Black Dog (308 Prince St, St. Paul) has been a Lowertown institution since 1998, long before it was cool to be a Lowertown institution. It survived years of light rail construction outside its front door, a testament to the fact that Black Dog has always been a reliable, comfortable place to get a cup of coffee and a simple but flavorful bite to eat. Recently, it expanded into the bright, sunny space next door, remodeled the original space, and brough Chef David Perez (formerly of Meritage) to the kitchen, significantly upping the food game. Have no fear, long-time customers: Black Dog’s soul is intact.
The comfortable converted warehouse setting — tall ceilings with exposed wooden beams, giant windows looking out onto the farmers market, ancient wood floors — is well-suited for eggs in the morning and jazz in the evening. If you’re thirsty, they’ve got you covered with everything from excellent dark-roast coffee to a full bar. Perez’s new menu perfectly reflects Black Dog’s casual but elegantly executed style.
The Roast Beef Sandwich (below, $11) was served cold, and though it appeared humble in size, it had a ton of flavor. The crusty, toasted ciabatta cradled nearly as much sweet, aromatic pickled red onion as roast beef. Horseradish cream contributed a little zip and an appreciated assist with the slightly dry meat. Though the menu listed blue cheese, it was absent from our sandwich, but we didn’t miss it at all with the other flavors and textures (the whole peppercorns in the picked onions were a highlight). A side salad of greens dressed in vinaigrette was simple and refreshing.
The Fried Chicken Sandwich (top photo, $12) had a little more curb appeal than the roast beef. Standing tall, the breaded chicken was at least as large as the soft but significant potato bun. Coleslaw with pickled jalapeños topped the chicken and tumbled out of the sandwich. The chicken itself, a thin piece of dark meat wearing a thick coating of delicious, peppery breading, was crunchy on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside. The hand-cut fries were skin-on, well browned, and a perfect match for the sandwich.
Our favorite dish was the Lox and Bagel ($12). The house-cured lox could almost take you from Lowertown to the Lower East Side. Mild tasting, but with a pronounced salmon flavor, oily, but not the least bit slimy, and soft without a hint of stringiness, this lox was expertly done. Normally, when a bagel arrives toasted and buttered, one senses an attempt to disguise staleness or industrial flavor, but in this case, it appeared to be just a stylistic choice. We suspect this bagel would be just as good untoasted. Capers, sliced tomato, onion, cucumber, and a dish of cream cheese were included to complete the outfit.
The menu is as long as the day, with breakfast, weekend brunch, salads, pizzas, and dinner specials. We were happy with everything we tried, and we’ll be back to try more. Prices are reasonable, especially considering that the food is of a quality above and beyond what you’d expect from a neighborhood coffee shop. But Black Dog isn’t really a neighborhood coffee shop anymore, it’s practically a Lowertown community center. So it makes sense that as Lowertown has boomed, so has Black Dog.
Restaurant, bar, and music venue
308 Prince St, St. Paul
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $9-$14
NOISE LEVEL: Varies
Mon-Thu 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri & Sat 7 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sun 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
PARKING: Metered street parking, paid lot