The chefs get all the glory, right? They get book deals, groupies, and arena-style competitions, for crying out loud. When was the last time you saw a front-of-house manager competing against another in an Iron Schmooze battle? I know, food is sexy. And yet, even if you have really great sexy food but bad service, how often are you likely to return to that restaurant? The truth is, the balance of great food and great service is the golden mean, and it’s not that easy to find. Unless you pop into The Inn.
As a redo of an already cool space, The Inn smartly avoided the more-is-more trap. By keeping the crate-stacked back bar and replacing exotic touches (from the former Filipino concept, Subo) with rustic barn planks and rural Scandi design, the team from The Strip Club in St. Paul has created a welcoming gastro-tavern that, in my opinion, is the complete package.
The convivial tavern buzz in the long, narrow room comes not only from the happy eaters perched at bar tables, but from the affable bartenders calling out to regulars as they enter, the servers who walk with purpose but not haste, and the voice of Tim Niver as he touches tables, checking on guests. It feels good—like you’re part of some cool club and all you had to do to join is sit down.
And then comes the food. Tyge Nelson, formerly of Barrio and La Belle Vie, has created a menu that eclipses what people are now calling "tavern fare." His cooking is simple and elegant, paying attention to balance and flavors, and most of it costs less than $20.
Hors d’oeuvres bring you small plates of focused flavors. Smoked trout with beets and horseradish crème on small rye toasts deliver dusky earthiness. Roasted peppers jump with flavor, and the crispy potato dumplings, with their soft, yielding interior, are hard to resist. Entrée winners include a simple and satisfying bacon broth–poached chicken you’d be a fool to disregard, and risotto with triple crème brie that’s impossibly creamy and decadent. From the grill, the pork "handle steak" has an amazing crust of sweet and sultry flavor, and the beer-battered whitefish open-faced sandwich (served with killer fries) hits all the right crispy, malty notes. Feel free to skip the grass-fed burger, even duded up with foie gras and fried egg. Desserts, as well, were not impressive.
The wine list plays second to a more impressive list of craft beers, and cocktails carry the DNA of former Town Talk Diner/Strip Club barmen. In fact, our server, JJ, informed us that there’s a lot of shared blood, as nearly everyone hired had to be "vouched" for by another team member. I think that’s part of what makes this a great place to cop a squat for a few hours. At the end of a long day, it’s a place of truly heartfelt hospitality and satisfyingly creative food, all at a decent price. 89 S. 10th St., Mpls., 612-886-2377
3 Great Plates ...
+ Slim Shim. This Scotch cocktail is graced with rosemary, ginger, and lemon, and then hit with a sweet note of maple syrup.
+ Steamed Mussels. You’ll want to drink the bacony broth, which is made with locally brewed Lift Bridge beer.
+ Pork. The slow-roasted pork shoulder is a must-have, simply adorned with tomatoes and basil on creamy polenta.