God bless your neighborhood joint. Where do you stop after work when you lack the time and energy to make dinner? Impromptu date night? Meeting a friend for beer and a bite after the kids go to bed? The answer is your neighborhood joint, if you’re lucky enough to have one. We’re talking about workhorses like Lowbrow, Ward 6, or Northbound, where there’s decent booze, reliably good food, and lots of houses within walking distance. Augustine’s Bar and Bakery (1668 Selby Avenue, St. Paul), a project by the team behind the Happy Gnome, is the newest feather in Merriam Park’s neighborhood-joint cap. And as a bonus, it doubles as a bakery, so you can get your coffee, pastries, and fresh bread in the morning and a burger and a beer when the sun goes down.
A former laundromat, the space has been completely refurbished and decorated throughout with playfully bizarre wallpaper and hippopotamus pictures, paintings, and knickknacks. St. Augustine of Hippo, you see, was the patron saint of brewers. Hence the hippos, but more important is the impressively long row of taps that focuses primarily on local beer but also features favorites from Oregon, Michigan, and Colorado. The food coalesces into a loosely Mediterranean style, ranging from pasta to falafel, with a geographic outlier or two, like banh mi, thrown in for good measure.
We tried a variety of pastries — kolaches (available only on the weekend), a chocolate croissant, and a blueberry Danish — and found them all to be tasty, but fairly standard issue. While certainly better than the grocery store or coffee-shop chain versions, they didn’t quite ascend to the heights of a specialty bakery like Patisserie 46. But the cinnamon roll, topped with what might have been the best tangy-sweet cream cheese frosting we’ve ever eaten, was excellent.
From the sandwich menu we tried the Fish Sandwich ($12), which has since fallen off the menu, and a Short Rib Sandwich ($13) that was on special and sounded too good to pass up. In both sandwiches, the meat was great. The fish was thick, flaky, generously breaded, and not a bit greasy. The short rib, topped with onions, peppers, and cheese, was tender, richly braised, and lean. Unfortunately, the roll was dry in both cases, and we thought the sauces were too many and overbuilt. The fish came with a mayolike guacamole, pico de gallo, and an unnecessary side of harissa aioli. The beef was served au jus and with an overly complicated harissa-horseradish aioli (we’d choose horseradish). With a little tweaking (softer roll, more focused sauces), both could be great. Oh, and we loved Augustine’s fries.
The Moroccan Chickpea Ragout ($18) was deeply spiced, and went well with its bed of creamy coconut-curry Arborio rice. Unfortunately the chickpeas were slightly underdone, and though flavor was a bullseye, the dish was a bit off the mark. If the chickpeas had been cooked a bit longer, this dish would be a vegan superstar.
On the rare occasion that we spot the North African spice blend chermoula on a menu, we are sold on whatever the dish is — meat, fish, or vegetable (hat tip to Black Sheep Pizza and their amazing cauliflower salad with chermoula dressing). Augustine’s Roasted Half Chicken ($22) said the magic word, and the chermoula added a delightful herbal, lemony flavor to the Israeli couscous. Though the flavor wasn’t quite as bold as we’d hoped, the decadent creaminess and perfectly cooked couscous won us over. The chicken, roasted golden brown with garlic and thyme, was juicy and flavorful, but it lacked the crackling skin that makes a truly glorious example. A generous portion of perfectly charred broccoli made it a complete meal, and the pan juice at the base of the plate united the dish in a hearty and soulful way.
With a bakery and coffee bar in addition to a kitchen with full bar, Augustine’s could easily be expected to fall short in one category, if not both. We are pleased to report consistency across the board. The pricing is on the higher end of the neighborhood-joint scale, but so is the quality of the food. While Augustine’s may not be the equal of your favorite specialty bakery or brasserie, the food is solid, the atmosphere eclectic and inviting, and the staff congenial. If we lived in the neighborhood, it’s a safe bet that we’d happily be there on a weekly basis.
*Editor’s note: The original version of this story located Augustine’s in the wrong neighborhood.
Neighborhood bakery, cafe, and pub
1668 Selby Ave
St. Paul, MN 55104
OWNER / CHEF: Anthony Andersen / Scott Brink
Bakery & Cafe open daily at 7 a.m.
Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sat 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sun 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Bar closed one hour after kitchen.
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $7.50-$22
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Small lot, street
About five years ago, we crowned Himalayan’s lunch buffet our favorite in the Twin Cities. Ever since, we’ve been faithful lunchtime regulars. But recently, we’ve begun to cheat on our beloved … with its sister restaurant! Scandalous, we know.
Last spring, Himalayan opened a location in Dinkytown, with a Chipotle-style format. Like other local independents — Moroccan Flavors, Catrina’s Cerveza and Grill, Pimento, World Street Kitchen, PinKU, and One Two Three Sushi — Himalayan is targeting diners who want customized, quick, quality food. It is an ideal format for weekday lunch — perhaps even more ideal than a buffet for workers denied the digestive benefits of a post-meal siesta.
