Food Meets Beer Hits Pat’s Tap on Eat Street
By Jon Garland, The Heavy Table
Photos by Aaron Davidson
Kim Bartmann’s Eat Street hipster hangout has matured nicely since opening. A spate of tasty bar snacks and an impressive canned beer list is helping it become the comfortable neighborhood spot it was always meant to be.
The first two times I visited Pat’s Tap in the autumn of 2011, I didn’t know what to think of the place. It’s because both visits ended immediately: there wasn’t a single open seat or spare inch of shoulder room to be had. The noise in the room was thundering. The Yelpers were in full migration.
Not that I was surprised. No, if Kim Bartmann builds it, they will come. And why not? The renowned Twin Cities restaurateur had created an almost comically prescient spot for the neighborhood. Selling cans of PBR over games of skeeball on the cool kids’ block, next door to Yeti Records and B-Squad Vintage verges on actualized parody.
The opening frenzy made it hard to tell that Pat’s was trying to be more restaurant than pub. There were long waits for tables, increasing numbers of drinkers waiting for said tables, beer shortages were reported. Pat’s had initially underestimated demand and it wasn’t clear what kind of establishment would be left when the dust settled.
As it turns out, a year of subtle adjustments finds Pat’s in a much better place. The menu has been tweaked, the dining room has added seating and the service has been streamlined. Their newly landscaped patio is ready to take advantage of what they hope to be a construction-free summer 2013 on Nicollet Avenue.
In general, Pat’s simply seems more comfortable now. Families with young children are visiting. Happy hours have gone from insane to pleasantly boisterous. “We don’t want it to feel stuffy, but we really want people to come here because the food is excellent,” says Alex Jacoby, formerly of Bryant Lake Bowl, who stepped in to the manager role at Pat’s last February. “At night, we are more of a bar. It has tilted towards that.”
What has worked in Pat’s favor since its inception is a fine co-opting of the Bartmann recipe for success: embrace the space and make the food follow suit. Jacoby describes Pat’s as “what the glory days of Wisconsin – that never existed – would have looked like.” It’s a Packer bar with spectacular cheese curds to match. The burgers are the crowd favorites, and you may as well start with the bacon burger (that’s a half-beef, half-bacon patty), that’s as cheeky as it is delectable. You’ll thank me, and apologize to your cardiologist, later.
Much like its sister restaurants, Pat’s is committed to being green behind the scenes. They occupy a LEED-certified building decked out with a rainwater reclamation system, low-flow fixtures, and solar panels. They’ve also insisted on a lengthy canned beer program. What might at first glance seem like a list built for quirkiness is in fact grounded in environmentalism.
“Yeah, cans and taps,” says Jacoby of his beer selection. “Cans are more recyclable than bottles, it goes along with our goal of zero waste. But it’s fun for me as a beer buyer. It puts an arbitrary distinction on what I can take and what I can’t. It’s a challenge to get all the styles of beer represented.”
It’s a challenge that makes for some strange bedfellows as well. Pat’s can list has your grandfather’s Kokanee and Hamm’s getting equal billing with modern crafts from the likes of Tallgrass and 21st Amendment. It’s an illuminating exercise, being able to see a nice cross section of brewers who agree with Pat’s “Canifesto”: that hermetically sealed, UV-resistant aluminum is a better beer delivery vessel.
Pat’s also has twenty tap lines, fourteen of which Jacoby keeps pretty static, and the remaining six he tries to turn weekly. “When I came on, the taps were a little more static,” he says. “My goal is that if you come in here once a week, you’ll see one or two new beers you didn’t see last time.” And in order to round out their drinks program, they’ve brought in Mike Nicolosi, a bartending veteran of both Eat Street Social and Bryant Lake Bowl, to develop a next-level craft cocktail program.
In charge of delivering Pat’s neo-Wisconsinite edibles is Charlie Schwandt, also chef at Gigi’s Café, who has helmed the kitchen since it opened. “The environment here is very active. There’s a lot to draw your attention in here,” says Schwandt, “so the food is meant to be vibrant and immediate in terms of how it delivers their flavor. And a lot of our beers are very full-flavored, so you need something that won’t get drowned out, both by the ambiance or the beer.”
The strength of Pat’s menu is the small plates, and one plainly notices how suited they are for beer snacking (read: salty and/or fried.) It’s the food most closely related to the menu’s “gastro-pub” billing, though Schwandt offers a much better descriptor from the boss lady. “Kim uses the term Euro-trash,” he says, “like the Buffalo Chicken Terrine, that’s basically a chicken wing thrown through every classical technique in the book.” (Recommended beer pairing: Sapporo.) You can’t help but order the gougères and wonder why every bar doesn’t serve those addictive little cheese puffs by the dozens. Pat’s also displays above average skill with battered and fried veggies – both green beans and pickle spears that would rival any pub.
The crowds have not abandoned Pat’s – witness any weekend evening as proof. It’s just a more inviting hangout now that the place has grown better equipped to handle them. Like the stylish, yet shy bass guitar player in a suddenly popular band, Pat’s seemed needlessly exposed by the opening spotlight. Now, they’re content to churn out riffs on a groovy and elemental foundation for those that care to take notice.
Killer Pairing #1
Goat Cheese Fritters + Lagunitas Pils
“It’s Stickney Hills Farms goat cheese, seasoned up with some chives and lavender honey,” explains Schwandt. “Then they’re battered up and fried – it’s like a more dressed-up cheese curd. It’s topped with onion marmalade, just onions cooked down with red wine and red wine vinegar, a nice complement to the richness of the cheese with the sweetness of the honey.” The fritters’ exterior is more chewy than crunchy – something like an herbed goat cheese-filled doughnut hole. The well-loved Lagunitas Pils is a great partner as its crispness and traditional Saaz hop flavor helps cut the weight of the creamy cheese.
Killer Pairing #2
Bangers & Mash + Bell’s Best Brown
“My grandmother is from England,” says Schwandt, “so when I came over to this place, it’s something I really wanted to do. We make our own bangers. When I think of a gastro-pub, a place you’re going to eat some food while you drink, this is the first dish that comes to mind.” He serves the homemade sausages with horseradish mashed potatoes and a side of whole grain mustard. We think the best complement to this Old Empire classic would be brown ale. Newcastle is an obvious choice, but since we’re stateside, how about a Bell’s Best Brown? Available for the rest of the winter, it shows a depth of nutty, sweet malt that perfectly contrasts the dish’s warmth and spice.
John Garland writes about food and drink for the Heavy Table (heavytable.com)