A friend told us about the kids-eat-free deal Tuesday nights at the Blue Heron Grill in Hugo, a restaurant and bar just off of Interstate 35E about 20 miles north of St. Paul. The night we decided to give it a try also happened to be Valentine's Day, so we made it a point to arrive early before all the couples started trooping in. We were seated right away in the middle of the dining room. Since we were with a 9- and a 3-year-old, we asked if we could move to a booth off to the side. The hostess checked to see if it was reserved for one of the Valentine's couples - it wasn't - and we tucked into the bench seats.
The kids jumped into coloring - crayons and a large placemat came with the table - as we looked over the food options. The "Little Herons" menu included the staples - cheeseburgers, pizza, chicken tenders, quesadillas and mac and cheese - and it also had chicken Alfredo. All options include a drink and ice cream. Our kids both chose cheese pizzas..
My wife and I looked over the Blue Heron specialties like pork ribs, fajitas and country-fried steak. She settled on the less expensive bowl of French onion soup and a small Caesar salad. I went after a "Roadhouse" burger topped with bacon, an onion ring and barbecue sauce. We also picked up an order of thick-cut onion rings and deep-fried cheese curds.
Minutes after we arrived, our waitress had offered to take our order before the kids got restless. It was a nice gesture that we declined and soon regretted because the kids did get restless - real restless - just as the restaurant filled up with doey-eyed couples and service slowed. Our son pushed the crayons aside and began spelunking under the table. His sister soon tired of coloring, too, and complained that she was bored.
Fortunately, the restaurant hires magician Justin Alan to entertain the kids on Tuesdays, and he appeared at the exact moment we were ready to call it a night. His routine - card tricks, illusions and light comedy - was lost on our son but delighted our daughter. He included her in the tricks and then surprised us all when he was able to make her card appear on the ceiling 20 feet away. He also took two separate cards and turned them into a single card, then put the souvenir in a plastic sleeve and gave it to our daughter as a memento of the night. His routine ended as our food arrived.
The pizza was fine - the kids each ate a slice - and then ate the onion rings until they were gone. My wife was pleased with her soup but thought the salad was nothing special. My burger was hot and savory, and the fries crisp and salty. I'd order it again. But we could have done without the curds, which tasted like they just went from the deep-freeze to the deep-fryer.
Our son then continued his journey under the table, and we wished the magician would come back and make him disappear - at least until we were finished eating. The arrival of the ice cream did the trick, instead. Both kids seemed content as they ate their cups of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce while my wife and I caught our breath.
The next day, our daughter took her magic cards to school for show-and-tell. She might not have raved over pizza at the Blue Heron, but she couldn't stop talking about the magical experience.
And that's saying something.
John Brewer can be reached at 651-228-2093.
BLUE HERON GRILL
Address: 14725 Victor Hugo Blvd., Hugo
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Sunday
Prices: $8.95 to $26.95