Heavy Table’s Lyndale Avenue Checklist will include reviews of all 70+ independent restaurants located along the total 18-mile length of Lyndale Avenue. All reviews will be emailed in full (as they are posted) to our Patreon followers, but we will also share some of them on this website for everyone to enjoy.
Our checklist team includes MC Cronin (editing), Becca Dilley (photos), James Norton (editing) and WACSO (illustrations).
“Just when I thought I was out, they brought me back inside.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part III
How can something as innocent as sampling every independent restaurant along a stretch of road exert such a powerful pull on our psyche? It is hard work. We know this to be true (and the first outing on our fourth – yes, fourth! – checklist proved it). However, there are those cursed unexpected discoveries and those unforgettable encounters that keep us coming back.
The whole thing is like a highly addictive drug. You can go weeks without thinking about it at all. Even months. Then little by little, the idea of starting over comes back to you. “We could do a Brooklyn Center/Park checklist! What about a Supper Club checklist? Grand Ave Checklist? You try to push the thoughts away. The idea of returning there fills you with a dark and impending dread. And yet, you crave it from the depths of your soul. Finally, you give in. And after that first taste, after so long, you wake up alone at night sweating, your stomach in knots, your head swimming in a twisted combination of remorse and insatiable desire. “Hi, my name is Mike and I’m a checklist junkie.”
We are joking, of course. We know exactly why we keep doing this. Documenting these experiences has given each of us nourishment far beyond what food provides. We hope, in a way, that it will be the same for you. And we hope, like us, that you will find the joy of travel. Even when it sounds like a slog. – MC Cronin
drooling moose | 9424 Lyndale Avenue South, Bloomington | 952.300.2468
For a full Droolin’ Moose review, head over to Heavy Table on Patreon.
Luna Di Luna | 8820 Lyndale Ave S, Bloomington | 952.303.4111
The more you try to describe Luna di Luna, the more it defies description. A condensed narrative might look like this: Luna di Luna is a Taco Bell (probably) that has been transformed into an abstract take on an Italian restaurant where a primitive patchwork of old and modern Italian elements merge into something inexplicably charming. And there’s a collection of old soda cans.
Seriously, the place only holds together by its own inconsistency.
Let’s start outside. It was clearly fast food. We can’t confirm this, but the building gives off a distinctly Taco Bell-esque vibe. Except now, each of the bay windows that previously displayed signs advertising 2-for-1 chalupas have been encrusted with a mishmash of rustic wooden planks and randomly colored glass rectangles framing a much smaller arched church window In the center. To the passerby, the place might look like a little off-brand Medieval Times.
Inside, it’s dimly lit even during the day (as you’d expect from covered windows). Most of the light is provided by an amalgamation of multicolored Italian blown glass wall sconces, teardrop pendant lights and LED backlighting. The high dioramas on the walls evoke miniature Roman ruins with staggered stones and toppled alabaster columns. Below these is a modern design of mirrors behind and a pattern of horizontal wood stripes. Fake flowers and foliage pop from all over the room. Prints of vintage paintings of sultry women in tight black dresses drinking wine and smoking in dark bars hang all around the space. And of course, there’s the aforementioned collection of pop cans.
As we understand it, this wild pastiche is the owner’s singular vision. His wife takes no credit for herself. (And she was particularly quick to deny having anything to do with it, we noted.) Their sons took our order and served our meal. They told us that everyone who worked here was part of the family or very close to the family. And considering this place still exudes the same quirky charm and eccentricities that make families interesting, we’re not at all surprised. –MC
Aside from the level of aggressive charm that the family-run staff and eclectic decor of this place exerted on us, Luna Di Luna’s food won our hearts on its own merits.
It’s a professional but winning trick. For each entree, you get a salad, a simple combination of iceberg lettuce, buttermilk ranch, and parmesan cheese. And you get a loaf of soft, heavily seasoned pretzel-like bread to dip in personal plates of olive oil. And then you get a dish that invariably combines lots of cheese with a generous helping of homemade meat.
