Freehouse: Beyond the brew

RICK NELSON | Updated 4/3/2014

Decent fare, killer atmosphere at North Loop brewpub Freehouse.

The interior of Freehouse
Brian Peterson

“I love sitting in here,” said my friend, and I had to agree. We were having lunch at Freehouse, the North Loop newcomer — and most ambitious project, by far — from the Blue Plate Restaurant Co., the growth-minded dynamos behind the Edina Grill, the Lowry, 3 Squares and other popular (and populist) destinations.

Seriously, what a great room. It inhabits the massive loading dock of a historic biscuit bakery, and its voluminous levels of exposed brick and raw concrete are a loft-dweller’s dream. Arranged in gently cascading tiers, the bar and dining rooms capitalize, like all get-out, on the show-and-tell side of the contemporary dining-out experience.

Chef Breck Lawrence’s menu covers nearly as much acreage as the dining room. The kitchen excels when it’s reacting to brewmaster Tim Piotrowski’s efforts. Burgers, for starters. One of the neighborhood’s better renditions is a luxe blend of brisket, chuck and sirloin that’s fortified with both duck fat and a generous dollop of butter infused with Piotrowski’s malty stout. The whole shebang is slipped into a sturdy house-baked, cornmeal-crusted English muffin, and the results more than merit its “$1,000 Burger” name.

A lean and juicy bison burger is wisely embellished with a punchy aioli and a sweet tomato jam. The turkey burger, brimming with zesty Thai-esque flavor accents, is fantastic. And Lawrence finds a way to enlist the brewhouse’s spent barley by mixing it with quinoa to form an offbeat-in-a-good-way veggie burger.

Several communal dishes impress, including spreads of dill-kissed and smoky trout, and cool shrimp in sour cream, and fat-laced pork.

I’ll never be able to eat another cheese curd without instinctively reaching for Freehouse’s quince jam. Trendy bone marrow makes an appearance, and while the oyster selection isn’t huge, they’re notably fresh and presented with care.

Salads — particularly a kale take on Chinese chicken salad — are another plus, although I never encountered one that wasn’t overdressed.

The main dishes are a bit of a minefield. Avoiding the same-old, same-old (rabbit getting the fried chicken treatment, a vegan/gluten-free pho, chile-boosted collard greens) is encouraging, but the outcomes frequently disappointed.

Salmon, pork and lamb all had their issues. A lobster-loaded mac-and-cheese was an unpleasantly gloppy mess, and no self-respecting food truck would claim ownership of the greasy shrimp tacos.

Instead, steer toward the basics: slices of a cooked-to-order steak paired with Cheddar-filled pierogies and a dash of fiery horseradish, crispy fried cod with thick-cut fries and a springy mash of peas and mint, a fine plate of rotisserie chicken and mashed potatoes.

Breakfast, and its served-all-day permutations, is another definite highlight. Dishes range from tried-and-true (eggs any style with crispy hash browns and first-rate bacon, tender buttermilk pancakes, eggs Benedict, breakfast sandwich) to more idiosyncratic choices (a grilled sausage platter with all the fixings, a toad-in-the-hole with succulent lobster, gnocchi with poached eggs). Best of all, nearly half of the a.m. menu is served late into the night.

Prices can be oddly off the mark. Ciabatta dipped in egg and grilled should not cost $11, but then those shareable spreads chime in at a reasonable $9. At the bar, a dozen guest beers — a savvy and ever-changing selection — all feel about $1 too much; meanwhile, Piotrow­ski’s initial quartet of very drinkable brews come in $2, $4 and $6 pours.

Desserts? I can’t. With two exceptions: a dense brownie, wickedly dressed with bacon, flaky salt and a swoosh of rich caramel.

Great room, nice people, decent fare. The combo has clearly struck a chord in the neighborhood. Isn’t that what a local brewpub is all about?

Freehouse

Where: 701 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-339-7011 or www.freehousempls.com.

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Recommended: Burgers, steak and pierogies, rotisserie chicken, dips, breakfast sandwich, sausage plate, brownie.