The loud and lively new Granite City Food & Brewery is the culinary version of Shimmer: Is it a brewery that also serves food? Or is it a noisy, casual restaurant with house-brewed beers and a modestly priced menu of bar food? If you think that I'm taking a wild leap comparing the newest outpost of the Minneapolis-based dining chain with a Saturday Night Live sketch, let me fill you in on Granite City's patented brewing process, "Fermentus Interruptus." No, I'm not making that up. It's right there on the corporate Web site: "Fermentus Interruptus ... will make micro brewing for multiple locations more efficient."
Unlike the more frustrating coitus interruptus, the act of interrupting fermentation is a good thing. Well, at Granite City anyway, where handcrafted lager, ale and stout are brewed right there in big steel tanks displayed behind a plate-glass window. The featured brews include the Duke of Wellington India Pale Ale and a blended beer called Two Pull. Two pull, huh? It's a beer no, it's a masturbation technique. No, wait. It's both!
But back to the shimmering Granite City. The four-month-old Northland location in Zona Rosa has been designed to look like an upscale lodge, with limestone pillars, tile floors and comfortable booths. It's staffed with attractive young servers. Some are more attractive than others; one waiter looked like Jake Gyllenhaal, and another looked just like recent Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. That wasn't his fault, though, and he did say something really funny about the buffalo chicken wings that made my friend Lou Jane laugh.
I didn't hear what he said, because the deafening, percussive beat of the sound system had rendered me temporarily stunned. It was so loud in the main dining room (where hard surfaces abound) that I couldn't quite figure out what the hell was playing. Hip-hop? Hard rock? Heavy metal? At one point, I could have sworn that I heard the strains of Kool & the Gang's 1983 hit "Get Down on It."
"Well, it's not a place for intimate conversation," Lou Jane yelled across the table.
"A place for what?" asked Bob, pretending to cup a hand over his ear while he perused the menu.
The Granite City menu is far more interesting than the music ... and easier to understand. Like most corporate casual-dining joints of recent vintage (the first Granite City operation opened in 1999), it's a multinational collection of dishes: wontons and quesadillas, Asian chicken salad and Tuscan shrimp fettuccine, Cuban sandwiches and London broil. There's even French onion soup.
Maybe because the clientele is strictly suburban, the servers have been trained to push the real common-denominator stuff. On both of my visits, the meal began with the same mantra: "So, would you like to start with some of our great spinach-and-artichoke dip?"
I'm so sick of that particular concoction, I'd eat Shimmer first. So Lou Jane decided that we should share the Monterey crab wontons and the Buffalo chicken wings. The six puffy triangles looked airy enough, but the fried wonton wrappers were chewy. Still, to my amazement, each was filled with plenty of crabmeat and barely any cream cheese or Monterey Jack. Lou Jane and Bob loved the meaty, spicy but not fiery chicken wings and slathered the crispy, saucey drumettes with blue-cheese dressing before devouring them.