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Jan 11, 2010 08:19 PM

MSP Victory 44 - A New Beginning?

My wife and I stopped in at Victory 44 on Saturday. We had eaten there a couple of times, and liked their decent pub fare. But we were in for a big surprise. A great surprise!

The menus are gone. All the items are now written on a couple of big chalkboards. They've kept a few of the previous dishes (fish & chips, bangers & mash). But most of what's offered is new. The listings on the board are pretty basic, and just as we were speculating about them, a guy who looked like a cook showed up at our table to take our order. As he started describing the dishes, our jaws dropped. This was not the pub fare. We just ordered the first three things on the top of the list, and let the cooking begin:

BEET & ORANGE is how the first course was titled. Little squares of orange lined up like a row of tiles. Along side them were a couple of deep red ribbons. But as we started to eat, we began laughing out loud. The orange squares were the beets! And the red ribbons were the orange! (Blood orange gelee, we later learned). We love that kind of humor in our dining. It was a very refreshing start to the meal.

LAMB SHOULDER was three pieces of lamb, perfectly cooked sous-vide style. I don't think they were using an immersion circulator when they doing mostly fish & chips and burgers! It was accompanied by a bean puree, and a balsamic reduction. But I don't remember much because my wife loved the dish so much she would hardly let me near it.

CHICKEN CORDON BLEU This was a wonderful deconstructed version of the tired classic. Two pieces of chicken, again cooked sous-vide, and then seared to a nice crisp. Inside were some strips of ham. The cheese, usually on the inside of the stuffed chicken breast, was alongside, as a creamy gruyere sauce. And the breading that is supposed to be on the outside of the chicken, showed up as a coating for a crunchy brioche toast. Add a couple of browned brussels sprouts, and it made for a dish that was out of this world.

TRES LECHES CAKE We were a little reluctant to try dessert. By now, it was obvious that the guy delivering our food was a serious chef, and we couldn't believe that someone who cooked like that would do desserts well. They leave that to pastry chefs. We figured that he would have brought in desserts from somewhere else. He was pretty low-key about describing the three on offer, but without much probing, it became obvious that he was high on the tres leches. What we got was not at all a traditional version like from our Mexican bakeries (I'm partial to Durango's). But it was fantastic. It was another clever interpretation, with the cake separated from the sauces. The cake was moist by itself. And the sauces included all the taste of the traditional version. Add to that a bit of chocolate mousse and some leaves of dark chocolate, and we were in heaven!

At the end of the meal the chef chatted with us a bit. Turns out that he's only been at the restaurant for a few weeks, having been brought in as chef de cuisine. He's gradually adding these creative dishes, and wants to go even further in that direction. I asked him where else he's cooked, and he said all over: NYC, Napa Valley, Pacific NW. When I got home, I Googled him. His name is James Winberg, and he was chef-owner of a place in Washington state that was getting some serious press a couple years ago. He's a Minnesota native who has just returned. And this is what he's doing. Putting out some incredible food in this low-key pub in North Minneapolis.

Right now, it's just James and another cook doing everything, cooking and serving. It's great fun to have them bring out our food and tell us about what they've whipped up for us. It's also ridiculously cheap. Our entire bill was $33.00! I'm not exaggerating to say this meal was of La Belle Vie quality. We can't wait to get back!

Victory 44
2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN

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  1. Great review, Rev! Sounds like you hit the victory jackpot!

    1 Reply
    1. re: faith

      Not only that, but I forgot to mention the amuse of chicharrones with yuzu cheese dip, and also the taste of the desert we did not choose, a meringue and coconut treat.

      Jackpot indeed!

    2. What the? I was there less than two weeks ago. I did notice some changes to the menu. I had the pate of the day, which was new, and quite good, but the staples (fish and chips, the perfect burger, the reuben, scotch egg) were there, as well as the breakfast options.

      I have to say, I'd be bummed to lose the burger and the reuben, both of which rate among the best in Minneapolis. I hope the new menu doesn't outpace the aesthetic of the NoMi clientele.

      I now burn with curiosity.

