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MSP - Nice Dinner for 30 Guests?

My boyfriend and I are planning an extremely low-key wedding consisting of a courthouse ceremony and a nice dinner for about 30 of our family members, most of whom are not Chowhounds and not very adventurous eaters. A steakhouse-style place would probably suit most of them, but not me (pescatarian).

Can you think of a place that fits these requirements?

-Located within 15 miles of St. Paul
-Has a private room that seats 30
-Has food that will please a wide variety of tastes (from my grandma who only eats at Olive Garden and Red Lobster to me who would love to have the dinner at Tanpopo if they had enough room)

My mom suggested Axel's, but I don't particularly care for the place. I'd rather support an independent restaurant than a chain.

I look forward to hearing your responses. I am always impressed by the great recommendations everyone here has.

Thanks!
Jessica

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  1. Best wishes to you and your betrothed, Ms. Cake!

    One place I just recently noticed has a private room is Downtowner Woodfire Grill on West 7th in St. Paul. I've not dined in the private room myself, but according to their website, it seats 34. It's not exactly steakhouse style, but they do have steak on the menu, certainly. http://www.downtownerwoodfire.com/mai... Many of the dishes have a "Persian" twist.

    And, just to throw out a second option, another place that I've come to appreciate lately for its low-key hospitality and fine (but not exceptional) chow is Bennett's Chop and Railhouse, also on West 7th. They say they'll organize private dining for groups 20-50 (not sure how they do that) http://www.bennettschopandrailhouse.c... There's nothing on the menu that's particularly adventurous, but they do lots from scratch.

    ~TDQ

    1. Osteria i Nonni in Lillydale has a very nice private room. The Chef is from Rome. The menu is very broad with pasta, fish, meat, etc. I've always found the food a tad overpriced -- it's good not great, or sometimes one dish great another mediocre. But I am pretty critical and eat out often. For a non-Chowhound crowd everyone will love it. The wine list is extensive and reasonably priced.

      1. I have friends that recently did both their wedding and reception for around that number at W.A. Frost, which has private rooms. They did it during the holidays and said everything was decorated beautifully for Christmas so they didn't have to spend a lot for table arrrangements etc.

        1 Reply
        1. re: RedPepper

          We had our rehearsal dinner at W.A. Frost a couple of years ago. Our group was a bit smaller (~18), but I remember them having a bigger room that would have seated more people. The food was good (not exceptionally interesting, but very well prepared). Some of our guests were not exceptionally adventurous eaters, but really seemed to like the food at Frost's. It is a bit expensive, but we thought it was worth it for the food and atmosphere.

        2. Jessica - congrats.

          I really like the downtowner as well. I haven't attended an event in the party room... but know people who have and who have been very pleased. plus I think its a pretty good value overall and you will deal with a local independent owner.

          The lexington has a great room - which can easily fit 30. and I've been to events there and they have done a great job. Very traditional menu. But good solid food.

          I was at Frost last night and there was an event in the basement I think? Is that where their party room is? hmmmmm

          I adore i nonni and have been to events there as well - they have done a great job as well. I agree with Michael F that sometimes there is a misstep every now and then.

          I think that the downtowner is the most reasonable price wise of those options. But I'm sure they all can be pricey to reasonable based on what you get & what you drink.

          1. What about Craftsman? I don't know if they have a private room or not, but if so they might be a good choice. I think some of the food is adventurous, but I think there is enough that is basic.

            Downtowner does have a private room. They would probably be a bit less expensive.

            Frost's has a smaller private room on their main floor. Not sure where the bigger room is.

            1. I would consider Create Caters Dining Studio. It's Chef Philip Dorwart's new venture (previously of Tryg's and Table of Contents, among others). He has a catering studio/dining room that you can rent out in North Mpls (plenty of parking), and it's perfect for intimate gatherings. You can decorate it as you want, if you want, otherwise it has a simple, clean lovely low-key ambiance. Also, a bonus is that you are the only people there, so you're not competing with other diners. The menus are totally customizable according to how creative or conservative you want to be-- can be plated or buffet or family style. I'm having a birthday party there next Thursday, and can report back if you want. Website is www.createcaters.com to get a sense of the room and their operation.

