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Archive for the ‘Dive Night’ Category

Most of us have heard of Paul Bunyan and his buddy Babe, the big blue ox.  Paul is a giant lumberjack, fictional of course, and he’s often accompanied by Babe the ox, also fictional, also a giant, and blue.  Both legends are alive and well in the Midwest United States.  This summer I was very excited to be able to have a hearty lumberjack lunch at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty in Minocqua, Wisconsin.

Minocqua (better known as Minocqua-town per my Grandpa Joey) isn’t too far away from the family cottage, and Paenney requested a birthday meal at The Shanty.  Who could resist?  The touristy attraction is not only fun to visit, but the food is really good.

A bunch of us were at the cottage that weekend.  We piled into two cars and made our way to Minocqua-town.  The weather was perfect and it was a wonderful day for a drive through the Wisconsin countryside to the Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty, which was everything I thought it would be, and more.

Kitschy and touristy – everything a resort town in Wisconsin requires.  Lots of people who come here are from Milwaukee and Chicago, so the lumberjack theme makes them think they’re really out in the boondocks.

Log cabin decor, vintage accessories, lantern lighting, and red and white checkered tablecloths really get an appetite up.  Anyone who enters will most likely have the appetite of the giant lumberjack for whom the shanty is named.

I love the little raccoon in the rafters.

One of the fun things about this place is that they offer food family-style.  Don’t know what that means?  Well, it’s just like the name suggests.  Food is delivered to the table and everyone serves him/herself as if sitting at the family dinner table.  When ordering in this fashion the restaurant offered hearty, thickly-sliced bread, barbecued ribs, fried chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn-on-the-cob.  Mind you, this is ALL YOU CAN EAT.  Also included in the meal is soup or salad of your choice, as much as you want.  Of course you can order individual meals, like a cheeseburger or chicken nuggets, but why?  Even if you have kids at the table, do you offer them something different from what you’re eating yourself?  No!  Family style.  That’s the way a logging camp shanty should be.

Here’s the wily group I came with. We’re all waiting for the food to fill the table.

The food was delicious, our service was wonderful, and pretending to be in a logging shanty was a lot of fun.  Licking fingers isn’t frowned upon and asking for more and more food isn’t judged.  But we can’t forget, we visited the shanty for Paenney’s birthday.  His 24th birthday.  I can’t believe he’s a grown-ass man, mostly because he keeps his child-like enthusiasm.  That’s something I really admire in a person.

Because it was his birthday he was presented with a lovely, paper ox-horn headpiece and a special birthday button the size of which is fit for a giant like Paul Bunyan.

The little fella is twenty-four years old! I’m such a proud auntie.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood of Minocqua(town) or Wisconsin Dells, be sure to check out Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty.  You’ll leave satiated with good grub.  Really good grub.  And by grub I mean food.  Please don’t mistake the word grub for icky food.

*Here’s a little aside:  The shanty we visited also had a huge gift shop attached to it which was filled with fun, rustic, lumberjack stuff, and stuff that’s relevant to woodsy living.  I purchased something for Husby and myself that might or might not be featured on another blog post.  I’ll just say this…we named him Barney.*

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Happy New Year!

Oh, leave me alone.  I know I’m over a week behind in declaring “happy new year,” but it seems it hasn’t really started for me yet.  How can that be, you ask?  Well let me tell you.

Husby and I hosted Ruthie and Ray for the holiday edition of Dive Night, but not until January 3rd.  And because the twelve days of Christmas are after Christmas Day (much to the confusion of many) we were still in Christmas mode after the new year.  I wish I could give you a full dive night report but we were feeling so festive I didn’t take as many pictures as I should have.  Our heavy appetizer pot luck was done in shifts, and unfortunately anything after the first shift didn’t get a picture.  We had shrimp cocktail, meats and cheeses, pickled herring, artichoke dip, taco dip, the most delicious mini weenies wrapped in bacon and baked in a brown sugar glaze, mushroom tartlets, reuben spirals, cinnamon almonds, veggies and dip, and assorted cookies.  If I forgot anything check the comments as Ruthie might add what my middle-aged mind forgot.

