Pizza Sunday (on Saturday) – Birchwood Cafe
April 26, 2009, 3:23 am
Filed under: Beer, Wine & Cocktails, Pizza Sundays | Tags: ,

Today’s Pizza Sunday is a day early for a very good reason….it’s Birchwood Cafe’s Saturday pizza party!  On Saturdays after 5pm at Birchwood a mere $30 gets you two small pizzas and a pitcher of beer or a bottle of wine.  Tonight our choice included a cheese pizza and a veggie pizza, plus a pitcher of Surly Furious.  It doesn’t get much better than that, folks…especially on a Saturday night when it’s warm enough to sit out at the outdoor tables.  As we sat outside tonight, the happy voices and laughter from other tables floated on the evening air as we munched on tonight’s veggie pizza selection, which was a chewy homemade crust topped with basil olive oil (no red sauce), cauliflower, sauteed spinach, diced local tomatoes, scallions and mozzarella.  D.Jones was not looking forward to it because he often reads the less common ingredients on Birchwood’s pizzas and turns up his nose, but once he gets a bite of it, he loves it every time!

The options we didn’t select from tonight included a sausage pizza made with wild rice pork sausage from Fischer Farms or a 1,000 Hills grass fed beef pizza with poached garlic spread, roasted mushrooms, sweet onions, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and cheddar.  Though we didn’t try them, I have no doubt they, too, would have been delish.


The cheese pizza is always good and even a hit with the 3rd person in the Jones party, who is definitely the pickiest of our bunch.


Usually I talk D.Jones into splitting a bottle of wine with me and Birchwood usually has a couple of great offerings of both red or white to enjoy with your pizza of choice.  Tonight, Doug wanted beer and I gave in, though then we argued about whether to get the Surly Furious or the Saison from Lift Bridge in Stillwater.   I caved and put my stamp of approval on the Furious, but as they filled our pitcher, the keg blew about 3/4 into our pitcher, so the awesome guy running the counter gave us each a mug of Lift Bridge’s Farm Girl Saison.  Furious is always delicious and the pitcher on our table definitely added to the perfect little springtime evening we were enjoying…


We sat and chatted and sipped as we waited for our pizza delivery.  Our discussion centered on how much we don’t mind paying to dine out when it’s at a place as fabulously conscientious as Birchwood, and how no matter what we order there, it just feels healthier than eating someplace else….even the pizza.

So…2 thumbs up on Birchwood for so many reasons I can’t list them, but tonight it’s all about the pizza.




Brew Review – Summit Horizon Red Ale
April 26, 2009, 3:05 am
Filed under: Beer, Wine & Cocktails | Tags: ,


D.Jones had an opportunity to try Summit’s new beer before it was released to the public and he made me promise not to post any details until it was “officially released.”  The fact is, D.Jones has been a fan of Summit for many, many years.  I wasn’t so hip on Summit’s EPA until more recent years.  I suppose my love of Summit started about four years ago, or so, when we lived in downtown St. Paul and would often walk to Pazzaluna for late night appetizers and a cold beer or two.  They always had Summit on tap, and after many trips, the bartender knew that D.Jones was a huge fan…and I was starting to become one too.

On one particular night, we bellied up to the bar and the bartender came over, leaned in and said “Mark Stutrud is at the end of the bar….”  Enough said.  D.Jones ditched me faster than a frat boy running toward a keg.  Oh wait….he was a frat boy. 

Anyway, he introduced himself to Stutrud, and Stutrud made pleasant conversation with him for quite some time until D.Jones worried he was pushing the limits of friendly conversation and bordering on annoying fan, when he politely excused himself and rejoined me at my seat.  While he was gone, I sipped a Summit EPA myself, finding that it was fuller bodied and more delicious than I had ever given it credit for…in fact, I loved it.

Since then, we have continued to enjoy the EPA and wish Summit the best, all while being slightly disappointed in the missing presence of new brews, and getting just a little bored.  We were both thrilled to hear that Summit would finally be releasing a hoppier new beer.  That is, until D.Jones came home one night and announced he had an opportunity to try it and was a little disappointed.  I didn’t want to hear it, and certainly didn’t want to negatively taint my own opinion, so we didn’t talk about it much.

The other night he came home with a sixer so I could try it for myself.

