McKinney Roe, the newcomer that’s a football’s toss from U.S. Bank Stadium, is a perfectly pleasant restaurant.
That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it isn’t. Honest.
Owner Dermot Cowley has a solid hospitality background, with Jake O’Connor’s Public House in Excelsior, O’Donovan’s Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis and Lola’s Lakehouse in Waconia in his portfolio. McKinney Roe (the name is a combination of Cowley’s mother’s maiden name and his wife’s maiden name — sweet) is the restaurateur’s most ambitious project to date.Chef Christian Oxley — he heads up the culinary program at Cowley’s Irish Born Hospitality — takes a something-for-everyone approach to the restaurant’s lengthy menu of familiar dishes.
That large, Westin-like roster has its pitfalls. I clearly won my initial round of menu roulette, because my first visit was impressive: a creamy risotto packed with juicy shrimp and pops of (incongruous, it must be said) summer garden staples; a tender, salt-crusted, grilled-to-perfection New York strip that could have easily fed two; and, for starters, a grazer’s delight in the form of charcuterie (hailing from San Francisco’s Molinari family) and pretty, spot-on accoutrements.
Our server was a treat, the bar had the decency to stock a $5.50 glass of a drinkable red, and there was little sticker shock when the bill arrived.
On a subsequent return, it was as if I was dining in a completely different restaurant. Disappointments ranged from the egregious (scallops criminally seared into an inedible, leather-like state) to the curious (what is a Caesar salad without so much as a hint of garlic and anchovy?) to the almost-right (a beet salad with beets in a less-than supporting role, the plate’s pile of mesclun greens soaked in a tame lemon vinaigrette). Our server was largely absent, and obviously unschooled in dining’s basic niceties. Huh?
When dinner sticks to the straightforward constraints of the steakhouse format, it succeeds. That New York strip is joined by a big, beefy, center-cut ribeye and a well-rendered steak au poivre. Pork chops had just the right sizzle, and heat wins out over sweet in meaty, slow-braised pork ribs.
But when there’s a stab at a signature dish, the results don’t quite jell. A massive (of course) pork shank, the succulent meat easily nudged off the bone after a long, loving stint in the oven, arrived minus its leading promised attribute, “crackling.” Where was that crisped-up, mouthwatering exterior? The hunk-o-pork shared the plate with roasted winter vegetables, their innate sugars overwhelmed by a too-sweet demi-glace.
A half-dozen standard-issue seafood entrees were similarly hit-and-miss. When prices blithely land in the mid-$30s, that’s not a gamble that diners should have to take.
Success at noon
Lunch is when the restaurant clearly puts its best foot forward. The sandwiches — massive, well-built — more than impress. I’d make a habit of the titanic grilled chicken club, and a double-patty bacon cheeseburger is a must for burger fans.
I never encountered a memorable daily soup. But the menu’s standard — a thick, rich cream of tomato soup, with hints of cool, sweet basil — hits the spot, and it’s paired with bite-sized grilled cheese sandwiches. Perfect.
And while the half-dozen salads land firmly in the conventional zone, several manage to veer into habit-forming territory: bitter radicchio paired with tart apples and nutty farro; that can’t-miss wintry combination of wild rice and roasted butternut squash; a modern take on the steakhouse wedge; and pretty Asian pears with salty Minnesota-made blue cheese and a quietly sweet maple vinaigrette.
Skip the clunky desserts. The biggest mystery is why Cowley dropped Sunday brunch, as it was the kitchen’s most appealing effort. Here’s hoping it returns, and soon.
From the exterior, there’s little indication of the restaurant’s cavernous dimensions. Particularly the vast, double-height bar, a jaw-dropping expanse which, on game days, has got to be the place to be.
The long, narrow (and comfortable) dining room’s best visual asset is its bank of tall glass doors, which overlook the new Commons park and frame the Minneapolis Armory in a million-dollar view.
The decor — it’s the work of Shea, the Minneapolis design firm — has a lot going on. Perhaps the hope was that a swirl of patterns and colors would affix a personality onto a blandly forgettable new building.
Still, it’s a bit much, as if Belle Watling, the hooker with a heart of gold in “Gone With the Wind,” had recently updated her Victorian-era house of ill repute into a high-end Parade of Homes entry. Here’s one certainty: It’s memorable.
As is the roomy sidewalk patio, which promises to become a primo slice of outdoor dining real estate, at least when the weather starts to cooperate. Which can’t be soon enough.