Ho-hum menu keeps Elements on 8th from reaching potential

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Nearly the first thing I do when I decide to go on vacation or find out I’m traveling for work is to check out all the new, cool places I can eat. And I know I’m not alone. Between dining shows, the Travel Channel, any number of “best of” lists online, mobile apps like Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Foursquare, serious foodie nerdery like Zagat, etc., there are innumerable ways for travelers to easily find great meals while away from home. We are no longer locked into the hotel restaurant or the national chain “conveniently” located next to where we sleep.

Which is why I was pretty disappointed by Elements on 8th in the brand new (and very nice) Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Sioux Falls. Aesthetically, I think they did a wonderful job capitalizing on their premier riverfront location with large windows overlooking the water, and open space that feels very welcoming and separate from the hotel even if you can see the check-in counter, a large bar and sleek, modern design. It’s a nice place, I can definitely see grabbing drinks with friends here all seasons: inside now, on the deck during the warmer months.

But what is up with this menu? Coming from the folks who run Foley’s, Callaway’s and Tre, places you could pull a pretty darn good menu from collectively, I expected more than spinach/artichoke dip, wraps and a Caesar that’s not a Caesar (mushroom, tomato and eggs?). When the most exciting thing on the menu is a turkey sandwich on wheat with onion, jalapeño and honey chipotle dijon, it is a real missed opportunity on my favorite street in the heart of downtown.

I had a perfectly fine buffalo burger and fries (above), but all the while I was thinking “If I wanted buffalo, why not just go to Wild Sage Grille?” Travelers that do even a little bit of trip prep will think the same thing. I have heard decent things about the buffet and breakfast, but, again, with Queen City Bakery, Josiah’s, K Restaurant, Sanaa’s, Jacky’s, etc. all mere blocks away (or right across the street)…..why?

I am NOT saying it’s bad. It’s that this could be more than just a national chain hotel restaurant. There’s a chance for Elements on 8th to be a knockout downtown destination for more than just business travelers looking for a quick bite when they’re beat from the road.

Menus often grow and elevate, and I’m hoping this one does.