Eastern Delights

The new Eli’s East is an unlikely gem

Eli’s, the longtime Hennepin Avenue restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, fell off my radar maybe 10 years ago. My first thought to pay attention to it again was when I interviewed Steven Brown before the opening of Tilia, and he told me, “My vision is that it would be like Eli’s.” Really? Eli’s? Of all the restaurants in the Twin Cities you could emulate, you, the fine-dining chef whom every young chef in the Twin Cities looks up to, admire that little longtime burger bar?

Eli’s came up again when I was talking to young chefs about their after-shift hangouts. Here’s Landon Schoenefeld from Haute Dish: “It’s just good bar food. You don’t go to Eli’s?” All right, I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I can follow a couple of clues when they’re pre-marked with neon highlighter. So I went to the new Eli’s outpost in northeast Minneapolis with a little more curiosity than normal, wondering if the big new supper club Eli’s was something speical. Eureka!

Start off with a local beer—Eli’s East was one of the first places to carry Boom Island Brewing’s new Belgian-style ales, in addition to plenty of other local greats. And what says supper club like fried fish? Eli’s East has great tempura-battered walleye available as either a fillet or in a big po’ boy sandwich. It’s light, golden, fresh, and just right in every way.

The non-supper club fare was equally great. The pork-belly sliders were a triumph—no really, a triumph. Sweet, chubby, lacquered slabs of pork crowned with a light slaw of pickled daikon, the spicy pickles and tender little slider buns unite to  perfectly offset the richness of the pork. The burgers were also fantastic, definitely in the top 20 in the Twin Cities. Eli’s patties got points for good char on the ideally cooked meat and the overall balance of the burger. The bun was fresh, sweet, and light, and the McDonald’s-style light-pale-and-crispy fries will find many fans.

To my great shock, one of my favorite things at Eli’s is the coq au vin. I know, I know, it’s a surprisingly elite dish for a supper club. Made with Wild Acres chicken, onions, mushrooms, bacon, and served on a bed of Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, it’s everything it should be: comforting, real, tender, not too winey, not too tough—not too anything. Plus it’s an enormous plate of food for just $12.

More good news: they serve weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner every night till 1 a.m. I don’t want to oversell it: the restaurant is a fantastic supper club à la Modern Café, not a chef-driven land of fine cooking like Vincent or Lucia’s. However, if you’re looking for cheap, good, and easy, head east. Eli’s East, 815 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-331-0031, elisfoodandcocktails.com