Archive for the ‘Bars and Pubs’

Smack Shack: Minneapolis, MN

Disclaimer: As part of Smack Shack’s soft opening four of us were invited to dine for free to give the new restaurant a test before it officially opens to the public. We received comped items (everything except our alcoholic beverages) as part of this event. The total bill (including alcohol) came to about $240. Please take the following review with as much salt as you feel is required following this government mandated disclaimer.

Last night I met up with Lefty across the street from Black Sheep in The Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis to check out the latest food truck conversion to brick and mortar, Smack Shack.

Smack Shack has been one of the more popular food trucks and while I never got around to trying it while I worked downtown, I had heard great things about what they served and I was VERY excited to get a chance to try them out prior to their official opening (which is today). The space is beautiful. 8,000 square feet of modern, industrial beauty with two floors, an open kitchen showing off a two level lobster tank and gigantic kettle for lobster and shrimp boil, large bar area, and an even larger outdoor patio. Honestly, the place is impressive as soon as you walk in the door.

We were seated in the bar area and were served right away by a self-admitted nervous server who was very friendly and was trying very hard to make us happy. The menu was a typical preview night partial menu where you ordered one item from each section and were offered some shared desserts. Because there was four of us at the table and most of us ordered different items, we ended up with a pretty decent cross-section of what was available to us. For the first course we ordered Lorraine’s Lump Crab Cakes, the Smoked Pork Tacos, the Warm Smoked Duck, and Oysters (6). We went with the Newcastle Battered Perch Po Boy, Lobster Cioppino, and two orders of the Lonely Lobster Boil as our entrees and we got orders of both the baked beans and seasoned fries for our sides.

As with many preview nights, the service was spotty and disjointed. We received some of our appetizers on time and others not until much later; however, we did end up with an order of Lobster Corn Dogs to try because of the confusion. The Corn Dogs are a food truck staple and included a lemon chive aioli.

The appetizers arrived in several sessions with the oysters and the crab cakes arriving well before the duck and pork tacos. The oysters were supposed to number 6 but the pile that arrived at table were nearly double that number. Aside from literal mouthful of shell I got on my first oyster and the remaining shards that littered my mouth for the next two oysters, they were fine. The presentation was nice, the oysters were tasty, and the lemon and hot sauce (on the table already) abundant; however, the mignonette was too vinegary for my tastes and the horseradish (which we later decided may have been shredded radish) was so weak that forkfuls didn’t do anything for the three of us who tried it.

The crab cakes were extremely weak and tasted only of breading and the maque choux they sat upon. While the maque choux had some good flavor, it closely resembled a puddle of putrid green puke and it really took away from the subtle flavors of the crab which were already greatly muted by the breading. As someone who enjoys making crab cakes at home for The Wife, these were an insane disappointment for me and a definite pass for the rest of the people at the table.

Eventually the Warm Smoked Duck arrived at the table. It came with frisee, green apple, pickled cherries, goat cheese, glazed pecans and griddled milk bread. The textures were fantastic. Offsetting the crunch of the green apple and pecans were the soft and tart pickled cherries and the super creamy goat cheese. The duck, while having no smoke flavor, was tender and luscious. This dish was the smash hit of the evening with Lefty commenting that he would love to grab it to go for dinner; in fact, he boxed up what was left(y) to take home with him–the only item of last night which received such a treatment.

Much later, after some hounding, the Smoked Pork Tacos arrived at the table. There were two ($7 on the menu) and included tasteless, tough pork with no smoke flavor covered in an overpowering combination of tomatillo salsa and chili lime crema. The cilantro was wilted and looked cooked setting this one up for a visual failure. The liquid which ran out all over the plate rounded out this failure.

While some of us were eating our apps, Lefty’s Lonely Lobster Boil arrived. A sad presentation for sure, this dish was actually decent according to both of those at the table who tried it. The lobster was tender and sweet and the meat abundant. While it wasn’t something I would have ordered, especially after seeing it and tasting it, it ended up being one of the favorites of the evening–a good thing since ‘lobster’ is such a prominent part of the Smack Shack brand.

