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Looking for a place for a beer and light meal in St. Paul

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I lost a bet and therefore owe my friend and his wife a beer and something good to eat.

We all like good food. I had suggested Heartland's lounge for something light to eat. But the feedback I'm getting is that it's overpriced for not very much and kind of dead there. I haven't been there in a good while. Is it busy at night these days? Midweek? Or on the weekend? (We always liked it in the old location but am not sure my friends will.)

What would be other good options?

How about the bar at Frosts. Haven't been there either in a while. How is it there these days?

What else am I forgetting?

The place should be conducive to conversation. Need not be high end but must be good. Should have a good beer selection. Should be reasonably moderate in price. I know I'm forgetting places.

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  1. Sorry about the bet.

    Ngon Bistro might work, though I think the light rail construction might hamper the atmosphere a bit.

    Scusi's wine bar is nice and cozy--just as cozy as it was in the Heartland days. The food's not half bad, either, though it isn't up to the standards of Heartland (of course). I can't comment on the beer selection though.

    That's what's comes to me at the moment.

    ~TDQ

    3 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Again, I'm not the best one to comment on beer selection (this is what they say on their website: "the beer of Saint Paul, Summit Extra Pale Ale on draft" plus Japanese beer), but Tanpopo meets your other requirements.

      ~TDQ

      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        I think Ngon is a great option-- plenty of appetizer type things for "light" eats and a fantastic, all-local beer list.

        Otherwise Frost is great, especially if you or your guests appreciate a slightly more upscale, old-fashioned vibe (though the food is quite modern). And the Gnome could work, though it's probably fairly loud, esp. on weekends. Don't recommend the Pig-- food not very good....

        1. re: mtullius

          Ngon has a really great happy hour, too.

          ~TDQ

      2. There are plenty of options along both Grand Ave and Dale St that are not far from DT with decent bars and some good food. Of course any of those places may be busy at peak dinner time.

        1. Happy Gnome.

          The food selection may not be quite up to the beer selection, but it's better than your standard bar food, IMHO.

          3 Replies
          1. re: steve_in_stpaul

            +1 for Happy Gnome.

            1. re: bob s

              +2 for Happy Gnome

            2. re: steve_in_stpaul

              I was thinking Happy Gnome too! I was there last weekend and enjoyed the patio but it seems the evenings for that may be behind us for the season.

            3. I would also say the Gnome. One of the best beer selections in MSP and solid food.

              The flip side would be Brasa. Some of the best (IMHO) food in town, but a small (~4 beer), if well thought out, tap list.

              2 Replies
              1. re: BigE

                I was going to recommend Brasa, too, except that it can be a little loud.

                ~TDQ

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  If you're going as casual as Brasa, then I'd also recommend Black Sheep in downtown St. Paul. They always have 8ish interesting beers on tap, and are generous with tastes. But neither compares in my mind to the lounge at Heartland (although I'll admit I haven't been for 9 months or so, so I can't report on the current vibe/level of popularity).

              2. These places all fit the criteria for good beer selection, moderate prices and decent (if not quite Heartand or Frost quality) food. Whether or not they are conducive to conversation probably depends on day/hour of visit.

                Happy Gnome - 498 Selby Ave
                Great tap list served in proper glassware and while I didn't care for the food the last time I was there, which was some years ago, per their website it looks like they've improved their menu quite a bit.

                The Muddy Pig - 162 N. Dale St
                Again, great tap list with proper glassware, can't vouch for the food.

                Bulldog Lowertown - 237 East Sixth Street
                Excellent tap selection, proper glassware, and reasonably good bar food

                1 Reply
                1. re: lizpeck

                  Bulldog can be pretty loud unless you're going at a pretty off time.

                  ~TDQ

                2. Happy Gnome would be at the top of my list. Otherwise, the lounge at Heartland is a good idea (not terribly busy during the weekdays, but pretty busy on the weekends). The oyster bar at Meritage is also quite nice (though the beer selection is pretty limited). Bin Wine Bar is also a nice low-key hangout with a decent list of bottled beers and passable food.

