The Payne-Phalen restaurant renaissance has been instructive not just because some shiny new lights are illuminating yet another not-downtown-Minneapolis and not-downtown-St. Paul neighborhood, but because of the specific nature of those lights.
Tongue in Cheek, Ward 6, and the older but still quite new Strip Club Meat and Fish are current and hip, beckoning younger diners through the doors, but they all also make a conscious effort to connect with earlier and simpler modes of dining. Whether it’s the understatement of Tongue in Cheek’s menu, or Ward 6’s amiable pub grub, or the Strip Club’s selling of the classic sizzle of steak, there’s something deliciously throwback going on.
This is true too at Cook St. Paul, a Payne-Phalen eatery that is a partnership between Eddie Wu (formerly of Sole Cafe) and Charles Cook (formerly of Cossetta.) The place very much feels like a classic American diner: a single humble room where breakfast might be pancakes and ham, and lunch might be a hamburger or a beef commercial. Local ingredients are prominently and widely sourced, another echo of a simpler time.
We recently visited for breakfast and found the service warm and friendly, and the most intriguing thing on the menu the Korean pancakes ($10). Comprised of ground yellow beans mixed with spicy sausage, cabbage, and bean sprouts, and served with two elegantly runny poached eggs, these savory disks reminded us of Japanese okonomiyaki — a little bit funky, a little bit crunchy, and profoundly satisfying. They come with a Korean sauce that arrives in a ketchup bottle, but it is almost entirely unlike ketchup. It’s got a great lingering heat, and a sweetly funky base to it, and it turns the meeting place of the austere pancakes and the unctuous eggs into a flavor battle zone.
Cook St. Paul
Diner in Payne-Phalen, St. Paul
1124 Payne Ave
St. Paul, MN 55130
CHEFS/OWNERS: Eddie Wu and Charles Cook
ENTREE RANGE: $6-11
PARKING: Ample street parking