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Feb 15, 2008 04:53 AM


My wife and I are finally coming to St Paul to see Prairie Home Companion in mid March. We are staying at the St Paul Hotel. I have been to the St Paul Grill before, but am not familiar with anything else in the area. Any suggestions for other restaurants? We are open to trying anything. Any good breakfast places?

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  1. Ooh, St. Paul Hotel, nice. Perhaps you can give us an idea of what kinds of places you're interested in? Also, will you have a car? Do you want to limit yourself to St. Paul or is a jaunt to Minneapolis okay?

    For upscalish recommendations:

    Very near the St. Paul Hotel (walkable) is a new restaurant Meritage. There have been a couple of reports here on the Midwest board you can search on. I hear they do brunch but I don't recall if anyone's posted about brunch. The word seems to be they do a good dinner, but are rather weak for lunch.

    Also, you'll need a car or to take a cab, but Heartland is a wonderful St. Paul restaurant focusing on sourcing locally. They have a wine bar if the full restaurant experience doesn't appeal to you.

    WA Frost on Selby is lovely--again, you'll need a car. I seem to recall someone talking about their brunch here on chowhound recently, too.

    St. Paul also has some really fantastic casual places, such as Little Szechuan and Ngon Vietnamese Bistro both on University Avenue (car, car, you'll need a car) or Tea House II (which does dim sum on weekends, by the way). Lots of great neighborhood bar types for burgers and suchlike The Nook on Hamline at Randolph--I like the Moliter burger myself-- (and Kopplin's coffee a couple doors down from The Nook) or the Groveland Tap for AYCE Friday fish fry. Oh, and Keys Cafe in downtown St. Paul for a homier kind of breakfast...great caramel rolls.

    It just depends on what you want.


    21 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Thanks for the ideas. We will have a car. We prefer to try places close by. I travel to Minneapolis often and rarely get to St Paul so this is my chance. Just wondered if the Keys Cafe used to be in downtown Minneapolis on Nicollett? Also are there any good Italian spots in St Paul?

      1. re: jdsopil

        I love La Grolla on Selby Ave. A quick 5 min drive from the hotel.

        1. re: jdsopil

          There are several locations of Key's, including one in Minneapolis.

          When you ask if there are any good Italian spots in St. Paul, my answer is, it depends. If you mean red-sauce places, yes and we can give you some recs for those if you like. If you mean the other kind, no, there are only average ones. There is La Grolla, which leaves me unimpressed --what shines most about it for me is the fact that it has a patio, which is lovely for Spring and summer--and Luci, which is again, average.

          Many 'hounds have recommended Al Vento in MInneapolis for good Italian--I haven't personally tried it, but I would try that before La Grolla or Luci again. Or Broder's, again, in Minneapolis.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Osteria y Nonni doesn't usually disappoint for Italian of the "other than red sauce" type, does it?

            I Nonni
            981 sibley memorial hwy, Lilydale, MN 55118

            1. re: KTFoley

              You know, it doesn't and I love their adjoining Buon Giorno shop--I think that's a great rec, KTFoley. I think of that location as "Lilydale" rather than St. Paul, but I don't know if Lilydale is actually "technically" St. Paul or not. Regardless, you'll need a car.


              1. re: KTFoley

                ditto on I nonni - much better than La Grolla.

                Worth the extra 3-5 mins in the car.

                1. re: St Paul Susie

                  I posted last week for comments or recommendations about I Nonni and got zero response. If you want current info, we ate there last night.

                  1. re: otps

                    um, I responded. a day or 2 after you posted

                    How was it?

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      I come to this site enough to know better, my fault.
                      We arrived there and they had our reservation scheduled for the previous night. Small delay but handled well. Had a drink at the bar and were seated within a half an hour.
                      When our server (Jay) told us about the tasting menu, all four of us ordered it.
                      We started with a perfectly seared scallop with a slice of blood orange and onion and a slice of something that I don't recall,all good.
                      Next was pasta with wild boar ragu very tasty and perfectly prepared.
                      A beef tenderloin was next (Fillet) 2 med's and 2 med rare, all cooked and seasoned perfectly.
                      The cheese course was next, a goat cheese that I enjoyed, my wife is not a cheese lover so I had hers also.
                      Dessert was a hazelnut and chocolate mixture in a formed shape
                      that was not quite pudding and not quite jello, with a berry sauce. Good taste, my wife ate hers and half of mine.
                      A couple of bottles of Barbera and very attentive wait staff with no
                      push to turn the table made it a wonderful night and meal.
                      The last time we enjoyed a meal like this was when we visited Italy, good food, relaxed pace, with a comfortable atmosphere. Sorry for the length of this post.

                      1. re: otps

                        Drool is on my keyboard - that wild boar ragu is what I had on the gnocci about a month ago and its amazing!