The verdict?  It’s Summit.  It’s good.  It’s hoppier than the EPA, which makes it slightly different, but it’s so similar to the EPA that it’s…well…it’s Summit.  It tastes like Summit.  I don’t know what else to say.

In comparison, last night I ordered the Surly beer flight at Common Roots, where about $5 gets you 4 tastings of the Surly beers on tap.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s a mistake to compare Summit to Surly….I’m making a different point entirely.  My point is that this was an exercise to prove to ourselves that we were correct about the new Summit.  You see, when you taste Furious, Cynic, or Bitter Brewer, they taste like three distinctly different beers.  You’d never guess with a blindfold on that they are all products of the same brewery. 

Not so with Summit EPA, Summit IPA  and Summit Horizon Red.  They taste like Summit.   Make no mistake, we’re not saying we don’t notice and recognize the subtle differences….it’s just that they are very subtle.   And although they are good…the Summit Horizon Red doesn’t have the boldness we were hoping for and thus, the release was a little disappointing.  We will continue to love Summit but boy…I wish we had more to say about the newest addition.

Brew Review – Southern Tier Iniquity
April 22, 2009, 1:42 am
Filed under: Beer, Wine & Cocktails | Tags: , ,


Southern Tier’s Imperial Iniquity Black Ale is available for a limited time only at the Four Firkins.  A friend of D.Jones picked one up for him last night at the Summit Red Ale debut at the Firkins.  At around $8 for a 650ml, this 9% A.B.V. black ale is awesome.   It pours pitch black into the glass, as the name suggests, and the first sip is full of carmel malts and finishes with the hops when it hits the back of your tongue.  The more you sip, the more apparent the hops become.   This beer is dangerously drinkable, as the 9% is relatively unnoticed.

Now, my beer palate is far less refined than D.Jones’ and my first proclamation was that it reminded me of a stout.  D.Jones said he can see where I’m coming from, mostly due to the thickness and the roasted characteristics.

Another great beer from a great brewery…Southern Tier.

2 thumbs up from both D.Jones and myself!


Brew Review – Full Sail Slipknot Imperial Pale Ale
April 19, 2009, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Beer, Wine & Cocktails


 Tonight as D.Jones and I devoured our Dulono’s pizza, he cracked open a 22 oz. bottle of Full Sail’s Slipknot Imperial Pale Ale.   It ran about $5 at South Lyndale Liquor, ABV 7.8%. 

When poured, it tops off with a nice white  foamy head.  When sipped it starts off bitter and hoppy and only intensifies.  It’s not exactly a balanced beer, as D.Jones pointed out, but I really liked the flavor.  The pine is apparent and it’s incredibly full flavored, as an IPA should be.  D.Jones says he doesn’t think it’s great because of it’s lack of complexity and isn’t a huge fan of the overriding taste of pine.  He says there are a lot better IPAs out there, but he liked it for the price as it was relatively inexpensive for an Imperial IPA.  I, however, like it alot and though I wouldn’t sit down and drink a few in a row, I thought it was a wonderful accompaniment to our pizza dinner.

Full Sail Slipknot revew from the Jones Fam – 1 thumbs up from me.

Hotel Minneapolis – Martinis and Manicures

My friend Jenni called me a week or so ago and told me that there is a little soiree that happens at Hotel Minneapolis (215 4th Street) where you can sip a martini while getting a manicure.   Without a moment’s hesitation I responded “Oh, I am so in!  Sign us up!” 

Four of us decided to go and last night was our night.  It was fabulous.  For a mere $18 every 2nd Thursday of the month you can sip the martini of your choice, sample some lovely  hors d’oeuvres, and get a manicure from the ladies from Sanctuary!  Here are the details, and let me be the first to tell you, it is more than worth it! 


Now, the martinis are wonderful…but what martini isn’t, really?  The manicures are fantastic too, though of course, your color selections are quite limited.  One thing I liked, though, is that the colors they do use are vegan.  Who knew!?  I had no idea vegan fingernail polish existed!



The cocktail lounge area of Hotel Minneapolis is nestled right behind Restaurant Max, and along with your $18 you do get some nice “gifts” like a free appetizer over at Max if you are still hungry, and a ticket for a discounted dinner.   The lounge is absolutely beautiful and filled with beautiful people to match.  There is a large vault door to one side, which indicated the space perhaps used to be a bank?  Or, as my friend Alfred joked after scanning the room, “it’s where the unattractive people have to sit to wait for their manicure”. 

