Willernie, the vest-pocket-sized burg wedged between White Bear Lake and Mahtometi, used to have a bowling alley. Now, that bowling alley has been turned into the Hanger Room, the latest venture of chef Leonard Anderson, formerly of W.A. Frost. After eating there, I’ll never look at eating in a bowling alley the same way again.
The renovation is spectacular: on one side, a cozy, wood-paneled, fine-dining restaurant. On the other, a great small-town bar with 80 (yes, 80!) beers on tap.
The menu has a similar split personality of high-cuisine aspirations and down-home realities. The duck tenders, made of juicy duck meat, weren’t exactly pretty, but the larger pieces were delicious. (The smaller ones didn’t quite capture the duck taste.)
The mussels and fries, on the other hand, were dynamite all around. Simmered in a white-wine broth with red peppers and chorizo, the mussels had flavor that was explosive. One of my friends wanted a straw to drink up all that juice.
Speaking of juice, be sure to check out those beers. Don’t be afraid to dive in and try something new. Our server brought us samples before we ordered and said she had tasted all 80. The wine list is equally extensive with hundreds of bottles to choose from. Luckily, the staff are happy to help you sort through it.
Although the menu shoots for a 300-point game, the entrées deliver both strikes and sighs. The steaks are spectacular: they are hanged to age on-site, giving cuts like the 28-day aged New York strip a rich and meaty taste—and the cranberry-black pepper reduction used to prepare it was amazing. However, the roasted-mushroom flatbread missed the mark: the caramelized onion overwhelmed the taste of the mushrooms, and the goat cheese and balsamic reduction didn’t quite come together. The Fischer Farms pork belly was good but not great: a beautiful dish with crispy skin, the flavor was a little lacking. The chorizo risotto beneath it, however, was addictively good. So score it a spare.
The Hanger Room is ambitious and largely successful. But like any bowler will tell you, when you aim for a 300 game, you sometimes end up with a gutter ball.
The Hanger Room, 310 Stillwater Rd., Willernie, 651-429-1477, thehangerroom.com