My Newcastle Battered Perch Po Boy was out next. It was a good size, especially for the price ($9.50) and included a ton of lightly battered perch. While the perch itself was lovely, the rest of the sandwich, namely the whole grain mustard tartar sauce and the cabbage slaw, really ruined everything that was good about the perch. Much like the crab cakes and tacos, the items accompanying the protein simply overpowered the dish instead of making the flavors really pop.

While we had some hits and misses so far, the biggest miss of the evening was the Lobster Cioppino. A tasteless conglomeration of great seafood, this should have been the run away favorite. Instead the tasteless broth somehow was able to overpower similarly tasteless proteins. I only had one mussel from the dish but it really had zero flavor. So very odd.

While I *REALLY* wanted to *LOVE* Smack Shack, I couldn’t bring myself to say it was worth it. While I realize it was a preview night, I would have expected some of the items to really shine but instead I’m sort of left having to say mediocre dishes were good (lobster boil). The misses were big (pork, crab cakes, cioppino, etc) and the hits were barely so. For the prices they were charging, their history as a popular truck, and the space they’re trying to fill I would expect so much more.

Have you tried Smack Shack’s restaurant in Minneapolis? If so what did you think? What did you have? What would you like to order in the future? Whatever you have to say about this one go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Smack Shack (brick and mortar)
603 Washington Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55401


See all the pictures from Smack Shack’s new brick and mortar joint on Flickr here.

Is Driving After One Drink That Bad?

As you may know, the Lakeville School District’s North High School’s athletic director recently plead guilty to his second DUI in the last four years. While he has sought treatment and the school district is behind his attempt at recovery, according to an article in SunThisweek, many parents are up in arms over this DUI and some provided very strong opinions about his drinking and driving.

From the article:

In an email, Gail Rutan said she was “appalled” by the situation and asked for his dismissal.

“His role is so much more than a teacher,” she wrote in the Jan. 4 email. “He is in charge of addressing all of the issues of alcohol and drug issues with students and parents. There is NEVER a reason to get behind the wheel of a car after even one drink. By not taking actions, which the community is aware of, you seem to be condoning his behavior. This is very confusing for the students and community.”

Katherine Grant-Erickson said in an email Ertl should be “made an example of what NOT to do.”

While I certainly do not condone DWI, especially a second offense, I cannot see how people can justify wanting to oust an individual who sought treatment and is actively working on his sobriety simply because he holds a district position. While people are free to share their opinions, it would seem that the comment from Gail Rutan is by far the most ridiculous. Claiming there is “NEVER” any reason for someone who has had one drink to get behind the wheel is asinine. We have laws which permit those who have a reasonable amount to drink to operate a vehicle legally. Drinking alcohol is an acceptable thing to do for adults and to claim otherwise harkens back to the failed experiment of the 1920s and early 1930s. Gail, by all means abstain from driving after drinking one adult beverage but the rest of us are free to do so within known limits.

What do you think about this one? Should an apparent alcoholic who was immediately upfront about the DWI and who entered treatment to try and resolve the problem be treated differently than others simply because he’s an athletic director of a public school? Do you think there is a valid reason to get behind the wheel of a car after one drink? Whatever you have to say about this one go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2012 Lazy Lightning Restaurant Reviews/Rankings

Just as I did in 2009, 2010, and 2011; I ranked the restaurants we visited in 2012. I have provided a South Metro ranking and a ranking for those North of the River as well.


1. These restaurants were ones we visited and reviewed in 2012 only. They are not comprehensive across the 7+ years the site has been reviewing and they are not meant to suggest these restaurants are the best or worst in the area overall. They’re simply a 1 to 33 ranking of those we visited and reviewed in 2012. If you fail to understand this please realize we will ridicule you mercilessly.