              1. What about Mancini's? They have a couple of private rooms that can easily accomodate your number. They have the basics for the non adventerous crowd and prices are very reasonable. You narrow your choices down to about 3 items and people can pick that evening. After the dinner, you can move out to the lounge area.

                The Downtowner is also very good. The private room is nice and cozy and I believe they have manu options as well.

                2 Replies
                1. re: liesel

                  I have a weakness for Mancini's--mostly for the kitschy atmosphere than the chow, though, I do love their Texas Toast. It's very old-style and starting to look a little worn, though. But it, like Bennett's, is a steakhouse, family-run. Neither of these restaurants is likely to speak to your "chowy"-wish-you-could-go-to-Tanpopo side, but they are certainly options otherwise.

                  I think Downtowner would be slightly more chowy. WA Frost, Vincent, I'm sure would be top-notch, and chowy and absolutely capable of turning out steak and potatoes for the less adventurous, but more expensive. I love Craftsman--with spring nearly upon us (you don't say when your wedding is) maybe they'd let you take over the patio!

                  You have a lot of options--it just depends on what fits you best.

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I had a friend at work who had a little wedding in a small chapel, then they went to WA Frost and to a show at the Ordway. She said it was wonderful...

                2. I realize that this may be expensive, but Vincent has a private room that, according to its website, seats up to 48. I'd feel confident that you'd be able to come up with a menu there that would satisfy you without being too far out there for others.

                  1. We had our 38 person wedding dinner (ours was lunch actually) @ Forepaugh's. It's right off 7th just across from the xcel energy center & they have their own parking lot.

                    They were SO professional to deal with in the planning, and the service was fabulous... if you haven't been, it's basically a super old house that's nicely decorated. They're definitely worth a call.

                    We did the 'banquet menu' from http://www.forepaughs.com/menu.htm. For 30 people I think they'll say you can pick any 3 things plus have a vegetarian option. BTW - I dont' know what day you're getting married.. but if it's a Saturday definitely go w.the lunch thing.. they are only open for parties, and we had the WHOLE HOUSE to ourselves! IT was awesome:)

                    1. MPLS recs:

                      Solera (not good for picky eaters), Zelo (good for picky eaters), Lurcat (good for picky eaters), Vincent (not good for picky eaters), BANK, Mission, Palamino (chain), (I sound like a broken record, but not many places in town have PD)

                      If your price range is Axel's, these options may not fit the bill budgetwise.

                      I love the idea of WA Frost.

                      1. Thanks for all your fantastic, thoughtful recommendations. Forepaugh's is probably my favorite suggestion, but they are closing in May for renovations - our wedding date is May 31. I should have mentioned the date in the original post.

                        The special events person at WA Frost was gone for the day when I called, but I'll find out about availability tomorrow. Their website mentions three different private rooms, the largest of which is downstairs and accessible by stairs only. Create Caters sounds amazing, and they're probably my first choice after Forepaugh's. The Downtowner is available and will be our back up if Create and WA Frost are booked.

                        I like the Downtowner's atmosphere (and general aroma from the fire) a lot, but I've had mixed luck with their food. Last time I was there (December), I got some seafood pasta dish that included a clam that tasted exactly how the zoo smells. Yeah, just that gross. But I like other things I've had there (mostly pizzas at lunch), and I think the menu has something for everyone.

                        Mancini's is a bit cheesy looking, and Vincent seems way too fancy for our families. I like Zelo a lot, but we already called them and they don't do private parties. The Lexington looks so ominous from the outside that I've been afraid to try it. :) But their menu would suit the guests well - I appreciate the tip.

                        Again, thank you all so much for the recommendations. I'll be sure to report back after it's all over to praise or blame you all depending on how it goes. :)

                        .

                        18 Replies
                        1. re: ShinyCake

                          I am planning a pretty small wedding as well, and I think it would be lovely to have a little dinner for about 15 guests at Forepaugh's for the Groom's dinner. I wasn't even thinking that-thanks for the idea.

