The northern suburbs aren't known for their beer IQ, but one joint in Maple Grove is schooling bargoers.
If you hate shopping in the suburbs, drinking bad beer and eating at giant chains, Maple Grove is your worst nightmare.
The northwestern 'burb, known for the massive Arbor Lakes retail monstrosity along I-694, is also the last place you'd expect to find a bar dedicated to craft beer, those edgy brews that seem to be an urban cool kind of thing.
Imagine my surprise when fellow beer geeks started yammering on about a beer bar worth the drive to Maple Grove.
Boutique beer in the 'burbs? You betcha, they said.
Last Thursday, I set out for the joint called 3 Squares. How could such a place survive in Maple Grove's overgrown maze of "lifestyle centers" and fake Main Streets? All I could see was chain after chain: Timber Lodge, Red Lobster, Houlihan's, Olive Garden and on and on.
But there it was: 3 Squares sat comfortably at the corner of Main Street and Arbor Lakes Parkway. (Jo-Ann Fabrics loomed in the background.) About a year ago, the people behind the Blue Plate Restaurant Company took over what used to be a Green Mill. They have a track record of opening comfy neighborhood joints like the Highland Grill, the Groveland Tap and the Edina Grill. But would that translate out here?
The answer is yes, and a big part of the equation is the bar. It takes up half of the restaurant, so right away you know they're committed. When 3 Squares first opened, co-owner Luke Shimp said he wanted to make an instant impact on beer geeks in the northern suburbs. He installed 20 tap lines, filling them with craft beers from around the country. The bar is also one of the only places in the Twin Cities to have every Summit available on draft (eight and counting).
Here come the beer fans
I decided to check out 3 Squares on a night that held great promise for beer fans in the northern suburbs. Last Thursday marked the bar's first big firkin party. For the uninitiated, a firkin is a 10-gallon keg filled with beer that's been naturally fermented. With its smooth taste, aficionados say this is the way beer was meant to be enjoyed. Firkin parties have been all the rage at beer bars like the Muddy Pig and the Bulldog, but those are urban taverns.
The firkin came to 3 Squares from Surly, the red-hot Brooklyn Center brewery that's amassed a devoted following for its push-the-envelope beers. Surly's co-owner, Omar Ansari, would be tapping the keg of Furious himself at 3 Squares.
By 7 p.m., every seat in the restaurant was filled -- with the wait at 90 minutes. In the bar, beer fans were getting antsy.
When the firkin was finally hoisted onto the bar and Ansari was ready to unleash its tasty contents, camera flashes began popping all around him. The beer geeks were out in full force.
One of them was Jerry Lien, who fiddled with his digital camera as his wife looked on.
"He's a fan," she said.
Lien has dragged her to other beer bars, but this one is by far the closest to their Brooklyn Park home. She digs the eats, which can be described as comfort food with a twist (tempura green beans, Gorgonzola fritters, bison burgers, pirogies).
"There was no way I was going to pass over Surly being here," Lien said.
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as beer evangelists. After tasting three different Surlys with a friend, Jerry Dilworth of St. Paul said he'd been converted.
"I'll be honest -- I usually drink Colt 45," Dilworth said. "I'm thinking about getting away from that stuff."
This is music to the ears of 3 Squares owners, who said they're planning more beer parties for the summer.
These parties are a regular thing for Surly, but this was its first in the 'burbs. After the reception they got at 3 Squares, Ansari said it won't be the last. A quick 45 minutes after tapping the firkin, it was all gone -- which left Ansari with a bewildered look on his face.
"That was crazy," Ansari said. "I was not expecting this from Maple Grove."
No one else was, either.