Is the 1029 bar a dive? It’s certainly a one-thousand-percent-authentic old-school Minneapolis cop bar, with a police-cruiser door mounted on one wall and a heck of a lot of brassieres from female fans of law enforcement tacked upon the walls. The bar has pull-tabs and meat raffles. Dive is in the eye of the beholder, but any which way you slice it this is a jeans place, not a white-silk ball gown place. However, if you are not dressed as, or dining with, the Queen of England, the 1029 may be the dive bar of your dreams. Why? Because the Smack Shack, one of the most noble of last summer’s street-food trucks, has set up permanent shop at the 1029 and is serving dinner there every Wednesday through Saturday night. And the food is simply blissful.
The Smack Shack, of course, is the lobster-specialty operation founded by Josh Thoma, the one-time La Belle Vie and Bar La Grassa founding partner who broke with his various partners in a well-publicized flurry of financial disagreements. He started over with his truck, the Smack Shack (named for a traditional fishing boat, a lobster smack), and a menu whose highlight is lobster rolls: butter-grilled milk-bread rolls from Salty Tart overfilled with crimson Atlantic lobster meat as fresh and sweet as lobster is at its best, lightly touched with a lemon aioli and big leaves of tarragon. However, when Thoma sold Solera last November, he lost his ability to use Solera’s kitchens, water, and so forth. (Solera, the Twin Cities’ leading tapas bar, was sold to Graves World Hospitality of Cosmos, the Bradstreet, etc. Graves has renovated it to be more of a Spanish restaurant, with paella on constant offer and a livelier dining room.) Thoma needed a new home kitchen, the 1029 needed better food, and, thus, the most unexpected food development of the year occurred: food fit for white tablecloths meets meat raffles.
Of course, the dish to order at Smack Shack is the lobster roll—and I heartily recommend the King Roll. Even though it’s terrifically costly at $20, it’s such a gargantuan and spectacular amount of lobster that it’s worth it. Other joys include a shrimp basket that is the only shrimp basket worth eating in the entire state: filled with tender shrimp robed in a veil of tempura batter, these shrimp are as unlike the rubbery pellets of stuff and breading that pass for shrimp baskets in the rest of the universe as rubber pencil erasers are unlike sunbeams. The lobster grilled-cheese sandwich, made with lively, lovely Taleggio and thin pencils of grilled asparagus, is perfect—lush, decadent, fresh, and haunting, the contrasting and harmonizing flavors of irony asparagus, toasty bread, sweet lobster, and rich cheese come together like a majestic symphony. Will you yourself enjoy this culinary dream of a dive? That might depend on whether you’re dining with the Queen of England, or just someone who can appreciate the magic of a northeast cop bar serving food fit for a queen. 1029 Bar & Grill, 1029 Marshall St. NE, Mpls., 612-331-0105, the1029bar.com