For all Nicollet Avenue’s culinary diversity—pig ears, flaming cheese, bowls of pho—decent steaks tend to make themselves scarce between downtown Minneapolis and Kingfield’s Corner Table, some 40 blocks south. Ditto craft cocktails. But the recent arrival of Eat Street Social adds a trendier, more upscale experience to a strip generally populated with casual noodle shops.
Eat Street Social inhabits the onetime home of Tacos Morelos on 26th Street and is modeled after the owners’ first restaurant, Northeast Social. This Social the Second retains the friendly vibe of the original while also incorporating the nightlife scene of Azia, which recently returned to the corner. Between the opening of those two eateries, plus a new Dunn Brothers, the Vertical Endeavors climbing gym, and forthcoming restaurant/music venue Icehouse (whew!), the node is gentrifying faster than a hipster can pedal a fixed-gear bike. Sam Bonin, who owns both Socials with Joe Wagner, is quick to express his confidence in his team’s location-scouting skills: “If Social’s moving into your neighborhood,” he says, “your property value is about to go up.”
Succeeding a favorite experience with a sequel can sometimes present a greater risk than starting from scratch. Fortunately, the Social concept has made a seamless transition.
At first blush, the new restaurant closely mimics its predecessor, with a sleek black bar, handsome brick walls, and antique tin ceiling. Northeast Social fans will recognize the same French bistro chairs and Nicholas Harper paintings of aloof women with eerily elongated necks that gave the first restaurant a quirky, personal appeal. And though the Eat Street space is much larger than Northeast’s—it holds five times as many guests when the private party room and patio are included—the traditions remain the same. When the social bell clangs, you know what to do: raise your glass and share a toast. (The most endearing part? If you’ve emptied your drink, the bartenders will pour a swig of beer from their glass to yours.)
Despite its larger size, Eat Street Social has the same undeniably social atmosphere, the result of the staff’s chatty hospitality and the intimacy of the room. The place is popular enough that you’re bound to encounter someone you already know, and communal enough to make the acquaintance of someone you don’t.
Eat Street Social’s expanded beverage program is the biggest upgrade from Social 1.0, which serves only wine and beer. The new restaurant features craft cocktails and soda-fountain drinks developed by some of the best bar talent in town: Nick Kosevich, of the now-shuttered Town Talk Diner, and Ira Koplowitz, Kosevich’s partner in the artisanal bitters company Bittercube and an alumnus of Chicago’s famed speakeasy The Violet Hour. Their drink list pays homage to classic combinations, but makes a few tweaks. For example, the Tea and T is a seasonal spin on the gin-based summer refresher, infusing the base spirit with black tea and then combining it with lime, seltzer, and a house-made tonic with wintry spices reminiscent of mulled wine.
The most distinctive drink, which quickly became my favorite, is the Copper Dagger. Its two main components are Averna Amaro, an Italian digestif, and Lemon Hart 151, an obscure Demerara rum that was once a staple of tiki drinks, much like the equally obscure Javanese spirit Batavia Arrack. But you don’t need to know Batavia from Bacardi to appreciate the drink’s complexity. In cocktail geek-speak, the bold, dark flavors of bitter, herbal molasses are brightened by a sweet-tart kiss of St. Germain and lemon juice, and leavened by egg-white froth. In layperson’s terms, that translates to, “I’ll have another.”
Kosevich and Koplowitz have also introduced several old-fashioned soda-fountain favorites, including a classic Bronx Egg Cream and its maple syrup–based cousin. But, unless you grew up with the drinks, you’ll probably find the flavors less appealing than the nostalgia. When the weather heats up, better to choose the delightful Social Fritz, a blueberry-grapefruit cordial with seltzer and bitters, or a beer—though the brew list is overshadowed by the cocktails and sodas, it’s easily the most interesting in the neighborhood.
Chef Geoff Little, who came to Eat Street from Northeast, shares the bartenders’ ingredient-first philosophy. His simple gastropub fare is more about comfort than innovation, with a focus on sourcing locally and making as much as possible from scratch.
Most of the entreés are straightforward and hearty, though not particularly memorable. A duo of pork pairs moist slices of tenderloin with tender rib meat. Gnocchi swim in a pool of truffle oil. And while the restaurant isn’t intending to be a serious temple of haute cuisine (see: the copulating rabbits depicted on the restroom walls), the kitchen considers details carefully. Grilled sausages are made in house. The orange slices in the arugula salad are meticulously supremed. Fish is cooked so its skin is perfectly crisp while its flesh stays delicate. But while these three items are among the best dishes on the menu, I don’t think any is spectacular enough to become a part of the restaurant’s identity.
A few more cuisine changes at Eat Street: the addition of lunch, brunch, and a more ambitious dessert list. The neighborhood lacks a go-to brunch spot, so while neither the biscuits and gravy nor the lobster and scrambled eggs are worth a drive across town, they’re an upgrade from the humbler options nearby. My favorite item from Northeast Social’s menu is the heavenly rosemary-honey panna cotta. Fortunately, this sweet, woodsy ambrosia made the move to Eat Street, and is now joined by even more daring creations. The rum cake topped with Italian meringue is like a grown-up Twinkie served with diced tropical fruit and a sprinkle of cracking-hot pink peppercorns. The French-style coeur à la crème is presented as a deconstructed cheesecake—though its light, mousse-like texture makes cheesecake’s richness seem brutish. There are sweet macerated cherries on top, and graham cracker crumbs piled up like a sand dune in lieu of a crust. It’s absolutely fabulous.
Overall, Eat Street Social is well positioned to attract those who have aged out of the club scene, but still want to feel like they went “out” for the night. It’s versatile enough to feel everyday or fancy—a place to go for burgers, or, of course, for that steak. There’s a grilled sirloin on the regular menu for $19, but if it’s among the specials, shell out another $6 for the New York Strip with bourbon-cherry demi glace.
Northeast Social’s new sibling, Eat Street Social, gussies up Nicollet Avenue with craft cocktails and gastropub fare.
Ideal Meal: Mixed-greens with kumquat, fennel, and pickled radish, and the onion marmalade/preserved tomato-topped burger. Tip: From 3-6 p.m., enjoy discounted drinks and Brazilian-style snacks like picanha, a sirloin cut that’s hard to find outside of Fogo de Chão. Hours: Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.-1 a.m. Prices: Most entrees $15-$20. Address: Eat Street Social, 18 W. 26th St., Mpls., 612-767-6850, eatstreetsocial.com