The 2010s have been marked by reboots and sequels. Mad Max: Fury Road and Sherlock are great. And for the most part, I am still pretty bullish on these shiny new re-treads going forward (new James Bond! Star Wars!), although others not so much (the potential Girl Clinton vs. Brother Bush match-up). Other are especially agregious. A Minority Report TV show?!? No one asked for that, Max Borenstein.
In the food world, however, I am all about sequels. Bring ’em on. Thomas Boemer followed up Corner Table with Revival, and big plate enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced. Tim McKee went a second round after La Belle Vie with Libertine. Not all sequels have been a hit (i.e. Little Caesar’s following up the pretzel pizza with…the pretzel pizza again), but the success rate of a chef-driven reboot is much higher than other types.
That brings us to 4 Bells, opened up by the folks behind Butcher & the Boar, which is still one of my all-time favorites. 4 Bells is a loosely Southern-themed restaurant that recently opened up near Loring Park. Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was that the staff was really excited to show us the place. The hostesses were bubbly beyond belief, and our server couldn’t wait to start walking through the menu with us (meaning he didn’t wait at all). I appreciated the genuine enthusiasm; when it’s that infectious that typically bodes well for the food. We also all noticed one of their kitchen staff, who was approximately 8 feet tall. Dude had a pretty deft hand for someone capable of dunking on LeBron.
Before we get to the noms, I have to talk about my favorite part about 4 Bells. Usually I like to read through all the cocktails to make sure I’ve really thought things through before I order. Not this time. No, “Gin & Tonic: gin, house made tonic” caught my eye immediately and I was sold. It was a pretty spectacular G&T, too (so was the next one I got). To give you some context, one of my happiest memories is spending New Year’s Eve at Epcot with good friends and a Nalgene full of G&T. Have you ever sat in a faux reproduction of a Norwegian fishing village, buzzing and loving life? I have. (Side Note: Apparently they’re replacing that great Norway boat ride with a Frozen ride. That’s some serious pandering BS, Disney. That new Star Wars movie I mentioned? You owe it to me to make that awesome).
Brad, Chris, and Matt got some non-G&T drinks; likely a beer, “the girliest drink on the menu,” and a specialty cocktail, respectively. We then started our meal with a trio of seafood appetizers (not the best combo with G&T’s, but I persevered). The first was the oyster casino, which was unfortunately not a little room of bivalves blowing their retirement money on penny slots. I managed to stay interested, however, when our waiter said an oyster casino kind of tastes like a pepperoni pizza. Let’s just say our skepticism melted away immediately because it really did taste exactly like a pizza. More specifically pizza rolls, and I think we can all agree that the world would be a much better place if more things tasted like pizza rolls. Next was the snapper ceviche, a chilled seafood soup with chilis, yogurt, and mint. It was very light and tasty. Also, apparently a common ingredient of ceviche is something called “leche de tigre” or “tiger’s milk.” That’s some serious false advertisement. But then again, I am glad there’s not some sap risking his life to milk tigers just for the benefit of high-end diners. Finally was the baby octopus, which was not false advertising because those octopi were tiny and adorable (and delicious!). They were garnished with orange, heart of palm, and serrano peppers; 4 Bells clearly knew how to pair seafood ingredients.
The entree round was a lot more Southern-themed, as I was beginning to think 4 Bell’s interpretation of “Southern” was every region that shares the entire Americas landmass with the Deep South. We had fried chicken, biscuits, cheesy cauliflower, pork chop, trout, and grits. The fried chicken was perhaps a tiny bit below Revival level, but still really crispy and well-executed. I remember the skin having a really unique and enjoyable crunch to it. We also opted for all four dipping sauces for the fried chicken. The honey butter worked well as a combination with any of the other three sauces. I was really into the watermelon hot sauce. The sweetness was very subtle and the spiciness pretty mellow. The more of it I had, the more I wanted a bottle in my fridge at home. One of those types of hot sauces that’s good to have around for any type of food. The gravy was just straight up well done, and they served it in the world’s tiniest gravy boat. The Delta Sauce (whatever that is) was the unanimous least favorite of the quad. The biscuits made for reliable vessels for sopping up whatever sauces were left over.
Next was the pork chop, which was accompanied with grits and huckleberries. Again, just another really solid pairing of ingredients. I do remember wishing there were just a few more huckleberries, because having the pork, grits, and berries in one bite was the only way to go.
The last entree was the steelhead trout, which was poached in olive oil and came with some sort of spinach puree as well as some potatoes. It also had something called “furikake” with it, which just sounded inappropriate to me for some reason. Furikake (*cringe*) is a Japanese spice mix. The confusing part was the furikake (*shudder*) was also actually listed in quotations in the ingredient list, leading me to believe it wasn’t actually furikake (why, Drew, why). But then why put something obscure like furikake (actually not that bad this time) on the menu if it’s not actually furikake (okay, bad again)? Anyways, we all agreed that the crust on the fish was the best part. The fish itself was cooked perfectly, albeit maybe lacking some seasoning. The potatoes and puree were again a great complement to the fish; the menu construction at ol’ 4B was pretty well done.
Finally we have the au gratin cauliflower. Rather than describe it, just take a peak at the picture of it. It was obviously great.
By the time dessert rolled around, we were all pretty full, but the allure of the cocoa nib & Left Hand Milk Stout milkshake was too great so we ordered one to split. It was a solid milkshake, with my only complaint being the little cracked pieces of coffee bean on top of the milk shake. I didn’t particularly like having to chew pieces of coffee as I was drinking something. This dessert was, however, an important discovery. I was reminded of my scholastic endeavors at Michigan State, when a group of aspiring chemists performed an experiment to determine whether an iced vanilla dessert and a popular Irish beverage held complementary traits (okay, fine, my friends and I mixed Guinness and vanilla ice cream together). That experiment was a failure, but I was delighted to know that you can actually mix ice cream and beer.
Like my previous trips to Butcher & the Boar, I left 4 Bells feeling very content. Although the chefs drew inspiration from a variety of geographies, now that I think about it 4 Bells very much fit the ethos of traditional Southern cooking. Nothing mind blowing (not to say the food wasn’t good, because it really really was), but everything had that unifying level of familiarity that made for a very pleasant dining experience. It may not be the Southern cooking you expect, but 4 Bell’s unique twist gives you that feeling all the same.
I’m not sure when it happened. It really snuck up on me, but it’s true, and I want to ask you, dear reader, if you’re feeling the same sense of ennui as I am: the clean, stainless-and-white-modern-
“Chris,” you’ll say, one hand gesticulating broadly while the other rests gently on the stem of your gimlet, “you see fancy bathrooms all the time. It’s your job, nay, it’s your passion. Those of us that don’t get the chance to experience such luxury constantly still like the crispness of a nice stainless steel and white theme.”
What are you doing drinking a gimlet? Riddle me that, Humphrey Bogart!
4Bells had cool logoed ceiling wallpaper. The rest, though, was typical fancy bathroom fare. Lots of stainless touches. Meh. 3 out of 5 flushes.