What the brain trust at Town Hall Brewery is doing, Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy would call it “Reaganing.” Instead of 24 hours, though, the Twin Cities’ capitol brewpub has seemingly gone two decades without making one bad decision.
The medals they’ve won at the Great American Beer Fest are listed on their growlers, and that list covers nearly half the damn thing. With this beer, they could easily get away with half-assing the kitchen side. They don’t, though. It’s reliably great food, and reasonably priced. And did a drop-off in quality occur when Town Hall expanded to a second location? Of course not! How about a third, one with a bowling alley built in? Nope. A Mango Mama at Town Hall Tap tastes just as great as a Mango Mama at Town Hall Brewery, and a turkey burger at Town Hall Brewery tastes just as great as a turkey at Town Hall Lanes (assuming you’re the one throwing it).
With the opening of its fourth location, Team Town Hall zagged its hardest zag yet: in the shell of a gas station, feet away from an Edina strip mall, is Town Hall Station. Where the other three locations are dominated by wood, brick, and beer signs, Town Hall tries on a Route 66 mechanic’s outfit at Station. Where the other three locations don’t have intimate relationships with the sun, Station has plenty of outdoor seating and lets the light in through garage doors.
Just like with the other three locations, Town Hall Station was executed precisely. As if we should’ve expected anything different.
The Basics: It’s true: Town Hall Brewery began operations in 1997 and started their annual raids on the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in 2000 with a bronze medal for their Black H20 Oatmeal Porter (hold this thought). Town Hall Station sits on the corner of Valley View Rd. and Wooddale Ave. in Edina, in the former Wally’s Service Station. It’s mere steps away from the renowned Snuffy’s Malt Shop – and the slightly-less-renowned Scoopy Poo Doggy Doo Pickup.
I’ll give them this: when they pick up your dog’s droppings, they show up in style.
My wife and I hit Town Hall Station on a Saturday evening. We were warned of a 30-minute wait, but it went much quicker than that. Town Hall Station is bright! Does the sun shine differently over gas stations? Think about every movie in which a gas station is featured. Aren’t almost all of them under intensely bright skies? Unless a character’s about to get killed, the sun shines differently over gas stations in Hollywood. It might be true, too, in Edina.
Town Hall Station is different, indeed, but it doesn’t feel weird. It wears the roadside pit stop outfit quite well, actually. Even the iconic mega-clock is geared up for the occasion. I swear, you see the same people dining and drinking at every Town Hall location. They’re all smiling. They all seem to be genuinely enjoying the company of the people they’re with. You rarely see people dorking around on their phones. What Town Hall does to make their spaces so engaging is a mystery I’ve yet to solve. Maybe it’s just … a nice place to go.
Seventeen years after winning its first GABF medal, the Black H20 was ordered by my wife. I only had a quick sip, but it’s a good-looking beer. It’s got that thick, dark tan head that lets you know you’re drinking a real one. The lacing it leaves could probably be peeled out of the glass and used as a doily. Town Hall Brewery beers are beyond good: they’re textbook. They’re the definition of ‘definition.’
I should have ordered the cherry ale exclusive to this location, but I saw Mango Mama and simply couldn’t pass it up. Mango Mama is Town Hall’s flagship IPA, Masala Mama, infused with some weird Japanese hops and the glacier water they use for mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby. This is the beer I brought to Darkness Day 2015 in a growler, and had people chasing me down for samples until it was empty. Even among the fancy rarities and aged-a-zillion-years imperial Martian whatevers, if they knew I had Mango Mama, they asked for Mango Mama. That’s all you need to know about Mango Mama.
Now, what is “road food”? Is it a double cheeseburger that instantly takes you back to the roadside spot outside of Cloquet? Are two patties, and the appropriate amount of cheese for six patties, prerequisite? I think so. That’s what I want in my road cheeseburger, and you get it in the Brewer’s Double at Town Hall. It’s a cheeseburger you can bite into, suck juices out, finish your bite, look like a fool trying to chew all of that cheese, swallow and hope you don’t choke. Road beers aren’t cool; road cheeseburgers, into the pantheon. The French fries were crispy, but not hard. They were small, nicely-seasoned, and perfect for those looking to bulldoze their plate clean.
The real star of our meal was this: barbecue sauce infused with that same oatmeal stout, thick and dark like old motor oil, dousing a mess of mashed potatoes and ribeye. Of course it’s on Texas Toast, and of course the mashed potatoes are dirty. This is the meal that will get you a few hundred miles down Route 66. You can chop it apart with a fork, so do that. My wife remarked that, had the gravy not been as good, there would have been enough gravy. Of THIS gravy, however, there was not nearly enough.
The traditions of prompt service, proper glassware, and comfortable seats are being upheld at the station. So are the insane happy hour specials ($3.49 for flagship pints at happy hour, $2 off already well-priced appetizers). It’s as if Town Hall has the formula figured out: get the beer right, get the food right, get the service right, and get the ambiance right. It sounds daunting, but they make it look so easy.
RELATED: If your road is Highway 29 and you’re going through Marathon Bay, Wisc., your food is at Kurt and Jo’s Eats and Treats. If your road is Highway 287 and you’re going through Longmont, Colo., your food is at Long’s Peak Pub and Taphouse.