                  1. I just don't get all the love for Happy Gnome's food. I've consistently had terrible --not even acceptable enough to finish eating-- food there off and on over, say, five years including within the past year. I understand the relevance of their awesome beer selection to karykat's question, but I don't get the food love. I guess I will have to give their food yet another try with so many hounds recommending it. I just hate to waste one of my few precious meals out on this place if I'm going to get yet another dud of a meal. Their menu does sound appealing, though, if they could actually pull it off.

                    ~TDQ

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      My experience has been limited to your basic bar stuff...burgers, wings, the occasional chicken sandwich. None of this is mind blowing, but it has been consistently good. I have also been their upper room for a groom's dinner, where the food was subpar.

                      1. re: BigE

                        Ugh, sorry about the supbar groom's dinner. Good to know, though.

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: BigE

                          This I would agree with. We had our company Christmas party at the Happy Gnome last year and the catered food was nothing to write home about which was really disappointing since the restaurant/bar food is pretty good. Wish they'd do the catering like they do the rest. Although the private room upstairs is really nice.

                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                          We have noticed a drastic improvement in their food and service recently. We used to write them off for meals and only go for some beer, but they are back on the map for us. The charcuterie plate is pricey, but pretty large. Their tartar is also very large, so you have to like tartar.

                          1. re: forgottendreamr

                            When you say recently, meaning in the past few months or so?

                            Charcuterie plates are always fun, especially with the baby as he can sample a little of everything. We just had the charcuterie plate at Ngon Bistro which was really fun.

                            I'll put it on my list to get over there before the snow flies...

                            ~TDQ

                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              Yes...I was actually there last weekend. The rabbit rillette (on the charcuterie plate) is consistently rich and, to my taste, delicious :)

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                I'm telling you, the food is good. :) Burgers are spot on and I've really been liking their crab cakes lately. And I haven't had them, but saw someone get the pork chops the other day and they were HUGE!

                          2. Thanks everybody for all these ideas. I knew you would come up with places we hadn't thought of. Happy Gnome is an option. Black Sheep could be great too. We love it there and haven't been in a good while. Brasa and Ngon would both be good. The beer list at both is short but really good. And we like to give Ngon as much business as we can these days with the construction. Paul has figured out a good way to approach them from the north. And the little parking lot across from them always has spots at night.

                            So we will throw all these options in the hat and will end up with someplace great.

                            1. What did you end up with karykat?

                              ~TDQ

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                We were going to Heartland. But even though we went very early and the place looked completely empty, they were difficult about not having reservations. I guess they were planning on people coming in. But it seemed formal and stuffy.

                                So we just walked over to Black Dog kitty-corner. And had a couple of their pizzas with beer. I had eyed those pizzas before so it was good to try them. They were just fine. And they don't have a big tap beer selection but some good choices. It was not crowded so we had our choice of tables and the mood was just right.

                                I was glad for all the good ideas I got from this list. We'll be using some of those down the line.

                                1. re: karykat

                                  i love Black Dog's pizza - and the casual, arty (yet not overly hip) atmosphere. I'm glad you found a good meal after enduring Heartland's stuffiness. Don't give up on downtown St. Paul!

                                  1. re: AnneInMpls

                                    That is a perfect way to describe it: casual, arty, yet not overly hip.

                                    And was what we needed that night.

                                  2. re: karykat

                                    Oh, that's really weird and unfortunate about Heartland. :( Bad hospitality.

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1. re: karykat

                                      Good choice! Not the first place I think of for pizzas *or* brews, but a fun room, a good vibe, and quality goods.

                                      It will be interesting to see what happens to Black Dog when/if the new Saints stadium opens since they're likely to be the closest dining option to the ballpark (Tanpopo is almost next door, but not the kind of place you just dash in for a quick bite or snack unless Yonemura-san changes the menu).

                                  3. The Amsterdam Bar is another possibility. I was impressed with their food. I'm not sure about the atmosphere. I was there only once.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: shoo bee doo

                                      We have not been there yet and definitely need to try it. Thanks for the reminder.

                                    2. I've enjoyed the Amsterdam Cafe.