Let’s start with the beer list. First, because it’s good in its own right. Second, because it’s a pretty good representation of what Ward 6 is overall.
The list, like just about everything else at Ward 6, is varied, friendly, and local, local, local. There are 20 beers on tap and the only one brewed outside of Minnesota is Hamm’s — and Hamm’s was grandfathered in because the brewery opened a bar in this very spot in 1903, when it was still brewed beer next door.
You’ve got the usual suspects (Summit, Schell’s, Surly, and I think we can start adding Fulton to this honor roll), then you’ve got new(er)comers Badger Hill and Indeed and some surprises, like St. Louis Park’s Steel Toe and Cold Spring’s Third Street. They’re all sorted — “Light,” “Medium,” “Hoppy,” and “Brown to Black” — so you don’t have to worry about ordering something you don’t want or suffer derision from the beer snob sitting next to you. That’s friendly, downright neighborly, even.
It’s a solid list of local beers for a neighborhood bar and Ward 6 is a solid neighborhood eatery.
Ward 6 opened in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side in early December. Since then, excited neighbors and curious carpetbaggers have been packing the 50ish seats (no reservations, sorry!), including a coveted row of stools along the classic bar.
Half the menu is classified as “Food for Drinking,” from entree-sized fish and chips to a little dish of house-made spiced nuts.
This is where you find the sleeper hit of the evening, the coyly named Health Food ($6): a little plate of breaded and fried veggies, clearly cooked with care, tender and piping hot, and ever-so-lightly breaded. They are absolutely irresistible when dipped into the harissa Hollandaise, which is pink and orange like a sunset and hits right in middle of the spicy, beer-food sweet spot.
That sauce was invaluable when we tucked into a baffling plate of teriyaki chicken wings ($7). These things were no more teriyaki-flavored than is lefse. Our server — very friendly and otherwise knowledgeable —assured us that, yes, the teriyaki sauce is very light indeed. But, it’s pretty clear what happened and, therefore, I can assure you of the fine, meaty quality of the plain chicken wings (all three parts, from tip to drummie), which are excellent dipped in the harissa Hollandaise. We can extrapolate from there regarding the teriyaki wings.
Ward 6 skirts along the sides of some recent dining trends, but doesn’t try to build a whole menu on them. On the snack side of the menu, you’ve got bacon. You’ve got meatballs. You’ve got poutine. Check. Check. Check. And you’ve got solid if not award-winning renditions of each.
The meatballs ($8) change daily. We had pale but flavorful chicken parmesan meatballs on a bed of marinara sauce that were a little dry, but otherwise good. The poutine ($7) was meatier than most, with a heavy dose of herby sausage in the gravy. Again: solid, nothing more, nothing less.
For dinner, I fully admit that we screwed up. Almost unforgivably so. Trying to decide between a Reuben and a trio of cutesy chicken salad sandwiches ($8), we went with the chicken salad. Who does that? But they were so adorable, all lined up with their little biscuit hats. And they had this adorable name: Chicken in a Biskit! Just like the nearly toxic crackers we all used to love! (What? Just me?) Anyway, don’t make our mistake. The biscuits were tough and dry and inside was, yeah, chicken salad. I blame myself more than the kitchen.
We should have had the Reuben ($11). And this ordering error was driven home when Bob Parker, one of Ward 6’s owners, stopped by the table to chat. The Reuben, he told us proudly, is made with their own corned beef and Chef Elizabeth Olson’s own “10,000 lakes” dressing. Faced with the sad little chicken biscuits, we allowed this fantasy Reuben to grow mythic in our minds, into something juicy and tender and flavorful. I’m wracked with regret at this very moment that we didn’t just say, “Hey, bring us one for dessert.” But we didn’t. So we have plans to go back and see if the reality stands up to the fantasy.
Ward 6’s burger ($10) is a big, sloppy, juicy affair, barely contained between two almost dainty circles of buttery Texas toast. Like a good burger, it is almost impossible to pick up with any decorum. Like a lot of mediocre burgers, it is cooked well, all the way through. The heaping pile of skin-on fries are hand-cut and cooked dark brown: kudos for that.
That burger stands in stark contrast to the almost ascetic Cicero Stew ($12, both c’s are soft, our server told us). This is a heaping spoonful of beautifully cooked chickpeas (if those were canned, I’ll eat my hat), cubes of sweet potato, and broccoli florets, all enveloped in a spicy tomato sauce. I liked this, but I wanted to love it. I wanted something heartier and more flavorful than plain white rice beneath it. I wanted a little more body in the sauce. But, if things don’t work out with that Reuben, this is what I’d come back to Ward 6 craving.
For dessert you’ve got two choices: pie and beignets. If you can’t have both, go with the pie. The pie changes daily and ours was blueberry and damn near perfect. The crust was glossy and flaky like the old-fashioned kind made with vegetable oil. The center held together without tasting like cornstarch as so many good-looking pies do.
The beignets star on Ward 6’s breakfast menu and they come close to being the airy pillows they aspire to be … but they don’t quite make it. The poor things were upstaged by the pie.
I wish I could recommend Ward 6 as destination dining — because wouldn’t that be awesome to find on St. Paul’s Eastside? And I’m not going to try to dissuade anyone from driving clear across the metro to give Ward 6 a try. (I did. I’ll go back.) It’s just that that is not what this place is about. This is the kind of solid, everyday, feed-the-family food that every single neighborhood in the Twin Cities and elsewhere deserves. (You on that, UNHRC?) Southwest Minneapolis has George & the Dragon. Northeast had Pop! (Oh, Pop!, we miss you.) St. Paul’s
Westside Merriam Park neighborhood (and now Longfellow) has the Blue Door. And Payne-Phalen has Ward 6. Nice work, guys.
Pub in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul
858 Payne Ave
St. Paul, MN 55130
CHEF / OWNERS: Elizabeth Olson / Eric Foster and Bob Parker
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $8-11