Photo by Katherine Harris
The Cicero stew is very veg friendly, while the Fatty Melt is very cheese friendly.
While we all can’t stop talking about the hot and popping food neighborhoods in the cities (Linden Hills, Lowertown, and North Loop come to mind), there are so many more ’hoods that desperately need just one little place to up the ante. Honestly, that’s what it feels like over on Payne Avenue on the East Side of St. Paul, which someone realized was an area worth popping.
There’s a little bit of both brilliance and risk in the idea that you should serve some outside-the-line food in a neighborhood that is served by Little Caesars. But it ends up that the force behind Ward 6 chose wisely. The rehabbed tavern has been packed since day one with families, beer-o-philes, oldsters, and the like seeking warmth, comfort, and something a little more, a little different.
Now let’s not get expectations out of whack—it’s still a tavern, one with a local beer focus. In fact, one entire section of the menu is called Food for Drinking—I can respect that. Here you will find the solid in a weekly meatball, some crispy-gorgeous fries, and hands-down amazing beef-fat-fried fish ’n’ chips with a destructively flaky, crisp coating. Maybe too far a reach, pork belly skewers with lemon gastrique didn’t quite reach the right quality, and poutine just fell thin and flat. Consistency might be the biggest challenge.
The grilled Camembert sandwich with pears and arugula was quite refreshing and surprising, as was the frighteningly devilish Fatty Melt, which uses grilled cheese sandwiches as the bun for a burger. What can I say, it was a bomb, and it worked. Bigger plates include some nicely spiced pork ribs with Korean-style slaw and a flavorful Cicero stew, a vegetarian and gluten-free option with tomatoey chickpeas and sweet potatoes over rice that was more than a token on the menu.
The service is very friendly, the atmosphere warm and inviting, and it seems clear the neighborhood has been starving for something like this, so who knows what could pop next? 858 Payne Ave., St. Paul, 651-348-8181, ward6stpaul.com