Set in a stone building that houses a handful of other businesses, Oskar’s Slider Bar opens up into a warm, if fairly non-descript, space that wouldn’t immediately let you know it’s anything out of the ordinary.
That is, until you get a look at the menu.
Sure, the gray walls and concrete floors give way to lighting fixtures on one wall that are shaped like deer or elk heads, and there are a handful of beer signs around to let you know it’s a bar, some interesting Scandinavian art, plus a wooden bear and a hallway that mimics a forest — OK, it’s a pretty cool place.
Still, the menu is what makes your eyes pop — and your mouth water.
It’s all sliders, all the time, just as the name suggests, with concoctions like smoked halloumi, lamb and lefse tacos, shrimp Skagen, and gravlax.
Yes, this is a Scandinavian-themed restaurant and bar, with a tone that reflects as such yet is welcoming enough for all — there’s a basic cheeseburger slider, not to mention a few $2 beer options — that you don’t need to worry if you aren’t from Minnesota.
I settled in at the bar, not quite sure what to get, and was quickly suggested an aperitif of a shot of aquavit, particularly a Norwegian-made Linie. I’m a beer guy, first and foremost, but I figured, when in Scandinavia, drink what the Scandinavians drink.
This is a food review, so I won’t get too in-depth, but the citrusy, lightly spicy spirit, heavy on the caraway, had a big, bourbon-esque finish, while reminding me a bit of brandy.
With my upper torso warm, I pored over the sushi-style menu one last time and checked five different sliders, eschewing sides like kale salad or fries to stick with the sliders. When at Oskar’s …
I started with a basic cheeseburger slider, in honor of Grind Burger Kitchen — owners Liz and Jesse Huot own both restaurants — and found it to be a huge treat for the kid inside. It’s a basic concoction of a ground beef patty, a slice of cheese, two pickles and Grind sauce. The patty was thin and cooked crisp, a la Steak ’n’ Shake, and I gobbled it up post haste. I could have eaten more.
The Short Rib featured an ample helping of pulled short rib, cooked tender but with some bark that gave it added texture, topped with thinly shredded carrot, which adds crunch but doesn’t interfere with the rich, flavorful beef.
I’m not sure how the folks at Oskar’s prepared this meat, but they should not stop. I’ll get another one soon.
Next came the Minnesota Fish Fry, a chunk of walleye rolled in cracker crust and fried dark and crispy, topped with a lemon-infused slaw. At first, I feared the pile of slaw might overpower the fish, but the slaw was mild, staying mostly out of the way of the distinctive fish.
If you’ve not had walleye, it’s just the right blend of dense and flaky, with a mild taste that has just a touch of “fishy” flavor. Quite nice.
One of my favorites was the lamb and lefse taco. Served on house-made, Norwegian-style flatbread (Oskar’s sticks to its theme wherever possible), the meat is again front and center. Pickled red cabbage provides a nice crunch and a bit of tang, but the distinctive and slightly gamey lamb is what excites your taste buds with this one.
I love lamb — if only I’d had more room.
I saved my gravlax for last because, hey, it’s not going to get cold before I get to it, right? But it surprised me immediately, as I expected a thin slice, maybe two, of cured salmon on a stone wheat cracker. What was placed before me amounted to two large, thickly cut slabs on a pair of crackers, topped with dill and paired with a very mild cream cheese.
I’ve had lox and have enjoyed it but not been wowed, but this version — it’s Nordic, naturally — includes plenty of dill, and the flavor bursts accordingly. I was surprised and impressed. Unfortunately, I was also full and had to take some of it home, but it made a nice snack the following day.
Oskar’s is a place you really should visit — it’s laid back enough that you can just walk in for a couple cheeseburgers and a can of Hamm’s and spend under $10. Or, you can go full-on Nordic and still get out of there for under $20.
And I found the service to be spot-on as well. And in addition to the solid beer selection, there’s a cocktail program, with more aquavit options on the way.
Oskar’s Slider Bar, located at 3799 Poplar Level Road, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m.