      7 Replies
      1. re: kevin47

        I heard the chef tell other tables that the burger and reuben were both still available, even though they weren't listed on the board. Breakfast options are gone. He told us that the brunch business just wasn't happening.

        It will be interesting to see how he balances the creative with the more basic options. I was trying to watch the reactions of other diners, but Minnesotans don't give much away!

        My 12-year-old loved that Perfect Burger, too. But he's excited about the new possibilities. Granted, he told me that when he had free computer time last week at school, he went to the El Bulli website. So maybe he's not so typical!

        1. re: FireRev

          I hope it's still open for lunch. That place is my second office.

          I understand about the brunch. They were doing some great stuff, but if a tree falls in the forest and all that. The burger an reuben were keepers, though.

          I dunno. I'm tired of the revolving door at that location, and with all the buzz I thought V-44 really had something going. Maybe the new chef signifies confidence that real food can find a place on the North side.

          1. re: kevin47

            Had dinner here last night and was equally impressed. I'm excited to go back and try the other items on the menu. Everything was so good. Would have liked to order dessert but I was so full.

            We ordered the Scotch Egg for an appetizer. It was delicious. Different from any I've ever tried. The yolk was runny and the bread crumbed egg sat on top of the sausage. It was so good. I will go back just for this.

            I also ordered the Chicken Cordon Bleu. I thought it was great too...the portion is perfect and matches the price. I thought everything was ridiculously inexpensive. 2 beers, the scotch egg, the chicken cordon bleu, a perfect burger and coffee and our bill came to $37. Very impressive.

            Our waiter did say the burger and reuben were staying and I noticed a few other items from the old menu. Next time I'm going to try the devils on horseback.

            Our server was perfect...friendly and casual and was prepared to talk about anything on the menu and very interested in our feedback.

            A neighborhood gem!

            1. re: Bobannon

              I made it back for lunch today. It looks like they retained the best of the old menu, but I wanted to embrace the new, so I ordered the Apple, Cheddar and ale soup and the cordon bleu deconstruction.

              These were prefaced by a sampling of amuse bouches, which made me feel a bit dumb for having brought my computer... I took these to be items the chef is playing with for menu inclusion.

              The first was a take on potato leek soup, with a potato crisp wafer embedded in a tea cup of cream with neon green leek. The soup was earthy and grounded, and I like to drink soup. A winner.

              The second confounded me. It was a puff of some sort, nestled on (I think) a dollop of creme fraiche meringue, accompanied by a snippet of the Devils on a horseback app, sprinkled with a bit of powdered sugar. It was excellent, whatever it was.

              The third was a standout, a spoonful of swedish meatball. A nice acidic punch, which is hard to accomplish in this dish. I'd love to see that make a regular rotation.

              To the stuff I ordered. The soup was excellent. The "ale" is represented with a splash of foam on top, and the execution hits every promised note.

              The cordon bleu? I dunno. The chef recommended this to me, and I don't want to be a spoil sport, cause the dish is a lot of fun. But why deconstruct this dish so literally? It tasted exactly like a solid chicken cordon bleu, but shouldn't deconstruction introduce something new to a banquet staple?

              I tasted a lot of great stuff, and I'll be interested to see how the new chef squares innovation with V-44's already well earned reputation as a gastropub with a British vibe. Clearly, it is aiming to be a destination restaurant that merits a trip to the difficult locale.

              By my lights, it hits the mark, but I'm not the one who has to do the travelling.

              1. re: kevin47

                Dara wrote about the new start on her blog:


                Last week I had the tofu dish she writes about. It was really cool. Even better was the lentil soup...the best I've ever had. It included a marvelous piece of fork tender pork and a soft poached egg. Rich, but wonderful.

                I still can't get over the food that's coming out of this kitchen. It's creative and wonderful. I'm actually reluctant to eat anywhere else right now. This place is going to get all my dining dollars, both because I want to give it my business to keep it going, but also because this is exactly my kind of food! (and they're almost giving it away, it's so cheap) This place is a godsend for me!

