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Aug 8, 2007 05:59 AM

MSP Barbette or Town Talk?

I need to select a restaurant for three people to meet tomorrow evening for dinner and a little business. I offered Barbette or Town Talk, based on location and menu and, more to the point, because I've never been to either (I know, I know....) and I'm grabbing the chance.

Which is best for conversation? Reading about both, I worry that Town Talk might be too noisy, with little table space for the inevitable paper or two. Opinions?

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  1. Definitely Barbette. Town Talk is great and I love the place, but every time I go there I have to lean way across the table and yell at whoever I'm dining with. Not a very good place to do business and/or conversation, but an excellent place to eat a burger and drink a boozy malt.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mcgeary

      Agree with mcgeary that Town Talk is too loud (in spite of the some of the soundproofing they've done) with tables very close together.

      I've never been to Barbette either!


    2. Barbette shines on a lovely summer evening if you can sit outside. It would be my first choice without a doubt.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bob s

        Barbette can be a little spendy at dinner time, but not too bad. Worth it, of course. Other than that, picking Barbette is a no-brainer IMHO. Ambience, inventiveness of menu, location (proximity to the lake, that is), and of course, sound level all make is the superior choice. If you go to Town Talk when it is at all busy, you literally have to shout at your dining partners for them to hear you. It's fine for a night of frivolity, but that's it.

      2. Barbette is quieter (though Town Talk also has outdoor seating, if the weather is nice). Town Talk food is superior. Your choice.

        19 Replies
        1. re: Jordan

          I guess I'd respectfully disagree with your statement that Town Talk food is superior. While I've enjoyed TT for the most part, I've never understood the hoopla about the food. To my taste, Barbette is at least an equal of TT with respect to food. But that's what makes horse races.

          1. re: Jordan

            Have you been to Barbette since the new chef took over? Landon Schoenfeld, formerly of 112 Eatery and Bulldog NE, is in the kitchen as of a couple of months ago, and I've heard that the food has improved greatly (I always thought it was just fine, not spectacular, before). I haven't been to check it out for myself, though.

            1. re: mcgeary

              I think Town Talk is good food, but not in the same league as Barbette at all. Barbette is unquestionably better, in my mind. But it comes down to ones tastes and reference points, I suppose.

              But I really wonder how long has it been since you've been to Barbette, Jordan.

              1. re: pgokey

                I'm not a giant fan of Talk Talk Diner, personally. I think the food is fantastic for what it is, they have a lot of nice little touches, and the service is very good, but overall for the price, I just don't think it's a great overall experience given the noise and the elbow-to-elbow crowding. The first time I paid a bill there, for a couple of burgers, beers, and a glass of wine, I thought, "Wow, for that price, we could have gone to 112 Eatery." All of TTD's real (ie., non-burger) entrees are in the $17-$22 range--more than half of 112 Eatery's entrees fall in to that same price range, including a LARGE order of my favorite stringozzi with lamb sugo. Town Talk Diners's egg sandwich is $8.25: 112 Eatery's is $7. TTD's entree salads (sweet and sour steak salad or chopped salad with smoked chicken) run from $14.50-$16. 112 Eatery's sweet and sour crab salad is only $9 and the duck with raddiccio salad is $8.

                I understand that they are two entirely different styles of restaurants, but, what it comes down to for me that every time I decide I want a meal where I'm going to lay out that kind of cash, I can think of a lot of other places I'd rather go than TTD that will be more pleasant overall. I'm pretty sure this means I'm just getting old and simply can't appreciate the value in paying a surcharge for feeling ironic. I've always worried about "turning into my mother," but lately, I've started to wonder if I should be worried about turning into my grandmother. ;-). TTD is a place I encourage everyone to try at least once, but, after that, you'll have to decide whether it's the kind of place you want in your regular rotation. It's not in mine, I'm afraid.


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I totally agree. I can't see frequenting Town Talk when there are other choices like that around. Town Talk's fine, but...

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I'll have to beg to differ on the pricing at TT. Wifey and I had a rare date night on Saturday and went try TT and I was actually pleasantly surprised at how cheap it was. We split the onion rings, and duck confit salad. I had the pork chop and she had the pulled pork sandwich and 4 drinks (this counts as a serious bender for us these days). I think we came in under $75 pre tip, not a cheap meal but it seemed that the last couple of meals I have had out recently of similar quality and quantity have been running more.