                          1. re: ShinyCake

                            Mancini's is cheesy-looking--it's part of its charm but, for me, not something I'd want for a wedding dinner. (That's just me, though, maybe others would think differently), but your comment about the Lexington made me laugh because it's so spot on--it does look ominous from the outside! Anyway, good luck--it sounds like you have a good plan for narrowing down your choices!

                            ~TDQ

                            1. re: ShinyCake

                              What about Muffuletta? The Wine Room is quite nice, and they should have something everyone in your crowd will enjoy.

                              What time are you planning on having your meal? If you're willing to have dinner before a restaurant is scheduled to open, that opens the options up a bit as well.

                              1. re: Danny

                                I thought about Muffuletta, too, as you are correct, the wine room is very nice--except that the OP wants to eschew chains. Muffuletta isn't a chain per se, but it is part of the Parasole restaurant group, so it's not an "independent".

                                ~TDQ

                                1. re: Danny

                                  While not as chain-y as some chains, Muffuletta is still a bit to chain-y for me. I don't mind eating there with a few people once in a while, but I'd rather drop $1000+ at a truly independent restaurant.

                                  Thanks for the suggestion, though. I do like some of their food (like the Salmon Rillette and occasionally their gnocchi), and I agree that their menu is broad enough to appeal to a wide range of tastes.

                                  1. re: ShinyCake

                                    Makes sense. Can you also answer the question about time? We did a brunch for our wedding at Signature Cafe, and they opened the just restaurant for us. Depending on the time, they might be willing to do that for you, and other restaurants might also. Jay's Cafe comes to mind as well.

                                    Another independant that might fit the bill is Thistles in Robbinsdale. They've long been at the top of my, "Restaurants I really, really want to love, but just can't" list for a long time. I live in Robbinsdale, so I really, really want a place like that in my town. They have a great space, especially in the Winter (and also have a smaller dining room that seats about 40 and can be reserved for parties.). But, I've never had a meal that knocked my socks off. I've had stuff that was pretty good, but for the money, there are always other places I'd rather go.

                                    That said, for a private party where the focus isn't the food, it might fit the bill quite nicely. http://www.thistlesamericanbistro.com

                                    1. re: Danny

                                      I love Signature Cafe.

                                      Jay's Cafe could probably fit 30, but you would have to close down the restaurant in order to accomodate you. (I'll bet they'd do it--and how fun would that be to have the place to yourself!) But, has anyone been to Jay's for dinner service since the chef left a couple of months ago? Also, personally, I think Jay's is a little austere and scrubby looking. Not the prettiest venue, really.

                                      ~TDQ

                                      1. re: Danny

                                        We're not too picky about time. Right now, it looks likely that we'll do lunch at WA Frost. Create Caters is booked on May 31, but they sent me the nicest email. I'll definitely keep them in mind for future events.

                                        I work right next to Jay's Cafe, but I've never eaten there. Maybe I'll try it out this week. Robbinsdale seems a bit far, though, so I think Thistles is out. Thanks for your recommendations!

                                        1. re: ShinyCake

                                          If you're in that area, and lunch is an option, absolutely talk with Signature Cafe. They're in the same general area as Jay's, and Nathalie and Tony are fantastic to work with.

                                  2. re: ShinyCake

                                    Hey- I don't mean to press the issue.. but did you actually call Forepaughs? Since the 31st is a Sat & they're barely open then anyway (only dinner).. they may actually let you sneak in (if it's the last day of their renovations). They're pretty chill about the whole thing.. probably will just say yes or no.. but it's totally worth a try! =)

                                    1. re: reannd

                                      FYI -- the renovations are happening because Forepaugh's was sold. It's still worth a try, but recognize that different owners may mean different answers.

                                      1. re: KTFoley

                                        This ptoentially could be great news. Maybe they'll kick the food up a notch. Forepaughs has always been known more for its lovely space than for exceptional food. But, maybe with the change in ownership, the food will dazzle as much as the space? *hoping*

                                        ~TDQ

                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          The new owners of Forepaughs are Taher, Inc. a large foodservice company that also does school lunches, "senior dining," and other institutional cafeteria-type fare. I'm not optimistic about what this means for the food at Forepaughs. Taher's other restaurants include the Alaska Eatery, Nordeast Eatery, and Wayzata Eatery, none of which I've ever eaten at - am I being unfair?

