He also likes hot dogs, and Bickford has made a hot dog for the ages. It’s a sweet and springy housemade dog, topped with a fierce and crunchy abundance of giardiniera
, and every bite is the ultimate in hot dog experience, spicy and comforting and sailing over the stadium walls, a pure home run. The pastrami Reuben is another work of barroom magnificence: Bickford starts with a Red Angus brisket, brines it for seven days, dries it for one, fruitwood smokes it, and pairs it with housemade sauerkraut and their version of Thousand Island dressing made from their own aioli, Dutch mustard, North African harissa, and finely cut pickles—all combining into a complex rainbow of salty bar flavors. There’s no doubt in my mind there will be busloads of tourists coming for this sandwich one day. That is, if they’re not there for the brunch.
The Sunday brunch, with live jazz on stage, is seven kinds of catnip. The bloody mary is garnished with a bacon-bedazzled mini donut and a candied strip of bacon—it’s tangy and deep and a rival to any in town. (There’s a pickled veggie-skewer version for the bacon averse.) The beef hash is a crisp Frisbee of potatoey perfection topped with fried eggs and a spicy little lake of pepper sauce, and the pork belly éclair—oh heavens, the pork belly éclair. It’s actually two éclairs, a pair of housemade maple-glazed éclairs, split and filled with slabs of succulent and salty pork belly cemented into place with a cheddar crème. It tastes awfully good (and is best split between four people), richer than cake, porkier than bacon, so extreme in every way it’s practically a signal flare shot up to summon Guy Fieri and the stunt-food media hordes—which would be a problem, except it’s delicious. House-baked pies available every day, like rhubarb with a crème fraîche sorbet, creamy buttermilk pie, or peanut butter banana cream with charred banana sorbet, are equally irresistible.
I should point out that not all the menu at Icehouse is similarly excellent. As I send this to press, the menu still has a number of pure fine-dining options that don’t make much sense, as with a delicate presentation of salmon served three ways, in the ways of a white-tablecloth restaurant, roasted, smoked, and poached, each preparation with a fresh dill pesto and oil and white anchovies. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the dish; it’s expertly executed, but it just seems sort of passionless and misplaced, like it wanted to get to La Belle Vie but ended up in a bar instead. I could say the same thing about the gnocchi, the lobster fettuccini, and a few other dishes that were technically flawless and still unexciting, but I may not because Bickford told me he’s thinking of swapping them out for other dishes that make sense beside a shot glass of bourbon, such as barbecue chicken, baby-back ribs, perhaps even prime rib.
About those shots of bourbon, and rye, and tequila: They’re not ordinary either. Icehouse has a whole list of “Icehouse Rocks” cocktails, little five-dollar culinary shots designed by Johnny Michaels, longtime La Belle Vie bartender. They’re all fantastic. The Year of the Wolf, a sort of spiced ultra-pure margarita, sings with clarity. The carbonated bourbon Manhattan, called Playing Make Up, Wearing Guitar, is perfect, layers of cherry and cola flavors swooping through the drink like rock and roll stumbling to greatness—fitting, as the drink gets its title from a Replacements lyric. There are a lot of inside-Minnesota jokes on this drink list; the Butterfly Kiss, a stupendously subtle and beautiful creation of chamomile, gin, egg white, olive oil, and a fresh nasturtium blossom, is a tip of the hat to the Marvel Bar’s Pip Hansen, who pioneered the olive-oil cocktail hereabouts. The memorably titled Straight Cash Homie is a reference to Randy Moss’s badass interview about how he was going to pay a $10,000 fine to the NFL—and I’ll let you work your smartphone in the bar to puzzle out the rest of it.
At its best, that’s what Icehouse is: a fine place to puzzle away an evening, where everybody may not know your name, but they do know your unique set of all-American cultural references, from chicken wings to pie to The Replacements and a shot of liquor after a long day, before the band comes on.
Where to Find It
2528 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls
., 612-276-6523, icehousempls.com