The bar chic’ movement that has enveloped the Minneapolis area over the last year is something of a culinary dream for me. As someone who doesn’t have a ton of disposable income it’s a real treat to go my local watering holes and have a 4 star chef prepare food at 2 star prices. Of course I’m sure some of the chefs long for the days gone by where Minneapolis was bursting with high priced over complicated restaurants but at Harry’s and The Bulldog NE it’s apparent these chefs are relishing every moment. In the last few weeks I’ve visited both places a couple of times and since they both share a similar space in the current restaurant scene I thought I’d take a look at them head to head. For food I’ve decided to break it down to burgers, fries, and everything else since both places are renowned for their fresh look at bar classics.
Harry’s: While Harry’s menu has a number of choices I knew before my first visit what exactly I was going to have...the Cowboy burger. Head chef Steve Brown stuffs a burger with pieces of wonderfully smoky BBQ pork shoulder, jalapenos, and cheese and then like all his burgers tops it with a layer of wonderfully grilled onion. The bun seems to have been soaked in butter and unlike some stuffed burgers the kitchen managed to keep my medium rare temperature consistent throughout the meat. On my return visit I couldn’t help but order the burger again and did notice that the size and amount of the jalapenos had great decreased which was a disappointment to me. A companion on one visit tried their BLTO burger which was essentially a BLT with onion on top of a plain burger and while she thought it was delicious it was disappointing when the onion had to be requested from the kitchen. This burger option has since disappeared from the menu.
Bulldog NE: A burger, double grinded in house, cured with herbs and spices, then given a bath in melted butter…my mouth salivates just typing those words. Chef Landon Schoenefeld has created burgers that are truly a work of art. The Junk Burger features the amazing meat that bursts with tender juicy flavor along with thick cut bacon, mushrooms, garlic aioli, tomatoes, lettuce and your choice of cheese, and it may be the greatest burger you’ve ever had. The Jap and Jack burger is exactly like it sounds with the freshest jalapenos Minnesota’s ever seen sliced over a local Monterey jack cheese. The Stilton Burger has become a favorite of a frequent dining companion of mine with stilton cheese, garlic chips, and homemade horseradish mustard. In the end, it’s the meat at the Bulldog that’s the star of the burgers.
Edge: Bulldog NE- the quality of the ingredients outweighs Harry’s creativity.
Harry’s: I can’t even describe the smile on my face the first time my server brought me my food at Harry’s and I saw that the fries were served in the same bags my high school cafeteria used. While I certainly hoped they didn’t taste anything like those fries, I appreciated the touch of nostalgia and creativity the plating showed. Seasoned perfectly, the fries themselves are slightly bigger then shoestring fries and alternate between crisp and soft. In the end you find yourself reaching in the bag for any crumbs that are left.
Bulldog NE: I have seen people literally declare their passionate love for these fries. They are very similar to Harry’s except for the fact that the Bulldog offers you the opportunity to doctor them up. The fries that seem to create the most passion are the ones that are drizzled with truffle oil and parmesan cheese. The saltiness of the parmesan accents the intense flavor of the truffle oil and each bite is one to be savored.
Edge: Bulldog NE- The truffle oil fries are hands down the best in town but Harry’s basic fry is close behind.
Everything Else Food
Harry’s: Honesty I haven’t tried much else off the menu past the burgers. On my first visit my companion and I split a side order of peppery arugula with white beans and shaved parmesan. The dish was very satisfying and succeeded in keeping the texture and feel of the arugula by cooking it very quickly. Unfortunately this is now of the menu but there are still many side dishes to choose from. The other attention grabber is the nightly specials; Friday night fish fries, cheese steaks with Grain Belts, and on Monday’s, meatloaf. On my last visit my accomplice ordered said meatloaf and what came out was an unqualified success. The meat was juicy and held together like a finer piece of meat. The gravy was more of an au jus and had a slight bitterness that played very well with the accompanying mushrooms and super creamy mashed potatoes. My companion thought the lack of onions and the inclusion of carrots in the meatloaf was odd but really enjoyed the gravy as it was a break from the thick grey/brown gravy one expects.
