Breakfast at the St. Clair Broiler

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The sign outside the St. Clair Broiler writes a check that the kitchen can’t cash. This is a shame: The sign is a bona fide work of art, surely among the 10 best restaurant exteriors in the Twin Cities, featuring waves of neon flame rippling over a vintage font, promising authenticity, charm, grit, and soul. (In a nutshell: something along the lines of Al’s Breakfast).

What you get when you step inside, however, is an experience reminiscent of brunch at a suburban Residence Inn. Stroke-inducing elevator music and a Denny’s-like sense of interior design suggest that whatever verve this 50-year-old place once had has long since faded away.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Case in point: breakfast. The White Rock Coffee Company coffee ($2.25) is notably good, with a slightly burnt but low-acid depth to it, but things go downhill after that. A cinnamon roll ($3.50) tastes whitebread and insubstantial, save for the lumpy white topping spread over the bun. (The lumps turned out to be butter, for better or worse, which made the accompanying tub o’ butter feel both superfluous and a little bit threatening.) Lacking much of a cinnamon kick or any real substance as a bread product, the roll is a shadow of the real deal — albeit an agreeably bland and sweet shadow.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Blueberry pancakes ($7.70 for a short stack plus a side of ham) taste like competent Bisquick flapjacks — a bit cakey, tasting mostly of baking powder, with little chew or flavor to them. Even the blueberries were washed out in terms of flavor, and the thin, dry side order of ham was passable, but nothing to write home about.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The PJ’s One Egger ($7.25) was the high point of our visit — it’s a serviceable savory entree, grilled hash browns with diced ham and onion, a grilled tomato and a basted egg, served with an English muffin. There’s not much char, texture, or flavor to the dish — a little surprising for a place with the word “broiler” in the name — but it’s mild and filling and there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, either.

Overall: This is not food for people who like food. It’s food for people who want familiar-looking fuel.

It all comes together when you realize that the Broiler is owned by the Theros Group, whose stock in trade (Rudolph’s, St. Clair Broiler, and the short-lived Theros-run Town Talk Diner) appears to be restaurants with fantastic vintage signage and consistently tolerable but underwhelming food.

With a proud 50-year history and a gorgeous exterior, the Broiler’s got plenty of potential to move beyond “wax-statue icon” and into the realm of “fantastic restaurant we want to eat at.” Whether that potential will be realized depends upon whether there’s any money to be had in building a more ambitious menu — from a financial perspective, no one ever went broke selling a lot of profitable boring food.

BEST BET: The coffee, and something savory.

St. Clair Broiler
Diner food in Mac-Groveland, St. Paul
1580 Saint Clair Ave
Saint Paul, MN 55105
651.698.7055
OWNER: The Theros Group
HOURS:
Mon-Thu: 6:30am-10pm
Friday: 6:30am-10:30pm
Saturday: 7am-10pm
Sunday: 8am-9pm
BREAKFAST ENTREE RANGE: $5.25-$10
BAR: Beer and wine

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Facebook Comments

comments

James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

Visit Website

10 Comments

  1. howard_child03/16/2011Reply

    Hello HT peeps. Can you add Jalsa’s on your list to try. It’s a great place. When I go there I can only get on item at a time.

  2. You speak the sad truth, Jim. Last time I ate at this place, years ago, I had a hot turkey sandwich with “gravy” that seemed to consist entirely of water, salt, and cornstarch. Given the promise of that classic sign, disappointment hardly covers it.

    Brett

  3. SarahinMinneapolis03/16/2011Reply

    Given that great sign, I’ve been meaning to stop in for years. Now I won’t have to. Bad (honest) reviews are just as important as good (honest) ones. Thanks for this.

  4. I remember enjoying the malts and an occasional burger when living a block up St Clair about a decade ago. I took my niece for a birthday dinner last month and we were all HUGELY disappointed. Other than the predictably good malt, the best item to grace our table was the guacamole that came with the chicken quesadilla appetizer. We won’t be returning unless the place changes hands.

  5. Thanks for the honest review. The name/sign holds much promise – but my experience (twice in the last 24 months) has mirrored yours – passable warm food. It was bland/boring and I have no plans to return. I will wait for The Nook to reopen.

    Rudolphs – oh where to start. We used to go there with my parents in the 1980′s, as kids in tow from the Children’s Theatre shows. The ribs/chicken/finger bowls with hot lemon water/hot towels/thick buttery Texas Toast and the famous Cole Slaw was so fantastic. I took my family there on a Groupon maybe a month ago – and it is basically a sports bar now – with a small and much more limited menu than in the past. It was warm – and passable but not the BBQ I remember. I really have no desire to go back. That Theros group really has a knack for destroying restaurants and turning them into mediocre food that hits a pretty low bar.

  6. Glad someone is finally writing the review that properly notes the decline of the Broiler. As a resident of Mac/Groveland and Highland for over 10 years, I ate there regularly for breakfast and enjoyed it.

    Then it changed.

    The last straw was when I received my breakfast with my eggs cold and the waitress took my plate back. Two minutes later she was back with the SAME EGGS that were just microwaved. When I complained at the counter, they could care less and refused to comp my meal. I refused to pay.

    The fact that the Broiler was willing to microwave eggs rather than spend the $0.25 to make new ones tells me everything I need to know.

  7. SarahinMinneapolis03/16/2011Reply

    Thanks to Mark for pointing out that Rudolph’s is under same ownership. No need to go there, either…and years ago, I went once every two weeks. And, LOL on Robert. Bully for you for refusing to pay.

  8. Stephanie03/21/2011Reply

    I concur with the review. As a Mac/Groveland resident my husband and I were sad to see the quality of the Broiler go down steadily over the past few+ years. The last time we were there (nearly a year ago) the food was so marginal that we vowed not to return until the restaurant changed hands or made some significant changes. Sadly, it does not sound like the latter has happened.

  9. Oh, this makes me so sad. Your review is completely accurate, but the Broiler wasn’t always this way. I used to go to the there with my grandparents before it changed ownership. Their tuna melt was capable of lifting my bleakest spirits. The Town Talk had mediocre food, but their cheese curds were sent down from heaven and their cocktails were very fun. I sincerely hope the Theros Restaurant Group doesn’t ruin any more of my favorite spots.

  10. I’m afraid I’ll have to pile on, too. We lived in Mac/Groveland for years and often walked over to the Broiler – it was “our place”. Even when we moved away, we still hauled it over for the fish fry and burgers, even bringing out-of-town guests. But yes, when it was “renovated” awhile back and joined the Rudolph’s group, it tanked. I miss the BYO burger, the great fries, the wonderful coleslaw, the great non-greasy fish fry, the malts (I sent mine back TWICE the last time, and finally gave up). We no longer go there or recommend it. And what’s with those wickedly heavy plates? It’s a flippin’ diner, folks, not hoot cuisine. OK, I’m done ranting.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*