                        1. re: St Paul Susie

                          The tasting menu was $60.00 per person, and some people will think that is too much. I look at the dining experience, a perfectly paced meal that lasts for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. What can you do these days for $20.00 an hour with great service and good atmosphere.

                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Al Vento is great- quaint atmosphere, nice menu, reasonably priced. It is in Mpls. though. Been there twice and would definitely recommend it.

                3. re: jdsopil

                  If you're feeling lazy Sunday morning do NOT be afraid of the st paul hotel brunch. It is solid.. just plain good. Each table gets a ginormous caramel roll (so sit 2 per table, you get the whole thing.. it's designed for 6 or so!) and a big plate of fresh fruit (1/3+ a whole fresh pineapple, berries, melon, and a fruit sauce).. along with your choice of meal (I had the crab cake -- it was awesome) and a glass of champagne.. and i think all that was like $15. Very nice. My husband had biscuits & gravy instead of crab and it was probably $12. Enjoy! =)

                  1. re: jdsopil

                    The orignal Keys in on Raymond Avenue just a half block north of University, very close to the Mpls/StP border. Better parking (street) than in dtwn Mpls, and the oiginal location just plain has that something extra. If you like Keys for breakfast, that's the location to hit.


                    1. re: cayjohan

                      Since my fingers can't seem to spell "original," I thought I'd be nice and include the address. :-)

                      Key's Cafe & Bakery
                      767 Raymond Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55114

                      1. re: cayjohan

                        The Key's I was referring to when I first brought it up is the one in downtown St. Paul at 500 N. Robert Street, which is only a minute or two driving from the St. Paul Hotel. Personally, I prefer it to the Raymond location, which I find too crowded. And, somehow, I just don't think the chow is as good at the Raymond location. If you're willing to drive all the way to Raymond Street location of Key's from the St. Paul Hotel, it seems like you might as well hop in your car and drive a bit to really expand your breakfast options to include Tea House II for dim sum (I don't know what time of day that starts, though), or WA Frost's brunch or Muffuletta's brunch, etc., although, reannd brings up a great point that the St. Paul Hotel itself does a nice brunch.

                        WA Frost's Saturday brunch starts at 11am; Sunday, at 10:30.
                        Muffuletta: Sat 11am, Sun 10am
                        Meritage Sat & Sun 10am


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          TDQ, can you share the differences in the Keys locales, other than crowdedness? I love Keys, and patronize the one in my neighborhood out of habit and loyalty, but I'm willing to take a stab at another.

                          Chow better at the other? Maybe a better bet.


                          1. re: cayjohan

                            I still think, that if you are looking for really fresh, hearty home breakfasts in a fun environment, the Day by Day is the way to go.

                            1. re: karykat

                              I like Day by Day, especially when I'm trying to eat healthy or am with a vegetarian (they offer scrambled tofu options and brown rice options, for instance)--it has more of an artsy/quirky feel and has a patio (for when spring comes). It always feels a bit disheveled/busy to me, which has to do with the toys and stuff they have all over the walls. It's fun, but also a little chaotic in decor and sometimes service (which is very earnest). However, it's not chaotic in atmosphere--it's a friendly, mellow crowd. It's also much larger than you think, as it's divided up into many rooms. It's homey, not polished.

                              Key's is more of a greasy spoon/diner kind of place--they have fantastic caramel rolls, and turkey omelettes (they roast their turkey in-house), and they make their own rhubarb jam in house that they'll bring out about 70% of the time for you to have with your toast (I think they bake all their breads and bakery items in-house). There are multiple locations of Key's--each is run by a different member of the family and, thus, has a slightly different vibe. The downtown St. Paul location is really large (not at all intimate)--almost a cafeteria feel--no personality at all, really, other than "diner". The Raymond location is quite small, with booths. I've only eaten there once, but it felt really crowded to me and there were several minor service mishaps (like the kind where they forget to fill your coffee or bring you a fork--nothing major) that made me think they were overwhelmed. There were newspapers everywhere and my eggs weren't right. I just got the feeling they couldn't handle the crowd that morning--maybe it was a one-off experience. But, I've always gone back downtown or even to Roseville after that; since none of the location are really in my neighborhood, it's just as easy to go to one over the other for me.

                              In fact, Highland Bakery and Cafe on Ford Parkway in that strip mall at Cleveland is closer to me. The folks who run that used to work at Key's and the menus are very similar (breads, soups, sauces, etc. all from scratch, meats roasted in house, all baked goods baked in-house), except that Highland Bakery also offers a small Nepalese menu for dinner (and, if you ask nice, at lunch.) I love their "meat" momos.