Bulldog NE: Again, like Harry’s its tough to get past the burgers when one comes to the Bulldog NE. However twice now I have ventured off the burger path with varying results. The chili is perhaps the best I’ve ever had at a restaurant. As a chili connoisseur there’s really no chili I truly enjoy other then the one I make or my father made before me. I find chili to be such a unique and personal taste that it’s often difficult to be satisfied by it when eating out. That being said, the chili here might make me change my mind. Using beef brisket as the base, this is a simple chili with meat and “gravy”. The spice is evident and builds with each bite. The mini cornbread muffins offer a great counter balance and are some of the best in town. On a separate occasion I sampled the “Philly” cheese steak. As someone who loves authentic cheese steaks I was pleased to see the menu use the proper terms of “wit” and “wit out” when it came to various add-ons. Sadly the sandwich was a bit of a disappointment as the meat never seemed to become one with other ingredients. A great cheese steak allows you to taste all the components in one bite and here the meat stood out on its own in every bite. Still it was not a complete disaster as the meat and ingredients were still all prepared with the utmost care.
Edge: Bulldog NE- The chili is the tops in town but the cheese steak at Harry’s could turn this around once I try it.
Harry’s: Amazingly both times I’ve been to Harry’s I’ve had the same server and thank god for that. While I’ve seen other wait staff wander with hot plates seeking out tables I’ve had nothing but good service. When my companion was missing the onions for her burger as previously mentioned, our server came back quickly and with enough onions to cover 4 burgers. Upon my first visit the maitre d’ made a point of asking me if I’d like a booth with a kitchen view which was also very considerate and appreciated.
Bulldog NE: Sadly if there is any area that either restaurant is truly deficient at, it’s the Bulldog and its service. A visit there on a Sunday afternoon can go smoothly and efficiently but things get a little dicier once you get into the early evening hours any other night. For example, the wait for food can exceed a reasonable time period, fries with garnish come plain and vice versa, burgers can cooked to the wrong temperature, and the bar can run out of anything from Bloody Mary mix to iced tea. Thankfully I can say that each of these examples I’ve sighted have been willingly corrected but they should not happen in the first place.
Edge: Harry’s- Astonishing that the new place has something over a place that’s been open nearly a year.
Location and Ambiance
Harry’s: Located on the edge of downtown, Harry’s snuggles up to the old railroad depot on Washington Avenue. A short walk to both the Metrodome and the new Guthrie, Harry’s offers another choice for pre game and pre theater dining. Inside the ex-Nochee space the restaurant exemplifies the phrase “clean space”. The raised booths in the main room offer a view of the open kitchen while the famous words of namesake Harry are stenciled above the pass through window. The bar area is comfortable and nothing feels cramped. The patio space outside offers views of traffic but thankfully its pushed back enough from the street so that one does not snort exhaust all meal. Perhaps the crowning achievement is the chandelier made of Grain Belt Premium bottles that hangs over the maitre d’ station and the smaller versions that adorn each corner of the bar. Only complaint comes from the bathroom where 3 months after opening the soap is still sitting in Softsoap dispensers instead of something more classy or permanent.
Bulldog NE: Located just over the river from Harry’s, the Bulldog seems to be a bar first and restaurant second and that’s just fine with me. If you’re looking for booths or tables where you can spread out then it’s best you head out. The real estate is tight and if you arrive anytime after 5 expect to be sharing your meal with those that are enjoying one of a liquid variety. While this all sounds negative, truth is the Bulldog has a certain charm all its own. From the shuffleboard table along the walls, to the umpteen plasmas around the exposed brick walls, the Bulldog always feels alive and accessible to crowds of all kinds.
Edge: Harry’s- A bit more of restaurant feel and the fact that you won’t get hit in the back by some drunk idiot while you’re eating is nice too.
I’m so happy to be living in an age where this type of cuisine is so prevalent that its hard for me to pick a favorite here. More visits to Harry’s to explore their specials are certainly in order but until then I’ll give the nod to the Bulldog NE.
Harry’s Food and Cocktails, 500 Washington Ave S, http://www.harrysfood.com/
The Bulldog NE, 401 E Hennepin Ave, http://www.thebulldogmpls.com/ne_index.php