Photo by Katherine Harris
The buttermilk boxty are tasty potato pancakes—order some while sitting at the bar.
This might be the year of the pub—we could just call it right now. The gastropub trend is riding high on our seemingly insatiable thirst for craft beers and our need for casual, comforting environs in which to sip. It looks like a whole raft of pubs will be opening in the near future—imagine a wood-decked neighborhood bar on every corner with mussels and burgers and porky glory, oh my. The fear, of course, is that we might reach a saturation point where the cuteness of cheese curds and fried pickles becomes slightly blasé (perish the thought). If merely for this reason, although there are plenty of others, you should be grateful for Pig & Fiddle.
Owners Mark van Wie and Paul Schatz opened this little pub late last fall. They took stock of the retail-soaked area of 50th & France and probably thought, “We don’t need another beef carpaccio in this ’hood.” As owners of the Muddy Pig at St. Paul’s Selby-Dale crossroads, they could have done a ditto and might have felt fine with nachos, fish tacos, and pulled pork. But they didn’t. They took a right turn and ended up somewhere in Eastern Europe or the Nordeast Minneapolis of old, take your pick.
Make no mistake, this is a beer bar. As of press time, it’s not open for lunch, but it stays open later than most eateries in the area. The beer list is well curated and beer-geeked out in all the right places, with plenty of local brews plus some great Belgian labels such as Tripel Karmeliet—this is where the heritage of the Muddy Pig is evident. But stellar beer lists, no longer news in our towns, are becoming a standard. So the best part of tucking into a Wittekerke is Pig & Fiddle’s option of choosing pierogi as your nosh.
Boiled dumplings filled with potatoes and cheese, pierogi are worthy little doughy hot pockets of the old country, comforting and tasty bites that play out under different names in many cultures from Germany to Poland and back again. They are not gastronomy; they are not chef-inspired—they are Oma-inspired, as is most of the menu. For starters, the buttermilk boxty, a potato pancake with molasses, bacon, and fennel, was malty and balanced, while the sausage rolls were fine little hunks of meat swaddled in puffy pastry but a touch bland. The brilliantly ruby borscht was a fully satisfying bowl—enthusiasts will find hardly a gripe. Potted pig, maybe the trendiest thing on the menu, was a scoopable silky pork rillette with all the right smoky notes, but you’d be fine to skip the ploughman’s meat plate.
In truth, it’s usually the snacks that keep me entranced, but here it’s the main plates. The alpine rabbit stew was so unexpected, shreds of rabbit with light ribbons of pasta in a delicate tomato sauce laced with cinnamon and bacon. It was a graceful and lithe dish that hardly fit the term “stew” but was supremely satisfying. Braised beef carbonnade should just be renamed February, as its beer-braised short rib and mash-up of Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and carrots could be the ultimate antidote to winter blahs: so rich, so easy, so friendly. You can skip the chicken schnitzel and go directly to the peasant chicken, a bone-in preparation with gorgeously crisp skin and creamy baked cauliflower. Just make sure to leave room for the stout chocolate pudding—you won’t regret it.
This is the food you want right now, maybe some of the only things that will get you out of your emotional and literal parka. It may seem a bit heavy and unsophisticated, but the flavors are right on and the ingredients of good quality. This is simple cooking done with full intent. You’ll have to forgive the clunkiness of the “old world” dark-wood décor—it’s too new yet, the floors too bright and underscuffed. But that should come in time, as chairs scrape back from plates of dumplings and pint glasses bang down on the bar. It will be interesting to see how the menu turns during the warmer months when stews and braises can’t sell. Somehow I imagine cheese curds will not be the answer, thankfully.
Getting There, Getting In: Lot parking behind restaurant or street. Reservations suggested.
Hours: Daily 4 pm–1 am
Kids: Kids menu available, and kids are welcome.
Noise Level: Higher in the bar area, very low in the separate dining room.
Cards: Amex, Discover, MC, Visa
Entrée Prices: $10–$20