The concept is simple: Choose bowl or roll, main, accompaniments, and sauce. There are enough options to keep things interesting and to appeal to customers with varied tastes and dietary restrictions. The bowl comes with white, brown, or yellow rice, the last flavored with turmeric and saffron. We strongly recommend the yellow option. For the roll, diners select between roti, pita, and naan. Yes, you’re reading that correctly: A frickin’ Nepalese / Tibetan / Indian naan or roti (forget the pita) burrito!
Himalayan sticks with classic mains. There’s a solid mix of vegetarian (Chana Masala, Palak Paneer, and Tofu Choyala) and meat (Chicken Tikka Masala and Chicken or Lamb Choyala) options. All three mains we sampled (Palak Paneer, Chicken Choyala, and Lamb Choyala) were excellent. As we’ve come to expect from Himalayan, the food is flavorful, well-balanced, and not the least bit greasy.
The accompaniments and sauces take the bowls and rolls from good to excellent. The “pickle salad” (tomato, cucumber, celery, and onion) and tabbouleh offer a zingy boost while cutting the richness of the mains. Large cubes of feta and briny kalamata olives are great with Choyala, and a thin layer of hummus is a nice addition to the rolls. As regulars of the original Himalayan can attest, the house sauces are dynamite. We especially enjoyed tahini mint with Lamb Choyala, and the luscious tomato chutney paired well with Palak Paneer and yellow rice.
Pricing should keep the newest Himalayan competitive. The bowls and rolls range from $6.50 (Chana Masala, Tofu Choyala) to $8.75 (Lamb Choyala); the other options are $6.95. Specialty accompaniments — hummus, feta, tabbouleh, and olives — are 75 cents each. Faced with a choice between similarly priced alternatives like Chipotle, Noodles and Company, or Panera, we’ll take Himalayan’s food every time. But the new kid on the block will have to share our affection with its older sibling, especially on lazy nap days.
Casual Tibetan, Nepalese, and Indian in Dinkytown
1415 4th St SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $6.50-$8.95
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
HOURS: Daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
There has been much excitement over the newly opened Pajarito on St. Paul’s West 7th Street. And why not? The restaurant brings together pedigree (Tim McKee acolytes Tyge Nelson and Stephan Hesse) and a clearly defined concept (Mexican street food dressed up and ready to party).
Pajarito’s central challenge is to balance an almost universally appealing street food aesthetic (focused on stuff like small, flavor-packed tacos, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, melted cheese with a soul) with drinks, chic decor, and the necessity of maintaining healthy margins in a competitive industry. Your food should taste like the best $4 you ever spent on East Lake Street, but it should also be surrounded by impeccable decor, convincing cocktails, and … well, it should cost at least $8.
A few places around here have executed this formula well: Barrio may be the reigning champ, but there are some others (Jefe, Bar Luchador, certain incarnations of Chino Latino) that seem to get the balance right. Add Pajarito to the list. Straight out of the gate, it’s combining compelling flavors with an atmosphere and aesthetic that is skillfully designed to create repeat customers.
Our cocktails were properly executed and well-balanced. The Trouble With Tipples ($8, above right, featuring Plantations Dark Pineapple Rum, Trader Vic’s 151 Proof Rum, Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters, and more) reminded me of one of my all-time favorite cocktails: the Sea Foam, served at the sadly defunct Jolly Bob’s Jerk Joint in Madison. The concept in a nutshell: pineapple-meets-rum, effortlessly light and cheerful, but packing a hidden wallop.
You Boys Ever Been to Oaxaca? ($10, above left) was equally deft: a blend of mezcal, pineapple, lime, vanilla, and caramel flavors that could have been a nasty sugar bomb, but instead was a properly balanced tart-meets-sweet-meets-earthy package that resembled a dressed up, but still recognizable, old-school margarita.
At the very center of the menu at Pajarito is the Queso Fundido ($10), and at the very center of “Queso Fundido,” in a language-bending way, is the word “fun.” This is no coincidence. It’s a dish that everyone who visits this restaurant should order, as it’s howlingly joyous — a one-two punch of rich, silken, melted Monterey Jack with roasted onion and green chorizo, and the kind of super fluffy, pillowy tortillas you rarely get outside of the Southwest.
We actually sacrificed one of our Fundido tortillas to repackage our Tacos al Pastor ($8 for two). There’s little to complain about vis-a-vis the fillings of these tacos (lots of heat from the thinly sliced jalapeños, nice depth of flavor in the meat, a non-excessive pineapple presence) but the thin, irritatingly chewy fried tortillas are a minus. They’re not really satisfyingly crispy, and they are difficult to chew, and it’s not clear how they’re meant to be an improvement on the street-food standard.
