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