For a restaurant best known as a destination for special occasion dining and for its killer summer patio, W.A. Frost & Company is a surprisingly good spot for casual winter dining, too. And after the hellish, soul-sucking, serotonin-draining one we’ve endured, a spirited evening spent in the warm embrace of Frost’s historic digs is the perfect way to flip Mother Nature the bird while plotting your move to San Diego.
The two things that have kept us coming back for regular winter therapy sessions are the seriously underrated chef’s burger and the amazing, dungeon-esque basement lounge.
The chef’s burger, in this case, is literally the chef’s burger.
“I started making it for myself for dinner when I was at the University Club,” says Executive Chef Wyatt Evans (below). Through trial and error, and countless burgers, he settled upon the combination of toppings that would become the chef’s burger.
Made with Peterson grass-fed Limousin beef, tangy mustard aioli, crispy applewood-smoked bacon, a thick slice of Wisconsin cheddar, and sweet red onion marmalade, the chef’s burger is a straight-up, crowd-pleasing hit. At a glance, it’s just a bacon cheeseburger. But closer inspection and sampling reveals a burger that’s been gussied up enough to hold its own in Frost’s formal dining room (and warrant its $14 price point), yet not too much so that it betrays the expectations of someone who just wants to order a good burger at the bar without undue fuss.
When your clientele on any given night ranges from theater-going Old St. Paul aristocrats to 12-year-old suburbanites dining with their dads before a hockey game, Evans realizes he can’t color too far outside the lines when it comes to his burger. To appease this unique dichotomy of diners, the burger has to be everything to everyone, a task that usually results in a bland, watered-down disaster. But in this case, the deliberate straightforwardness is key to the chef’s burger’s greatness, as it comes not from the exoticism or trendiness of its ingredients, but rather the quality of them.
The Peterson Limousin beef really steals the show. The surprisingly lean 80 / 20 grind Evans prefers is rich, juicy, beautifully textured, and decadently flavored. If you love beef in burger form, the chef’s burger is the perfect vehicle for bringing these exquisite meaty qualities to the fore.
While the Limousin beef gets the spotlight, the supporting cast of toppings adds intriguing flavor elements that skillfully complement the thick, meaty patty and each other. The sweet red onions play well with the salty bacon, and the mustard aioli has just enough kick that it doesn’t feel left out. Each bite evokes the familiar, but in a more interesting, unfamiliar way. It truly is a memorable burger.
The bun is worth a mention, too, as they’ve recently upgraded. It was a wise move, since the old one was a pea under your mattress. The New French Bakery egg-washed potato bun has a lovely golden crown that yields to the bite, yet is sturdy enough to hold the bounty of juices without falling apart. It’s a good bun, which is requisite for a great burger.
So yeah, you should try the chef’s burger.
But hungry or not, you should also pay a visit to the basement lounge. It is without doubt one of the most singular, cozy, beautiful, charming, and intimate spaces anywhere in the Cities. Paring down to five the list of adjectives used to describe it was one of the more challenging tasks of recent memory.
For years, this cavernous space was used as a private dining room for parties and events. But 6 or 7 years ago someone had the idea to use the rattan furniture from the patio in the basement,and open it up to guests. Genius move. The lounge has all the allure of a clandestine speakeasy but without the pretense of back alley entrances, faux storefronts, unmarked doors, and password entry.
The space itself is all stone and atmosphere. A low, jet-black pressed tin ceiling and chunky painted wainscoting make you feel that you’re in a really old place, like a castle or something. Wall sconces bounce soft golden light off the rough-hewn walls. If you have a significant other, or an other you hope becomes significant, it’d be a wise move to bring him or her here stat and hope you score one of the cozy little nooks. Way better than the kissing booth at The Local.
The only downside to eating down here is that it’s kinda hard to eat down here. The tables are small, and the chairs and sofas angle you away from them and thus your food. So you have to perch yourself on the edge of your seat while you eat and jockey for plate position on the table. But these are trifling concerns when the temperature outside is capable of freezing your eyelids shut in an instant and your car battery has died for the third time this winter.
Bottom line, this subterranean grotto is the perfect place to hunker down with friends or your SO while the hunkering down is still good.
Besides, they’ll need the rattan furniture for when the patio opens again in the spring. Which is soon, right? Right?
W.A. Frost & Company, 374 Selby Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102; 651.224.5715