                              I don't think you can go wrong with either Day by Day or Downtown St. Paul Key's if you want a casual, egg and pancakes kind of breakfast. I just depends on what you want.

                              While we're talking about eggy breakfasts in a homey setting, I'll also throw out Capitol View Cafe on Smith (on the West Side), if you're hopping in your car. I love their Mexican inspired breakfasts. There is a "view" of downtown from that part of town, but not really from the restaurant itself.


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                did the op mention where they are visiting from? i wonder if they would prefer big homey diner-style breakfasts, or lighter, fancier brunch-style breakfasts, or just a simple wonderful pastry or scone with a high-quality cup of coffee. grand ave has many great brunch places and stellar bakeries.

                                i used to like both key's & day by day but haven't gone in years-- there's a lot out there, breakfast-wise. . .

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  TDQ is spot-on with her assessments for Day by Day and Key's. Neither are fancy or "pamper-y". If the OP want casual and down-home, either would work.

                                  If jdsopil wants a fancier (and more expensive) place, how about brunch at WA Frost? I haven't ever tried their brunch, but the menu looks great. And the restaurant is lovely.

                                  And I second the recommendation for Tanpopo - it's fancy enough to be included in a splurge weekend, but casual and inexpensive enough (especially for lunch) to be part of a "conserve-our-pennies" weekend, too, if that's what the OP is going for.


                                  W.A. Frost & Co
                                  374 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102

                  2. Not quite within walking distance, but I like the Day by Day Cafe for breakfast. Good blueberry pancakes and tempting specials.

                    Day By Day Cafe
                    477 7th St W, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: KTFoley

                      We agree: Day by Day cafe is great. Tall bookshelves on the walls, nice atmosphere. Excellent hashbrowns and good service. Interesting place and makes us wish it was summer to sit outside and dine outdoors. (Coming soon...coming soon...) For lunch, go to Cossetta's!

                    2. second the recs you've gotten and would add: tanpopo in lowertown, a lovely homestyle japanese place. think noodles rather than sushi. very nice atmosphere & service, great food, relatively cheap!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: soupkitten

                        I love Tanpopo. You could even walk if you were feeling ambitious...


                      2. Additionally, notable for being both new and fabulous, The Strip Club Meat and Fish is just up 7th on Maria...outside of downtown, but connected by a series of off and on ramps (the Wall Street off-ramp leads directly on to the Mounds Park exit, Marie is 1 block up from the off-ramp) so as to be literally 5 minutes away.

                        My wife and I had dinner there last Wednesday for an early Valentine's and it was superb in every way - cozy, hip and most importantly delicious. Tim Niver, owner/front of house guy was the consummate host, greeting us at the door, ushering us to romantic table on the balcony and taking care of us all evening. From the balcony, next to the secret fireplace door, you can glimpse the skyline of downtown St. Paul...and on Wednesday evening the softly falling snow provided a hyper-romantic backdrop that I'm still basking in the glow of.

                        The place is done up in a kind of modernized, supper club...all black and reds...with references to the building's 100 year history - a gorgeous, wrought-iron staircase and the aforementioned secret door.

                        J.D. Fratzke is executing like the good, old days at Muffuletta (Hey, I haven't been since J.D. left, but this might be another St. Paul recommendation for the O.P.), I had the duck...and except for the inclusion of the leg on the plate (duck leg is basically inedible unless prepared in a confit) it was perfect on top of a crispy polenta cake. My wife had the Arctic Char, and we fought over the last bites on her was incredibly delicious.

                        A more comprehensive review, with extensive photographic evidence can had here:

                        The Strip Club Meat and Fish
                        378 Maria Avenue, St Paul, MINNESOTA 55106

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Dragon

                          ooo. dh and i really liked the strip club too & i posted about our recent visit on the chowhound thread about it. i cannot urge you more strongly to get a res if you go, the place is tiny, and it gets packed. Dragon- the rake link isn't working for me. . .

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            With such positive thumbs-up from TWO reliable hounds now, I think we need to make a point of getting over to the Strip Club!


                        2. I would add to this list Cafe 128. A small cafe near St. Thomas University on Cleveland that is easy to get to. We were there recently and the barbequed ribs were as good as ever. Others in our group had the fish of the day and loved it.

                          I strongly concur in the Heartland recommendation. You can eat in the main dining room or in the wine bar if you would like a lighter meal (selections from the menu.) Everything locally sourced and expertly made.

                          If you liked Keys you would really like Day-by-Day on West Seventh, not so far from downtown. Very hearty homemade breakfasts in a quirky environment. I love the Earth Breakfast: eggs scrambled with hashbrowns and onions with melted cheese and toast.

                          We also love Tanpopo in the downtown. It's a very serene Japanese place with wonderful noodle soups. I get the soba noodles with shrimp tempura on top. Very good.