The 16th president of the United States said something along the lines of, “A restaurant can be all things to some people some of the time, but it can’t be all things to all people all of the time.” Or maybe it was Bob Marley who said that. Lowertown’s Dark Horse Bar and Eatery, on East 7th Street in Saint Paul, is galloping in the face of those wise words. With a menu that includes fare from around the globe, the restaurant is giving its best shot at being all things to all people, and with hours stretching from the late morning all the way around to the wee hours of the next morning, it’s doing so nearly all the time.
The cavernous space that houses Dark Horse is typical of Lowertown: exposed brick and ductwork, cement floor, tall glass storefront. They’ve stayed true to the style, furnishing the space with handmade wooden booths, thick, wooden tabletops, and wrought-iron electric candelabra chandeliers.
The rough-hewn wood and metal bar is particularly eye catching, snaking along the length of the room from the entrance to the window that opens upon the gleaming white kitchen at the back of the building. Bottles decorate the brick wall behind the bar, the centerpiece of which is a shiny metal panel with row upon row of tap handles.
The menu — much like that of Muddy Waters, Dark Horse’s Uptown-dwelling, older half-sibling — draws from a worldwide range of influences. The Caribbean-influenced coconut lime rice bowl ($12) was sensational. Succulent pulled pork mingled with perfectly ripe avocado, barely wilted kale, and mango salsa. But the sweet, fluffy white rice and al dente black beans, rich with coconut, were the star among the top-notch cast.
The Cuban sandwich ($10) again features Dark Horse’s pulled pork, this time winningly combined with Red Table ham. This riff on the Cuban uses an assertive grainy mustard and Muenster cheese in unpressed, crusty ciabatta, and the result is excellent.
The Dark Horse burger ($12) bucks the local trend of thin-pressed burgers and American cheese. Two hand pressed beef and bacon patties, Muenster cheese, and thousand island dressing on a pretzel bun create a hot, greasy mess. It’s almost too big to eat, but it’s too good not to eat. Sandwiches come (mercifully) with lightly dressed greens, because Dark Horse knows what’s good for you.
On a menu next to tacos, Thai curry, hummus, and bucatini, the War Horse pizza ($16) is a nod to the local. A thin, crispy yet chewy, charred-at-the-edges crust, the War Horse is topped with garlicky Italian sausage, sweet caramelized onions, and a funky, smoky kraut. Cut in squares, with no red sauce in sight, and showered with caraway seeds, this St. Paul style pizza showcases the Eastern-Europe-meets-Italy roots of our capital city.
The only weak spot we found was the roasted Brussels sprouts ($6). The Brussels were well browned, and the bacon coated everything in a dominant fatty flavor. Left at that, it would have been enough. The addition of kimchi’s spicy, fermented flavor resulted in a cabbage-two-ways confusion and was ultimately unnecessary.
Dark Horse is without a doubt a hip spot. Come warmer weather (and baseball season), the recently completed patio will be a great place to while away the hours as you work your way through the cocktail list or the plethora of seasonal and limited-run tap beers. Lunch, happy hour, dinner, and late night, Dark Horse dares downtown St. Paul to step out of its comfort zone, and it’s a great addition to St. Paul’s coolest neighborhood (and to the Minnesota restaurant horsey set). We barely scratched the menu and were impressed almost across the board. Score another one for Lowertown.
Dark Horse Bar and Eatery
Globe-trotting menu with craft beer and cocktails in St. Paul’s Lowertown
250 E 7th St
Saint Paul, MN 55101
OWNER / CHEF: Sarah Schrantz & Paddy Whelan / Gerson Gerald
Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
Sat & Sun 10 a.m. – 2 a.m.
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $9-$26
NOISE LEVEL: Amenable din
PARKING: Street, public ramps