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.


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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