Here at Fancy Dinner Club, we love food. We love farm-to-table, chef-driven places that get tons of buzz and that you need to get a reservation months in advance and spend a week’s salary to eat at. We love gimmicky fast-food items that promise the world and basically always come up short, but they’re worth a try anyways.
We love food from all ends of the spectrum. But, like everyone, the places we find ourselves going back to over and over are those neighborhood joints that exist at the intersection of convenient location, friendly staff, good food/drinks, and affordable prices.
In my neck of the woods (SW Bloomington), there hasn’t historically been much in terms of dining options. You can either get something from Subway, or from Jimmy John’s, or from Firehouse Subs, or from the other Subway.
The city finally updated their zoning to allow more than hoagies, and Northstar Tavern opened to fill the gaping neighborhood restaurant void. The FDC gang paid Northstar Tavern a visit the first week they were open, and we were impressed with what we found.
Run by a friendly local couple, Northstar Tavern is supposed to be the sort of place where you can go to get something healthy, or something decidedly unhealthy. Owner Jon wanted to make sure Northstar Tavern was the type of place both he and his wife would want to come to, and that means they provide tons of options to suit almost any palette.
The menu lives up to that challenge, boasting a wide variety of mouth-watering sides, salads, pizzas and burgers. The options are definitely not typical of what you might expect from a chain bar and grill. While Northstar Tavern does of course have wings, nachos and the like, they also have plenty of unique and interesting dishes, like Mushroom Wild Rice Egg Rolls, Jalapeno Avocado Wontons, Loaded Sweet Potato Tots, and (an FDC Favorite) Cry Baby Cauliflower.
We ended up loading up on a lot of sides, and were glad we did – all the sides we ate were at least very good, and the Cauliflower is something worth going back for. (Spoiler alert: I went back the next day!)
On the burger front, this is not your typical chain where you can get a burger or, if you ask really nicely, a turkey burger. At Northstar Tavern, you order a sandwich by making a choice in each of three different categories: “The Protein”, “The Set Up” and “The Holder”. Proteins range from a beef patty, to veggie burger, salmon burger, and walleye cakes, among others, where the setups contain things like The Buffalo (buffalo sauce and bleu cheese), The Tipsy Cowboy (BBQ sauce and drunken onions), and The Forager (mushrooms and onions).
There are nine different protein options and nine different set ups in all, and they recommend a different protein with each set up. Holders include a variety of buns and wraps. For example, I could get The Bistro (red peppers, basil, mozzarella, balsamic reduction) with a chicken breast on a ciabatta bun. There are tons of mix-and-match possibilities (486 total options!) so you can always try something different if you’d like.
Northstar Tavern also serves pizzas, which are well cooked and have good flavor. We had the Wild Rice and Mushroom pizza which was very well done. When I went back the next day I ordered a standard pepperoni pizza, which hit the spot.
One of the things that really sets Northstar Tavern apart is its drinks. They have a great tap beer selection, and living up to their ‘never too many choices’ motto, also have a great wine list and cocktail program. The cocktails are mostly whiskey-forward, and all the drinks we had were done very well. I particularly liked the Sour cocktail I ordered, which was very tart and had just the right amount of whiskey flavor underneath to keep me honest.
The happy hour at Northstar Tavern (3-6:30 M-F) is off the charts, with $4 beers, $7 cocktails, and cheap apps, tacos and pizzas. They also started up a brunch weekends from 10-2. In fact, the food was so good and there was so much demand from the public that the community literally ate Northstar Tavern out of food on their first Sunday. They’re adjusting to their newfound stardom, and the tavern will be ready to take your order whenever you decide to show up.
If you live or work somewhere near 494 and 100, Northstar Tavern is worth your while. Stop in for a happy-hour beer and a quick app, or stop in for dinner or brunch. I’m so glad this place opened up in my backyard, so if you’re there you may see me at the bar or sitting down with my family for a good dinner at a good price.