All I can tell you is that this is a relaxing, fun night out and if you are even considering it, you must go…I know I’ll be back!

Word to the wise, though…that area of Minneapolis is under major construction.  Rather than driving around in rush hour for 30 minutes like I did, know ahead of time that if you get to the front door of Restaurant Max, there is valet parking available.  Boy that would have saved me a major headache…and the horrible trauma of marching through rubble-covered construction zones in 4 inch heels.  Ugh.  A nightmare.  But worth it in the end….



Brew Review – Double Crooked Tree I.P.A.
April 8, 2009, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Beer, Wine & Cocktails


Grrr…I tried to get a good picture of the lacing but it was elusive.  It did force me to take  a few quick, successive sips, though, which is dangerous.  This bad boy packs a whollop of a punch with an ABV of 13.6%…drinker beware. 

D.Jones brought home the Double Crooked Tree I.P.A. the other day for us to try.  We’ve enjoyed other beers from Dark Horse Brewing, including their Scotty Karate Scotch Ale, the Reserve Special Black Bier, and of course, the Crooked Tree I.P.A.  This one is, well, a doubled-up version of the Crooked Tree, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Tons of hops provide the citrusy, crisp flavor you would expect, and it’s dangerously drinkable.   We were both big fans of the Double Crooked Tree I.P.A.  D.Jones is often disappointed by beers that he expects to have the huge hop flavor and don’t deliver.  This one delivers.   I mentioned that I thought it was “hot” as in, you could tell the alcohol content was high.  Doug disagreed at first and then added “no, you’re right.  It’s boozy.  It’s balanced and boozy.”  He liked the sweet finish from the malts, which is also where that alcohol content comes from.  So bottom line…we loved it.  Mmm…  I’m getting thirsty.

A Night Out – Azia
April 3, 2009, 2:40 pm
Filed under: Beer, Wine & Cocktails, restaurants | Tags: , ,

A couple of years ago when I was still freelancing for a local magazine, I had the opportunity to meet restaurateur Thom Pham and interview him for my column.  At the time, his swanky restaurant Temple was still open and I entered heaven on earth as I sat at the bar and relished every bite of the fantastic tasting plates he brought out for me.

If I remember the article correctly, I made some correlations between the red decor of Temple and the surges of love that coursed through me as I savored every morsel of the food, also drinking in the divine atmosphere at the same time.

Last night I met friends at Pham’s hot spot Azia in the heart of Nicollet’s Eat Street.  I still love everything Pham.  Have you ever had their Cranberry Puffs?  Seriously.  I mean, you can hardly go wrong with any cream cheese puffs, right?  Not exactly a delicacy but boy, there’s something about those little bundles of deep-fried goodness, and Azia takes ’em to a whole ‘nuther level…believe me.

But, I’m not here to really write much about the food.  We enjoyed some appetizers at the table and they were great…as always.  What I’m here to say is that the happy hour at Azia is not to be missed and in true Pham fashion, the service is a notch above.

I remember that after I had written up Temple I received a hand-written thank you card from Mr. Pham himself.  Not something that would normally occur after reviewing a restaurant.  I thought to myself “now that’s class” and Azia’s waitstaff reflects the same.  They are friendly, on top of things, knowledgeable and attentive without hovering. 

The happy hour prices are killer so if you’re looking for a little time out with friends or a significant other…go!  We’re all trying to pinch a few pennies nowadays and the happy hour at Azia goes a long way to help.  With specials from 3-6 pm and 10-2 a.m., it’s not to be missed.  Offering half-price appetizers, half-priced specialty cocktails, half-priced sakes and bottles of wine (including a few sparkling wines), you can find just about anything you’d like to quench your thirst for just a few bucks.


I met three friends out last night and we started with a few specialty cocktails.  The Sake Cosmo is fabulous, by the way, and then moved on to a bottle of sparkling wine for the table.  The bottle was half-price at $18 and perfect for 4 to split…does it get any better than that?

After sitting in the main Azia bar, we moved over to the Caterpillar Lounge.  With a dj in the corner, some light incense burning, red candles and Buddha statues, it was the perfect place to unwind with a marvelous chocolat martini and just soak in the ambiance.


You just can’t go wrong at Azia, the Caterpillar Lounge and the Anemoni Sushi bar…there’s clearly something for everyone and if you go at the right time, you can even do it on the cheap.