The least successful – and we didn’t mind – was the Burgundian ($20)which combined an aggressive amount of sautéed peppers, onions, sliced beef tenderloin, and usable gnocchi to create a dish that’s almost but not entirely reminiscent of beef fajitas in a decent Mexican-American spot.
Better was the Tetrazini ($19), a throwback dish we haven’t seen on a menu in years. The prawns in this dish were tender and well cooked (not overcooked, a real rarity there), and although the creamy, cheesy Alforno pesto sauce could have been a little more delicate for our tastes, the dish was comforting and well executed.
We really enjoyed the Bolognese ($18). It was a straightforward take on a true Italian-American classic, with chunky but light meatballs and red sauce to go. It was good on a day that hit 91 degrees, would have been perfect in January.
And our favorite dish of the four was the Meat Lover ($20) a dish of penne and meatballs that was very much like Bolognese but with a delicious classic tasting hot Italian sausage, which provided a real fennel and garlic kick. -JN
Umbria Gourmet Pizzeria | 521 W 98th St, Bloomington | 952.746.9505
For a full review of Umbria Gourmet Pizzeria, head over to Heavy Table on Patreon.
golden wok | 617 W 98th St, Bloomington | 952.888.0833
Slightly backlit menu board with faded images of egg fu young and pork mu shoo: Check. Kikkoman’s signature soy bottle and rectangular ramekins stuffed with duck sauce sachets on each table: Check. Chairs lined up along a wall with slouched customers waiting for their takeout: check. You may never have been to Golden Wok, but you’ve seen this place a million times.
As with many joints in this category, the dining room is more “Of course, go ahead and sit down if you really want to” than “Please relax and enjoy your dining experience” . A stack of restaurant supplies had taken a permanent place in one part of the dining room, and a few employees sorting and stacking receipts had taken up residence in another. Maybe they were working in the dining room because there was no room in the back for anyone else. We had over nine crew members on duty, all busy cooking, cleaning, ringing and packing orders.
Not to be pigeonholed, Golden Wok offers a major twist on the genre. There is sushi on the menu. Which, in a place like this, fits somewhere between quite surprising and mostly suspicious on our food radars. But that’s the checklist, and we have to give everything a fair shot. It’s in the bylaws. –MC
After the Shakespearian tragedy of Umbria Gourmet Pizzeria, we were hesitant to upgrade to Chinese-American cookie-cutter mall fare, but – hey – the bar had been lowered, and even the vaguely decent food was going to taste delicious. a banquet in Peking .
As low as the bar was, Golden Wok tripped over a rock and managed to hit it before stumbling off the trail into a raspberry bush. The Pork Lo Mein ($10.25) was nearly flavorless and most of what we could taste was inexplicably sweet. It came with a weird, under-seasoned yellow rice, and the less we say, the better. An eggroll on the side tasted like an eggroll wrapper – no cabbage bite, no chunks of tasty meat to chew on, nothing like the classic eggroll experience we’ve come to know and love. love in countless ancient Chinese seals.
Relatively better – but still not good, mind you – was Egg Foo Young ($10.35). While underpowered and chewy, it did at least tie in with other renditions of the dish we tried, and there was a level of seasoning at work that could be described by a generous taster as adequate. The brown sauce that came with it didn’t make it much better, but it didn’t derail it further either.
We also had sushi – how not to? – but opted for the whole cooked Shrimp tempura roll ($7.45). While the prawns are a fairly unassertive flavor to begin with, this stuff was bland to the point of nothing, and could barely be discerned over the lingering garlic powder from our previous stop. The roll was a somewhat unpleasant temperature collision of hot and cold, and the accompanying wasabi was such a rare shade of green that we left it untouched. -JN
98-pound sideboard | 824 W 98th St, Bloomington | 952.881.1088
For a full review of the 98-pound buffet, head over to Heavy Table on Patreon.