UPDATE: Sadly, Lakes no longer has access to all NFL games. I need a new Dolphins bar now.
For bar-aged Miami Dolphins fans who live outside of Miami, the ability to languish in silent misery while everyone else around you cheers on another team’s victory has undoubtedly become superhuman. You learn to slip out unnoticed when the game’s out of hand. Your skills of self-deprecation have most likely reached the Rodney Dangerfield stratosphere, or damn close. Example: I went to Pitchfork Brewing in Hudson after the Dolphins’ loss to the New York Jets on Sunday. I walked in with my hand raised and yelled, “Raise your hand if your team lost to the Jets today!”
For bar-aged Miami Dolphins fans who live outside of Miami, the support system is practically nonexistent – a fact Drew Magary and Bill Simmons point out wonderfully – and you’re far more likely to watch your team put their fingers through the proverbial toilet paper than you are to watch them dominate an opponent. I’m serious. When was the last time the Dolphins straight-up kicked a team’s ass? It happened one time last season. It was the New York Jets, but I sure as hell can’t gloat about THAT anymore.
What else have you got but good food and a nice, big beer? Thankfully, Lakes Tavern and Grill has a happy hour menu to accommodate an entire glass case of emotions. Fancy flatbread? They’ve got that. Bowl full of fries full of cheese? They’ve got that. Hot, hot wings? They’ve got those, too.
I’m so excited to be back on the east side, I declared this week Woodbury Week at The Minnesota Skinny. Yesterday, I put the city on notice. Today, we’re pulling up a chair at my new Official Dolphins Bar.
The Basics: Lakes Tavern and Grill is the brainchild of Michael and Susan Miller, local residents who tried their hand at an independent restaurant after Michael worked as an executive for Ruby Tuesday. The couple also owns four Green Mill locations (as of this piece’s publication). The Millers announced their plans to open Lakes in 2010, setting up in the shell of a former Boston’s location. They’ve a loyalty program that kicks you $10 right off the bat and another $10 every time you spend $100. Happy hour runs your usual 3-6 p.m., with the aforementioned front-to-backer on Sundays.
Over 120 Ruby Tuesdays were opened under Michael Miller’s watch, and you can tell he got a good understanding of what worked and what didn’t in that realm. He used the best parts of a big-box restaurant – mid-range prices, quality beyond those price points, and an atmosphere that’s just comfortable – as the foundation of Lakes. You’re not wondering what the hell anything is at Lakes, unless you’re watching Jay Cutler throw a football to the opposing team’s defense. Even that’s familiar, though, if you know anything about Cutler’s football career.
RELATED: Here’s the New York Post: “Jets May Have Dodged a Bullet By Not Signing Jay Cutler.” THANKS.
The menu, while not particularly risky, gives diners a few fun curveballs to swing at. Their signature is the Best Burger Ever. They were doing eggs on burgers at Lakes before eggs on burgers really took off, and they still do it well. Applewood bacon, cheddar, swiss, mayo, and fried tomatoes (which are criminally under-utilized as a burger topping, by the way) also come.
Best Burger Ever is a lofty name to live up to, but Lakes’ contender puts up one hell of a fight. They offer ketchup and mustard when you order it, but trust me: you do not need ketchup and mustard. Squeeze this thing, and all manner of lubrication comes loose. The bacon and beef grease happen first, then the yolk explosion, then the mayonnaise, then the tomato juice. You’ll happily suck juice off your hand, lick your fingers, and growl muffled curse words through a full mouth when the Dolphins defense leaves half the end zone uncovered.
At happy hour, a Summit EPA you could practically strip down and bathe in costs $4.50.
For $6 cometh some Carolina Reaper wings. I wish you’d get more than five per order, but you will not be disappointed. The meat is falloff tender. The reaper sauce will scorch you a little, for sure, but they’re enjoyable more so than a conquest. Good stuff.
The happy hour food menu runs $5-7 for the most part, with a $4 build-your-own-flatbread option. On the main menu, a section dedicated to flatbread is flanked by plenty of burgers, wraps, salads, sandwiches, and a few pastas. Some take you back home, like the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo or the turkey sandwich with blue cheese celery slaw and cranberry chipotle sauce. Others take you to the park, like the “Grandstand” burger with cheese curds or a burger topped with sauerkraut, mustard … oh, and a bratwurst.
You can have a Best Burger Ever, the Carolina Reaper wings, and an EPA silo for under $20. All I need is a few more Dolphins fans to watch with. I’ve already had one waitress tell me she’d rather wear Dolphins colors than Vikings colors – because she’s a Packers fan, but it’s a start. A Star Tribune article in 2015 listed the Sky Deck in the Mall of America as a place Dolphins fans gather, but why in the world would you want to watch the game at the Mall of America?! You could credit the same neurosis that made us Dolphins fans to begin with, but it’s time we relocated the fan base.
It’s time for Lakes.
Editor’s note: I will be out of town for the next two weekends, but when I come back? Dolphin time! Minor clean-up edits were made shortly after initial publication, and citations added.