The restaurant’s “Elote style” Brussels Sprouts ($8) are the kind of thing you should serve to a Brussels sprouts skeptic. If this individual doesn’t like these beautifully charred, perfectly complemented sprouts, they’re hopeless (vis-a-vis sprouts, and probably vis-a-vis food in general.) The cotija cheese and crema filled out the sprouts’ roasty and vegetal flavors, and the whole dish clicked.
Similarly nice was the wood-charred Sweet Potato ($9) a blackened, honking thing that was tender and sweet, and offset by salt, cilantro, and char. As with so many well-conceived dishes, the diner can steer the ship and create the ideally balanced bite by navigating combinations of the exterior, the center, and the toppings, making the dish as fun to eat as it is tasty.
Service at Pajarito was attentive and cheerful during our visit, and the restaurant (crowded these days, and likely to stay that way) feels busy and fun amid the crush of guests. It’s loud but not deafening, and while we’d remove the distracting televisions from above the bar, there’s not much else we’d want to change about the warm and inviting environment.
Trendy Mexican on West 7th in St. Paul
605 West 7th St
St. Paul, MN 55102
Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Not so much
ENTREE RANGE: $8-$22
NOISE LEVEL: Amenable din
PARKING: Street parking
The Heavy Table is pleased to announce the 15th edition of the North Coast Nosh, the Upper Midwest’s premiere sip-and-sample for local purveyors of artisan food and drink. We’ll be co-producing the event with our partners at the Wedge Community Co-op at The Food Building in Northeast Minneapolis.
The event runs from 6-9 p.m. at The Food Building (1401 Marshall St NE) on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 16. (Tickets available here.)
If there were a physical embodiment of the North Coast Nosh ethos — scratch food prepared with care, an emphasis on process, a serious focus on quality — it would be the Food Building. The Food Building’s tenants — including Lone Grazer Creamery, Red Table Meat Company, Baker’s Field, and The Draft Horse — are what we consider models of the future of Upper Midwestern food, and we’re excited to have them join us for this event.
A ticket to the Nosh gets you samples of craft beer, cheese, meat, and much more, including conversations with the purveyors who create the food and drink. (Guests must be 21 years of age or older.) We keep our purveyor-to-attendee ratio low so that you’ll have plenty of time to connect with vendors and other attendees. We’re more than 50 percent sold out for this Nosh, so if you’d like to join us, please visit Eventbrite and pick up some tickets today.
Vendors confirmed thus far include:
Baker’s Field Flour & Bread
The Draft Horse
Dumpling and Strand
Fair State Brewing Cooperative
Grlk (with Taking Stock)
Indeed Brewing Company
The Lone Grazer Creamery
Red Table Meat Co.
Rise Bagel Co.
Spyhouse Coffee Roasters
Tiny Footprint Coffee
Wedge Community Co-op
Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email email@example.com.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Queso Fundido at Pajarito
Although the melted cheese in this classic Tex-Mex dish is plenty rich, it’s also surprisingly light on the palate. There’s nothing grossly greasy about it; it’s just pure dairy pleasure. But that’s only half the story of the Queso Fundido at the newly opened Pajarito in St. Paul: The warm, thick, fluffy, tender tortilla rounds that accompany this stuff are perfectly suited to the task. It’s a decisive one-two punch.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an upcoming review by James Norton]
Crullers at Sebastian Joe’s
The new cruller at Sebastian Joe’s is everything the classic pastry is supposed to be — lofty, eggy, and gorgeously glazed. But this one takes it a step further. It positively melts upon each bite. The coating is sweet while the interior is not. It’s indulgent in the best sort of way.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham]
Wood and Spirits Cider from Keepsake Cidery
Keepsake Cidery, in Dundas, Minn., has created a remarkable annual release with barnyard flavors and bitterness. Their Wood & Spirits series showcases ciders that derive additional complexity from the use of barrel aging and mixed fermentation techniques. In a practice similar to that used to make Belgian lambic beers, fresh cider is added to last year’s aged batch kickstarting another fermentation due to the sugar in the new cider. This creates natural carbonation as well as depth of flavor.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by Paige Latham]
Culture Project One From Fulton Beer
The debut Culture Project beer from Fulton is a tart red ale — aged in oak wine barrels — that is notably dry with some lovely cherry notes and plenty of acid bite. Complex, and part of the “beer is the Upper Midwest’s wine” story we’ve been telling for the past eight years.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]
Schell’s Tropical Stout
The 10th edition in the Stag Series collection is mildly bitter, malty and chocolaty, and it evokes dark rum’s molasses-like depths. The inclusion of no fewer than eight malts (pale, Victory, Extra Dark Crystal, Light Chocolate, Midnight Wheat, Extra Special, brown rice syrup, roasted barley) no doubt contributes to the layers of flavor.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by James Norton]