                    I also like their combo of cuisine and kitsch. Not something everyone may dig, but right up my alley.

                    1. re: GastronautMN

                      Yes, you're right, you could order that menu at TTD and end up under $75 before tip, but, of course, you still have to tip, so, for a night out, that still has to be factored in.

                      But, my point is, for the same price tag, you could eat at much more pleasant surroundings (ie., not sit elbow to elbow with the neighboring table and not have to shout across the table at your dining companion) at 112 Eatery, for instance and get real (ie., non-diner) food (ie., housemade gnocci instead of onion rings, a large serving of fois gras meatballs with housemade pasta, etc.) for the same price.


                      onion rings 4.75
                      duck confit salad (not listed on the menu, but I'll say $9 which is about their average small salad with protein).
                      pulled pork sandwich 10.25
                      pork chop 18.50
                      4 drinks @ 6/each 24.00
                      tax at 6% $4

                      Comparable meal at 112 Eatery
                      french fries 6.5 (better yet, get their amazing housemade gnocci for $8).
                      duck salad $8
                      tagliatelle w/ foie gras meatballs (large) $18
                      gougère & fried mortadella sandwich $8
                      4 drinks at $6 each
                      tax at 6% $4
                      $69 (with the fries) ($70.5 with the gnocci).

                      Comparable meal at Ngon bistro:
                      sweet potato fritters 3.95
                      duck confit 7.95
                      ginger roasted chicken $10.95
                      pork medallions 12.95
                      (throwing in dessert for good measure) ginger creme brulee $5.95
                      4 drinks@ $6 each, $24
                      tax @6% $4

                      If I'm going to spend $70+ for dinner, I'd rather go out for non-diner food and sit in pleasant surroundings. The food at Town Talk Diner is good, but as you say, perhaps not for everyone.


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        I don't really see the point of comparing places based mostly on price. All of the restaurants you mention serve different purposes. We go to Town Talk when we want alcoholic milkshakes and want to sit at the bar and chat with the bartender, or when our friends (some veggie) want to go out to eat and want somewhere fun and not intimidating. The real vs. non-real food distinction is pretty moot to me since sometimes I really want their chopped salad or the egg sandwich (which are cheaper than their entrees if we're talking price)

                        We don't go to 112 that often because of the difficulty of getting reservations and not wanting to have to take a chance and just show up and wait. The food is delicious but it's not really a just pop in on our way home spot.

                        Ngon is great when we want Asian, but something nicer than the divey places on Eat Street and we have the time and energy to drive over there (and then aren't distracted by all the other great places on University).

                        Point being, they're all great places for their own reasons and pinning them head to head and comparing prices doesn't create a convincing argument, for me at least.

                        1. re: katebauer

                          The point of comparing places based on price is that my dining budget isn't unlimited and TTD doesn't seem like a good value to me. My immediate impression the first time I ate there was, a $11 cheeseburger (albeit a very good one) and Pabst Blue Ribbon for $6? What a rip off.

                          The reason I pick 112 Eatery as a (seemingly unlikely) comparison point because I and my dining companion had an unintentional, but real world, back-to-back comparsion awhile back because we ate at 112 Eatery one night and TTD the next (we must have been feeling very loose with the pursestrings that week.)

                          At the former, we enjoyed lamb and fois gras in a quiet comfortable setting and at the latter we ate burgers (don't get me wrong, they were very good) and fries in a very loud, crowded setting. When the check came for TTD we dropped our jaws because the pre-tip bill was almost identical to 112 Eatery just the day before. TTD just didn't feel like a good value burger vs. fois gras.

                          My dining dollars aren't infinite--if I want to eat good burgers on a bakery-fresh bun and hand cut fries in an unintimidating setting, I'll go to the Nook at get out of there for a much lower price tag.

                          I understand your point about reservations, but it's a lot easier to get into 112 Eatery these days since they added the upstairs and, of course, you can always sit at the bar at 112 Eatery and chat with the bartender.

