When asked if I prefer Starbucks or Caribou, my answer is Dunn Brothers. The difference among the chains, for me as a black coffee drinker, is Dunn Bros. roasting their beans in-house.
But as a cocktail drinker, there’s a new difference maker at the Lowry Hill Dunn Bros. Owner Sanjeev Azad has developed a casual bar concept that gently transitions the java house into a nighttime gathering spot. It’s been open since June 23rd in the long-disused Hennepin Ave. space formerly home to Muddy Paws Cheesecake.
“It’s beautiful, when it gets dark, and people are sipping on beer and there’s light chatter and a yellow glow from the lights,” says Azad. “People look in, step back, look at the sign, and look back in confused. It’s great. We have families come in, buddies hanging out, people on dates. It’s not a loud bar, you’re not going to drop $50, and it’s just welcoming – that’s important to me.”
Let’s begin with what’s most important: discounted drinks. Happy Hour at the Lowry Hill Dunn Bros. runs from 2pm to 7pm every day. That means $4 Bender, Oberon and Farmgirl when every other happy hour in the neighborhood stops at 6pm. They plan to change over all the taps and cocktails every three months to keep with the seasons.
Beer and Beer Cocktails
Creative cocktails with a beer/wine license are usually underutilized or poorly executed. Sticky shandys and saké bloody marys – the category is begging for some creativity and that’s where Jason Westplate comes in. He’s a cocktail consultant, having worked mainly in the Chicago area, and his initial lineup of beer drinks at Dunn Bros. is worth a serious look-see.
We’re enamored with his Hopped Shandy Gaff ($7, above) – a Widmer IPA with Fever Tree ginger beer, muddled lime and a couple doses of Bittercube Door County Hop Bitters. The combination of ginger and hops – both piercing flavors, one warm and spicy, the other vegetal and resinous – makes a boisterous duo unlike anything we’ve swilled this summer.
And if you’re walking down Hennepin looking for dessert, try Good Morning, Good Afternoon & Goodnight ($7, below). The combination of Surly Bender, Dunn Bros. Infinite Black cold press, and vanilla bean/cinnamon simple syrup gets a drizzle of heavy cream to complete the White Russian illusion.
Wine and Wine Cocktails
“There’s nothing fun about a white wine spritzer, so how can we make it better?” Westplate asks, pouring a half glass of Chilean sauvignon blanc. “Lavender. It can be great if it’s not too perfuming and cloying, so we have our lavender syrup, but tampered down with some lemon juice. For the big aroma, we use Dashfire Lavender Tincture.” Called the LSD spritzer ($7, pictured at top), it’s light and bright; a breezy summer drink that you could toss back without a moment’s hesitation.
That sauvignon blanc is also available as one of many options by the glass. Of the 32 keg wines currently available for distribution in Minnesota, this Dunn Bros. has 8 of them. I’m a wine guy – I’ll be happy to parse the difference between Rutherford and Oakville cabernets all day long. But more often than not, I’d rather have a cheap glass of whatever wine than a $15 glass of a specific one. Here, no glasses are over $9 and bottles are as cheap as $10 on happy hour (the simple, straightforward Radio Boca Tempranillo).
“So far, food has been our number one selling category,” says Azad. “So that’s my focus, we’ll do some charcuterie, cheese plates, and other simple things.” With my LSD Spritzer, I’m munching on manchego, 3-year gouda and aged cheddar. It’s more than I’d expect from a coffee shop, and thankfully, less than they could be doing.
The space was equipped with a full kitchen. But Azad’s new landlord didn’t want to deal with another restaurant, so the decision was to make cocktail munchies super quick and easy. You won’t confuse Dunn Bros.’ small plates with those at Heyday. Nothing is “chef-driven”. The fare isn’t so much cooked as it is assembled.
But I’m glad this Dunn Bros. isn’t trying to act like something they’re not. They have a few delicious flatbreads, a hummus plate and quesadilla, some meats and cheeses, and maybe a special or two. The longest cook time on any item is 7 minutes for the chicken wings. For a coffee shop with a small beer/wine menu, a couple of Turbochef ovens churning out simple plates is exactly the right companion. And the value ($10-12 for a beer and a plate) is right where it should be.
Dunn Brothers Coffee Lowry Hill, 2528 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis. 612.377.3176