“Something’s wrong with my car. We need to pull over.”
That was something like what my wife texted me as we drove to pick up her new car. Her old car, a 2006 Taurus, had done yeoman’s work over the years she owned it: thousands of miles, her sister backing her Jeep into the side of it, my dumb ass backing it into a boulder, and countless things she sideswiped while pulling into garages or parking alongside yellow concrete poles. I drove behind my wife as she took it on its last voyage, to the dealership to be traded in.
But something was wrong.
I followed that Taurus up an exit ramp, onto Carlson Parkway, and through a couple of intersections. The Taurus coasted into a parking lot, came to a stop and then died. It was like you see in the movies, when a bank robber decides “This is my last job” but then gets shot while he’s running out with the money.
My wife called up a tow truck, and I looked around. We were in the overfill lot of a Country Inn, I knew that much, but … wait, was that … I know that sign! I turned back to my wife.
“There’s a Grizzly’s here!”
“Do they serve beer?” my wife asked. “Because I need a beer.”
Say, did I mention we celebrated our six-year wedding anniversary this past Sunday? True story.
Anyhow, that’s how we wound up discovering the west metro’s best craft beer program. That’s how we tried Saugatuck Brewing’s Neopolitan Stout for the first time. That’s how I found out about Into the Woods, Grizzly’s annual barrel-aged beer celebration. That’s how I learned about an all-day Sunday happy hour less than a mile from where we lived, and that’s how I decided where I was “working” on Sundays. It’s how I became addicted to blackened wings.
For all that Plymouth is lacking, you’d be surprised how easily you can stumble into a good pile of chicken wings. This week, as my residency comes to a bittersweet end, I’m celebrating the great chicken wings of Plymouth and its vicinity. We covered the delightfully messy Rock Elm Tavern wings Tuesday. Today, we’re coloring our world (James Hetfield roar) BLACKENED!
The Basics: I remembered Grizzly’s from Duluth, where there are two locations and one more across the Bong Bridge in Superior. There are 12 locations in all, across three states (North Dakota being the other). Somehow, this Plymouth location is the only one in the Twin Cities area. You can find more information about Grizzly’s on their website.
RELATED: Remember the Vikings’ win over the Packers last season to open U.S. Bank Stadium? I watched that game at Grizzly’s, and took pretty spectacular notes.
Blackened wings: they were the only companions I needed when I went to Grizzly’s on Sundays and hogged a four-person booth by myself.
In case you didn’t notice the meat being rotated on spits the second you walked in the door, that’s okay. The blackened wings reinforce the main message: when they play with fire, they play to win. The sauce is nicely caramelized onto the skin, such that hardly any gets left on your plate, and who needs garnish when you’ve got grill marks? It all adds up to a cluster of smoky, sapid wings with meat that’s easy to bite off the bone.
I love them with beer, duh, but I really love them with the Bloody Marys they offer on Sundays. On their own, these Bloody Marys won’t knock your socks off – they’re only $3, after all – but if you ask for it extra spicy, your bartender will gladly oblige you. Who knows, maybe they will knock your socks off!
In the early afternoons, I go back and forth between watching a real-life football game and obsessively tracking my fantasy football team. I order blackened wings and a Bloody, right around kickoff. I plan on tackling the wings slowly, perhaps being finished by halftime, and limiting myself to one drink per half. Before the game’s first 10 minutes have passed, I’ve almost certainly eaten all of my wings and a second Bloody Mary has been set at my table.
At night, when I have podcast scripts or blog posts to finish, I lurk in a corner booth with an order of blackened wings and a glass of beer. The plan is always to really hunker down, without any of distractions I have at home, and work with a fervor that would make a millennial be like “Whoa, that dude’s working.”
Often times, I order the wings and get my fingers just saucy enough to second-guess whether I ought to be touching my keyboard. Ever tried to scrub sauce off a keyboard? It sucks. I get sauce all over my beer glass instead. I would make a millennial be like “He’s never used wet wipes, has he?”
Not really, no.
Grizzly’s menu consists mostly of backwoods-type, Paul Bunyan cuisine. You see the words “roasted” and “fired” a lot. Read the menu aloud and you make a lot of hard ‘K’s. So many dishes come with potatoes. The fresh Norwegian salmon is topped with shoestring potatoes and comes with mashed on the side. Nobody would call you crazy if you looked over the menu, and had your mind wander off into visions of you chopping a tree down. Maybe you’ve chopped a tree down before. Would you have liked an herb-crusted, slow-roasted prime rib afterward with bacon and scallion mashed potatoes afterward? I bet you would’ve. It also comes with broccoli, but it’s charred broccoli.
Of the eight salads on their menu, five list bacon as an ingredient. Nothing with ox meat.
At happy hour, look for the blackened wings at $7 but also don’t be afraid of the Grizzly Skins. At $4 for a half-order, they’ve backed up the wings well during Sunday excursions. The reason I bring up Sundays so much is because happy hour runs all day on Sundays. Burgers are also buy-one-get-one on Sundays. What’s more, they regularly send their e-club members coupons for stuff like $7 wood-roasted chickens to go. Ever torn a roasted chicken apart with your bare hands? Very satisfying start to a meal.
Going back to the beer menu, Grizzly’s remains one of the best yet underappreciated craft beer programs in the Twin Cities area. Here’s their most recent tap list. When they tapped Dogfish Head for the first time last month, they gave away a free flight. All contestants had to do was like and share a Facebook post. Only three people did. When Dogfish Head announced their Minnesota expansion, all of my beer-related Facebook groups went batshit and it hasn’t really stopped since. What’s up with the discrepancy? Is a 15-mile trip of Interstate really that difficult?
(Looks back on this summer)
All right, fine. When the roads open up, though, have your car warm for Into the Woods when December comes ’round. It’s their annual barrel-aged beer event. It escalates quickly.
RELATED: How did general manager and craft beer curator Bailee Duke turn Grizzly’s into Plymouth’s tap capitol? I got her story last year before Into the Woods.
It irks me when restaurants don’t post their prices online, and that’s my one complaint about Grizzly’s. Otherwise, the bar staff is fun and your order generally comes quickly. There’s a reason I get through my first-half allotments within 10 minutes of kickoff.
Residents of the west metro might be unaware of Grizzly’s, or think lesser of them because they’re a chain. It’s unfortunate. A lot of people don’t know what they’re missing. Just like how TGI Friday’s in Coon Rapids regularly hosts bar flair competitions and has a bar staff with their dials perpetually turned to 11 (‘Sup Shoes!), GM Bailee Duke and the Plymouth Grizzly’s team has done a fantastic job separating themselves from the Outback Steakhouses and Chili’ses of the world.
It’s a haul from some neighborhoods, but I promise your chariot of choice will get you there – even if it’s the last thing it does.