                          Your point about vegetarians is a good one because I know there are some folks who have posted on this board that they feel sleighted at 112 Eatery, but I also know a vegetarian who eats at 112 Eatery regularly and loves it. As far as going there with a group of friends, how can you possibly have a conversation at TTD? It was so loud I could barely converse with the person sitting across from me the time I was there.

                          But, you're right, my alternative to TTD isn't really 112 Eatery. These days, it's Craftsman, which I pass by on my way to TTD. They have a full bar and their burger (white cheddar, harissa, and bacon beef burger) is also $11. (Although, for those of you who read my whole grains post, frankly, I'm not eating burgers and fries ANYWHERE these days and I did indeed notice wild rice and couscous on TTD's menu when I pulled their menu up to make my previous post--still, there's no way I'd ever be able to drag my dining companion back to TTD due to the noise and crowding...)

                          I just can't abide the noise and crowding at TTD and though the food is very good, it's not a great value and there are so many fantastic alternatives in the same price point.

                          EDIT: and why do I care so much? I don't know. I just have some bee in my bonnet about TTD. It was just really overall such an unpleasant experience when I wanted and was expecting a great one. I know many others love it. I just want folks whose sensibilities are more similar to mine to save their $70.00.


                          1. re: katebauer

                            I think you both have valid points. When you consider the "value/price" standpoint, it's perfectly valid to compare TTD to 112...and to the wine bar at Heartland to the lounge at La Belle Vie to Origami, etc. for that matter. In this town, $70 gets you everything from a burger, fries and a bunch of kickass drinks to a decent omakase to the tasting menu for one at Fougaise to a ribeye at Manny's.

                            However, from another standpoint, you are talking about restaurants all over town and you can't ignore that there are other reasons besides value/price that might be the sole reason for selecting a restaurant. In this case, the original thread was based less on price/value and more on menu quality in a particular location (albeit with business conversation in mind).

                            Sometimes I want a festive evening with friends in a centralized location and maybe with kids along. TTD has served me very well in this regard. Though great values and excellent places, I'm not sure I would choose Craftsman or 112 for that type of outing. Similar with the criticism of the noise at TTD -- to some, that can mask the din of kids, and for others that's called "buzz" or "electricity". I'm sometimes in the mood for a little noise to drown out thoughts about work and my busy life. I've eaten there many times and the noise has never prevented me from having a great time. I don't go there for relaxation.

                            That said, if I want more serenity, inventive food, and don't mind navigating my, and my guests' way downtown, 112 Eatery is obviously one of the most excellent restaurants in all of MSP.

                            I love the creative twists on standard "American" fare and the culinary care that goes into the food at Town Talk. Sometimes I'll pay for that in a cheese curd or a cheeseburger even if that same dollar can buy me foie gras at 112. It all depends on my reason for going out that night and what I'm looking for. The great thing TO ME is that I'll personally be thrilled with either place.

                            1. re: MSPD

                              Thanks MSPD. I think all of Kate's points are valid, too, they just aren't enough to overcome my personal objections to TTD, which aren't based on cost alone, but also on the noise and the crowding as I said here.
                              "I think the food is fantastic for what it is, they have a lot of nice little touches, and the service is very good, but overall for the price, I just don't think it's a great overall experience given the noise and the elbow-to-elbow crowding. " Also, as you said, I made my point as part of a discussion about whether TTD would be a good place for a meeting (no, too loud) where one could spread out her papers (no, too crowded).

                              I've mentioned in other threads --and should probably mention here--that I'm sensitive to noise and there are places in the Twin Cities I won't eat, no matter how good the chow (Birchwood, Highland Grill after about 8am on weekends, TTD, Neighborhood Cafe on Selby) because I can't bear the noise. The hustle and bustle and background chatter of places like Little Szechuan or the Nook doesn't bother me. Maybe crowding has something to do with it, too. On the other hand, we sometimes eschew Highland Cafe and Bakery because its sometimes incredibly library-esque quiet early on weekend mornings or on weekday evenings... So, sometimes a "serene" atmosphere is too much for even me.

                              My point-by-point menu & price comparison TTD/112 above was in direct response to GastronautMN's post where he begged to differ specifically on the pricing.