Ruthie’s signature taco dip.

Artichoke-Gorgonzola Dip

Succulent shrimp with mouth-watering cocktail sauce.

Assortment of dipping crackers and chips.

We also had champagne, wine and assorted beers.  A fine time was had by all.

One night this week I made some really good seafood puff pastry things, but then I got sick.  Husby said he felt fine, so I guess I can’t blame my cooking.  But my stomach churned more than I would have liked and I stayed home from work the next day.  And the day after!  The thing is, all of the Christmas decorations were still up (except the tree, which came down on Sunday) so it felt like Christmas until today.  Despite my sick day off work I managed to gather and pack up the decorations so once again the house looks like the house and not Santa’s castle at the North Pole.

Tomorrow I’ll be back at the day job.  I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m glad I’m feeling well enough to go.  Tonight I’m going to relax and try to get used to 2014.

So, again I say Happy New Year.  I hope it’s going well for everyone so far.

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Dive Night is a semi-monthly adventure undertaken by me and Husby, along with our friends Ruthie and Ray. Each couple alternates choosing a restaurant, one which must come under the category of “dive.” Our definition of dive: a neighborhood gathering spot with a laid-back atmosphere and good food. We’ll find the interesting hang-outs in the Minneapolis/St Paul area. Casual attire required. A sip of beer or wine doesn’t hurt either.

If you live in St. Paul, MN or any of the surrounding areas you’ve probably heard of Mickey’s Diner.  The original is right downtown.  There’s another Mickey’s over there on West 7th away from the bustle of the city but with the same character.*  It’s called Mickey’s Diner (By Willy).  I’m not sure who Willy is.

Mickey’s is the epitome of the word “diner.”

When we arrived there was hardly anyone in the place.  One other couple, to be exact.  The staff consisted of a cook and a bus person.  The building is old and not exactly spotless, but not dirty enough to make me scared of eating there.

Classic Coca-Cola light fixtures.

I love diners with a counter like this. This is pretty much the extent of Mickey’s. The counter on one side of the aisle and small booths on the other. Quite cozy.

Mickey’s even has a bakery case. I didn’t try any of the bakery items, but they looked pretty good. Especially the muffins. I have a thing for muffins.

I thought it was pretty ironic that Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was on the TV.

We laughed when we saw the Side Orders on the menu.  Whole pieces of meat.  As a side!  I guess it makes sense if you’re getting eggs and you want a steak with them, doesn’t it?  It seemed pretty funny to us though.  Funny ha-ah, not funny peculiar.  Well, I guess it was peculiar too, at least compared to the other places we’ve been.

Four- and eight-ounce steaks as a side.  Or how about a pork chop?

Finally, after consulting with Sam the cook we decided what we wanted.  We started out with an order of onion rings, just because we’re accustomed to getting an appetizer when we’re out for Dive Night.  The rings?  Okay.  I’m not an onion ring connoisseur, but I thought they were pretty average.

This plate of rings was shared by four of us and there were some left when we were done with our meal. Not outstanding by any means, or else we would have been fighting over the last ones.

We ordered our food and Sam the cook got to work.  I like it when you can see the cook making your food.  That’s called “transparency” in the business world.  I feel much better knowing the cook didn’t spit in my food on the off-chance he took a disliking for me.  Of course Sam was of such superior character he would never spit in the food no matter what his personal feelings.

Sam.

Ray had the most unusual meal of the bunch.  It was called One-Eye Jack and was composed of ham, cheese, and egg on toasted bread.  There was a hole cut in the bread/egg, which is what makes the “one eye.”  He got a side of hash browns with that and they looked really good.

Husby had a patty melt with a side of beans.  He said the sandwich was “fine,” but the beans were not great.  They were overdone, cooked and heated up in the microwave.

Husby’s patty melt. It looks pretty good to me – that bread is grilled to perfection.

Tomato-saucy baked beans. I don’t like baked beans anyway, so these look kind of disgusting to me. Husby didn’t like them much.

