I parked my car, fed the meter, and lost several quarters. This is why I have parking-meter anxiety. Fortunately, the meter directly behind was open, and worked. The wind was brisk, so I was freezing when I opened the door to walk into The Times Bar and Café. Instantly, I was astounded by the charm of the mahogany wood walls and tin ceilings.
David, the day bartender, greeted me. He was the most pleasant, engaging individual I have met during my travels through restaurants, llama runs, and culinary vacations.
I went into the “newer” side of The Times that was being painted a shade of burgundy. Later, I heard a woman state, “It’s like a face-lift.” The signature forest green color is gone.
Owner Dan Lessard joined me, and told me about the history of The Times. He also instructed his chef to begin bringing out samples from the menu.
The one thing I didn’t get to try, but asked about, was the All-You-Can-Eat Soup & Salad Bar ($7.95), available Monday through Friday, 11 AM to 2 PM. You get more than 14 fresh items, such as ham, eggs, turkey, chicken, sprouts, and cottage cheese, plus the famous Turkey Wild Rice Soup and a second soup of the day. It also includes The Times Tomato Balsamic Vinaigrette House Dressing, as well as all-you-can-drink iced tea or soda.
I did a little research, and this is the best lunch deal on East Hennepin. Other restaurants and a grocery store that offer soup and salads compared at a price of $11.95, and they were not all-you-can-eat. I noticed a flock of students at a nearby beauty school all going to the wrong establishments for lunch, coming out with salads and soup. All they need to do is walk half a block more for an unbelievable lunch deal and charismatic atmosphere.
The Nordeast Combination, one of many delicious entrées, is listed as the best of both worlds: beef medallions with crab cakes ($22.95). All entrées are served with a choice of creamy Caesar Salad or House Salad with mixed greens tossed in tomato balsamic vinaigrette, accompanied by a choice of Au Gratin Potatoes, Potato Croquette (out of this world, stuffed with melted gruyère cheese), or Porcini Risotto. You’d better be hungry when you order this feast. It’s fabulous!
Delivered next to my table was Beef Stroganoff, the classic dish of egg noodles tossed with sautéed beef tips cooked medium, caramelized onions, and mushrooms in a sherry and sour cream sauce ($17.95). I couldn’t believe how tender the beef tips were. All pasta dishes are served with a choice of soup, House Salad, or Caesar Salad. But I had to take small bites, because this culinary journey was not over. Lessard told me that the signature dish was coming.
While I waited, Lessard told me that the original Times was built where the new Target building is in Downtown Minneapolis. The designer of the original bar named it after London’s The Times. Because he was English, he built it like an English pub.
Now, The Times has the “original side” and the music side, where some of the finest talents in the Twin Cities are featured, with no cover charge. Check the Web site for information.
Bubbling pots were set on the table. I was experiencing The Times Fondue. It has been on the menu for 20 years. The menu recommends that patrons allow approximately three hours for the whole experience.
The appetizer is Cheese Fondue, served with bread cubes and apples for dipping. Next is a salad choice: Garlic Caesar or House served with tomato balsamic vinaigrette. The entrée is Traditional Hot Oil Fondue that cooks your choice of meats, including Jumbo Gulf Shrimp, Boneless Chicken Breast, or Beef Tenderloin (any combination of the three), served with fresh vegetables and several dipping sauces. The Grand Finale is the irresistible Chocolate Fondue. This divine dessert, made with bittersweet Callebaut chocolate, is served with strawberries, bananas, pound cake, pineapple, and marshmallows.
Fondue for Two is $74.95. Fondue for each additional person $37.95. Each fondue can be ordered separately if you don’t have three hours to pamper yourself.
I enjoyed myself thoroughly. The fondue was one of those event dishes I will remember, and bring good friends and family to discover.
There is too much to cover about The Times, such as the Saturday Brunch, as well as Happy Hour (Monday-Friday, 3:30-6:30 PM).
You will feel welcome at The Times. This is the Twin Cities Cheers. I scolded myself on my drive home, because it was my first visit to this genuine treasure of a bar and café.
The Times Bar and Café
201 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
John Michael Lerma is a local chef, author, and Food Network personality. His company Garden County Cooking offers cookbooks, cooking classes, consulting, private events, and culinary vacations to Italy and the Caribbean. Visit www.GardenCounty.info. Check out his “Word of Mouth” Blog under Extras at lavendermagazi.wpengine.com.