                              But, I don't really mean to be so down on the place. The food is good. If you find that kind loud, crowded, atmosphere to be energizing (and I understand that some people do), and you're not price sensitive, then abosolutely, I recommend it. For the flashy, sparkly sign out front, if nothing else.

                              Thanks for not bringing your kids to 112 Eatery and Craftsman. :). I'm glad folks have a place where they can have great chow and feel comfortable having their kids in tow--I'd hate to think everyone with young children is doomed to eat at Chatterbox Pub. And if you have to pay a premium for great chow+kid-friendly atmosphere for your occasional night out, well, so be it.


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                By the way, as I was typing the above, two thoughts came to me specifically with you in mind:

                                1. Since I know you like the burgers/fries at the Nook (or in the vein of TTD), if you find yourself over by Good Day Cafe in Golden Valley for lunch some time, don't pass up the burger there! Same style (thicker patty, hand formed, generous with fries very similar to the Nook) and excellent bun. Just be sure to call me first and I'll meet you there.

                                2. As for the whole grains idea, I scanned the Heartland Wine Bar menu (to "research" the price comments) and they have an abundance of items that sound like they'd fit your request. Cafe 128's grilled vegetables used to be outstanding as well -- one of the very few all-veggie entrees that stand out for me. Maybe they're still serving it now that they're open again.

                                1. re: MSPD

                                  Not sure how or why this thread got revived, but chowspouse and I stopped at TT for dins on the way home from the airport Friday night. We both felt kind of, meh, about the menu selections. It's like we had to go out of our way to find something to eat on the menu. In retrospect, we wished we had stopped at Longfellow Grill instead. We ended up settling for the duck confit salad (duck is one of those things that keeps me from being a full-time vegetarian). We also ordered the farmer's plate, asking for extra cheese as a sub for the sausage. I expected something like a typical ploughman's lunch - big hunks of cheese, the equivalent of a big hunk of sausage, and some pickles. No. Six little crackers with six little pieces of cheese on them, a few bits of salty pickled herring (instead of the extra cheese), and some vile, ice cold pickled shrooms. $9.50. Ouch. And no tap beer. At least they had Ommegang Hennepin in the big bottle. $13. Ouch.

                                  And I differ in the opinion that TT is more (or less) veggie friendly than 112. There are the usual garden salads, and yeah they have cheese curds, and a tempeh sandwich, but that's not really veggie-friendly. That's a few token offerings.

                                  I guess my impression of TT is that it makes for a fun and quirky (if not cheap) local if you live near there, but maybe it's not necessarily worth going out of one's way for.

                                  1. re: Loren3

                                    TDQ- I am sensitive to noise as well, and find 112 to be quite noisy. I've
                                    never been upstairs though. Is it quieter up there?

                                    1. re: faith

                                      It is quieter up there, although, I consider the main floor of 112 Eatery to be "average" in terms of noise. I've certainly never found myself needing to shout and, then basically giving up on conversation, at 112 Eatery (even downstairs) the way I have at TTD.


                                  2. re: MSPD

                                    Thanks for the tips--I'll add HWB & Cafe 128 to my "list" of places where I might find whole grains. It's good to have more options in St. Paul.

                                    No burgers and fries for me for awhile, alas. :) Please keep eating and reporting on them so I can live vicariously through you!


                      2. re: pgokey

                        I haven't been to Barbette since the new chef took over, and I'm sure he's improved things. I do go to Town Talk on a regular basis, and there's a lot more to their menu than burgers and frickles. Try the house-smoked salmon appetizer, asparagus-mint soup, or dayboat halibut, when you get a chance.

                        I liked Barbette before, but I never thought it was very distinguished.

                        1. re: Jordan

                          Give Barbette another try. The new menu easily outdoes Town Talk.

                          1. re: Jordan

                            I've tried Landon's menu twice now, I have to tell you while the comparison of the two is like apples to oranges as far a cuisine is concerned, the production value at TT is higher. The things Landon seems to do well at Barbette are the same things he did well at Bulldog (charcutrie, burger, tartare). The scallops my wife had a couple weeks ago was boring as was the lamb I had a month ago.

                            And as for prices, they are both overpriced. $29 for a 10oz steak and fries? I understand Barbette's rent must be high if Kim doesn't own the building...but potatoes cost what...$.50 a piece?

