A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the Savage Pacer about the opening of a new restaurant in the historic Savage Depot building in “downtown Savage” to be named The Savage Depot Bistro. It was said to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner under what the owner referred to as “light fare gourmet” and was to offer unique beer and wine choices which would not be found anywhere else. The Savage Depot Bistro was to become one of the places a person feels most comfortable–something, that according to the article, the owner illustrated as how Norm felt at Cheers.
After writing my original impression of the restaurant and being corrected by owner Jim Lewis on some of the more important details, we both continued to exchange e-mails over the coming weeks culminating with me being invited to tour the restaurant and talk about the menu and restaurant direction before it opened. I spent about an hour listening to Jim give his vision and go over his “unique” and “decadent” food, wine, and beer menu. When I left I had more questions than when I went in but hoped that once I sat down inside and ate the food that was described to me that it would all come together.
On Saturday I met up with Kim, Laura, and Mr. and Mrs. Marcos for dinner at The Savage Depot Bistro. A tiny little red building that presides over the parking lot which sits between “downtown Savage” and the approximately 57,000 cars whizzing by every day on MN-13. The building is a piece of Savage history. A restored, 130 year old, train depot which is owned by the City of Savage is meant to double as a restaurant and a living display of Savage history. As you walk in you are greeted by an open space with an ordering counter. The counter has a glass enclosure which holds desserts, beers, wines, drinks, to go containers of homemade salsas, and other treats served at the restaurant. The owners have done their homework and proudly display a ton of Savage history on their walls including the all important Dan Patch and many framed pictures of Savage railroad history.
We were a bit confused by the format of the restaurant. While I had been there before I didn’t realize that it was going to be a counter ordering format. Because of the small space and the lack of direction, a lot of people just seemed to be milling about and with staff crowding behind the single register it just seemed stuffy in the entryway. After looking over the beers offered and the menu hung on the wall, we finally had our opportunity to place an order. They took our name and Kim and I went “upstairs” (literally a few steps) into the dining area. Jim asked how many were in our party tonight and slid two unevenly sized tables together for us to dine at while the rest of our party put their orders in.
The dining room is cozy with seating for maybe 25 and the centerpiece of which is a beautiful fireplace with a keystone that commemorates the opening of the depot back in 1880. Half of the floor is carpeted and the rest is the original rough wood flooring used in the depot all those years ago. There are two huge sliding doors, one which looks out on the drive-through lane and beautiful MN-13 beyond and the other leads to an enclosed porch which will permit some additional outdoor seating.
After getting us all down together, our food started to arrive. Following the confusing ordering format, there was now a confusing delivery format as well. The rest of the members at my table suggested that instead of just taking names that they should instead hand out numbers like Culver’s or Noodles and Company so that the servers will know where to plop the food down. The appetizers came out slowly and we were originally missing one of our items but we eventually got everything we were looking for.
Mr. and Mrs. Marcos ordered the chips and salsa and Kim and I went with the fried green beans and the sweet potato fries. The salsa and chips are both made in house and while the chips were tasty, the salsa really just didn’t do it for me. Our fried green beans came out first and were quite nice. The beans were crisp and bright green and the batter wasn’t too terribly greasy. I had to pick Kim’s jaw up off the floor when we were informed that there was no ranch dressing to be had. It was suggested that we go with bleu cheese as that was “like ranch” (uhh no it’s not). Instead we decided to go with their Dreamy Creamy sour cream (yes Ben J, you were right, the owner of La Luz is there and has brought some things with him) something that we missed once La Luz closed its doors in Apple Valley. I don’t know what restaurant these days, especially one serving salads, cheese curds, onion rings and other fried treats, doesn’t have ranch on the menu but when you’re suggesting marinara or bleu cheese to dip fried green beans in, I suggest that you seriously think about adding it to the menu–yesterday. Our sweet potato fries came with an interesting sounding brown sugar marshmallow dip. And while the fries were perfect, the sauce wasn’t a favorite. It didn’t taste anything like I would have expected and Kim, Laura, and I agreed it tasted like and had the consistency of Thousand Island dressing. At first we thought they had screwed up and were serving us the wrong sauce but then we saw another table receive the exact same thing. While I like dressing, I don’t think it belongs on sweet potato fries.
Our orders began coming out soon after. I went with their pesto chicken and Kim ordered a Reuben. Mr. Marcos picked up a turkey sandwich, Mrs. Marcos chose the nightly special (walleye sandwich), and Laura went with their caprese.
All of their sandwiches are served on rolls from a local bakery supplier. While the bread looked fantastic, my sandwich was sorely lacking in anything except bread. The sandwich was cut in half and at first I thought it came without the advertised onions but after eating the first half I found them all hiding on the other. Aside from the onions, the sandwich was sloppy as hell. I felt like an 8 year old eating his first Big Mac (true story) as more of sandwich ended up on my hands than in my mouth. The homemade chips that came alongside the sandwich were very tasty. They had a nice potato flavor and the perfect amount of salt. All the sandwiches came with three tiny pickles but to be honest, they just weren’t my thing. I think the look of horror on my face as I bit into the first one kept most of the rest of the table, including Kim who’s a huge pickle fan, from eating theirs. I’m sure some will love them but I prefer a run of the mill pickle to those three any day.
Kim’s sandwich looked really tasty. The corned beef didn’t appear to be your typical deli meat and instead came in big chunks. The sauerkraut was plentiful but I didn’t see much Thousand Island dressing. When I think Reuben, I think grilled marble rye, meat, and sauerkraut with a huge bowl of dressing to dip it in. Aside from the meat and sauerkraut this just didn’t cut the mustard and Kim was not impressed enough to finish even half which left more for me. Already believing the dip for the sweet potato fries to be Thousand Island dressing I decided to dip her remaining Reuben pieces in that. While it was a bit sweeter than I would have liked, it was definitely tasty. So if you don’t like the sweet potato dip, at least you know it can double down to wet your Reuben if you so choose.
Laura’s caprese was certainly “unique”. It included your typical mozzarella and tomatoes but did not include basil nor any discernible dressing. It did have a pile of sauteed onions on top which completely threw me and definitely sets it aside from any other caprese I’ve ever had. I usually see them served with a healthy drizzle of balsamic vinegar but the only thing Laura could see was a light swath of what appeared to be olive oil across the top of the bread. Personally after looking at the photo I’d guess that they forgot the dressing and that little bit of olive oil across the top is really just oil and/or butter from the sauteed onions.
Mrs. Marcos requested that her special come with chips and not German potato salad. After a quick fix in the kitchen it was back out and in front of her. She seemed to be ok with the dish and I didn’t hear too many complaints, yet, from her.
Mr. Marcos went with a turkey sandwich and polished it all off right quick. I immediately noticed the La Luz bread influence and noted that it was very much like their pressed Cuban-style sandwiches. If I ever return I may just have to pick up one of those for old-times sake. Hell, why not throw some of those old favorites back on the menu to draw in some of the food fans of La Luz?
Kim and Laura split a half order of one of The Savage Depot Bistro’s special cakes. During my meeting with Jim I was told they were made by a woman who lives about two blocks away and is known as “The Cake Lady” by the locals. She has been making wedding cakes for 20+ years and has agreed to make some smaller cakes for the restaurant. While I didn’t get any pictures of them in the case, they appear to be tiny wedding cakes, without the bride and groom on top, and are pretty pricey. Kim and Laura split a half of carrot cake (1/4 cake each) and I was fairly surprised to see the tiny little mouthful portion served for about $2.75/ea. Kim didn’t eat it until she got home but to be perfectly honest, it tasted like carrot cake and certainly not $2.75 worth *shrug*.
As I said above, The Savage Depot Bistro has a couple of great ideas but to be blunt, they just don’t work together, yet. They are trying to be three things, all of which could be done very well but after what we saw yesterday obviously need some work to get them working together:
1. A wine bar (please note: I’m a $10 bottle of wine fan, take what I say here with some salt)
While there’s a cheese plate on the menu and there are salads, I just don’t see anything else I would want to pair a $40 to $200 bottle of wine with. Wine does not go with a Reuben or onion rings. I suppose you could have it with a cracker-thin flat bread pizza but that’s just not something I’d do. While I didn’t care for the pricing at Lakeville’s Mainstreet After Hours, at least those menu items seemed to be more in line with what I envision a menu tailored to those that appreciate wine than cheese curds and turkey sandwiches.
2. A restaurant that only serves craft beers only
I love craft beers and I like the idea of a place that serves them inexpensively ($4 a bottle isn’t overcharging for their selection by any means). Unfortunately, as I was told during my meeting with Jim, they will not be serving any domestic beers. If someone wants a domestic beer Jim suggests that travel across the parking lot to Niesen’s as they cater to that clientele and do it very well but that’s not who he wants to attract. A very noble effort Jim but while plenty of people enjoy a craft beer, many more people enjoy a domestic, especially in this market. $2 for a bottle of Mich Golden Light or $4 for a Left Hand? I don’t think I need to tell you which is going to sell better, bring more people into your establishment, and go together better with those cheese curds and onion rings.
3. Unique and decadent
I think I’ve covered this enough already but I can’t reiterate it enough I guess. Please refrain from saying your menu is unique. It’s just not and no matter how many times you try to tell people onion rings are decadent, it’s not going to change the fact that they’re greasy, fried, battered onions served at nearly every other restaurant and bar in the world.
Overall? The food was fine and it was very reasonably priced (
two one app (we ordered two but were only charged for one–I just noticed it as we looked at the receipt here. If we had known, we would have taken care of it at the restaurant, sorry about that), two sandwiches, and a beer for $25.50 before tip). It wasn’t unique and it wasn’t decadent but it’ll do. While I’d probably go back if I was in the area, I see absolutely no reason to make the drive from Apple Valley. I can get everything on the menu there at any number of local establishments around town. They have some work to do but with a little time and a few tweaks (domestic beer, ranch dressing, take people’s orders at the table or give them a number on a stick) I think that this could be a successful little spot in Savage. But the first thing is that the owners need to drop the holier than thou attitude and that they are somehow above the general restaurant goer in the South Metro. Pushing $100 bottles of wine and $4 craft beers instead of what people are really gunning for in this market just doesn’t bode well for a new restaurant in town that’s competing with tried and true favorites 400 feet in either direction.
Have you eaten at The Savage Depot Bistro? If so, what did you think? Go ahead and comment on (I have moved the comments from the previous post under this one already for history’s sake) as we’d love to hear what you have to say.
The Savage Depot Bistro
4800 W 123rd St
Savage, MN 55378
See all the pictures from The Savage Depot Bistro on Flickr here.