Walking into Betty Danger’s Country Club, Leslie Bock’s newest addition to the Northeast riverfront dining scene, it’s difficult to dredge up memories of the space’s former life as the original Psycho Suzi’s. That restaurant had been dimly lit, with an often frustratingly small indoor seating capacity and a few tempered nods to the tiki-bar theme Bock doubled down on when it expanded into its current home several blocks away. For the next couple of years, the sign out front the old space read simply: “We’ve moved.”
Those of us who still had occasion to drive by the sad intersection of Marshall St. and Lowry Ave. turned our eyes with hope to the sign’s new message when it appeared in 2013: “Betty Danger’s Coming Soon.” We watched as the car wash with inspirational messages on its marquee was shuttered and torn down and the Ferris wheel went up in its place, giving a drive toward Northeast over the Lowry Bridge a splash of dazzle.
The new restaurant opened quietly between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It quickly became clear that Bock (who also owns St. Sebrina’s Parlour in Purgatory and Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den in addition to Psycho Suzi’s) has given us her most outlandish creation yet: a mad send-up of snobbery, what you might get if you asked Hunter S. Thompson to design a restaurant as he was peaking.
The inspiration for Betty Danger’s came when Bock’s application to join a country club (in an effort to take up golfing) was denied. While most of us would have written a nasty Yelp review and moved on, she channeled her indignation into creating a whole new world: a “country club for the 99%,” set in the fictional village of Mexampton. The grounds are peppered with fake animals, a mini-golf course, Astroturf carpeting, and of course the iconic Ferris wheel (or “revolving vertical patio”). Inside, it’s all garish colors, loud wallpaper, disembodied plastic animal parts, and a vibe of welcoming fun.
The commitment to the gimmick is complete, from the menus, which arrive tucked inside “True Prep” handbooks, to the dishes’ names (taco options include the Parker, Winthrop, or The Muffy) to the mythology of Mexampton (helpfully detailed on the website) to the option to buy one of three levels of membership at the club. The servers are like the naughtiest kids at a prep school: mischievous and well-heeled, pairing plaid hair bows with pierced noses.
But all the gimmickry in the world isn’t worth much if the grub doesn’t hold up. Luckily, the food and drink are a worthy match for the place’s aesthetic ambitions. “Mexampton” cuisine combines elements of Mexican food (tacos, enchiladas, stuffed and grilled tortillas called “melties”) with accent notes straight from the Hamptons (the “Foxcroft”: red wine braised beef over romano mashed potatoes).
Spice levels in Mexamption run hotter than in the surrounding city of Minneapolis, so “spicy” on the menu actually means spicy. Cool the pleasant flush that comes after a few bites of the excellent, buttery-hot Cast Iron Shrimp with one of the four margaritas on offer, all of which go for a bargain $6 during happy hour (er, “tea time”), 4 – 6 PM, Monday through Friday. Or wash down the Kingsley (tender, flavorful beer braised chicken layered with cheese in an enchilada topped with legitimately spicy chili-habanero sauce) with a pint of one of the nearby brewpub’s wares–both the Bauhaus Wonderstuff and Indeed Day Tripper are on the tap list.
If there’s one thing Bock nails every time, it’s the creation of a transporting but accessible experience. Sure, it’s easy to feel like you’ve entered another world when dining on oysters and champagne cocktails at the chi-chi spots in town, but stepping into an alternate (and arguably more fun) reality at 4:30 on a Tuesday, with nothing in your pocket but $35 and a whiff of mischief–that’s the kind of thing Bock’s joints enable. See you on the Ferris wheel in June.