                            That said;

                            Best for conversation: Barbette by a long shot.

                            PS. You can sit outside at both places, but if you have papers you're not going to be outside anyway, unless you bring your own rocks underwhich to put them.

                    2. Thanks for all your help. We ended up at Barbette's, where both the food and the setting were appreciated, as was all of your advice.

                      I had the evening fish special, sea bass in a green curry sauce, preceded by the warm olives and bread appetizer and with a glass of the house white. Everything was very, very good. I especially liked the plentiful fresh basil on the side of the bass, and the light spiciness of their version of green curry sauce.

                      1. I would recommend Town Talk, mostly because I think the food is better and they have fancy, tasty cocktails. And if you go during the evening you can get a table in the dining room where the noise isn't that bad. (During lunch hours one has to sit at the bar, which is not practical for groups of more than two.) Plus, I've found the service at Town Talk to be better and more friendly.

                        Oops. Too late. Here's one more item in Town Talk's favor: zero cases of food poisoning! :o)

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: Doghouse Reilly

                          It's the dining room where the noise problem is the most acute, actually. It's just not conducive to business meals at all.

                          1. re: pgokey

                            I blanked on the business part. Still, Town Talk is the better joint all around and it's not like the other tables are exchanging gunfire.

                            1. re: Doghouse Reilly

                              Don't you think Town Talk is a lot more narrow in what they offer? It's fine if you want a burger, or something fried, or a pork chop. Barbette offers a much more interesting and fresh menu. I am sensing that Town Talk, rather than being a definitively better place, is one that suits your particular preferences better. I like creatively and freshness more, hence my preference for Barbette. As for actually superiority of execution between the two, it's a dispute not to settled online.

                              1. re: pgokey

                                I have to correct Doghouse Reilly -- Town Talk is open only for dinner on weekdays, for brunch (including lunch hours) and dinner on weekends. At all times, as far as I've seen, both the bar and dining room areas are open.

                                Pgokey, although many of the dishes Town Talk serves are of the simple, classic nature you describe (burgers, pork chops), you're mistaken in saying that there is no creativity or freshness involved. I've found that the dishes are executed using top-quality and often innovative ingredients -- for example, the chopped salad includes marcona almonds, house-smoked chicken breast, Israeli couscous, and pickled beets. Daily specials usually include great preparations of fresh seafood and innovative soups, like asparaus-mint.

                                I'm not sure why you have this dichotomy in your mind between the two places. If Town Talk's menu has American diner food as its theme, then Barbette's has the French equivalent -- bistro fare, such as salade nicoise, steak frites, and croque monsieur. I don't see this as being any more innately "interesting" unless you find classic French food to be novel. Heck, the new Barbette chef has introduced a "Royale with cheese" burger, which I'm sure is excellent. (I greatly enjoyed his burgers at the Bulldog NE.)

                                So, I simply don't see this clear distinction between the two. Town Talk has the Kitchen Sink burger and the "farmer's platter." Barbette has the Royale with cheese and charcuterie platter. These are not exactly worlds apart.

                                1. re: Jordan

                                  I don't see TTD as having no creativity at all - but a lot of the dishes really are just bar food. I do recall seeing some interesting salads, and one or two of the entrees looking ambitious (braised lamb, was it?), and perhaps even a terrine. It's just not the focus, and not what most of the covers coming out of the kitchen are.

                                  What I do recall at Barbette are the steam mussels, tartare, gnocchi, scallops, oysters, crepes, artisnal cheeses. On balance, you get more high end stuff there.

                                  1. re: pgokey

                                    OK, this is my last word on the subject. My point is that while Town Talk does have many items that can be classified as American diner (or bar) food; Barbette has many items that are the French equivalent. You may not see mussels, crepes, and cheeses as fast food or street food, but that is how they are served up in France.

                                    I'm bowing out of this now.

                                    1. re: Jordan

                                      I don't ever recall seeing gnocchi (which is Italian, by the way), scallops, oysters, or tartare among the street food fare when I was in France. <shrugs>

                                2. re: pgokey

                                  Those are very good points. I suppose it's like comparing apples to oranges. (I'd have to say the advantage is with the former, though: who ever heard of orange pie?)