Category: Happy Hour

Two Happy Hour Bites: Highbrow & Lowbrow

How many times must I laud the virtues of Mezzaluna’s happy hour?

Obviously, not enough. Mezzaluna is literally my favorite place to be between the hours of 4-6 p.m. The atmosphere is always cheery and carries a Great Gatsby vibe.

They make some of the best fancy cocktails in the city (along with Monte’s and Maxwells) and at happy hour, a handful of them are discounted at $7. Not quite your typical $1.50 draft beer, but they are creative and well-balanced. For lightweights like me, one is plenty. Jake always gets the Thai coconut cocktail. I brave the $3 beer of the evening or choose the Apple Manhattan. Both are strong enough and never too sweet.

Plates of happy hour food are also $7. The appetizers run $12-$13 outside of happy hour and don’t seem to be smaller portions. We usually order the overflowing cheese platter, the M Burger, or fish and chips with mushy peas. On our most recent visit, we deemed the dish of creamy polenta with four, prosciutto wrapped shrimp as our new favorite. Crispy shrimp tails rule.

I enjoyed the seared scallops with purple Thai rice and red coconut curry, $13. This particular appetizer is not discounted at happy hour. The scallops weren’t large, but they were caramelized and free from grit.

Dempseys is sort of a dive off the main drag in downtown Fargo. Dark wood and booths with high backs. It’s like a divier version of The Local, an Irish-themed pub in Downtown Minneapolis. Entertainment may include karaoke, blackjack, and pull-tabs. Once, we walked into a Kentucky Derby party filled with ladies wearing fancy hats. Plus, there’s free popcorn.

My friend who used to deal poker at Dempseys mentioned that as the evening wears on, the bar becomes more rowdy and prime for people watching.

On weekends, the bar offers food from the lovely Bertrosa’s Cafe such as their Chicago-style hot dogs or hot beef sandwiches. Otherwise, the menu is limited to typical bar foods like pizza and pickled egg baskets. They always offer Betrosa’s spicy beer cheese soup, the only (and the best) version I can stomach.

On a Tuesday evening, we ordered $1.50 pulled pork sandwiches, a Tuesday happy hour special offered between 4-9 p.m. We had all been expecting sliders but received full-sized sandwiches. The meat was tender and moist. I poured the small cup of coleslaw on top of the meat and munched away.

We were also surprised to find Dempsey’s offers a more than decent shrimp cocktail.

Seriously. They do. $10 for five jumbo shrimp and sinus-singeing cocktail sauce.
Who would have known? 

The sight of a shrimp cocktail on Dempsey’s menu smacked of “one of these things is not like the other.” This would normally steer one away from ordering it.

We thank our friend for taking one for the team. Now we know.

Eating I-94: The Palmer House Hotel, Sauk Centre, MN

I have a confession to make.

I like ghosts.

Jake, on the other hand, likes aliens. He finds them more probable than ghosts, but I disagree.

To be realistic, I’m terrified of ghosts. Never in my life do I actually want to see or encounter one. But nevertheless, I still like ghosts.

This ghost talk brings me back to a conversation Jake and I recently had with friends. We discussed living offensively vs. defensively over Rhombus Guys pizza and half-priced wine (we especially liked the Louisiana Saturday Night). I live offensively enough. I’m usually game for new experiences, as long as they start before 8 p.m. Jake mentioned he feels that as he’s gotten older, he’s come to live life more defensively, which has resulted in a smaller pool of stories.

When I reflect back, my most interesting stories occurred during travel. And not just long trips, but local road trips, too. In the spirit of adding new experiences to the old story bank, I convinced Jake to join me on another adventure down I-94. We stopped in Sauk Centre to visit the Palmer House Hotel on our way to Saint Paul, MN.

If you take the Sauk Centre exit and turn left, you’ll find yourself on Main Street within minutes. The Palmer House Hotel is located along the heart of my favorite type of classic Americana main street. It’s a striking, three-story building made from red brick and impossible to miss if you’ve seen a photo. The hotel was rebuilt in 1900 and was the city’s first building with electricity. Sinclair Lewis, the first American to be awarded the Nobel prize in Literature, hailed from Sauk Centre and used to work at this very hotel. Literature buffs can visit the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center, located right off the freeway, and his childhood home.

Even more so than Sinclair Lewis, I’ve seen Palmer House noted for it’s paranormal activity. The hotel has seemed to have been explored by every paranormal investigation group in the region and was recently featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures.

We walked into the lobby and were directed to seat ourselves in the pub (bar). At three p.m., the hotel was extremely quiet. Nevertheless, the woman who served us was attentive and friendly. We warmed up with hot coffee delivered in large, clay mugs. They were the type you grip with two hands and, for some reason, I found joy in this.

We learned happy hour had just begun and appetizers were half-priced. Since it was before five p.m., the dinner menu wasn’t offered yet. The lunch items consisted of appetizers, soups, sandwiches, and salads. I wasn’t terribly hungry and ordered the ham, cheese, and pineapple quesadilla.

