salmon was just a tad under-cooked for my liking. But I still sopped up every bite!

And you know already that Rob got the burger.

The Cheeseburger - Cheddar, House Pickles, Arugla, Aioli - $12

The Cheeseburger – cheddar, house pickles, arugla, aioli – $12

 This burger will move to Rob’s Top 10!

{Which reminds me, he still needs to update that.}

I think there are three things that generally make Rob burger- happy:

  1. The quality of the meat.
  2. Seasoning the meat.
  3. The quality and use of the bun and toppings.

It’s places like this, where quality rules. Tongue in Cheek’s Mission:

We are devoted to only using animal products that are raised or caught in a humane and sustainable manner. This is something we are passionate about and it will never be compromised. We believe living a good life tastes better.

Amen! Oh and for the record, Rob thought the fries were just fine at first, but later said that they kept getting better with every bite!

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We loved Tongue in Cheek so much that we bought another voucher when we got home. The East Side of St. Paul is an up-and-coming culinary hot spot. When I walked in to Tongue in Cheek, it reminded me a bit of Ward 6, also located in the area. Then the quality craft cocktails reminded me of Ward 6, too. However, these two restaurants are different enough that you need to experience both.

I love the concept of the Teasers on the menu at Tongue in Cheek. It gives people a chance to step out of their comfort zones to sample some things they maybe normally wouldn’t, without the worry of wasting money or a meal. I’d come here just to try all of the little different bites they have to offer!

Have you dined at a restaurant that offers small bites or teasers on the menu?

If so, what were your favorites or what did you try that you maybe would not have otherwise?

Cheers~
Carrie

Ward 6

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My husband says that he really misses my Restaurant Impression posts. So I’ll to crank a few long overdue ones out for you all.

Ward 6 was my chosen brunch spot after Rob’s first 5k last month. I remember that after my first 5k, we had trouble finding an open restaurant nearby serving lunch or brunch. To avoid all of the driving around when we’d be hungry, I did my research in advance this time. I found two or three new-to-us brunch places within just a few miles of the race site that also had items on the menu that Rob would enjoy.

I’d seen the name of this restaurant buzzing about the web for a while now; so I was naturally curious to find out what we were missing.

ward 6

Ward 6 is located on the east side of St. Paul in a neighborhood to which I’d never been. Per our usual, we pulled a couple of seats up to the bar. It’s a cozy little place and I immediately loved the vibe. Then we received the menus.

Oh the menus!

First let’s start with the Morning Drinks:

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I love that they make espresso drinks! Too often, I’ve been disappointed by sludgy coffee when I’m out when all I want is a good cuppa joe. And Ward 6 gets extra points for serving our local Surly Coffee Bender beer for breakfast. And adding an extra dose of espresso to it is just pure genius.

In addition to the Surly Coffee Bender, they have a nice varied selection of Minnesota brews on tap:

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In fact, they strive for all local beers on tap! I love the philosophy.

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I also love a beer list with a date at the top. This means that the establishment changes their beer selection often. Both The Happy Gnome and The Lowry do this. To me, it’s a sign of a great place to enjoy craft beer.

They also have a well-stocked bar, with some unique and even house-made liqueurs:

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The brunch menu suggests some breakfast cocktails:

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But I chose to order outside the box as soon as I saw the regular cocktail menu:

Bayona – Absolut Hibiskus, St. Germain, Creme d’Yvette, lime and prosecco

You know how I love my St. Germain! Let me tell you, the cocktails at Ward 6 can give any craft cocktail joint a run for their money. I was so impressed that I later ordered another off the cocktail menu – The Ward 6.

The Ward 6 - With cilantro, ginger, vodka, St. Germain, lime juice, chili and lychee juice

The Ward 6 – With cilantro, ginger, vodka, St. Germain, lime juice, chili and lychee juice

The combo sounded a little strange to me, especially with the chili. But I was feeling adventurous! It ended up being an utterly sublime cocktail. It was well-balanced in every respect; but you could still taste a little bit of every flavor. It didn’t sound good to Rob, but I forced him to taste it. And he concurred that it was not only unique, but very tasty. It’s a cocktail that I can’t imagine you can find anywhere else, so we’ll have to come back! {I have a feeling trying to recreate this cocktail might be more than a tad difficult.}

But we didn’t spend the entire morning boozing! We needed to refuel after the 5k. Whether or not it was appropriate refueling food is another matter.

I had heard that the burger at Ward 6 was sensational. So when I was doing my brunch research and found that the burger was on their brunch menu, I knew it would be a perfect post-race brunch spot for Rob.

And I was right. He ordered the burger:

Burger 10 Local grass-fed ground beef; cheese if you like ($1). - See more at: http://ward6stpaul.com/content/breakfast#sthash.WIJeAAvN.dpuf

Burger – Local grass-fed ground beef with cheddar added

Of course, that photo does not do this burger any justice. Rob absolutely loved it. The quality of all the ingredients was top notch. Learn why in the box on this menu:

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Do you remember my first time at Groveland Tap when I skimmed over the Welsh Rarebit, thinking that it was made of rabbit? Well, Ward 6 has actually named this dish Welsh Rabbit. See the listing in the in the box above!

And that is exactly what I ordered:

Welsh Rabbit 6 No rabbits are harmed in the making of this tavern dish-- cheese sauce on toast, simple and satisfying. Served with a slice of tomato and a fried egg.  Eric likes his with bacon (+$2). - See more at: http://ward6stpaul.com/content/breakfast#sthash.WIJeAAvN.dpuf

Welsh Rabbit – Cheese sauce on toast, served with a slice of tomato and a fried egg

I was a little leery about the “cheese sauce” when ordering, picturing nacho cheese from a can. But I was pleasantly surprised. This tasted a bit like a Croque Madame with more of a béchamel sauce. It was a small dish (and only $6); but it was very filling with plenty of caloric value!

