Nothings says “open for business” like a front door the size of a stage proscenium.
The entrance to the Depot Tavern, First Avenue’s highly anticipated burger joint, is a single glass garage door that slides up for a gaping welcome to 7th Street. The wide window onto sidewalk traffic gives the dining room an al fresco feel; you get the breeze and the people watching of an outdoor patio, without feeling like you’ve been cast into a stream of pedestrians. The openness is a stark contrast to the dark claustrophobia of the Entry.
In fact, if you were expecting a cloistered rock-and-roll cave — and given the décor of the Main Room and the Entry, why wouldn’t you? — you’ll be surprised. The main dining area, right off the sidewalk, has a bright, white-and-silver theme. A veneer the color of stainless steel coats the tables and chairs. White paint — and a handful of giant flat screens playing Twins baseball — coats the walls.
Beyond the dining room lies the bar area. A bit darker, a bit more intimate, but still more polished than we would expect. There’s a full bar and a respectable beer selection (offerings from Surly and Bell’s, as well as one or two more esoteric brews). And, as promised, a pair of smaller screens near the bar offers closed-circuit glimpses onto the stages in the Entry and the Main Room.
And the food? Meh. Bar stuff, a good deal of it fried. Our server suggested the cheese curds, which were satisfactory but unremarkable. The gabbed-about Diamond Dog — a fourth pound hot dog wrapped in bacon and deep fried, then served on a pretzel roll — was filling, but a little on the greasy side. Having eaten it after a handful of the curds, we felt bad about ourselves.
The most beautiful thing plated before us was a towering cube of mac and cheese, made with four cheeses and dusted with paprika. The most interesting thing we tasted was the coconut curry chopped salad; what appeared to be a nondescript pile of lettuce was actually concealing slabs of avocado, hearts of palm and a surprising mélange of cumin, sweet coconut and curry spices.
A Guinness cheese soup on the menu looked tempting, though we had eaten too much to try it. And the “spuds,” pommes frites fried in peanut oil, come with an unusual curried ketchup.
Will we be back? For sure. Downtown needs another happy hour option that leans away from the corporate crowd.
The Depot Tavern
17 N. 7th St.