Maverick’s Wood Grill

Twin Cities Taste®

JUDGING BY THE WAY he names his restaurants, it’s probably safe to say that James Nelson, co-owner of the Independent in Minneapolis and, now, Maverick’s Wood Grill in Champlin, prides himself on resisting the status quo. With Maverick’s, the contemporary supper club he opened this winter, Nelson tries to push the envelope in the fast food–fueled northern suburbs by introducing fresh, inventive fare.

Maverick’s contains a bar, with electronic darts and happy hour specials, and a cozy dining room, with a gas fireplace, cushy red booths, and a wall fitted with sawn-off log ends to look like the side of a giant woodpile. The roadhouse’s previous occupant, a beer and burger joint, is memorialized on the Maverick’s menu with a photo of Nelson himself dining there as a teenager. (Regrettably, the kitschy Schmidt beer lamp in the photo has been replaced by a more contemporary fixture.)

While some of Maverick’s menu items may seem daring compared to those at such suburban standbys as Subway and Papa John’s, most of the dishes could be characterized as comfort food. Judging from a recent visit, it seems chef Stephanie Hedrick is most successful when she sticks to supper-club fare—thick prime rib, a wood-grilled pork chop—or experiments within the genre’s bounds. The hamburger we tried, topped with a thick spread of tangy goat cheese and roasted tomato, exemplified her modern take on classic items. So, too, did the linguine, paired with shrimp that had been spice-rubbed and wood-grilled until they imparted a sweet, smoky flavor.

The iceberg wedge salad, on the other hand, fell just short of expectations. We were impressed with the salad’s homemade blue cheese dressing and thick hunks of bacon, but the tomatoes were so mushy and bland that they ultimately ruined the dish. Same story with the relish plate: we appreciated the energy the staff put into pickling the vegetables, but, in the end, the effort didn’t seem worthwhile. The cucumbers emerged overly sweet and the haricots verts looked and tasted like tough, withered weeds.

Missteps like these raised a question: when the kitchen does a terrific job with such simple pleasures as a soup of the day made with prime rib and fresh vegetables, why should it bother with something like a fussy vegetable tempura? (The night we visited, the tempura’s broccoli and cauliflower florets were clogged with uncooked batter.) The kitchen might be better off focusing on creatively prepared, sure-fire crowd pleasers, such as the best appetizer we tried: crispy half-moon wontons filled with jalapeño cream cheese.

Our other complaints centered on details, such as the noise caused by servers ripping brown kraft paper from a large wall-mounted roll in order to re-cover tables. The biggest disappointment, though, was a slice of apple pie—the crust mealy instead of flaky, the apples lacking in flavor. While Maverick’s has a lot to offer, it might do well to heed the advice often given to novice bakers: you can bend the rules—just don’t break them.

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