Room at the inn

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January 3, 2011 // UPDATED 9:28 am - January 3, 2011
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar

The Inn  //  89 S. 10th Street  //  886-2377  //

Tired of $15 martinis? Food so tortured that the ASPCA should get involved? Servers who view their brush with the hospitality industry as martyrdom? So is Tim Niver. He and his cronies (alums, mostly, of Town Talk Diner and The Strip Club) have this crazy theory that dining should be — what? — fun! And what’s more, affordable.

That’s the mantra behind The Inn, new occupant of the former Subo space, as cozy as your corner bar, but with drinks that seem a whole lot better. Evidence: the Slim Shim, a confluence of Scotch, rosemary, maple syrup, lemon and ginger, and possibly the world’s best cocktail. Or the Inn Flip, straight from New Orleans at its dissolute best: brandy, cynar (a digestif made from, of all things, artichokes), Licor 43, allspice dram,  and — indicating that it’s all about health food — a whole egg, whipped into a celebratory foam.

Furthermore, instead of an amuse bouche — the complimentary micro-app of haute cuisine — Tim offers an “amuse booze” — a sip or three of rum and dark chocolate: Season’s Greetings to our lips.

The servers double as poster kids for Minnesota Nice — explaining everything, offering suggestions, returning with yet-another smile after being told, for the third time, that, sorry, we haven’t decided yet.

OK, we finally decided. We started by sharing a bowlful of chicken wings, sweetly sticky with a maple/Bourbon/bitters glaze that reawakes the otherwise-tired bar snack. Next, a bowl brimming with mussels steamed in beer instead of been-there-done-that wine, then brightened with bacon bits and a hint of cilantro — more evidence folks won’t be frightened by gentle tweaks on comfort classics. Alas, the critters proved wizened and overcooked rather than the juicy morsels of one’s fantasies. Next time: the pork sausage with celery root and Brussels sprouts. Or the pickled herring with dill, potato and rye — more riffs on familiar staples, and all under $10, to boot.

Entrée listings tell it like it is. Chicken. Beef. Pork. Cod. Risotto ($16–24). Straight-up supper club fare. But if you read the fine print, they’re paired with twists that guarantee you won’t be bored. For instance, the pork — a braised shoulder cut — hunkered over a scoop of creamy polenta, livened by the occasional briny tang of olives. And the beef — short ribs, it turned out — called on a satiny drift of farina for its starch.

Trouble is, both meats were overcooked and far from fork-tender.

Fortunately, dessert (from Salty Tart) was swell — a petite Bundt cake rich with ginger, caramel, toffee and rum all soothed with a creamy mascarpone sauce.