Saturday, December 31, 2011

Whistle Binkies on the Lake (Rochester, MN)

Whistle Binkies on the Lake from front door
Because of an unfortunate and unexpected closing of O'Neill's Pizza Pub until 4 pm, a group of friends huddled in the cold decided to move our gathering to Whistle Binkies on the Lake (WBL) for an afternoon of chatting over the holiday break.   While I expected the company and the conversation to be fun, my memory of WBL wasn't as positive.  However, WBL has improved significantly since my last visit in 2006 (original review below).   My wife notes that I can be excessively influenced by context (which is true), but I don't think it was just the lively banter and good time that made WBL better.  Compared to 2006, the beer variety and serving have both improved, as well as a friendlier menu for this oversized vegetarian.

When the first Burton Ale from Schell's came out in a Budweiser glass, I thought that I was at the same old WBL.  However, besides that the Burton Ale was extremely good, it was well served and was in great condition.  Head was a little thin, but not unexpected at a bar not catering to beer geeks, or it could be the beer as much as the bar. Next, I had a Lagunitas Sucks (yes, that's the name) holiday ale from Lagunitas that I guessed to be a Belgian IPA while tasting it, but BA has it listed as a Double IPA.  Either way, it was a very good beer and served in a tulip glass with a nice head.  Very pretty in the glass and very tasty.  As the afternoon was waning, I ordered one last beer: Odell's Bourbon Barrel Stout on draft.  A nice beer to sip to finish the afternoon of chatting.  However, the three strong taps took their toll, so those of us left ordered dinner.

Schell's Burton Ale
I referenced several vegetarian options in the old review, but I don't remember what they were and I definitely don't remember having a veggie burger option last time.  At any rate, I tried the veggie patty (black bean burger, I think) as The Bourbon: bourbon glaze, swiss cheese and sauteed mushrooms.  Excellent.  WBL does burgers that way I wish a lot more places would do it--just offer a veggie burger option with a range of choices.  Eight burger choices work with the veggie patty after eliminating the two bacon laden alternatives.  Since the burger was enough (calories), I skipped the fries and had the very acceptable coleslaw instead.  A testament to the mix of clientele that WBL must cater to in Rochester, there is also a low carb option of no bun and no potatoes.

Rochester is a unique place with an incredible range of people for a small town, and WBL seems to have adapted to both the changing beer tastes as well as offering a range of food options to match the diversity. While I was struggling in 2006 to find a solid craft beer served well, now the beer list kept me entertained for an afternoon and I left some on the menu to try another day.  Their beer menu has clearly skewed towards the hoppy end of the spectrum, but they seem to be selling enough of it that the Lagunitas Sucks was fresh and clean even though this seasonal has been on the market for a while.  With a veggie burger that I'd return for to boot, Whistle Binkies on the Lake has definitely left me happy that I was able to give them a second chance for a new impression.

Original BeerAdvocate review from Sept 2006 
Brand new building on the south side of town. Odd though that the sign is actually on the back of the building facing the freeway. I get why, but not a very pretty building. It's big and monolithic, especially from the front since there is no sign on a blank side except a very small one on the door frame. Neat and clean, feels sorta like a small town country club next to a golf course.

Whistle Binkies on the Lake 2011
"On the Lake" is a bit of a stretch too. I suppose it is technically a lake but many ponds are as large. View is ok over the lake, but local freeways come together around this restaurant in the middle of a industrial area. Most of the viewing is probably of young college kids for a night with one of numerous drink specials advertised in the bar and bathrooms, or on one of two sand volleyball nets outside the main entrance. Inside the building is shiny new sports bar with large and small screen TVs in all directions, wireless internet, and the wait staff is the standard pretty working through college girl in small tops.

Both Whistle Binkies (Scottish name according to the menu history) are billed as Scottish (English/Irish???) pubs, so the food includes Fish and Chips, Scotch Eggs, Bangers and Mash besides the standard bar food appetizers and burgers. I only had Loaded Potato Skins (w/o bacon--vegetarian), which were fine, a bit bland and underdone, but good. Unlike most sports bars, there were several vegetarian selections, including a pasta special for the day. A bit more enlightened than normal and wish I had been there for lunch to give the special a try.

WBL taps 2011
The beer list is the real selling point. Thirty tap lines from Grain Belt to Erdinger Hefeweizen, and local favorites Summit, Finnegan's, and Rush River. There's the option of a sampler of six beers for five bucks--good price for four ounce samples. I counted about 160 bottles ranging from Smirnoff Ice to Triple Karmeliet, and a lot in between from all over the U.S. and every major beer country. Great place to go for variety when Rochester boasts no brewpubs or other extensive beer bars (that I know of) except O'Neill's Pizza Pub and their own Olde World Pub. Which compared to the other Whistle Binkie, I prefer the new one over the old. Beside the fresh clean feel, it seems a bit more upscale and the menu is a definite improvement over the Olde location--I think I had onion rings there as one of the only veggie options. On the Lake is a bit more TGIFridays.

Overall, it's a nice place that I'll go to again. My Anchor Steam didn't seem to be 100% but the Summit Scandia was good, though still not as good one I had in the Twin Cites a few days ago. I'm a bit of a beer bar skeptic when they have so many, scared of old beers sitting around that the Miller Light and Jagermeister crowd just don't get around to drink, but my initial tastings seemed to be ok. I didn't drink any bottles, so that eval will have to wait for another trip. With whatever reservations mentioned or implied above, it was nicer and better than I expected walking

1 comment:

  1. It is nice to know that I am not the only one who finds WBL to have a hop-heavy beer list. That said, this coriander and fruit-note beer lover is never short of choices there. One would think that a town of over 100,000 would have more options for us beer lovers, but WBL does an fine job of catering to us.

    It was great to spend some time with you (and nice to see that my pink coat made the blog!). See you this coming weekend at S&H.