Ruthie had the Classic.  A cheeseburger with hash browns and some Mulligan stew.  I had the same thing only I got french fries with my hamburger.  The fries were pretty good.  The hamburger was too little for the bun and the cheese was pretty lame.  The menu listed three types of cheese so I asked Sam if I could have Swiss cheese.  He said they have “white” cheese.  He said, “Swiss cheese is white, but our white cheese isn’t Swiss cheese.  We only have the white cheese.”  Whatever.  It was laid lopsided on my burger so only half of it was topped with “white” cheese.

Ruthie’s Classic.  It looks like her cheese is more centered on the burger than mine was.  Those hash browns again ~ boy they look good.

The Mulligan stew was something else too.  Something not so good.  It was luke warm and the potatoes were raw and hard.  I couldn’t eat it.

Um, no.

Overall the food at Mickey’s was pretty bad.  Edible, but nothing I’d go back for.  However, there is something I would go back for.  The malt.  Oh my, what a glorious, thick, whipped cream covered malt.

My chocolate malt. The only thing that would have made this better is if it were served in an old-fashioned soda glass.

By the time we were finished with our meal there were some more people in the diner.  They all sat at the counter and no one spoke.  It was kind of creepy.  But Sam the cook was a delight even though the food he served was mediocre at best.  Seriously though, it’s totally worth a trip for the malts (shakes too).  They come in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.  Yum!

Sam the cook.

* This review is not intended to reflect the food, service, or atmosphere of the original Mickey’s Diner in downtown St. Paul.

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Dive Night is a semi-monthly adventure undertaken by me and Husby, along with our friends Ruthie and Ray. Each couple alternates choosing a restaurant, one which must come under the category of “dive.” Our definition of dive: a neighborhood gathering spot with a laid-back atmosphere and good food. We’ll find the interesting hang-outs in the Minneapolis/St Paul area. Casual attire required. A sip of beer or wine doesn’t hurt either.

Once a year, if we’re lucky, the fearless foursome of Dive Night has dinner at the Minnesota State Fair.  It’s a good thing we all like the fair.  We don’t shy away from the crowds and endure the heat (which was tremendous this year) like real troopers.  Husby and I were hosts to the experience, so after meeting at the beloved Fairchild statue we headed out to The Garden.

The Garden has been serving food for a long time, but I’ve never eaten there simply out of habit.  Back in the day it was a beer garden and they may or may not have served food.  But of course I was much too young to go into a beer garden, so I pretty much passed it by even when I was of age merely out of habit.  Dive Night was the perfect opportunity to see what it was all about.

In the true spirit of an old-fashioned beer garden this building is very large and very loud. They even have live music in the form of bands and karaoke.

On opposite sides of the building there are two different “restaurants.”  One side serves Chicago Dogs, the other side is known as Ragin’ Cajun.  A nice variety.  Of course The Garden still serves alcohol of the beer/wine variety.

The Chicago Dog side of The Garden.

I love the animated neon – dancing hot dogs!

The Ragin’ Cajun side of the building.

The Cajun side had very large Mardi Gras masks hanging at the counter. They were kind of scary.

It didn’t take us long to decide what we wanted to eat.  The men went for the Chicago Dogs.  There were standard recipe hot dogs available, like the Chicago Dog, Chili Dog, etc., or you could get a hot dog with your choice of toppings.

Ray’s hot dog. The dog itself is 1/4 pound. They had a long list of toppings too. Looks like Ray got some onions and cheese, and probably some other stuff. Served on a very nice looking poppy seed roll.

Husby got one topped with sauerkraut and onions. It looks like he has some mustard, or maybe banana peppers?

Meanwhile, Ruthie and I went over to the Ragin’ Cajun side and both ordered a shrimp po’ boy.

The shrimp po’ boy comes with spicy shrimp, lettuce, onion, and a really good Cajun-spiced mayo sauce. There was a good amount of shrimp that was freshly prepared before going into the sandwich.

The sandwiches were loved by all.  For drinks the guys got a beer, I got a black cherry Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and Ruthie, obviously the most dehydrated of us all, got a bottle of water.

