Swell snacks, bar none

Snack Bar dish
Snack Bar dish

Feel a breeze lately? Could be the breath of fresh air drifting from Snack Bar, a cozy hideaway recently opened by uberchef Isaac Becker in the former Be’Wiched Deli space adjacent to his longstanding Bar La Grassa in the North Loop. (He and his wife also own 112 Eatery, Burch Steak, etc.)

What’s fresh is the smartly curated menu of small plates ($4-$25, many in the single digits). Nothing been-there, done-that about it. Bravo!

First, the room, which has been instantly adopted as a classy clubhouse for the area’s cadre of millennials, claiming their stools at the long and well-stocked bar. Diners, like us, sunk into what may be the sexiest booths in town — round and cushy with padded oxblood leather, backed by romantically dim table lights topped with the kind of lampshades at home in the ’40s. Are we still in Minneapolis? 

The menu’s meant-for-sharing small plates, however, may cause those original lampshade owners to exclaim, in Minnesota fashion, “Well, that’s different!” You betcha. 

Snack Bar dish

Not very hungry? Nibble on ciabatta with goat butter, $4. On a slimming diet? No guilt in the charred leeks with lemon vinaigrette or the spicy greens with garlic. Like your bar snacks deep-fried, as God intended? Now we’re talking. An order of the eggplant did the job. The coin-thin rounds, quick-fried so they remained tender, surprised and delighted us with their sensuous slither of rosemary-scented honey. Who would have thought?

An order of fried artichokes — soft interiors inside the chunky portions — also brought it home. They lounged upon a pond of sweet and nutty tomato-red walnut pesto. Next time: the Parmesan waffle with prosciutto di Parma.

Then on to the entree-like choices from a list that wanders from arctic char carpaccio to sea bass crudo to garlic fried octopus to whole pressed game hen with salsa verde to duck and ricotta meatballs. We chose the scallops — a plus-sized pair, fried a moment too long and also short on pristine sweetness. Drag them through a lusty trickle of Middle Eastern shermoula: cumin, cinnamon, sweet onions and sweeter golden raisins, abetted by a sprinkle of savory pine nuts.

Snack Bar dish

Our second choice, a combo of red snapper, white beans and fennel, again seafood grilled a moment too long and thus on the dry side, paired with meaty white beans and aromatic fennel. A side order of sweet potato gnocchi, however, proved disappointing: a plate of gummy nuggets lapped with a painting of (tasty, I’ll grant) stracchino cheese.

Desserts (all housemade; $7-$12) again break loose from the molten chocolate-panna cotta mindset of many a list of sweets. Instead, ginger tart; sweet brioche with fruit compote; tarte tatin; chocolate terrine; and, our choice, espresso Pavlova. Alas, the reimagined classic didn’t hit the mark. The meringue — hard, crunchy little dollops in lieu of a tender shell — didn’t please us, nor did it support a cloudlike fluff of espresso, black cherry and port, a trio that reads better than it tastes. However, points to our excellent server, who removed it from the bill.

Also: Flip over the menu card and you’ll discover you’re in a pizzeria. Choose white, red or Amatriciana versions, with original topping options, starting at $2 a slice.

Snack Bar 

800. N. Washington Ave.  |  612-383-2848