4244 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-208-0720, thelowbrowmpls.com
I must confess, I love it when I hear that some industry workers have pulled it together enough to open their own restaurant. Who hasn’t had a late-night rail session after a shift where you talk about the kind of place you’d open if you only had the bank? Well, that’s exactly what co-owners Heather Bray and Jodi Ayres have done, opening The Lowbrow in the Kingfield neighborhood. The industry vets met while working at Birchwood Café and decided that it was time to live the dream.
Launching a restaurant from a “vanilla shell” is much harder than taking over a dead restaurant with all the nuts and bolts intact, but that’s just what the duo did in the former Rau + Barber warehouse space on Nicollet. One of the best things they have going for them is the quirky design sense employed in their bear head logo signage and the “paint-by-number” mural wall in the open room anchored by the bar and kitchen.
The Lowbrow menu is small but intriguing, and it’s quite affordable, with only one dish more than $10. Also, there are a few nice nods to vegetarians in the form of a pinto quinoa burger and tempeh Reuben. Real jalapeno poppers, stuffed with oozy cheese, were fried crisply and righteously, leagues above any freezer-living bar option. The Southern fried tofu sticks—nicely flavored and crispy—came with a zippy homemade BBQ sauce. The pulled pork sandwich carried the same sauce and was soft and tender with a lovely squishy bun. My burger was perfectly medium and had a nice crackling edge and good beefiness, although it might have been even nicer had I received it with the bacon and cheese I ordered.
There were disappointments: the soggy mess of cheese fries, the lackluster deviled eggs, and a winter citrus salad that consisted of a small plate of greens, grapefruit, and nothing else. Brunch brought mushy pancakes but also a potentially winning egg sandwich (if they ease up on the oozing mayo).
All in all, I have to say I’m rooting for this place. It’s a cool neighborhood eatery that is kid-friendly, beer-friendly, and veg-friendly. The owners seem to have a good sense of humor and truly friendly hospitality. I’m more apt to give them a little leeway, because I think they need a bit more time than our average wait. They have ideas that sparkle and a sense of what the neighborhood wants; they just need to jam it on execution. In fact, I left brunch thinking The Lowbrow reminded me of how I felt about Blackbird just after its first month. And I think it has the potential to garner the same kind of loyalists if it continues to evolve.
Stephanie’s rating: 75 See The Lowbrow’s RestaurantRater score at mspmag.com.