Grand Avenue has just gotten a little grander. Executive Chef Alexander Roberts of acclaimed Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis just opened his St. Paul outpost of Brasa, the self-described “premium rotisserie” inspired by the diverse home cooking found throughout North America, the Caribbean, and South America. Both Alma and the Minneapolis location of Brasa, known for relying on locally raised and seasonal ingredients, long have been darlings of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s “locavore” contingent.
According to Brasa’s take-out menu, “We supply our kitchen with local products, natural free range, and pasture raised meat, eggs and dairy. We also feature a high percentage of organic and fair trade ingredients.” Brasa’s menu reads like the Who’s Who of local and sustainable suppliers: the chicken for the Creole Style Rotisserie Chicken comes from Kadejan Farms in Glenwood, MN; the pork for the Twelve Hour Slow Roasted Pork, from Heritage Berkshire in Sergeant Bluff, IA; and the beef for the Smoked & Braised Beef, from Thousand Hills Cattle Company in Cannon Falls, MN.
Brasa has set itself up to do a knock-out take-out business, but it seems a shame, with the Minnesota summer blossoming all around us, to miss out on Brasa’s patio tables and open-air dining room that overlooks their small parking lot and the rest of Grand Ave. Sporting a converted, but spotless, garage look, Brasa is sure to rise to the top of the list of favorite al fresco dining spots in St. Paul.
Brasa’s take-out menu is set up so that you can order their signature meats and sides a la carte. For dining in, you choose your signature meat and two sides. Sandwiches and “combo” plates are also available.
For our first peek at Brasa St. Paul, we chose take-out.
We found that the Creole Style Rotisserie Chicken (from $5.00 for a quarter chicken, pictured above, to $16.50 for a whole chicken) had the kind of appealing, herb-scented, golden, crispy skin that is impossible to resist. However, the meat itself was a little dry. Fortunately, the smooth and tangy cilantro ginger aioli that accompanies the chicken (and also some of the side dishes, including the yucca and the plantains) brightens it up, and more than makes up for the sins of the dry chicken.
If only Brasa sold this aioli by the bucket, I’d take it home, drizzle it on everything comparatively dreary that emerges from my own kitchen, and pretend I was a multiple-time nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Midwest Chef” award. It takes more than a little sauce — also creativity, consistent execution, attention to detail, and scrupulous sourcing — to develop the kind of following Roberts has, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
The Twelve Hour Slow Roasted Pork (from $5 for a quarter pound to $16.50 for a whole pound), which is slow-roasted, pulled, and tossed with citrus, olive oil, and garlic sauce, was succulent, earthy, and subtle. It comes with a dark red mild and sweet barbeque sauce and a pale red sauce that makes up in heat what it lacks in color. If you prefer bolder flavors, you’ll need the sauce, but otherwise, it is a distraction.
The Smoked & Braised Beef, slow cooked, chopped, and seasoned with the Brasa’s “signature” mild sauce, was the favorite in my household: tender and robust, with a hint of sweetness, it just shouts: “beef!” It comes with the same two sauces the pork does, but doesn’t need them.
You’d think the beans of the Black Beans with Corn Bread du0 ($3.50 for a small order or $7.00 for a large order) would be the super-hero, but it turns out they are only the sidekick. They’re good, but not so great that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night wanting to raid the fridge for leftovers. The corn bread, fragrant and dotted with kernels of actual corn, is the hero here. It walks the perfect tightrope between too dry and too sweet and cake-like. The honey butter that comes on the side would call to you in the middle of the night, if only you had any corn bread left.
A small order, which serves one to two people according to the take-out menu, comes with just one corn bread muffin, is too small, as it turns out. This muffin, together with its accompanying honey butter, is so good, that you’ll want your own, and you will resent, as I did, having to slice it in half to share, no matter how charming your dining companion. The Corn Bread with Honey Butter is available sans beans for another $2.00. Order enough for everyone. This is an extravagance, I know, but it means no one will have to pout through the meal.
The Crispy Yucca (pronounced YOU-ka) Tossed with Citrus & Olive Oil is what you get at Brasa instead of potato fries. More dense and heartier than potato fries, but still playing the role of starch, they don’t disappoint. Plus, they entitle you to more of that cilantro ginger aioli.
Where, you might ask, is the photo of the Chocolate and Sour Cream Bundt Cake with Fresh Strawberries ($5.50)? This forces me to mention the only service hiccup I experienced at Brasa. The cake was not included in the sealed brown paper bag that contained my take-out order. Otherwise, the service — both in person and over the telephone when ordering and later when calling back to find out how to match up the sauces with the dishes — was knowledgeable, professional, and efficient. Given that Brasa St. Paul hasn’t even been open a week, I forgive the misstep for this visit.
You might wonder why you should hassle with the traffic on Grand Ave. and go to Brasa, instead of rolling down to West Seventh and heading to Famous Dave’s, where you would probably spend less.
Sides. Sauces. Sustainable Sourcing. And sun.
Learn more about this business on Heavy Table’s Atlas of Ethical Eating and Drinking.
777 Grand Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105
651.224.1302 info / private parties
OWNER/CHEF: Alex Roberts
BAR: Wine by the glass, tap beer, Sangria
RESERVATIONS: Only for parties of 8 or more
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: from $5 for a la carte to $15.50 for a combination plate