Last week, things were really going my way. Phillip and I had just successfully booked the tropical vacation of our dreams with a few friends, it was a short work-week thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday, Minneapolis was enjoying probably the last of the unseasonably warm days of fall, and I got off work earlier than usual. Why not celebrate with a happy hour at Pat’s Tap!?
Parking in this South Minneapolis neighborhood was surprisingly easy. We parked on West 35th Street, just around the corner from Pat’s; there wasn’t a parking meter in sight. Gotta love free street parking!
We walked in and were immediately greeted and seated at a small table in the center of the restaurant. The atmosphere wasn’t what I expected. The gray-washed brick exterior implied a modern industrial vibe; what we found inside was a warmly lit and welcoming atmosphere. The decor is eclectic, with a long shelf in the dining room inexplicably dedicated to “construction-style” knick-knacks, yet the bar is classically beautiful.
We looked over the happy hour drink specials ($2-off tap beers), and made our selections: for me, a New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale (regularly $5.25) and for Phillip, a Deschutes Black Butte Porter (regularly $5).
We also ordered a couple of $5 happy hour appetizers: the cheese curds and the pork belly skewers.
The service was prompt with the drinks as well as the food. We were quickly presented with our apps.
We immediately started in on the cheese curds (regularly $8). Being a native Wisconsinite, I like to consider myself a bit of an aficionado of the cheese curd. I have simultaneously high- and low- standards for the curd: On one hand, any cheese, when fried, is of course delicious. This is an indisputable fact. On the other hand, I have tasted some truly excellent cheese curds in my life: squeaky fresh and served at room temperature straight from a Wisconsin dairy; heavily breaded and indulgently greasy at the Minnesota State Fair; or mouthwateringly peppery and satisfying at Santana’s on University.
Pat’s cheese curds rival the best I’ve tried. These are a lightly breaded, less greasy variety, with a delicately simple, crisp batter that reminded us of the State Fair curds but — dare I say — even better? They have an almost baked quality to them, yet are still undeniably unhealthy. I generally eschew any kind of dip with my cheese curds — why would I desecrate an already-perfect dish? — but the Sir Kensington’s spiced ketchup served with these curds is well worth dipping into.
The pork belly skewers (regularly $7) are equally decadent. These large, savory cubes consist of roughly 50% fat, 50% meat. Like I said: decadent! As my first bite literally melted in my mouth, I enjoyed both the soft, smooth texture and the delicate balance in flavors of the sweet pinchito spices and the sharp acid of the lemon juice I had squeezed over them. Phillip, despite immediately thinking they were grossly fatty, devoured two of the three skewers and then joked that “there should be a warning on the menu” about them. I – guiltily – thought they were phenomenal!
After our good luck with the first two appetizers, we decided to order some more food. The remaining happy hour apps weren’t calling our name, so we turned to the regular menu and ordered a pretzel with spicy mustard sauce ($4) and the goat cheese fritters ($8).
The pretzel was fine; served warm and soft, it was satisfying and filling — if not particularly memorable. The spicy mustard sauce possessed possibly the strongest mustard flavor I’ve experienced; it definitely clears the sinuses! I let Phillip eat the majority of the pretzel while I focused my attention on the goat cheese fritters.
The goat cheese fritters were a bit perplexing. The breading was tough, which made it difficult to break through to the gooey, cheesy goodness within. And the proportions seemed off. The fritters were easily two or three generous ounces of creamy and rich goat cheese each; served with a messy heap of onion marmalade, just a few leaves of salad, and only a few discernable bits of the lavender honey, it just felt wrong even though each element of the dish was actually delicious. I would have liked it better had it been only two fritters, with double the salad, half the marmalade, and drizzled more evenly with the honey.
After all of that rich food and a couple of happy hour brews each, we were eager for a bit of activity to wear off some of the calories. We paid our tab ($36 before the tip), grabbed our jackets and the remainder of my second beer, and made our way to the main attraction at the back of Pat’s Tap: skee-ball!
Our only competition for the four skee-ball machines was an eager towheaded kid whose dad was happily feeding him handful after handful of quarters to play while he enjoyed a beer nearby with friends. The kid was having an absolute blast, jumping up and down in excitement after each toss of the ball. It was actually kind of sweet, in a “maybe having a kid doesn’t have to ruin your social life?” sort of way.
We played a dozen or so games, taking turns and trying to get the highest score (our best was 250 points, just for the record). It was a fun throwback to the games of our youth and a great way to end the evening.
While I may not go out of my way to get to Pat’s Tap again, the happy hour beers and food were good and it’s the only place I know of in town where I can top off a meal with a good old fashioned game of skee-ball. If we lived in the neighborhood, we would certainly frequent Pat’s Tap.
The decor is a bit confused, but comfortable. The crowd is diverse; we observed plenty of young uptown-types, a family, and a rowdy group of tipsy baby-boomers.
Attentive. Our server visited often, cleared plates immediately, and corrected our bill before we even had to point out that he’d initially forgotten to charge at happy hour rates.
Hit-and-miss. The pork-belly skewers were presented nicely in a small cast-iron pan with lemon wedges. The goat cheese fritters were less impressively plated, with marmalade and lettuce carelessly tossed atop the fritters.
Again, a bit uneven, but it bears repeating that the curds were absolutely perfect.
Value for Dollars
$36 isn’t the cheapest happy hour in town, but we had a great time at Pat’s.
But don’t take my word for it!
3510 Nicollet Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Pat’s Tap on Facebook
Pat’s Tap on Yelp