Like a freshly baked cartoon pie luring passers-by with tendrils of smoke formed into beckoning fingers, the scent of roasted garlic pulled us off Lake Street into the latest addition to the culinary mecca of Lyn-Lake. The recently opened Louie’s Wine Dive on the corner of Lake St. and Aldrich Avenue invited us in to try the menu; it’s the fifth Midwest location for the restaurant, (which resists labeling itself as a chain, noting that each location is locally owned) and the first in Minnesota.
The ambiance is more bar than restaurant, with high-tops comprising the majority of tables, big screen TVs tuned to Sportsball above the bar, and the music volume less than conducive to intimate conversation. But the menu suggests a fair measure of culinary ambition, with creative dishes like the lobster poutine and PhoLouie (shaved tenderloin and buckwheat noodles in Chinese five-spice broth, with poached egg, fresh veggies, and herbs) elevating the dining experience into something at once indulgent and relaxed.
The space is open and airy, augmented by a generous amount of seating on the sidewalk patio. Colorful chalkboards advertise the daily wine auction: open bottles listed at a steadily decreasing price-per-glass. One of the restaurant’s claims to fame is its signature “big pour”—a quarter of a bottle in every glass. A dry Sicilian Nero d’Avola and crisp Vouvray we tried were both quite nice, as was the summery White Sangria.
While a place with “wine” in the title has obvious appeal to oenophiles, fans of the Twin Cities’ cocktail scene will be happy to know that Patrick Denny, former bartender at Town Talk Diner and co-winner of the 2009 Iron Bartender Championship, is manning the cocktail program at Louie’s. At the end of our meal, he presented us with an off-the-menu cocktail made with bourbon, bitters, and egg white that would stand up to anything at Eat Street Social or Nightingale. The management team would be wise to put Denny’s talent to work and get his creations officially on the menu. In the meantime, belly up to the bar, order the excellent 4 Pork Gnocchi, and tell Denny you’d be happy to serve on his focus group.