Balls, dude. Ballllllllssssss. I mean, try, I dare you, just try to get through a meal at the new downtown Minneapolis bar and restaurant, Devil’s Advocate, without turning into Beavis and Butt-Head. Because the menu’s all meatballs. Or rather, all protein-balls, like a standard beef meatball, a pork sausage sphere, a chicken globe, a salmon orb, and—stat, send ball synonyms!!—a falafel 3-D circle. With these spheres, you get your choice of sauce—tomato, a sort of Southern sausage gravy, creamy mushroom, pesto, and yogurt—and you get to choose how many balls you prefer: from a decorous one in a slider bun to a full “bowl of balls” and, and . . . Yes. If you go to Devil’s Advocate you may have to find some way to keep your dignity intact, and order a Bowl of Balls. It’s ridiculous. And the ordering system is chaotic, with red grease pencils and a way of filling in ovals and checking boxes that gives you about a 5 out of 6 chance of getting what you wanted, and will put the adults in the room to remembering how hanging chads nearly brought America to its knees. Even with all that, I still sort of like the place. Here’s why. 1). Architecture: I always have a soft spot in my heart for this little red brick building attached to no skyway in the middle of downtown. Did you know the 1907 edifice was the Handicraft Guild building, once home to wood carvers, metal workers, weavers, other travelers with the official Arts and Crafts movement? (Grant Wood taught here! Yes, that Grant Wood, of the famous painting of married farmers with the pitchfork between them.) The new use of the space, with salvaged wood in the front, and a long bar separating the front from the distant private-party-perfect back, seems very urban and real. 2). Beer, dude, beer! Best beer list in downtown. With 40 taps, and a nice split of European and American standouts. I was particularly happy to find that some of the beers are unusual, but not silly. Prime example: Hinterland’s Door County Cherry Wheat, a Green Bay Wisconsin beer with fine little Champagne-like mousse, lovely yeastiness, and a bit of sour cherry in the nose.
3). Balls, dude, balls. I’m loathe to admit it, but the, ahem, spheres, ain’t bad. This balls-only restaurant is actually part of a national trend, there’s a 3-outpost chain called The Meatball Shop in New York City, the simply-named Meatballs in Washington D.C., the Cafasso Meatball Company in San Diego, Hey Meatball in Toronto, and, I can only assume, many more. My favorite was the beef with marinara, which were a little harder and denser than my ideal beef meatball, but on a soft slider bun with a bit of melted mozzarella on the top made the best $3 sandwich I know of downtown. Falafel when I tried it wasn’t cooked through, and the sausage was tough, and, actually, the salmon orbs were fishy-in-a-bad-way, but house-made French fries had a nice combination of real potato-y tenderness and crisp savor, and I really love the side of broccoli raab simply seared with chili flakes.
In sum, I’m not sure Devil’s Advocate is going to be for everyone—and it’s definitely not for anyone who will find the balls, dude, balls aspects to be a deal-breaker. However, it might be just the thing for you if you’re a downtown worker searching for better beer, a little privacy off the beaten track of Nicollet Mall, and a place with pretty good steaming hot balls. Devil’s Advocate, 89 S. 10th St., Mpls., 612-843-2260, devilsadvocatebar.com