A quick post about an ultra-casual eatery: Sandcastle by the beach in Lake Nokomis park in South Minneapolis. Owned and operated by Doug Flicker and Amy Greeley (and their partner Chele Payer) since it opened in 2013, Sandcastle is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Piccolo (their celebrated fine dining restaurant that you may have read about one or seven times on this blog). There’s no five course tasting menu here, no modernist food, no foie gras-laced desserts. Which is not to say that the food is cookie cutter. You can order cheese curds and hotdogs, yes, but you can also order the Dog Flicker (a hotdog with kimchi) and shrimp and octopus ceviche. All of it is served casually and best enjoyed on the wonderful terrace/patio overlooking the lake. Sandcastle is open from early May through early October and, sure, the height of summer might be the best time to go, but it’s also a great place to be in denial about the coming of the permafrost. Grab a hotdog or a burger, get a beer (either on tap or from their visiting brewers) and then walk it off around the lake (and take your dogs too—they welcome dogs on the patio).
We were there this past weekend with a friend visiting from India. Truth be told, we’d set out to get some Jucy Lucys from Matt’s, not too far up Cedar from Lake Nokomis, and bring them to the park for a picnic before taking him to the airport. But the line out the door at Matt’s put paid to that plan—we didn’t even stop the car. I was secretly relieved as Sandcastle is where I’d wanted to eat—the Matt’s plan was only so he could experience an iconic Minnesota dish. As luck would have it, Chef Flicker was grilling chuck and brisket burgers to order on the grass behind the patio and so he got to eat a truly excellent burger anyway. I chatted briefly with Ms. Greeley and thought of outing myself to her and Chef Flicker (they’re a couple) but then finally decided against it in order to spare myself the indignity of discovering that they had no idea what I was talking about and to spare them the awkwardness of having to pretend they did. It was nice, however, to see Chef Flicker manning the grill and clearly having a great time making basic food in a setting as far away from Piccolo as is possible.
The so-called “patio burger” was available as a single patty, as a double and with cheese. I got one as a single to share while we waited for the rest of the food to come out. Even though the strong wind was causing some trouble at the charcoal grill, it was cooked perfectly to just south of medium with a nice bit of char. It was served naked in the bun—we dressed it up with pickles and just a light smear of ketchup and mustard and it made us very happy. Burgers are generally available as specials on Mondays (Wednesday are for sloppy joes and Fridays for fried chicken). The burgers and almost everything else are cooked on site, and the little that’s not prepared in the kitchen while you wait (the kimchi, for example) comes from other local sources. And everything gets recycled and composted for extra virtue (no charge). On the weekends they have live music as well.
What else did we eat? Cheesecurds which were light—or at least as light as deep fried cheese can be—and perfect; fish tacos which sounded and looked very good but were a bit on the bland side; an excellent blt with perfectly cooked bacon; shrimp and octopus ceviche which in practice was more like pico de gallo with chunks of shrimp and octopus in it (the chips that came with it were excellent, however); an excellent bbq pork sandwich served with a big slice of pickle; the boys got chicken tenders and a hotdog from the kids menu and ran riot around the patio and had a merry old time; we all shared some fries which we all wished had been cut a bit thicker; and our dogs hoovered up everything that fell on the grass (to preserve everyone else’s pleasurable patio experience we took our badly behaved dogs to one of the larger tables off the patio proper). We washed it all down with beer, soda and lemonade. For pictures of the food and the atmosphere see below.
All of this came to about $80 (including the drinks). So, not a cheap outing per se but far better food than you can usually expect to eat in such surroundings, made with far greater care and with high quality ingredients. Chef Flicker may not be there every day but he clearly has the kitchen running smoothly. There’s a month left before Sandcastle closes for the season—there’s really no reason you shouldn’t go.