Jake ordered a burger with blue cheese and caramelized onions, and a side salad.

My quesadilla was good enough. Overall, a satisfying appetizer at less than $4.

Jake’s burger was cooked through (I don’t think he was asked about doneness and he forgot to ask), but it was moist and covered in plenty of caramelized onions and creamy blue cheese. The bun was buttered and nicely toasted. The side salad was like a typical iceberg lettuce mix. Nothing remarkable but it was fresh and the dressings tasted good.

The hotel appeared clean, though slightly worse for the wear. The exterior of the building conjures glimmers of its historical richness, and the interior looks like it was decorated by one of our Midwestern grandmothers. The lobby restrooms were also clean, yet worn. Curtains, instead of doors, shaded the stall and a wooden stick propped up the sink. The hotel management displayed a note by the mirror  acknowledging they were aware of needed repairs, but needed to wait for insurance settlement money to arrive.

Side note for the ladies: The hotel thoughtfully offered complimentary feminine supplies in little baskets within each stall.

All in all, our meal was decent and affordable, especially with the happy hour discount. The Palmer’s lunch menu wasn’t worth a special trip in itself, but the hotel was a pleasant place to pause for hot meal and break from the drive. Visiting a building steeped in so much history and lore felt like an adventure in itself and the service was hospitable. And, ghosts.

Sauk Centre’s charming main street is very accessible from the freeway and about halfway between Fargo-Moorhead and Minneapolis-St. Paul. I also noticed other restaurants and cafes and would like to return for further exploration. Returning for dinner could be fun. Maybe after I have a chance to read one of Lewis’s literary offerings.

A Truly Happy Hour Is Bone Marrow At Meritage

Christmas week was definitely enjoyable, though fatiguing for an introvert like myself. Plus, I caught a cold. This visit was especially stressful since we saved a lot of our Christmas shopping for Christmas Eve day.

On Christmas Eve, we managed to lock ourselves out of the house while the rest of the family was away. This was the second time that week. Jake was annoyed and I burst into tears. I ranted about how Christmas seemed to morph into running around and buying stuff. Jake ranted about being locked out of the house. Eventually, we drove to a later service by ourselves which provided a much needed opportunity for quiet and reflection. 
The sermon was thought provoking. I suppose the music provided some food for thought, as well. All of the Christmas carols were set to the 80’s and embellished with synthesizer sound effects. The songs fluctuated between David Bowie and Richard Cheese, the parody lounge singer. The worship band struggled to lead the congregation through Joy to the World, of which the melody was completely unique to the worship band. I don’t mean to sound like a scrooge, it just felt disorientating. O Come, O Come Emmanuel was quite literally punctuated with bow-chick-a-bow-wow’s and after the fifth one, we looked at each other and laughed. This helped to put the rocky afternoon behind us. 
At the end of the week, we said our farewells. We headed towards The Elephant Walk in Stillwater, MN, stopping at Meritage in downtown St. Paul, for moules frites.
We have loved Meritage’s moules frites, from first bite. It’s the only thing Jake ever orders and we’ve yet to find better. The mussels are always plump and there’s nary a closed one. It’s beyond me that restaurants charge customers for mussels by the pound, yet plate closed mussels. How hard is it to check? This doesn’t happen here.

The fries are every bit as good, if not better than Barbette’s. The smokey, winey broth entices us back. We usually fill up on the charred bread, leaving little room for frites. And the soggy slice on the bottom of the bowl is my favorite. 

Fortunately, we arrived during happy hour (Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m.) which offers discounted food and beverages. Instead of chicken fingers and quesadillas, try $8 steak tartare and $5 duck confit pizza. 
We shared this addictive bowl of warm, marinated olives, $5.

Then, there was the real, roasted bone marrow for only $5. I’d only seen Anthony Bourdain swoon over bone marrow on television but hadn’t encountered it in restaurants. Bourdain has mentioned that he’d choose bone marrow and parsley salad as his last meal and I have never forgotten this. Jake was just as curious.

Our wait was over.

The split bone arrived sizzling hot. It was served with toasted bread and sweet, shallot confit.

We gently scooped out the more solid bits and we ran the toasted bread through the golden drips.

It struck me like animal butter. Not so much the byproduct but the essence of. It tasted like the bits of chewy fat that line a steak. Rich in flavor with none of the gristle. Combined with the sweet, jammy onions, it was as satisfying as we hoped.

The dish regularly costs about $10.50 on the bar menu, but happy hour or not, it’s worth a taste.

Dear restaurants in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Fargo-Moorhead,

Please serve more bone marrow. 

Love,

Jen

*I have conducted web searches for bone marrow at least twice and have not found a restaurant that offers this dish, straight up, on its menu. If you know of one, feel free to leave a comment below. 

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