Flavor: Urban Roadhouse

Here I am, eating fish sticks — something, after being liberated from my mother’s kitchen, I swore I would never do.

But these didn’t come from a freezer box, they’re from the scratch kitchen of Lowbrow, the new in-town roadhouse melting the intersection of 43rd & Nicollet.

The space had never been a restaurant, and owners Heather Bray and Jodi Ayres had never owned a restaurant before, either, though both had served in many. In fact, that’s how they met, working at The Birchwood, a prime reason never to cook if you live in Seward.

The best feature of the big and bright new digs is its cheeky North Woods deer-in-the-headlight mural. The next best is the ball capped grizzly on its retro logo. Third comes its salute to local craft beers. Fourth, the homage to regional, family-farmed ingredients. Fourth, its friendly, small-town service.

Then we get to the food. Nothing from a can or Kraft truck, but, on the flip side, nothing (at least, among the fare we tried) that couldn’t have. It’s tavern food before taverns discovered arugula or spiked their mayo with chipotles. I’m not expecting James Beard Award quality at these neighborhood-friendly prices, but — ahem — something to set the kitchen apart.

The standout was the robust, toe-warming bison chili, with its modest burst of heat beneath a sour-cream drizzle and flurry of cheddar. It’s accompanied by textured but otherwise uneventful homemade tortilla chips.

Next, we split a generous winter citrus salad: same old, same old greens topped with oranges, grapefruit and pomegranate seeds in a way-too-wimpy citrus vinaigrette, with nothing else to pull it together. How ’bout some Minnesota cheese? Bacon? Hazelnuts? Whatever? Something to make us say, “Ya, sure. That’s different!”

A pulled pork sandwich (sandwiches and burgers $6.75–$9.75) was gorgeously buxom, but the meat proved dry, despite the “homemade BBQ sauce” of generic sweetness. It’s served with a tiny cup of seasoning-free coleslaw and choice of green salad (sans the citrus) or fries. The slim spuds were underwhelming.

But hey, those fish sticks ($11.75). The crew in the open-to-view kitchen have coated sweet and tender, wild-caught cod in crunchy panko crumbs, a treat. They, too, come with a spoon of coleslaw and side of fries, along with a cup of zingless homemade tartar sauce. Good match for my glass of Summit. Desserts, untasted, are three: a chocolate cake and two cream pies from the Lowbrow’s own kitchen.

TVs flickered above the bar for those who seek a game with their brew. Others can opt for a comfy booth or streetside table beside the broad windows. Other seats, lining a gleaming hardwood floor, feel like dining in a fast-food environment, which a quick design fix could alter: low dividers, planters, what have you, or even mellower lighting, perhaps.

Lowbrow’s late hours are a welcome draw, as is the friendly welcome. I’m betting the neighbors adopt it as their new clubhouse.