Before we left, I had to check out the dessert list. I had been considering an espresso drink to-go. But I loved the listing of after dinner drinks, as well as the descriptions!

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But what caught my eye was the Affogato. That’s just right up my alley. And homemade soft serve? SOLD!

House-made soft serve ice cream “drowned” in a shot of espresso. - See more at: http://ward6stpaul.com/content/dessert#sthash.Iafu14Oa.dpuf

Affogato – House-made soft serve ice cream “drowned” in a shot of espresso

We absolutely adored Ward 6. Rob and I decided that this is a place we’d like to take out-of-town guests. We’d also like to go back in the evening to try their dinner menu. But really, you can come any time of day. They begin serving coffee and espresso drinks at 7am on weekdays, then start breakfast at 8am. And they serve food straight through lunch and dinner, generally closing between 11pm and midnight.

Or just stop by for an Adult Milkshake!

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I loved the how laid-back this place was, while sporting a varied and entertainingly unique menu. The cuisine we tried was above-average diner fare that left us satisfied. The drinks – perfect. The servers were even taste-testing a few of the new wines on their menu and discussing them. I like an informed waitstaff. I tend to ask a lot of questions. 😉

What’s your favorite espresso drink or dish?

Cheers~
Carrie

 

Spooning the River…

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I never did post on the time we had a girls’ night dining at Sea Change, a restaurant known for its sustainable seafood and one of the Top Chefs in America last year. Maybe it’s because I was savoring a rare evening dining at a seafood restaurant. Or maybe it’s just a given to dine there. It’s a well-known, top Minneapolis restaurant and perfect if you are seeing a show at The Guthrie Theater {affectionately just called The Guthrie around these parts} and want a nice, swanky night out.

But if you are looking for a place that is just as tasty, but more casual, head yourself across the street to Spoonriver. Located just next to the Mill City Farmers Market, Spoonriver is a restaurant serving local, organic and sustainable fare with lots of options for vegetarians.

Even after the few times I’ve walked past the place, it took us a Groupon Living Social deal to get us there. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure what the place was about. The deal prompted me to visit their website to read more about them and check out the menu online. I was sold.

What really took me by surprise was the list of craft cocktails at Spoonriver. I knew I’d be ordering one, but which one to choose? I narrowed it down to two: the Pear Ginger Martini (house infused ginger vodka, La Poire Grey Goose, Cointreau, Domaine Canton, Prosecco) and the Elderberry Negroni (Miller’s Gin, MN Elderberry juice, Campari, sweet vermouth.) {Yes, I bypassed all of those St. Germain cocktails on the menu. I wanted something different!}

Our knowledgeable bartender noted that the Pear Ginger Martini would be a sweeter and the Elderberry Negroni would be tart. So what did I do? Since Rob was driving, I sipped on the Elderberry Negroni before dinner and had the Pear Ginger as dessert! {At the advice of our bartender again, of course. I know, she twisted my arm.}

Elderberry Negroni

Elderberry Negroni

I have to say that the drinks were beautiful! Since we were sitting at the bar, we had the opportunity not only to see all of the cocktails being made, but also smell them! I kept thinking, “I wonder what that is? It smells so good!”

Rob’s choice was the Ophelia – Tanqueray Gin, Grand Marnier, Creme de Violette, lemon.

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Ophelia

Have you ever had Creme de Violette before? We’ve tried it once, in an Aviation at the old Nick & Eddie. {Oh how we miss that place!} Creme de Violette made from very specific violets and is very hard to find. So when Rob saw a cocktail with it on the menu, it was an easy choice.

We got to Spoonriver early, but the place started getting busy quickly. The restaurant is long and narrow, which gave me the impression, at first, that it was bigger than it really is. Make sure you either get there early or make a reservation.

For a moment, I felt like I was at the airport, because I noticed a kiosk with items available to-go. These are perfect for impromptu picnics along the river! What a fantastic idea. But who knows about these?

The food really does shine here, too. Rob found his Grass-Fed Burger quite tasty and impressive, despite the tortilla chips on the side. Not only did I find my Savory Crêpe Special of the Day delicious, but beautiful, too. Inside was warm goat cheese goodness with some veggies and flavorful herbs. I didn’t think to snap a picture until I already dug into this delight that reminded me of France:

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Apparently, during the Farmers Market hours, Spoonriver has an outdoor stand where they offer their sweet and savory crêpes as well. I wouldn’t turn one of those down.

One of the things I like about Living Social, is that sometimes after you’ve redeemed a voucher, they send an email asking what you thought of the restaurant. I gave the restaurant a “Thumbs Up” and commented, “The most colorful plates I’ve ever seen. The food was superb and love the cocktail menu! Thanks.”

I think this is the first time I ever got a reply from the restaurant!

Thank you for your kind words, Carrie! We’re happy to hear you had a positive experience dining at Spoonriver & enjoyed our creative plating :). I’ll pass along the compliments about our cocktails list to our Bartenders as well. We hope to see you again soon! Sincerely, Katie, Manager  

I don’t know whether the name Spoonriver was given because the restaurant is off the Mississippi {just a short walk!} or because you’ll be  spooning up some yummy goodness along said river in Minneapolis. Or maybe it’s for another reason entirely. All I know is that high quality, affordable, delicious meals and cocktails can be had here, whether you are taking a walk along the river, enjoying the Farmers Market or are off to a show.

Tip: Arrive early for dinner and then take your chances on “rush” tickets at The Guthrie!

 Question for you:

Crêpes – Sweet or Savory?

Cheers~
Carrie