I had a breakfast meeting planned with Ken, the general manager of The Needle Doctor in Minneapolis earlier this summer. Knowing that I like to check out different places to eat, he suggested we meet at a place I'd never been to before - Bryant-Lake Bowl in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. He said, "It's kind of a retro/funky/urban type of spot. I think you'll dig it."
Bryant-Lake Bowl is a combination restaurant, bowling alley and small theater all in one. The current owner, Kim Bartmann, purchased the eight-lane bowling alley in 1993 from Bill Drouches. Drouches was a well-known bowler in the Twin Cities and Bryant-Lake Bowl was one of three bowling alleys that he managed or owned over the years. Up until 1993, Bryant-Lake Bowl was one of the more popular spots for league bowlers in the Twin Cities.
Kim Bartmann had moved from Appleton, WI to the Twin Cities in 1983 to go to school at the University of Minnesota. She got a job as a cook in a vegetarian restaurant (telling the owner that she was a vegetarian, but she wasn't) and the business got in her blood. With her mother's credit card, help from a partner and $10,000 in cash, she opened her first restaurant/coffee shop, Cafe Wyrd, in 1991. It was one of the first coffee bistros of its type in the Uptown neighborhood.
By 1993, Bartmann and her partner at Cafe Wyrd had an acrimonious parting of the ways and she was getting bored running the little coffee shop. Bryant-Lake Bowl had become a run-down, almost seedy entity a few blocks down from Cafe Wyrd on W. Lake Ave. in Minneapolis. But Bartmann saw something in the place that she felt had potential. Along with a college friend, Liz Dailey, they ended up buying the business and gussied up the bowling alley. They tore out the old pro shop and put a bar and cafeteria-style restaurant in its place. A game room off to the side of the bowling alley became a small 85-seat theater. Bartmann and Daniels bought the seats out of the old Stillwater (MN) Junior High School and installed them in the theater. They opened the new Bryant-Lake Bowl on Halloween night of 1993.
Yuppies and urban hipsters drinking wine and eating cheese plates replaced the cigar-smoking, Pabst Blue Ribbon-drinking league bowlers at Bryant-Lake Bowl. The original cafeteria-style restaurant didn't go over well and Bartmann and Daniels turned it into a sit down full-service restaurant with interesting food items. The theater hosted a number of avant-garde, issue-based and cabaret-style performances, as well as being a starting point for fledgling comics in the area.
In 1995, Bartmann had personal set back when her car was involved in an accident and she suffered massive head injuries. She had problems with memory and cognitive functions for awhile before getting back to full strength.
In 2001, Bartmann and Dailey turned Cafe Wyrd into Cafe Barbette (known today as simply "Barbette"), a French bistro that featured food items from locally sourced farms. It was also one of the first eco-friendly restaurants in the Twin Cities composting leftover food and practicing recycling. (Cafe Barbette is located just across the street from Amore Victoria, an Italian restaurant Cindy and I ate at last summer. Click here to see that entry. Looking across the street to Barbette, Cindy said, "I want to eat there sometime." We have it on our list of restaurants to visit.)
Bartmann had her eye upon expanding her Uptown empire, but Dailey decided she didn't want to grow any larger than Bryant-Lake Bowl and Barbette. Bartmann bought Dailey out, but the two stayed friendly. From there, Bartmann opened The Red Stag in northeast Minneapolis with the help of her sister, Kari, that pays homage to Upper Midwest supper clubs that the Bartmann girls went to with their parents while growing up.
The Red Stag was followed by the 2010 acquisition of Casey's Tavern at the corner of Nicollet and 35th St. near the Eat Street area south of downtown Minneapolis. The Bartmann's turned it into Pat's Tap in the Uptown area, a gastropub tavern named after their mother that features skee-ball machines. About the same time they were completing the purchase of Casey's Tavern to turn it into Pat's Tap, the Bartmann's bought Gigi's Cafe in Uptown. They also run Bread & Pickle, up upscale concession stand next to the Lake Harriett bandshell just south and west of the Uptown neighborhood. And as I write this entry, Bartmann is working on a new venture in south Minneapolis - Tiny Diner - that will feature a large urban garden growing many of the herbs and vegetables the restaurant will use in season.
