Are great restaurants about art or commerce? For the latest in both sides of this argument report directly to Urban Eatery, which recently took over the ground floor of the Calhoun Beach Club in Minneapolis. ¶ Urban Eatery is brought to you by the team behind Crave, the ultra-successful Edina-based national restaurant chain known for its one-of-everything-upscale-people-love-to-eat menu—sushi, wood-fired pizza, steaks and chops, seafood, salads, burgers, fried calamari, Cajun pasta, risotto, et cetera ad infinitum. Last spring, the chain, led by head chef Eli Wollenzien (of Pickled Parrot, Zelo, and Kokomo’s Island Café), made news in the local food world by hiring Jim Kyndberg, former chef of the late and lamented Bayport Cookery, one of Minnesota’s most artful restaurants. Then, a few months ago, the company tapped JP Samuelson—notably of the also late and lamented JP American Bistro—to run their new Italian restaurant, Sopranos, located in the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park. It seemed like a potentially game-changing local restaurant story: Top management hires top chefs! Art and commerce no longer enemies! Life perfected! ¶ So I went to Urban Eatery with high hopes: could the addition of such chefs up the level of heart and finesse in Crave’s ventures? Unfortunately, the answer is, well…sometimes. ¶ What I found at Urban Eatery was a more focused menu than is often the case at Crave restaurants. The focus: things 20-somethings like to eat in bars. The preparation: sometimes aces, sometimes slapdash and greasy.
One ace dish is the appetizer of Asian pork sliders, which are actually seasoned, sweet, and gingery pork patties in the style of Vietnamese nem nuong. They’re served in steamed rice buns—just a lovely few bites of bright vibrancy. Also excellent was the spicy lamb burger, made with fresh herbs and served with a dollop of fresh goat cheese. It’s the perfect burger to go with an inexpensive, intense red wine, of which Urban Eatery has many good options, or a good rich microbrew, which Urban Eatery also has in excellent supply.
The more slapdash dishes, however, included a breakfast burrito filled with burnt onions and the smoked-duck nachos, made with pallid chips drowned in cheese. Also on the list was a grilled pizza in which the cracker-like crust was swamped by handfuls of stewed tomatoes.
Will the twenty-somethings who were flooding the place on my visit care? Given its weekend make-your-own-bloody-Mary bar and welcoming college rec-room feel, fashioned from alternating barnwood and chalkboard walls, I’d guess no. But will any discriminating adult visit Urban Eatery twice? Nope. Which makes me consider another aspect of the art-versus-commerce rivalry: There’s no arguing with success like Crave’s—but if you can’t argue with it, is there any chance of improving it?
The best restaurant in the history of the Calhoun Beach Club. Which isn’t saying much, but it’s now a very decent place for microbrews and lamb burgers.
Ideal Meal: Fresh guacamole and a pork slider or lamb burger, with a Lift Bridge Chestnut Hill beer. Tip: Late-night happy hour is their best meal, with tasty sliders and great prices. Hours: Monday–Wednesday, 4–11 p.m.; Thursday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–1 a.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Prices: Entrées $8 to $19. Address: 2730 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-920-5000, myurbaneatery.com