It was a lightning-fast turnaround from Salt Cellar’s closing to Fitzgerald’s opening, but everything needed to open a restaurant was already there. All they had to do was rebrand the place, come up with a new menu, and unlock the doors.
Salt Cellar’s steakhouse concept has been replaced with upscale versions of bar food favorites: nachos, hot dogs, burgers, and the like. Flat screen TVs silently broadcast highlights from some sporting contest or another as fashionably dressed men and women analyze the gameplay. If not for the photos of old St. Paul and the honorific name, it could be Anywhere, USA.
The service was impossibly friendly; giant smiles moved across the large, dark dining room and our server announced his arrival with a song (more than once). The food was good enough to indicate that the bar food concept will enjoy a decent reception. There is a crowd-pleasing cocktail list and a ton of local tap beers. This go-around should appeal to the tastes of the neighborhood.
The Sonora Dog ($8) was a better-than-average hot dog wrapped in bacon, served on a griddled, but slightly dry, milk bun and topped with sour cream, pickled red onion, and spicy pickled jalapeño. A side of coleslaw (long-cut cabbage, creamy dressing, mustard seeds) ranked higher in its class than the dog, but they went well together.
The Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich ($14) had great flavor with peppery steak bits (more ground beef than sliced steak) and diced, charred onion. The house-made cheese whiz was so scant that we almost asked if they forgot it. But after a couple of bites, there it was hiding, mixed in with the meat. Those dreaming of a properly overstuffed Philly — with abundant sliced steak and grilled veggies, covered with gooey cheese — might be disappointed by the size. Even the tiniest hands could hold this sandwich with presidential decorum. But the flavor was spot on, and with either a size or price adjustment, they’ll have a hit. The sandwich outclassed the fast-food-style fries that accompanied it, but they were decent.
After the debacle that was Salt Cellar, the owners can’t be blamed for playing it safe. Fitzgerald’s feels like a greatest hits record. Some of the deep tracks are missing, but it’ll probably sell a ton of copies.
Fitzgerald’s 173 Western Ave N, St. Paul 55102; 651.219.4013; Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat & Sun 9 a.m.-10 p.m.