DINING OUT: Hayward's Angry Minnow Brewing Co. is no ordinary pub
Amid the fried cheese curds, salad bars and fatty slabs of prime rib of northern Wisconsin lake country dining sits a Hayward brewpub that does things a bit differently.
The Angry Minnow Brewing Co. just turned 10 years old last week. It was started by two brothers, Hayward natives Jason Rasmussen and Will Rasmussen. Housed in a freestanding historic building that was built in 1889 by lumber baron Robert McCormick, it originally was home to the Northern Wisconsin Lumber Co.
An exposed-brick wrap-around bar with a giant arched opening sits in the middle of the room. The high ceiling is pressed-tin and a staircase on one side leads to an apartment. Diners can see the basement brewery via surrounding windows, and patio seating is out back. The dining room is gorgeous, dimly lit at night with lanterns. It is situated in such a way that you can hover in a corner with a date and be romantic or sidle up to the bar with friends and be loud.
The production brewery offers several selections year-round and a few seasonal choices. It produced 830 barrels last year and is looking to do 900 this year.
The food — which changes up a bit four to five times a year — is meant for sharing, and it’s meant for beer. Small plates, small pizzas and a bevy of creative sandwiches, burgers and salads fill out the menu. There is the quintessential Wisconsin fish fry, but there are no deep fryers here, which were tossed out last spring. You now have your whitefish pan-fried or baked.
“They make a mess of the kitchen,” said co-owner and head brewer Jason Rasmussen. “Growing up, our mother was a healthy eater. You find so much deep-fried stuff around … we figured we didn’t need those.”
The range among the small plates is head-spinning. There are eight choices, taking you from a raw beef tenderloin specialty of Guam to a spinach-artichoke dip. I had the Brussels sprouts ($7) with craisins, walnuts and gorgonzola. As a former sprout-hater, the key is roasting them. These were beautifully roasted and scientifically grouped with traditional, winning flavors. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary to be smart, but a part of me thinks putting Brussels sprouts on a brewpub menu in Hayward —home to muskie fishing and lumberjack competitions — is a bit revolutionary.
Jason Rasmussen, 32, recognizes that the cheese stands alone, so to speak, but he points out that the area is also big on mountain-biking and cross-country skiing.
“We wanted to do something a little bit different,” he said. “We get a little bit of the healthier crowd, and so much of Hayward’s business depends on tourism. It’s how a lot of us get to live here.”
The Angry Minnow composts its food waste. It also, like many local breweries (Fitger’s) gives its mash to a local farmer. The restaurant gets its pork from a pig farmer who uses the leftovers from the beer-making process, called mash, in its feed. It’s all part of an environmental philosophy that the brewery aims to use throughout the business.
We also had the Angry pretzels ($9): giant, puffy, wheat-y things flecked with coarse salt and made with spent grain from the brewery. They came with jalapeno cheddar and creamy wasabi and mustard dips. These are kind of a no-brainer, and an excellent choice. You do want all three dips.
Spent grain and beer are used to make the cracker-thin pizza crusts. The Sortino ($9) was impressive for its use of fresh-from-the-garden veggies. Whole and halved grape tomatoes shared space with spicy sausage, chunks of onions and mushrooms. A crawfish taco wasn’t as successful, offering a somewhat dry mixture of mango salsa with the crawfish.
The Angry Minnow does spice well. Food here —if it’s meant to —has serious heat. While the Minnow cheese steak ($9) comes with jalapenos and a jalapeno cheese sauce —it says it right there on the menu —living up north has conditioned me to expect mild heat, regardless. But the terrific warmth is balanced nicely with red bell peppers, spinach and cilantro. And that cheese is really, really good. So is the bun, which is soft, but holds up to the steak and oozing cheese. All of the bread is made in-house.
I didn’t miss the fryer. I didn’t need French fries, or cheese curds. I couldn’t even finish my cheese steak, so full I was of pretzel and their fantastic Honey Wheat beer. But back at my parents’ cabin a few miles away, the sandwich didn’t last through the night.
Angry Minnow Restaurant and Brewery
10440 Florida Ave., Hayward
Fall hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday