When I fly through Minneapolis-St. Paul, I usually stop off at Axel's Bonfire in the main terminal to get a wood-grilled burger. (Click here to see my post on Axel's at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.) The food there, for an airport restaurant, is pretty good. I had been telling myself that I needed to go to one of Axel's Bonfire's six other locations around the Twin Cities. When I was in Minneapolis recently, I decided to go have dinner at the location in South suburban Savage (see map).
The first Axel's restaurant - Axel's River Grille - opened in 1996 and was named after co-owner Linda Young's father who was a long time maintenance worker at the restaurant she took over along with co-owner Chuck Burrows. Young and Burrows began to franchise the Axel's Bonfire concept a few years ago and sold their interest in the restaurants and franchises about two years ago.
The menu at Axel's Bonfire is a mix of American cuisine that includes steaks, fish and seafood, chops, sandwiches and salads. A number of the entrees are cooked in Axel's wood-burning oven or over an open wood-fire grill. They even have wood-fired pizza at Axel's Bonfire - something I've wanted to try, but never have. I like a good wood-fired pizza.
The Axel's Bonfire in Savage was about a 15 minute drive from my hotel in Bloomington. I'm guessing the location was rather new as it didn't show up as being listed on my Garmin GPS. When I punched in the address for Axel's in Savage, it gave me an alternate address to use. I thought that it had to be in the area, so I just used that address. Turned out that it wasn't all that close. It put me out about a half-mile north of the Axel's location. I drove around a series of strip mall's and big box stores in the area for about 15 minutes before I finally found the Axel's Bonfire tucked in off the west side of state highway 13.
I went in and took a seat at the bar and got a menu from the bartender. She gave me a run-down of a couple specials they were featuring that night, but neither tripped my trigger. I really didn't know what I was in the mood for that evening. I'd just had pizza the night before and I wasn't up for having another one that soon. Burgers? No, I always seem to get the burger at the one at the airport.
Steak? Yeah, maybe. Barbecue - that did sound kind of good. So did a pan-fried walleye. One thing that caught my eye were the walleye tacos on their "Southwestern" part of the menu. They called the walleye "fried" and I wondered if they were breaded and deep-fried, or bits of pan-seared walleye chunks that were put into a taco. The bartender asked me if she could explain anything on the menu and I immediately asked about the walleye tacos.
"When it says fried walleye, are they breaded," I asked.
She said, "Yeah, we use a light breading on our walleye. The walleye we use in our tacos and walleye fajitas are basically the walleye strips we have as an appetizer. It's like chicken strips, only they're walleye."
Well, that's not really fish tacos in my book. So I went with Plan B - the brisket. She said, "Oh, that's a good choice." For my side I got the buttermilk-mashed potatoes that include bits of bacon. I got a side salad with French dressing as an opener.
The interior of Axel's Bonfire in Savage is a contemporary Southwestern-style mix of wood and glass with low level lighting. It can get a little loud in Axel's because of the furnishings, but nothing that is overbearing. It's a very comfortable place to have a meal. There are also televisions throughout the place that are usually tuned to a sporting event so it has somewhat of an upscale sports bar feel to the place.
As far as the food goes - my salad was OK, nothing special. It featured a large serving of greens topped with some veggies and their homemade French dressing that was more tangy than sweet. It was a pretty good sized serving, but I was hungry and I wanted to get something in my stomach pretty quickly.
The brisket and mashed potatoes were brought out the bar and the bartender placed it in front of me. There was a small container of barbecue sauce. I knew I would need more so I asked her for some. She happily told me, "Sure! I'll get you some more here in a bit!"
The barbecue sauce was sort of sweet and smoky. It was OK, nothing special. The brisket was all right, as well. It was sort of tender, but didn't have a lot of flavor to the meat. The barbecue sauce made the brisket taste a little better, but it was far from the best brisket I'd ever had.
I had a couple three bites of the mashed-bacon potatoes. They, too, were just OK. I'm not big on potatoes these days, but I do like to sample some out-of-the-ordinary recipes for mashed potatoes when I come across them. They were pretty basic, to say the least.
Overall, I'd give my meal at Axel's Bonfire a B-. The brisket was just about average, the potatoes had some potential that they didn't live up to. The salad was OK. With three beers, the meal came to just over $40 bucks with a generous tip to my bartender who was friendly, attentive and accommodating.
Axel's does some things better than others. I do like their burgers and I've seen some of the other entrees they had to offer. I probably need to try something that they actually cook in their wood-fired ovens or over their wood-fired grill. There's something that I just sort of like about Axel's Bonfire. I like the concept, I like the ambiance, and I like the varied menu offerings. I'll have to give Axel's another shot at a full entree meal at some point, but definitely not the brisket.