Wise Acre Eatery looks as though plants and gardens from its neighboring sister, Tangletown Gardens, simply got together and strolled across the street, climbed up the walls, filled in the sidewalk, and jumped onto the roof. Inside, antique garden paraphernalia and jars of house-made pickles and jams bedeck this eclectic, busy place. In re-imagining the former Liberty Frozen Custard’s 1950s gas station funk, Tangletown owners Scott Endres and Dean Engelmann kept the powder blue tiles and concrete floor and softened the surfaces with repurposed wood, vintage prints, lots of copper, and dangling wire-caged lights.
In a natural extension of the locavore movement, Wise Acre Eatery grows much of its own food. Above the bar, the motto “E.I.E.I.O.” makes a cheeky allusion to Tangletown’s 130-acre farm outside of Plato, where the garden center’s plants, vegetables for a 500-member CSA, and ingredients for Wise Acre’s menu are raised.
Come hungry and just as you are—don’t bother to change out of your biking shorts, gardening gear, or what you wore to the office. The menu is short, the prices small, and the portions generous. Plates follow the fields, so what’s served today may be gone tomorrow. Among the constants are grass-fed beef from Scottish Highland cattle, pork from Berkshire hogs, heritage chickens and eggs, and, of course, seasonal vegetables galore.
Wise Acre’s humble farmhouse cooking celebrates local ingredients over technique. The noshes proved more interesting than the full plates. Take the Minnehaha Mix, a witty snack of salted, honey-kissed popcorn and pepitas, or the simple cut of bacon topped with shallot marmalade, all smoky-salty-sweet. My friend and I plowed right through the mound of pillowy, crispy pea-and-ham-studded fritters. Of the skinny shoestring fries with tangy finger-licking rhubarb ketchup, we left not a trace.
One evening’s special pork plate of barbecued rib, braised shoulder, and grilled steak in a hot-tart maple sauce was tender to the bone, showcasing chef Beth Fisher’s skill with different cuts of meat. A wild rice and scallion pudding of vegetables and whipped brie cut with a fin of herby cracker struck a lighter note. Ironically, my beef is with the braised beef and the burger; grass-fed critters need to be buttered (or baconed up) a bit.
The beef and the fried chicken seemed tough and lacked flavor. The burger could use more heft. Why not top it with a sharp local cheddar or at least offer an option to the overpowering brie?
In a sweet homage to Liberty Custard, Wise Acre desserts make lovely old-fashioned treats. Kick back with a Virgil’s Orange ice cream soda float. Along with its constellation of mid-priced wines and local beers, the place concocts non-alcoholic cocktails with verve. The selections vary among cherry, ginger-blackberry, or “black and white” (blackberry and white pepper) sodas that are fruity, spicy, and not overly sweet.
“The restaurant is a natural progression for the garden center,” Endres says. “It was time to give our farm a face.” Ambitiously sustainable yet unpretentious, Wise Acre Eatery is regreening Tangletown’s hood with whimsy and good taste. 5401 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-2577, wiseacreeatery.com
Getting There, Getting In: Parking in the small lot and adjacent side streets. No reservations.
Hours: Tu–Th 8am–9 pm, F 8 am–10 pm, Sa 10 am–10 pm, Su 10 am–8 pm. Closed M.
Noise Level: Moderate to high
Kids: Simple kids’ menu; clean plates earn a free custard treat.
Cards: Amex, MC, Visa
Entrée Prices: $12-19