                1. re: FireRev

                  OK FireRev, this is a first for this board............someone saying a tofu dish was 'really cool'..........Really, I love tofu, too bad I'm allergic to soy, I could eat raw tofu out of the package......... sounds like a place I need to get to.

                  1. re: FireRev

                    It has been a godsend since it opened. It's funny that the chefs are saving tips to buy a blender.

                    By and large, I am enthused about the direction. I am worried that this will soon become an evening-only joint.

        2. Thanks to everyone for your support as we change up a few of things we offer at victory 44, but I do want to assure everyone as we change and push the envelope with a little more progressive food, I want you to be assured that we will not ever take away our reuben or perfect burger. In fact you will always find the Victory 44 "classics" on our new blackboards. Thanks again.......chef Erick

          1. We frequented the place mostly for weekend brunch back before they dropped the amazingly fantastic banana french toast from the menu.

            We went back this weekend, and had the Tofu dish Dara wrote about, a salad, and the sirloin with pappardelle, as well as the tres leches cake and the molten chocolate cake.

            We loved the concept, and the food. Everything was about 10 bucks, and in tasting sized portions. The people who ordered a tasting menu seemed to get even better stuff.

            There was one waitress working, so not ALL the servers have been cut out. We asked the waitress about vegetarian options, and she promised to have "one of the guys" come out. When he did, he described the Tofu dish, and said, "If you want, we could also do a pasta with vegetables."

            That is my absolute least favorite restaurant vegetarian cop-out. For a chef driven place, we really expected more. 112 Eatery has done a nice job with that in the past, making a plate that combines some of the best sides. I'm not expecting a chef to invent a new dish on the fly, but I do expect a place that boasts "everyone is a chef" to come up with something better.

            Overall, we really enjoyed the meal, and I hope this iteration of the place makes it. It is a great room, and the food has always matched in quality. Demand is the issue, and I fear it will continue to be. It is just too hard for the South Minneapolis crowd to think about coming north. (And, something needs to be done about restaurants that only offer pasta with veggies to the non-meat eating crowd.)

            112 Eatery
            112 N 3rd St, Minneapolis, MN 55401

            Victory 44
            2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN

            1. I convinced some friends from St. Paul (and my wife) to trek up to Victory-44 on Friday to check it out. I had probably the best meal that I've eaten in over a year there. Full stop.

              I went in, thinking I'd follow my usual dietary preferences these days - namely, seafood or vegetarian. But something about the tasting menu drew me away. One of my friends and I decided to go for the 5-course tasting menu.

              The table started with an amuse of fig and bacon. After our order, a second round of amuses consisting of potato-leek soup with leek oil arrived at the table in shot glasses. (Kevin47 gave a description above.)

              The tasting menu began with the beet and orange salad described above.

              The salad was followed by my favorite course of the evening, agnolotti filled with duck liver. There probably 10 small agnolotti sitting in a foam of butter and parmesan cheese, surrounded by liberal swipes of a rutabega sauce and Tasmanian honey.

              Next up was a scallop with saffron rutabega sauce and polenta fries. It was an amazing course as well. (My wife's course arrived at this time. It was several pieces of sirloin, nicely cooked, along with a nice side of pasta.)

              The last dinner course on the tasting menu was a nice piece of braised pork belly accompanied by a pave of sweet potatoes and a crisped piece of sweet potato. The pave was surrounded by a creamy sauce infused with 18-year old whiskey and pieces of citrus. It was amazing how the flavors burst out of the dish.

              Before dessert was served, a "pre-dessert" with tastes of meringue, homemade marshmellow, and something else. (By this time, I was overwhelmed with the variety of tastes and textures, so I've lost some of the details.) Dessert was the tres leches cake describe above, along with citrus toffee (probably candied orange peel broken in to crumbles.)

              All through the meal, we were chatting off and on with the owner and other chefs. It was a relaxed meal, but an enjoyable and delicious evening. The bill, before tip was about $125 for the tasting menu for 2, another three dishes for our wives, and 7 or 8 beers and glasses of wine.

              Like FireRev, I'm very excited to head up there again and explore the menu. I'm also going to enjoy supporting this place for as long as I can.