Call it a culture adjustment.
A perceptual refocus to all five senses.
Going from the formal, martini-bar style dining of Iven's on the Bay to the casual, kick your feet up dining of the Northern Cowboy Flame N'Brew north of Brainerd on North Long Lake is abrupt, but not unwelcome.
When it came to fine dining in the lakes area, Iven's on the Bay was one of the gold standards for non-resort based restaurants. With its dark-wood interior, soft jazz ambiance and adventurous menu one step into Iven's and you knew where you were.
Now entering its second year, Northern Cowboy is nothing-absolutely nothing-like it's building's predecessor.
Warm colors abound the dining room, the decorations in the bar area are bar or cabin appropriate. Country music is blaring as it should in a place with cowboy in its name.
More importantly, the food fits the theme as well. Gone are the delicate flavors and precision presentations. Now you know what you're paying for and you're getting your monies worth. It's bold and in your face as if you've been lassoed and corralled for dinner time.
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Northern Cowboy Flame N'Brew
- Type: Casual dining
- Highlights: Burgers, steaks, seafood and barbecue sandwiches
- Location: 19090 State Highway 371, North of Brainerd on North Long Lake
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Their website refers to Northern Cowboy as casual dining with a view, but that doesn't mean there aren't unique dining adventures on this menu.
Walleye on a lakes area menu is not unusual, but walleye cakes on an appetizer menu is not standard bar grub nor are smoked wings. Northern Cowboy offers rubbed or sauced wings with multiple flavor combinations ranging from Cajun rubs to Thai chili and parmesan garlic sauces. Poutine has become a standard on most lakes area menus of late and you can order an order of the Canadian dish here as well.
Three different types of flatbreads, including a vegetarian one with pesto, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and mozzarella and feta cheese is available.
Beer cheese soup caught this reporter's eye and the warm cup comes with a handful of popcorn already floating on top.
Lunch is a combination of sandwiches, burgers and baskets. Highlights on the sandwich or wrap category is a brisket philly. Think a philly, but with smoked brisket. There's the Big Gull Dam, which according to the menu is the signature sandwich of the Northern Cowboy. It's a ham, barbecue pork and bacon sandwich with cheddar cheese sauce, pickle chips and a fried egg.
Fajita or fish tacos are available as well as a turkey focaccia, which consists of turkey, tomato, onion, cucumber, sprouts, provolone cheese and a basil mayo.
Traditional burger favorites like the blue cheese burger, mushroom burger, cheeseburger all have just enough of a surprise to make them worth ordering, but Northern Cowboy doesn't stop with those. There is also the NCFB burger that features a heaping of pulled pork, smoked cheddar cheese, brown sugar bacon and onion straws.
The pulled pork had just enough barbecue sauce so that it wasn't overpowering in taste or super messy, but did a good job of holding all the toppings in place.
There's also the lunker dunker which is all beef patties stuffed with American and white cheddar cheeses, bacon and caramelized onions.
Dinner features the standard surf and turf fare central Minnesota has come to expect. Prime rib, ribeye and sirloin highlight the steaks, while walleye and shrimp are your fish options. Ribs and chicken are also present.
A Bourbon Street pasta is the most intriguing of the three pasta options. It includes chicken, shrimp, andouille sausage tossed with peppers, onions, mushrooms, spinach and Cajun cream sauce with bow tie pasta.
A children's menu is available as are a wide array of specialty cocktails and beers.
Concerning the beers, Northern Cowboy has a rotating taps that feature local breweries like Roundhouse, Gull Dam and Jack Pine as well out-of-area brews from Mankato Brewery Mad Butcher, Surly, Summit and Insight.
Northern Cowboy is a place where much beer could be consumed. Televisions are on the bar walls along with a Minnesota Vikings schedule. Board games were piled in a corner.
The atmosphere at Northern Cowboy is light, welcoming and comfortable. The food bold, filling ..... This is not your parents' Iven's on the Bay, but it's also not a bad option for your next dining experience.