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Thursday, March 7, 2013

DeRushaEats: How to Please The Masses Without Pandering?

DeRushaEats: How to Please The Masses Without Pandering?


Most of us agree that Applebee’s is in a general sense, not noteworthy food. And despite that one blog I wrote about my trip to TGI Friday’s, its food also is not worth the Twin Cities food audience's attention.

But so, so many people eat at these places.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of pleasing the masses without pandering to the masses. What do I mean by that? Pleasing the masses involves first of all: great service. That’s what most people want: they want to be taken care of, treated well. Pleasing the masses involves approachable food, prepared well.

But pandering to the masses involves enormous portion sizes, crappy ingredients, and tired food concepts.

Who’s pleasing the masses without pandering? I’ve been to two new places that are right on that sweet spot. Burch and Union.

Burch is absolutely genius. It's a steakhouse, with food designed to be shared (it even says “Mains To Share” right on the menu). There are three types of steak (grass-fed, Prime, Choice), with several different cuts of meat, served in small and larger sizes. I love a good steak. I never need a huge steak. To pay $25 for a smaller New York Strip I can share with my wife, and then have some of the inventive dumplings (don’t miss the veal & pork kinkhali with chili) and the delicious charred Brussels sprout salad (with pancetta and sherry) by spending just another $13 is awesome.

Photos: Dumpling, Brussels sprout salad, and cauliflower below.

cauliflowerBurch is a super-loud room (high ceilings in an old converted pharmacy isn’t a great combination), but the service even in its first week was spot-on. Warm, friendly, and attentive without being hovering. And the menu isn’t scary: it’s salads and steaks and sides like roasted cauliflower elevated just a notch (with anchovies and burrata!).

The same is true with my delicious recent lunch at Union. The menu was simple: a couple of salads, sandwiches, entrees, and desserts. The endive salad had pink lady apples, hazelnuts, and goat cheese ($10) and was perfect. The rainbow trout entrée blew my mind—grilled with crispy artichokes and ham—and was plated so beautifully.

Sometimes I get a little depressed about the choices people are making when they go out to eat—choosing chain restaurants instead of our many great locally owned restaurants. But often I think restaurateurs fail when they build restaurants for themselves rather than for the people. Burch and Union are giving me hope. We can open large-scale restaurants here that appeal to the masses, elevate the quality, and push people toward more exciting eating.

Both places pass my father-in-law test: Would I take my unadventurous relatives to eat there? Yes.

What’s on your list of places that please the masses without pandering to them?

Burch Steak and Pizza Bar
1933 Colfax Ave. S., Mpls.
612-843-1515, burchrestaurant.com

Union Restaurant
731 Hennepin Ave, Mpls.
612-455-6690, unionmpls.com

Posted on Thursday, March 7, 2013 in Permalink

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

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Mar 7, 2013 01:37 pm
 Posted by  AFG

The father or FIL test is a good one. However, for any restaurant to pass my (unadventurous) father test, parking has to be easy and most likely free. He would never put up with trying to park in Uptown. Which is why he stays in the suburbs (Maple Grove in fact) with the Granite Citys and Claddaugh's and the free parking and menus that either have 1) a burger, 2) a steak or 3) a roast beef sandwich. And also a bill for 2 under $45.

So while I completely agree with you about pandering vs. pleasing, there are a few other factors that come to the minds of "the masses" besides good food and service when they think about where to eat. It may be sad, but I think it's true.

Mar 7, 2013 04:35 pm
 Posted by  Jason DeRusha

Such a great comment, AFG. The interesting thing for me about Burch will be how tolerant Twin Citians are for valet parking. At Franklin/Hennepin - you're going to have to valet. It's taken me years to be OK with paying $8 then tipping for a valet.

Send your dad to Eat Shop in Plymouth - they're trying, at least. Any they have parking.

Mar 8, 2013 07:50 am
 Posted by  Emmysue

I think a way to please the masses without pandering to them is to do basic comfort food very well. That is why I take unadventurous eaters to Brasa. The beauty of Brasa is that you can order basics like chicken and mashed potatoes, and then experience this intense paradigm shift of how delicious those basic comfort foods can really be because there is a focus on quality and technique. I haven't had one unadventurous friend come out of that place swearing it's one of the best meals they've had. And I think that sticks with them when they go back to chains. Now they know there's places like Brasa, and that Applebee's sure ain't no Brasa.

Mar 20, 2013 06:27 pm
 Posted by  dTw

Eli's East is near Brasa in Northeast Minneapolis and does a pretty decent job of elevating comfort food a notch or two as well. Besides the comforting steak and crab cakes, there is also cumin roasted cauliflower or yellowfin tuna for the more adventurous. There is always a "regular" and vegetarian entree of the week which is typically on the adventurous side. A decent beer selection, inviting and cozy atmosphere, free parking, and a great patio (if the weather ever warms up) should appeal to the everyone. Be wary of the desserts, however. The old standards are great, but the weekly specials can be decidedly unsweet verging on the savory. Prices are reasonable to boot.

Apr 6, 2013 08:06 am
 Posted by  Jason DeRusha

Thanks DTW, I've been meaning to get to Eli's East, and now you've set a nice little menu for me!

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