Lake & Irving
In taking a casual straw poll of small sample size, I have found the results to be about 60/40 on Uptown’s newest restaurant Lake & Irving. 60% of people had never heard of the place and the other 40% love it.
Picture the dark wood of Cafe 28, the noise level of Pat’s Tap, the beer list of The Grey House, and the open kitchen design of Tilia, add just a hint of Japanese seasoning and southern flair and you can imagine part of what makes Lake & Irving. And all of that on top of service that trumps anywhere I have been recently.
The identity of Uptown can be schizophrenic at times and not many places bridge the gap that can feel quite wide for someone looking for a reasonable but well-crafted meal. Words like stuffy, loud, pretentious, or even dark, often eliminate neighborhood restaurants from my short list. But Lake & Irving doesn’t just fit the bill, it has defined it.
It was the perfect lunch that day. We both ordered the same thing – Chicken and waffles – violating one of my personal policies of not ordering duplicates. I confess that it was my first experience with chicken and waffles outside of North Carolina, but what really drew me to the dish was the stout syrup — beer for breakfast is a big yes in my book.
The chicken was perfectly done with a very crispy outside and no dryness whatsoever. It was served as a skewered tower and it was the perfect amount of food.
I revisited Lake & Irving this weekend to make sure what seemed like stepping into culinary heaven wasn’t just a fluke. I was happy to sit down with manager John Blue who is responsible for the beer buying, and Chef/owner Chris Ikeda who is responsible for making me leave a happy lady.
When I arrived at 6:15 there was a low buzz with about half of the tables and a few bar seats taken. The crowd, which began to swell quickly, was very mixed with everything from young families and couples to middle-aged professionals for after-work cocktails. The mix of people appeals to John, who enjoys seeing retired couples and teenagers enjoy a meal with the same smile on their faces. Very few people looked formal and I was on the under-dressed side, but comfortably so, in a sweater and tennis shoes.
Lake & Irving takes feedback seriously. After being docked for poor lighting and overall decor, many changes have taken place including paint and alternate fixtures. They encourage dialogue, in fact I was asked to assess the beer list and make recommendations, and my bartender was very comfortable explaining different Japanese ingredients to me.
Holding the belief that the people and service really create the identity of a restaurant, their servers are professional and experienced, but don’t expect a choreographed dance of silverware placement or some sort of secret wine handshake as with ordering a bottle at a high-end, dinner-only restaurant (thank God). Instead, expect to joke around and learn a thing or two.
The taps always offer one red and one white wine, a root beer, and frequently a cider, as well. It will not be hard to please your whole table.
The food displays an impressive array of variety, too, with influence from New York, Napa, and Hawaii to name a few. Chef/owners Chris and Andrew Ikeda also have Japanese heritage and enjoy seeing blue-collar meet fine dining and coastal meet Midwest
I was encouraged to order the Furikake Chicken, affectionately referred to as crack chicken by the staff, which features Kadejan farms chicken seasoned with traditional Hawaiian nori and glazed to create the ideal ratio of sweet and salty. I would definitely order it again.
The food came out of the kitchen quickly and was professionally presented. The place had become full and still it wasn’t loud or crammed. The friendliness of the staff seemed to rub of on patrons — at least five people chatted with me while I was enjoying my meal.
Lake & Irving didn’t go in with gun blazing. In fact, for a Minneapolis restaurant, they have flown under the radar, opting for a more organic neighborhood buzz.
I can see myself dining there again soon, whether for brunch overlooking Lake Street or a quick cocktail. The warm environment is contagious and the food is seriously good.
I wouldn’t make any major changes to this place where you feel like an instant regular. Some friends have mentioned that the portions could be slightly bigger,and I don’t disagree. But I highly value their use of family-farmed meats and other local ingredients over the price-to-size ratio.
I look forward to a lot more chicken, whether with waffles or in crack form, at Lake & Irving. I am excited for their interest in craft beer, including some collaboration brews and releases with some of my favorite breweries like Rush River and Bad Weather. I am grateful to not have to look at an empty building on Lake Street and even happier since I doubt it will be empty again for a long, long time.