                                          1. re: diesel

                                            wow-- thanks for that info Diesel. is it me, or are there *so* many great chef-driven restaurants in msp that i can hardly find the time to make a visit to the (late) forepaugh's? ;)

                                            1. re: diesel

                                              I've only seen discussion of Alaska Eatery in this post: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/46895...

                                              I've not heard of the others until now. Perhaps others have more experience.

                                              1. re: diesel

                                                taher does my kids school lunch - its excellent as far as school lunches go. But I wouldn't be venturing there for any type of dining.

                                              2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                I went to the Wayzata Eatery a few weeks ago for lunch. It is a pretty nice space and the menu reads very well. I ended up ordering a version on a spanish tortilla with eggs, chorizo and potatoes topped with a salad of artichokes and tomatoes. The salad on top was delicious, but the actual tortilla would have been better if it had been smaller and thicker (it was essential an unfolded omelet) and not place on a really hot place then ended up making the eggs slightly overcooked. It was fine, but nothing special. One thing I did notice was that they did specifically hire a chef for the Wayzata Eatery when Taher wanted to open the restaurant so I think that is a decent sign for future restaurants too in that it is less likely that it will be corporate menu with cooking done by whomever happens to be working than night.

                                            2. re: reannd

                                              Yeah, I did call Forepaugh's and didn't get the impression that they could sneak us in. But I'm really not a schmoozy-type person and probably just don't know how to work that situation. I think WA Frost will work really well - we're going to check out the room on Saturday.

                                              I've only been to Forepaugh's once. It was while I was in high school (7 years ago) and my speech coach took those of us who qualified for the state tournament out for a fancy dinner. I was still an extremely picky eater, but for some strange reason (probably because of being overwhelmed by the fanciness) I ordered duck. I picked at it a bit and then gave it to my speech coach! It'd be really neat to go back there for our wedding, but I don't have my heart set on it or anything.

                                          2. i'll throw in my vote for either craftsman or w.a. frost. i'd give w.a. frost the edge for typically excellent service and the "your elderly relatives will be impressed" element.

                                            if we're talking about shutting down a neat little restaurant just for your party though, i'd really encourage you taking a look at the strip club (st paul). it's super cute and small, the meat and fish are wonderful (and local), the staff is great, & it's generally a lot of fun. steakhouse vibe, with trendy menu updates for the more adventurous. it's a beautiful little space that's bright & shiny in daytime and dark & sultry at night. i could totally picture cute wedding pictures on the spiral staircase. if your event is any time other than a friday or saturday evening, i think they may accommodate you very well indeed!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              I love both Craftsman and WA Frost if they can fit her in. I've taken meat and potatoes folks to WA Frost and they have been delighted. I haven't been to Craftsman with anyone but my sweetie, but I'm sure meat and potatoes type folks would love it there, too. But, have we been able to ascertain whether Craftsman offers the private dining the OP is after? (The patio would be nice in May, I bet!)

                                              I finally, finally have a meal on my calendar, in pen, at the Strip Club. Can't wait since you have all said such wonderful things about it!

                                              ~TDQ

                                            2. The Happy Gnome has redone the upstairs and may work for you. It looks pretty nice. Their chef was the sous for Russ Klein from WAFrost-now Meritage(I may be wrong on that) but I've had some pretty decent food there. The menu lists to the "bar food" side, but it changes often enough and usually has some interesting choices. The price point is good and the beer list is excellent.

                                              happy nups!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: 67.p.car

                                                Thanks for the suggestion. We just ate there last week, and while I liked the food OK (I got winter vegetables topped with a cheddar biscuit), I thought it was kind of overpriced. I don't typically go to bars, so I don't know how much "bar food" is supposed to cost - but I wasn't expecting it to cost as much as it did (we spent $60 for a drink and entree each and a shared dessert).

                                              2. I just wanted to let everyone know that we booked our event at WA Frost. We're going to have the ceremony right there and then have a lunch. I'll be sure to report back with details.

                                                Thanks again for all your recommendations. Feel free to keep suggesting things so that this thread can be a good reference for anyone planning a smallish party.