On many Thursdays, restaurant critic Rick Nelson fields dining-related questions in a live chat format at Startribune.com. Here’s a summary of a recent discussion.
Q: I need a good “guys’ dinner” idea. I’m trying to think outside the box of a place that offers solid atmosphere, good food (probably protein-heavy) and a good scotch/bourbon selection. Butcher & the Boar (1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.butcherandtheboar.com) is not allowed as the answer.
A: The Strip Club (378 Maria Av., St. Paul, www.domeats.com) might be just the ticket. Chef JD Fratzke grills what is easily one of the best steaks in the Twin Cities, and anyone who has a daily “meat on a stick” menu item is OK in my book. The bar crew is another strong suit. You might also want to try Burch Steak (1933 Colfax Av. S., Mpls., www.burchrestaurant.com), Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre’s excellent modern steakhouse.
Q: We’re looking to celebrate a little. We love Manny’s (825 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., www.mannysteakhouse.com) and Pittsburgh Blue (3220 W. 70th St., Edina, and 11900 Main St., Maple Grove, www.pittsburghbluesteak.com), but we’re looking to branch out to other steakhouses. What’s most important is a great wine list. Thoughts?
A: Burch Steak, as mentioned above. One smart element of their menu is that you can purchase different cuts in different sizes across three varieties of beef: Grass-fed, naturally raised and prime. What a great idea. You should also consider the Capital Grille (801 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.thecapitalgrille.com), which has always maintained a pretty strong wine list.
Q: You’ve mentioned Burch twice but how about a place that you can actually get reservations for? All of Becker’s places are a battle to actually get in. For procrastinators like me, it’s just not possible.
A: Agreed, none of Isaac and Nancy’s restaurants — which include 112 Eatery (112 N. 3rd St., Mpls., www.112eatery.com) and Bar La Grassa (800 Washington Av. N., Mpls., www.barlagrassa.com) — are easy walk-ins. But here’s a tip: When you go to Burch, head downstairs to the pizza portion of the restaurant and sit at the bar; the upstairs (steakhouse) menu is also served downstairs.
Q: I love raw oysters. Where can I find the largest and freshest selection?
A: It’s definitely at four-star Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, www.meritage-stpaul.com), where chef Russell Klein fully immerses himself in the oyster-eating culture. It’s a phenomenal operation, and I highly recommend it. If you prefer to stay west of the Mississippi, you should check out chef Jamie Malone’s beautiful oyster presentations at Sea Change (806 W. 2nd St., Mpls., www.seachangempls.com). Or for something very casual, consider Sea Salt Eatery (4801 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls. www.seasalteatery.wordpress.com) in Minnehaha Park.
Q: Do you know any good drive-ins worth checking out this summer?
A: I love drive-ins. Here are two ideas: The Galaxy Drive-In (3712 Quebec Av. S., St. Louis Park, www.galaxy-drivein.com) reopened earlier this month under new management (the Green Mill folks). I’m also a huge fan of the Drive-In in Taylors Falls (572 Bench St., Taylors Falls, Minn., www.taylorsfalls.com), in part because heading to the St. Croix is such a great day trip, and in part because the drive-in is handled with care; the food is terrific, and the place is spotless. Two others worth mentioning: the Peppermint Twist (115 Babcock Blvd. W., Delano, www.thepepperminttwist.com) and the classic Italian-American Dari-Ette Drive-In (1440 E. Minnehaha Av., St. Paul).
Q: Any knowledge of local farmers growing hazelnuts this year?
A: There’s a farm in Lake City, Minn., that cultivates hazelnuts, Hazelnut Valley Farm (www. hazelnutvalleyfarm.com).