For Christmas this year V and I took her grandparents (Mapa and Papa) to dinner at Axel's Tavern, a nice, comfortable place just outside of the Minneapolis suburbs, in Loretto. There is a bar area when you come in on the main floor, and upstairs is a quieter dining room with paintings on the walls and warm wood tones. We were hoping that there was a fireplace to sit by, but even without it we enjoyed the atmosphere. It was a perfect place for a nice dinner together—not too stuffy or formal, and not too casual or cheesy either.
I was surprised by the menu—it was much larger than I anticipated, including the wine list. The restaurant is known for its ribs and steaks. We held off on ordering appetizers, because each entree came with soup or salad, plus a vegetable and potato. Being that we were in Minnesota I also figured it would be wise to get some walleye too so I ordered the "land and lake," a portion of fish and a sirloin steak. V had the "steak Oscar" which included two steak medallions and two crab cakes, and a side of mushrooms. Mapa ordered the walleye, and papa had a steak, Ray's sirloin.
Comparing the steaks, I'd say that the sirloin was a bit more flavorful than V's medallions, but hers were more tender. The walleye was pan fried and served with slivered almonds. It was flaky and buttery and the crust and almonds gave it a nice crunch as well.
On the side we had great green beans and three of the different varieties of potatoes. Mapa had the loaded baked potato, which seemed pretty standard, for a baked potato. I had the "Mo Taters" which were mashed potatoes with cheese and caramelized onions. I enjoyed them but thought they could have been a little more flavorful—I couldn't taste any onion flavor. V had the alfredo potatoes, a kind of cheesy scalloped potato that was very good.
Overall it was a great dinner. The dining room was the perfect place for conversation and we were not overwhelmed with too much music or televisions in every corner. The service was friendly and attentive. I'm not sure exactly how to compare Axel's to a New York City restaurant other than to say it was more down to earth on all levels, from the decor to the menu and the service. I think if this restaurant were in New York they would have to really specialize on a few key items on the menu, and get rid of a lot of the other good options. Plus, they'd probably double the price of everything! When we're back in town next, if I can go back, I want to go back on Tuesday night for all you can eat prime rib and all you can eat walleye. And I think we've found a great new Christmas tradition, too.