Recently I reread this review that is more like a personal essay by James Norton over at The Heavy Table. The article is a few years old now and I came across it while sorting through my backlog of saved stuff in my feedly. I could not initially remember why I had saved it, but I rereading it turned the light on. A slightly delirious, cold-stricken Norton turns the review of Miso Ramen from UniDeli into an essay on personal growth through food, and, most importantly, divorcing what is good from what is comfortable.
I have long thought that basically everything can go on an x/y axis chart wherein the four points are: It’s good and I like it/It’s good and I don’t like it/It’s bad and I don’t like it/It’s bad and I like it. I think at one point I named this idea something like, “Anne’s Theory of Social Relevance,” or something pretentious like that, because really it’s about good and bad as those things are socially defined. For example, society generally says that baked salmon is good. Baked salmon is a thing that many people like and many chefs put on their menus. You can buy salmon in many grocery stores. Yet I, however, cannot get on board with cooked fish, no matter how “good” it is. I cannot get past the fishiness of fish. It is something that I simply do not like, even though I know that salmon is “good.” (Please do not lecture me here about how fresh fish should not be fishy. You could have pulled that sucker out of the water moments before and I will still think it tastes fishy if you cook it. Sushi is a different thing altogether).
So baked salmon, for me, is something that falls pretty firmly in the realm of, “It’s good and I don’t like it,” along with chocolate ice cream and the show Firefly.
Norton’s article was still in the back of my head when I went out to one of my favorite brewpubs in Minneapolis, Town Hall Tap. Town Hall Tap is one of three Town Hall franchises, and it is far and away my favorite one. My reasoning is pretty subjective. I like it because it is the smallest and the most neighborhood-y, because the beer specials are more interesting to me than the ones at the other locations. I also think that the food is the best out of the three. I have been going to the Tap (as it is affectionately known in my circle) consistently since I moved to the Cities in 2010. If I think about it, though, there have been some definite ups and downs at the Tap throughout that time. I have received appetizers that were still frozen in the middle. I have had at least one lackluster sandwich. I went briefly after they started serving brunch, and found it to be a lot less impressive than the dinner menu. There was a brief, horrifying period of time when they removed brie curds from the menu. It is, perhaps, not really fair to mention these things in this review when the rest of the reviews on this site are based on one visit (because I am one person with limited resources), but it is hard not to consider everything because Town Hall Tap and I have history. And for every cold fried pickle, every soggy sandwich, there is a glowing experience that keeps me coming back. The good outweighs the bad. Plus, the beer has never let me down.
With all of that in mind, I think Town Hall Tap is maybe somewhere in the middle of my chart. I maintain that it is overall good. The fries (both at the Tap and at the Brewery) are some of my favorites in the whole city. The black bean burger is made in house, so you can’t be too mad when it falls apart onto your plate at the first bite. And did I mention the brie curds? I love the brie curds more than I love most things in life, even if they came to my table frozen in the middle that one time.
I do have one major quibble though, Town Hall. What the hell is with your burger buns? They are way too soft to stand up to anything juicier than a turkey sandwich. At least toast them, for crying out loud.
Perhaps I cannot fully divorce comfort from goodness when it comes to Town Hall Tap, but I will keep going back as long as there is beer and brie curds, fries and cream cheese pickles. I think you should, too.