We couldn’t stop at po’ boys and hot dogs.  We had to get some dessert!  There is no better place than at the Minnesota State Fair to get something satisfyingly sweet.

Husby got some lefse. It was filled with lingonberry jam and topped with sliced almonds and whipped cream. I apologize for taking the picture too late. It was much prettier when he received it. It was hot and the cream began to wilt a little before I got the shot. Husby loved his Scandinavian treat.

Ray and Ruthie shared a funnel cake topped with raspberry sauce and powdered sugar.

I had a s’more on a stick. Everything is served on a stick at the fair. They put three marshmallows on the stick. Then they dip that in chocolate, after which they roll the whole thing in crushed graham cracker. There’s some kind of sweet batter over everything to hold it all together.

It was much easier to eat my s’more on a stick sans the stick and with the aid of a fork. So intense and pretty dang good.

So ends our Dive Night at the fair.  We stayed late and watched the fireworks, which go off every night after the Grandstand show.  All in all a very delicious and merry evening!

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Dive Night is a semi-monthly adventure undertaken by me and Husby, along with our friends Ruthie and Ray. Each couple alternates choosing a restaurant, one which must come under the category of “dive.” Our definition of dive: a neighborhood gathering spot with a laid-back atmosphere and good food. We’ll find the interesting hang-outs in the Minneapolis/St Paul area. Casual attire required. A sip of beer or wine doesn’t hurt either.

Because of all this busy-ness of summertime we haven’t been able to schedule a Dive Night in quite a while.  But, at long last, Ruthie and Ray, Husby and I were able to find an open evening and celebrate the dive once more.

Ruthie and Ray took us down to the St. Croix River, to a little town called Marine on St. Croix.  It’s an artsy community with really cool houses and a cute little main street.  On that main street stands Brookside Bar and Grill.

The Brookside has four distinct areas to drink and dine.  The bar…

…a dining area behind the bar…

Photo bomb by our waitress and another guy behind her.

…another dining area behind the first dining area…

…and the back yard/patio…

I’m not sure why no one was out on the back patio.  The bar wasn’t even set up.  Maybe they only serve out there when they have live music, which I assumed they have because there was a stage back there too.  There was also a little barnyard scene with a not-life-sized pig and cow.

Of course the Brookside gets its name from being located beside a brook.  Actually, the brook runs right under the restauarant.

There was a cool piece of art on the wall right where we were sitting in the bar.  It’s a little miniature version of the town of Marine on St. Croix.

And there you have the ambiance; moving onto the actual dining experience.

When we first arrived around 7:00 p.m. there weren’t too many people eating or sitting at the bar, yet it took at least ten minutes for someone to acknowledge that we had sat down.  Someone, not a wait person but associated with the restaurant, came up to us when she saw we didn’t have any drinks and offered us a glass of water.  Once our waitress did show up, about three minutes after the first person, our service was wonderful.

Our appetizers were pretty good. We got the bruschetta, which kind of scared me at first because it looked like there was nothing but tomatoes on it. I don’t care for tomatoes that much. But the tasty treat was something I’d definitely get again. We also got the pizza fries, which is basically a pizza crust with some delicious seasonings and cheese cut in strips, served with marinara sauce. Yum.

Ruthie had the build-your-own burger. I don’t know if I can remember everything she had on it, but I do remember gorgonzola cheese, grilled onion, and avocado. She also ordered onion rings, which she described as “doughy.” However, Ray disagreed when he sampled one. Ruthie was happy with her meal.

Ray had the Hunters’ Extreme burger. It’s a half-pound burger stuffed with cheese, bacon, and caramelized onions. This photo doesn’t do justice to the fries – they were the skinniest fries I’ve ever seen! Ray was happy with his meal too.

Husby had the turkey avocado sandwich with hash browns. He was disappointed that “avocado” actually meant guacamole. It was good, he said, but he would have liked a slice of avocado and thought that’s what he would get when he ordered.  He ate three-quarters of his potatoes but didn’t finish because they were a little too greasy. Despite his specific complaints he enjoyed the meal and experience as a whole.