Bartmann's ecological blueprint is to make her restaurants eco-friendly by composting, recycling and using solar panels. Red Stag was the first restaurant in Minnesota to be a certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) eatery. Bartmann also serves as Vice-President on the board of the Land Stewardship Project, a non-profit organization that supports and promotes small, sustainable farms in Minnesota.
It was just before 9 a.m. when I pulled up in front of Bryant-Lake Bowl near the corner of Bryant and W. Lake in Minneapolis. (see map) Ken hadn't shown up yet, so I had a little time to look around the place before getting a seat in the small dining area. The bowling alley was, understandably, quiet. Even with some modern features such as overhead scoreboards, it looked like you were walking back into the 50's. It was retro and funky, to say the least.
The bar area featured an interesting bowling mural on the wall. It, too, had a retro, art deco vibe. I envisioned myself bellying up to the bar to order a Grain Belt Premium at some point.
I got a table near the wall toward the back of the dining area and was greeted by Kristine who would be serving us this morning. Inked up with spiky red hair, Kristine epitomized the vibrant urban feel of Bryant-Lake Bowl. Not long after she dropped off a couple menus, Kenny showed up. I complimented him on his choice of Bryant-Lake Bowl for its "trippy nature." He said, "Yeah, it's got this edgy, funky urban vibe going on. I like the place a lot and figured that if you liked Psycho Suzi's (click here to see my entry on Psycho Suzi's) then you'd like this place, too."
We talked a little business before we looked over the breakfast menu that is served from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily at Bryant-Lake Bowl. (Click here to see their sandwich and burger menu, click here to see their salad and entree menu, and click here to see their gluten free menu.) They also had a small menu of breakfast specials they were featuring that particular day.
I was looking at the egg sandwich - organic range free eggs cooked to your specification, topped with cheddar cheese and coupled with either ham, sausage links or a sausage patty, bacon or vegetarian sausage and served on either an English muffin or a biscuit. They also had French toast made out of a baguette and topped with seasonal fruit compote. I asked Kristine what the seasonal fruit compote was and she told me it was strawberry. Naw, can't do strawberries.
Almost simultaneously, Ken and I looked on the special menu for the day and saw something called "Ann's breakfast burrito". Normally $8.50, they had it on special for $6.95 that morning. The breakfast burrito consisted of two range-free scrambled eggs, seasoned ground beef, guacamole, black beans and your choice of either pepperjack or cheddar cheese. It's then topped with salsa and served with a side of Bryant-Lake Bowl's jalapeno fried potatoes. Kenny ordered on with cheddar cheese and I got one with the pepperjack. We both got large orange juices to go along with the breakfast burritos. Yes, I know, not very daring for both of us to get practically the same thing, but to me it sounded pretty good.
And when Kristine brought out the food, I found from the first bite that it was very good. It was chock full of scrambled eggs, seasoned ground beef, guacamole, beans and pepperjack cheese. The ground beef had a bit of a bite to it, but it wasn't overly spicy.
The spiciness was saved for the jalapeno potatoes. They were basically American fries with chopped jalapenos mixed in. While the jalapenos were spicy, they weren't the ultra hot jalapenos. They were spicy enough to get your attention. In combination with the potatoes, they were very good.
It was certainly a lot of food for $6.95. Actually, it would have been a lot of food for the regular price of $8.50. It was so much food that I was having trouble finishing it up. I began to pick out the innards of the burrito from the tortilla shell toward the end. I finally gave up with potatoes and part of a burrito on my plate. Kenny, however, was able to finish his breakfast. "Man, that was very good," he said as he finished up his large orange juice.
Ann's Breakfast Burrito was very good and very filling. Kristine's service was exemplary and I loved the hip and edgy nature of Bryant-Lake Bowl. I understand the place can get pretty crowded at night, but I would come early to grab a sandwich or a burger with a cold beer. Bryant-Lake Bowl is one of those urban restaurant experiences that pokes fun at itself and is hardly pretentious, if at all. In a neighborhood that has a number of good places to eat, Bryant-Lake Bowl stands out with its unique nature and charm. (Photo courtesy Bryant-Lake Bowl Facebook page.)