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First Bite: District Fresh Kitchen + Bar
By: Stephanie March | Posted: 04/16/2014
Serlin’s Café has been reborn as Cook St. Paul, now open on Payne Avenue.
The old space has been completely overhauled by Eddie Wu and Charles Cook. The formerly dark wood paneling has been painted white (with 9 coats for the ceiling) and the booths have been removed to make way for more open seating, a large and comfy black banquet along the far wall, and even a cool corner booth. Part of the kitchen was sacrificed in order to carve out a bathroom (a lovely change for those who remember the former dungeon-like loo in the basement). It has fully morphed into a simple, modern space with metal chairs, hard-wood tables and bento-boxed succulents as accents.
But don’t worry, it hasn’t become a hipster haven. It’s still good ol’ St. Paul. In fact, they’ve kept kinda quiet about the opening because they want the neighborhood folks to be able to wander in and discover the place. While I was eating breakfast, on one side of me there was a guy who used to own a shop down the block, on the other a family who lives around the corner. As I was leaving, a cop came in for a bite. Owner Eddie Wu greeted them all and chatted about his plans to keep it a humble neighborhood spot.
For now, this is strictly a breakfast and lunch joint. The early offerings include standard fare of pancakes, eggs, a righteous cinnamon roll, b.y.o. omelette, and the like. But there are a couple of interesting bits, one is the Frenchcake Stack, which consists of hash browns cooked in pancake batter, topped with bacon and eggs, banked by French toast. Wowza that’s a teenage-hunger plate, but I really like the hash/pancake mash up. And then there’s the Korean pancake: mashed yellow beans and spicy sausage, with a bit of spicy cabbage (non-fermented kimchi) cooked like cakes and topped with poached eggs. Hit it with the house sauce (a personal Wu rendition of gochujang) and it’s that perfect bit of morning spicy, not lid-blowing but enough to warm the cockles.
Lunch looks fun; they are super proud of the Monte Cristo, which is dipped in pancake batter, and I am for sure bringing my father-in-law (who used to own an auto shop on Payne and would fix Mr. Serlin’s Caddy from time to time) in for the Commercial Sandwich: salt-crusted roast beef on a bun with mashed potatoes and gravy. Something that should not be skipped is the legendary cream of chicken wild rice soup, which is a particular specialty of Charles Cook. But I’ll dial in for the bibimbap, to see what that’s all about, maybe a burger or mac ‘n’ cheese. I am also excited to try the Keikeu Cake Boutique mini bundt cake, made by Wu’s wife in the bakery behind the restaurant.
Grand opening starts on Friday, but they're open now from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., so amble on in, even if you're just beginning to establish your Eastside cred.
Stephanie March is Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s food and dining editor. See bio
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