There are some more of those skinny fries. They were delicious with my Brookside Halfer. You are not going to believe this – the halfer is made with equal parts of fresh ground chuck and fresh ground…BACON. How absolutely ingenious is that?! I topped my burger with some provolone cheese.

The Brookside serves burgers, obviously, pizza, a couple of dinner items, and a nice variety of sandwiches.  They also have a kids’ menu.

Having dinner and drinks in Marine on St. Croix at the Brookside Bar & Grill turned out to be a great summertime retreat.  When it comes to their hours of operation, I think they’re kind of flexible.

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At long last I’m presenting the second part of the most recent Dive Night at Goby’s.  Let me give you a little background first.

I moved into an apartment when I was 22 years old.  It was in a very cool part of town in a fairly vintage building.  There were several colleges in the neighborhood, none of which I was attending.  Right across the street from my apartment was a classy place called Plums.  The college kids would dress up and pretend to be high-brows at Plums.  There was drinking and dancing and picking up of prospective mates at Plums.  The decor was burgundy, which was a very popular color in the ’80s, and also kind of goes with the name, Plums.  I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to live right across the street from such a happening place, and I visited often.

When we had our Dive Night meal at Goby’s we decided to have a nightcap at Plums, which is right next door to Goby’s.  How handy!  I also thought a blast from my past would be fun.  Let me just tell you it’s true when they say, you can’t go home.

Plums. Corner of Snelling and Randolph in St. Paul, MN.

Walking into Plums was like walking thirty years into the past.  The decor was still deep burgundy.  For a split second I felt like I had gone home, but then we were seated and I began to see what had really become of Plums.

This is the chair I sat on. Not only was the seat torn but the legs were wobbly. I looked for another chair for swapping, but they were all like this.

This is the floor under the table at which we were sitting. What are those black flecks?!

A couple of things were a little different from the Plums I knew.  For one thing there were tables on the dance floor, so I assume no one dances there anymore.  I wonder if they even play music.  There was none playing while we were there.  For another thing they have installed a pull tab booth, complete with old lady pull tab seller.  And you think the floor was bad under our table?  Check out the floor by the pull tab booth.

Some tabs, some poop, and a worm.

Yes, Plums does sell food.  Most of the people who were eating were out on the patio.  I’m not surprised as it was a lovely evening, and it was probably much cleaner outside than it was inside.  And don’t think Plums is a place for scumbags.  Over there at the bar we saw one of St. Paul’s finest chatting it up with another patron.

Hey there, cutie. Come here often?

When we were looking over at Officer Studly we noticed something very peculiar.  There was something hanging out of one of the vents on the ceiling.  Someone said, “it’s a rat tail!”  Well what else could it be?  So I walked over and tried to take the best picture I could without looking too conspicuous.

Ben, the two of us need look no more. We both found what we were looking for.*

Apparently I wasn’t as inconspicuous as I intended as the minute I returned to our table the waitress came up and asked what I was taking a picture of.  “The rat tail hanging from the vent,” said Husby.  She claimed there was a balloon hanging there at one time.  I didn’t believe her.  Also, Husby said that while I was taking the picture Officer Studly was looking at me with his mouth hanging open, trying to figure out what I found so interesting about a rat tail hanging out of the vent.

Suffice it to say Plums was never as filthy as it was the night we went, and no one seemed to care.  The owner walked around the place in his Dockers and polo shirt with a toothpick hanging out of his mouth.  If I were him I would have been mortified, especially knowing someone was taking pictures of the poopy floors and rat tails in the ceiling vents.

I’ll fondly remember my days at Plums thirty years ago, but I will never, ever go back again.  As disgusting as the public area was I can’t even imagine what the kitchen looked like.  Yow.

* For those of you too young to remember, Ben was the pet rat of a guy named Willard in the movie Willard.  Michael Jackson sang the theme song, Ben.  These are some of the lyrics to that song.