2. Aside from Copper River which I reviewed twice in one year; I have visited some of these restaurants on more than one occasion but I took only the first visit for the review into account during the ranking.

3. While the top few and bottom 10 or 11 are pretty set, those which appear in the middle are more squishy.

Restaurants North of the River:

1. Cafe Lurcat
2. Butcher and the Boar
3. Crave at MoA
4. RedRossa Italian Grille
5. Pizzeria Lola
6. Cheeky Monkey Deli
7. iPho by Saigon
8. Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub

Restaurants South of the River:

1. Copper River Fish & Chop House (second review)
2. Technique
3. Tawakal
4. Spice Thai Cafe
5. El Parian
6. Nha Sang
7. The Buckboard
8. Burnsville Ale House
9. Panini Grill
10. The Rack Bar and Grill
11. Wicked Palate Food Truck
12. Classic Saigon
13. Saigon Palace
14. Black Stallion Saloon
15. Byblos Lebanese Grill
16. Betty’s Cafe and Pies
17. Pita Plus (closed)
18. Piccolo’s Pizzeria
19. Lone Oak Grill
20. Steak America

Going back over the list of the 32 restaurants we reviewed (some are not listed here because they don’t fall into my definition of NOTR/SOTR such as Tonka Bay or Cannon Falls) I was shocked at just how many were absolutely awful experiences. 11 of the restaurants across the 32 were borderline miserable with several of them being completely and utterly inedible. Moving my workplace from downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville had really affected the reviewing this year, much to my dismay, but at least some of these, while disgusting and expensive, were fun to write about.

It takes a lot of work to end up at the bottom of the Lazy Lightning yearly review lists and with such competition it was a battle to determine some of these. But, no matter how I ran the numbers and no matter how many times I read through the reviews, two restaurants stood out as the worst reviewed this year. First is Northbound Brewpub in Minneapolis. Not only was the food miserable to eat and we got the stinkeye from the chef, they earned a big F- in their handling of the situation on social media–seriously, get a big clue and grow up. However, Steak America reigned supreme as the single worst restaurant of the year, and, of all time. Yes folks, Steak America is the WORST restaurant ever to disgrace the Minneapolis/St Paul Metro Area. Considering the tough competition over the last 7 years, that’s quite an accomplishment. FWIW, Steak America refused my offer to deliver a bowling trophy I found at Goodwill topped with a piece of beef jerky covered in gold leaf. They took particular offense to my calling it the “2012 Disgusting and Lazy Restaurateur Award”. I thought it would go great on their fireplace mantle, how about you?!

What do you think about the rankings here? Do you agree with how the restaurants you tried yourself rank above? What restaurants would you like to see us hit in 2013? Which ones do you think you’re going to try? Whatever you have to say about the 2012 Restaurant Ranking List go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Restaurant Server Labels Table of Women ‘Fat Girls’

Yesterday the news media was all over a story of three women who received their tab at the casino restaurant they were dining at and noticed it labeled their table as ‘Fat Girls’. Their server did not enter this information into the Point of Sale computer, someone else did; however, when they complained, the manager offered only a 25% discount on their meal.

At least one of the three women breaks down in tears in one of the many interviews floating around the web about this story. It’s clear they realize they are overweight and are probably suffering in many ways because of it. However, it was certainly crude, rude, and downright nasty for those working the restaurant that day to be referring to their table as the ‘Fat Girls’.

As someone who struggles with his weight, including a very recent severe weight gain after losing a considerable amount of weight back in 2007, I can empathize with this group. While I would have complained in this space right here, I don’t know if I would have taken the label to heart as they did but that doesn’t make it right. The management of this restaurant and casino are trying to make things right after the fact but they better have a plan in place to be proactive in their training programs to ensure stupidity like this does not happen again at their establishment.

What do you think about this one? What could the manage have done to make it right from the outset? Knowing the server who did do this was only on suspension pending the outcome of an investigation, do you think they should have been outright fired? Do you think the women are overreacting? Whatever you have to say about this one go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.