Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Surly Beer Hall in Minneapolis
Was there any doubt that the Surly Beer Hall would be a monster success? After all, it was the Surly Nation who helped push through the legislation allowing breweries to sell their own beer onsite. The legions have never waivered: They camp out for beer releases, and they hoard limited bottles for special occasions. Why wouldn’t they pack the new destination brewery and beer hall no matter what? I’m just saying, they could have phoned it in and the throngs would have still come.
But they didn’t phone it in. Because, come on, when you spend that much time and effort building the Taj Mahal of local breweries, you really should have some seriously tasty food. Executive chef Jorge Guzman was stolen from Solera, before it closed, to be the man in the massive kitchen. I really think it was a fortuitous match—Surly needed a guy who could handle multiple levels, and Guzman needed a place where he could better showcase his skills and talents. So far, it’s pretty thrilling.
Like a true beer hall, it seats about 275 at communal tables in a huge open room. There’s a bar running the length of the room, rails at which you can stand, and space outside for an eventual patio with multiple fire pits. It is full service, and you might have to wait for a table—I was quoted an hour and 45 minutes for three of us on a Saturday at 2:30 pm, and that’s about right for the weekends and some evenings. Lunch during the week has settled down quite a bit.
Of course, there are all the Surly beers on tap, as you would expect, plus some fun iterations. I am very onboard with Fiery Hell, which is the lightest brew infused with chilies for a tingly back-kick that goes great with food. Todd the Axe Man is also a unique West Coast IPA originally brewed in collaboration with a Danish brewery, packing a whopping 6.5 percent ABV, which means you’ll need something to eat.
It’s obvious that the menu is fun, easy eating, and meant for beer drinkers, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. There’s a smart variety of snacks, and the Hog Frites have become something I can’t stop thinking about. Spiced fries are topped with a chunky, vibrant house giardiniera, smoky pulled pork, and a creamy pepper jack fondue in a messy, tangy pile that should eradicate all remaining thoughts that poutine was ever a good idea. A fresh pretzel comes with a very worthy pimento cheese dip and, on the higher end of things, house charcuterie is all top-notch, from the Braunschweiger to the pheasant terrine.
Into the guts of the menu, you’re either going barbecue or not. Barbecue plates come with your choice of meat and up to two sides. The pulled pork was soft and luscious, but the sliced brisket really stole the show, just fatty enough with a dark crust and a touch of smokiness. The accompanying pickles, onion, and bread can just go away. Two sauces are served in bottles for you to add: thinly tart and sharp, or thick and sweet. If you don’t go for ’cue, the burger is a great homage to the Big Mac with two griddled thin patties, cheese, shredded lettuce, special sauce, and the works neatly packed under a glossy domed bun. At first glance, it’s easy to discount it as weak, but it’s a nostalgic flavor bomb. The shrimp and grits is a little more refined, doused in an alluring darkly earthy yet sweet creole sauce, clearly Solera influenced. Pepita-crusted catfish was a giant, hearty portion, all hefty crust on the outside and delicate, steamy white fish on the inside. Be warned that the Todd in the Hole, named for head brewer Todd Haug, is a knife-and-fork situation that is a ridiculous but awesome celebration of toast, runny egg, sizzled bologna, and cheese. Holy hangover food.
This only marks the beginning for this destination. Already you can tour the upstairs loft area, which houses event space and an eventual next restaurant. Chef Brian Hauke was brought on by Guzman to help define and develop the second eatery which, though not strictly fine dining as reported, will likely take a more polished approach to food, as some of the plates downstairs already hint (like the Brussels sprouts lolling in ginger-garlic fish sauce, wowza). If the kitchen team can weather the crowds and keep consistency a priority, there’s no reason to think that the Taj won’t kill it in phase two, too.
520 Malcolm Ave. SE, Mpls., 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com