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Dive Night is a semi-monthly adventure undertaken by me and Husby, along with our friends Ruthie and Ray. Each couple alternates choosing a restaurant, one which must come under the category of “dive.” Our definition of dive: a neighborhood gathering spot with a laid-back atmosphere and good food. We’ll find the interesting hang-outs in the Minneapolis/St Paul area. Casual attire required. A sip of beer or wine doesn’t hurt either.

It’s been a long time since the last Dive Night.  I guess the four of us are getting busier, so we get together when we can.  The dive was the choice of Husby and me, which took me back to my old neighborhood of over twenty years ago.  I spent some time at this place during my single days as it was only a half block away from my apartment, and when Husby and I were dating we’d stop by for a bite once in a while.  We thought it would be a good place to share with Ruthie and Ray, and really fun for me to see what’s happened to the establishment since I’ve been there last.  I present to you, Goby’s.

Goby’s has a new facade since I was there last, but the interior was pretty much the same as it was oh so many years ago.  One thing I noticed right away that hadn’t changed at all ~ one of the regulars.  A little grayer, but it was the same guy.  We were there around 6:30 on a Friday evening and the crowd was more mature, like us.  I have no idea what kind of clientele they have after the dinner hour.

A view from the front door. See that wait person toward the center of the picture? The one with the short shorts? She also had a low-cut top that was very filled out. Besides being very bodacious she was also a very good server. I’m sure the boys tipped her well. I would have too ~ she was cheerful and served our meals perfectly.

Here’s a picture of the game room. It’s located at the back of the bar/restaurant. Lots of games to choose from. Lots. There’s also a juke box that holds lots of your old-time favorites.

Goby’s is a clean place to spend an evening eating, playing, and drinking.  Husby and Ray both got a Stella Artois (if I drank beer that’s what I’d drink because it’s just so classy) but Ray didn’t think the Stella was anything spectacular.  Husby still enjoys it quite a bit.  Ruthie and I got our typical glass of wine.  And now, on with the food.  Please forgive the blurry photos.  I’m still learning how to take pictures in a dark room.

For appetizers we got a basket of deep-fried pickles (Ruthie’s favorites) and deep-fried garlic mushrooms. Both were served with a ranch dipping sauce. The mushrooms were especially good with that garlic-y flavor.

Ruthie ordered a steak sandwich with mushrooms and swiss cheese. She ordered the steak rare and that’s exactly what she got. It looked delicious. She also got a side of onion rings which looked fantastic.

Ray got a hickory burger with bacon, cheese, and a hickory barbecue sauce. He also got a big pile of fries. The buns Goby’s uses for their burgers are my favorite. They’re toasted, but are lofty and kind of squishy. I love them.

Husby had the buffalo chicken sandwich. He got it with chips, which come standard with a burger/sandwich. The chicken was moist and the buffalo sauce was just the right temperature, spicy-wise.

I got the ‘shroom burger. It was a favorite of mine a long time ago and is still as good as ever. Goby’s uses fresh mushrooms and plenty of cheese. I got a side of crinkle fries and seasoned sour cream. The sour cream was a little sweeter than I expected. It tasted more like Thousand Island dressing, but was still tasty.

The burgers are eight ounces but you can also get them as twelve ouncers.  Twelve?!  I love to eat but a burger that big would put me in a food coma for a week.  But it’s available for those with extra huge appetites.

One thing that might turn some people off is the outdoor smoking.  Smokers stand close to the door, and the day we were there the door was open, so the smoke wafted in a bit.  If that bothers you, you might want to sit toward the back of the room away from the door.

All in all, Goby’s is every bit as good as I remembered it being.  It’s a bar, there’s no doubt about that, but the food they serve is well-made and served hot out of the kitchen and our service was considerate, friendly and accurate, not to mention a perfect hottie.

Whether you go to Goby’s for an after-work cocktail, a very reasonably priced and delicious meal, or to shoot a game of pool or two, you’re sure to have a good experience.  If you doubt it, just ask the twenty-five-year veteran Goby’s patron sitting at the end of the bar.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this very special Dive Night, which will be posted later this week. 

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