Seventh Street Social in St. Paul
I drink a lot of Old Fashioneds. It’s a difficult drink to screw up, because it leans so confidently on its core component: brown liquor. Brandy, where I’m from, or, more typically around here, American bourbon. If you’re using cheap brandy, desecrate it further with some maraschino cherries and 7 Up, and, voila: a trashy but still-totally-enjoyable drink.
It was therefore intriguing to see a Blackberry Old Fashioned ($11) listed on the chalkboard at the newly opened Seventh Street Social. Boasting Bulleit bourbon, blackberry puree, Sugar In The Raw, orange, and soda, it seemed like a can’t-lose beverage: good bourbon balanced with quality mixers.
The drink arrived. I took a sip. I tasted orange, and soda.
Absolutely missing from the flavor profile of the drink: bourbon. Another sip suggested that there might have been some blackberry-flavored vodka present, but little else beyond the orange and soda.
The bourbon was so thoroughly absent that — with a straight face, and in all sincerity — I ordered a shot of Bulleit bourbon from the bar. It took our waitress (who was both sweet and profoundly oblivious over the course of our meal) 15 minutes and two reminders to bring the shot, which arrived as a $7 heavy pour of Bulleit. So it goes.
Once again, I tried the “Old Fashioned.” I tried the bourbon. There was none of Item B contained within Item A. I poured the glass of bourbon into the “Old Fashioned,” and voila: an Old Fashioned. Not the world’s best, but not bad.
Within the story of the $18 D.I.Y. Blackberry Old Fashioned lie the problems of Seventh Street Social: sloppy attention to detail, inattentive service, and expensive, expensive prices.
Take the fried chicken and biscuit ($18), which, like everything else we ordered (other than my shot of Bulleit), arrived on the table a few scant minutes after it had been ordered, which is never a good sign.
The chicken itself was tender but flavorless, and while the crispy exterior had a nice crunch to it, it too lacked seasoning or perspective. An accompanying bucket of honey was a good pairing for the buttery and nicely made biscuit, but wasn’t enough to save the dour chicken. I ended up taking it home, dousing it with chili paste, mirin, and soy, and using it to top off an udon dish. Delicious!
But for $18, we should expect more than useful leftovers. We should get damned fine fried chicken. Seventh Street Social’s ranks above KFC but below Popeyes, Pollo Campero, and my own homemade. And none of those three come close to costing $18.
Our cheeseburger ($8.50) boasted a tasty bun and decent Wisconsin cheddar, but the patties were too thin to come out medium rare (as we ordered them) and the whole thing, again, lacked seasoning. The salt and pepper fries ($2 as an add-on to the burger) — let me restate this — the salt and pepper fries lacked seasoning. They were neither salty nor peppery.
At this point, it’s worth pausing and noting that Seventh Street Social is not related in any way to either Eat Street Social or Northeast Social (both of which are run by the same owners). Whatever minor quibbles we’ve had with Eat Street and Northeast, we’ve largely been impressed with their commitment to service and food, and it would be a shame for the “Social” suffix to either smear Eat Street / Northeast or unfairly polish the aura of Seventh Street.
Let’s recap our meal thus far: Everything has been both expensive and poorly seasoned. The Old Fashioned was a memorable disaster, and a Hibiscus Margarita ($10) was watery and forgettable. The check arrived. Please hold on a second, we asked our waitress. We’d like to try dessert.
Our Kro-Nut Limited Edition ($7; fried pastry rings filled with Nut Goodie cream and chocolate bar chunks, dusted in powdered sugar) came with a steak knife to help us penetrate its bagel-tough layers. Ultimately: Imagine smearing peanut butter and chocolate bar chunks all over a series of thin, tough doughnuts. I sort of enjoyed it, but also realized that I was wrong to do so. A primate-level response to chocolate and peanut butter is not really a critical thumbs up; a decent pastry chef could have taken a crack at ingredients this indulgent and made something brilliant and addictive in no time.
Now: If you’re even passingly conversant in history, you know about the assassination of Julius Caesar, the Roman general who assumed the godlike position of emperor at the expense of the Republic. At some point during Caesar’s death, he must have looked up and realized that his friend Marcus Junius Brutus was in on the plot, and felt a crushing sense of betrayal and disappointment as his confidant’s knife slid between his ribs. That’s how we felt about the Seasonal Fruit Cobbler ($6) at Seventh Street Social. A seasonal fruit dessert is error-proof. In autumn, it is guaranteed to be delicious: All you need to do is provide fresh apples and a simple butter / flour / oat streusel topping, and you’re there. Our cobbler tasted precisely like microwaved industrial-grade pie filling, either because it was microwaved industrial-grade pie filling, or because the cooks at Seventh Street Social have found a way to transform seasonal fruit into something that tastes overly sweet and insipid.
We enjoyed the real whipped cream on top, for what it’s worth.
Our meal for two at Seventh Street Social cost us $90 (after tip) and was beset with problems from beginning to end. We wouldn’t recommend the restaurant in its current condition. If it tightens up its game by tasting the food for proper seasoning, mixing strong, correctly proportioned drinks, and serving seasonal desserts worthy of the title, it could be a force to be reckoned with; the interior design is tasteful, and its location seems to be shrewdly chosen. We hope to return down the road and enjoy a very, very different meal.
Seventh Street Social
2176 W 7th St
St. Paul, MN 55116
OWNER: Brian Glancy
HOURS: 4pm-1am daily
ENTREE RANGE: $7-$24
James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of a book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who eat them, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a daily video blogger for CHOW. His latest book is a guide to the food and restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul called the Food Lovers’ Guide to the Twin Cities. Norton has written about food for Culture: The Word on Cheese, Salon, Gastronomica, Popular Science, Saveur.com, Minnesota Monthly, and City Pages (as a weekly restaurant reviewer).