Review: The Bungalow Club patio beckons you to drink outside while you still can

Alma Guzman

Alma Guzman

Weighing the merits of Bungalow Club just as autumn rolls in (dragging winter behind it) is, well, unfair. To see it at its finest, you’ll want to head outside.

The new restaurant in the former home of the Craftsman on East Lake Street has wisely conserved its forebear’s best attribute: a vine-covered patio that feels magically secluded, though it sits mere feet from one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.

The season for experiencing this joyful cloister is rapidly closing, but we’re a hardy stock, so there are likely a few more weeks of bundling up and dining in the open air. Consider this a recommendation to do so, while savoring any one of Bungalow Club’s excellent cocktails. It’s a tidy list of affordable classics, from the Hemingway daiquiri to the balanced Old Fashioned. The Mezcal Mule is extra smoky, a formidable twist on the milder, sweeter Moscow Mule. A Whiskey Sour boasts a crown of creamy whipped egg white, which, we learned, technically makes it a Boston sour. These cocktails—as well as a number of the beers and wines on their sizable list—hover in the $9-$10 range, so drink up, kid.

The Smorgasbord is a veritable feast for $19.

The Smorgasbord is a veritable feast for $19. Alma Guzman

Chef Andrew Kraft, formerly of Grand Cafe, took the helm this spring, somehow resisting the urge to rename it “The Kraftsman.” Instead, he and his partners, Jeremiah Dittman and Sam Rosen, opted for the low-key, borderline clandestine Bungalow Club. Keep your eyes peeled for its minimal signage—just the cryptic “TBC” lettering on the glass door.

Its culinary ethos is a bit elusive as well, though many a restaurant menu shapeshifts with the season or the whims of the chef. Where does eclectic end and unfocused begin? We can’t say and don’t particularly care, so long as the flow of dishes is steady and well executed.

In that regard, Bungalow Club was hit or miss: Peach Piri Piri ribs with blue cheese were a bit dry on the outside, and dull on the inside, in need of acid to cut the fat. The burrata and octopus salad was delightful, with a lemon preserve dressing that perfects the citrusy brightness of a vinaigrette without the harsh vinegar pucker. A gem lettuce salad with buttermilk dressing had croutons we wished to bag up and take home for couch-snacking, but the rest of the salad was unexpectedly salty.

This joyful cloister is a delight in the warmer months -- and there's still time to enjoy it before winter hits.

This joyful cloister is a delight in the warmer months -- and there's still time to enjoy it before winter hits. Alma Guzman

All three of those dishes land on the first section of the menu, which is partitioned roughly according to first, second, and third courses. The standout starter, the Smorgasbord, is an homage to the olden days at Craftsman, back when Mike Phillips was in the kitchen carving up meats and hadn’t yet left to start his beloved butchery, Red Table Meats. The Smorgasbord offerings change, but on a recent visit we marveled at the bounty of items—andouille sausage, ham hock terrine, salmon rillettes, chicken liver mousse with golden raisins, burrata with peach jam, pickled carrots, olives, and bread and butter pickles. And for the first time in the history of charcuterie, there was actually enough bread and crackers to finish the board. At $19, it is surprisingly a good deal of food for sharing.

Pasta composes the second course, a prime placement for showing off some of the kitchen’s finest work. House-made tortellini, spaghetti, mezzalune—all receive special treatment and individual flair. The tortellini comes in a sweet corn broth with spicy chorizo and shishito, a wholly unexpected melange that beguiles as you work your way through it. The mezzalune is similarly unusual, though perhaps less successful, with thin, hibiscus-colored ravioli, a brown-butter sauce with vinegar overtones, and added crunch from poppy seeds and what the menu calls “some green things” (on this occasion, microgreens and sweet peas). It was interesting to share, if overwhelming as a main dish.

For the “entree” portion of the menu (though you could certainly order a large portion of pasta and call it a night), we found the salmon and wild rice dish to be perfect: The fillet was velvety on the inside, crisped on its edges; the wild rice offered a chewy textural foil; the broth was so rich, even with a gentle sourness, that we wound up slurping it from the bowl.

The burger (in case you needed further proof that every menu in the Twin Cities must serve a burger) was a mild disappointment. The whole of it was greasy, and the advertised “freezer slaw”—chopped cabbage softened in the freezer—all but disappeared into the mix of the double-pattied beef and American cheese. We, of course, finished every bite, which tells you everything about our self-control. A petite ramekin of French onion dip was delicious, but accompanying fingerling potatoes couldn’t stamp out our wistful longing for French fries. A burger demands fries. Why split up an indomitable duo?

For dessert, we recommend the cherry clafoutis. Because clafoutis! When is the last time you saw clafoutis on the dessert menu instead of the same old (yes, delicious) tiramisu, creme brulee, pot de creme, or flourless chocolate torte? The cherries were tart, the puffy, custardy cake was sweet and mellow, and the scoop of luscious chocolate ice cream on top was a cocoa-rich delight.

For a neighborhood joint like this to survive—and don’t be fooled by its Lake Street address; this is definitely a spot for nearby residents to unwind—excellent service is paramount. Bungalow Club meets this challenge handily. When we accidentally asked about ordering drinks from someone who wasn’t our server (it happens!) they happily obliged us. Each employee, from the food runners to the hosts, seemed invested, though not obnoxiously so, in our experience. Servers were knowledgeable and accommodating and toed the line between checking in and leaving us to our meal.

Go and grab your space on the patio while you can. Let round after round of bubbly Spritzes keep you company as you release your grip on summer. Winter is coming, but let’s hide from it a little longer in the Bungalow Club.

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