Photograph by Caitlin Abrams
A burger at Dark Horse
A pretzel bun that actually works.
When a booming neighborhood begins drawing all sorts of bars and restaurants, it can feel like chaos. Leases are signed, places open one on top of the other, and suddenly developers believe anything will win. We saw such folly disproved with Shag Sushi in Minneapolis’s hot-to-trot North Loop. Instead of a walk-in-the-park win, it closed in under a year.
So when Dark Horse Eatery was unveiled in St. Paul’s similarly hot Lowertown neighborhood, you’d be forgiven for feeling skeptical. And yet this latest joiner manages to feel like it’s been here all along. Dark Horse’s vibe is convivial and authentically welcoming but also chill in the best way. It feels unaffected. I’ve struggled to find this sense of place at the neighboring (and nearly as new) Ox Cart Ale House, but Dark Horse nails it, and not just because it has cooler bones (exposed brick, soaring ceilings, and the like).
The menu has an ease that allows Turkish fig balls to sit next to Irish mussels. It forgoes grand manifestos about global cooking for straightforward presentations of interesting food. It guesses maybe you’re hungry for curries one day, and a burger the next. The food is friendly and comes generously portioned at a low price point—aimed, perhaps, at the drinking set but also great for lunch and pre-gamers. The burger with smoked gouda was delicious and seems to have found a pretzel bun that works. The pizzas I could do without, but I liked the bright and fresh kale and quinoa salad in a massive bowl. There’s also a notable collection of whiskies from far and wide, reinforcing the idea that this is a bar that happens to have good food.
Lowertown isn’t even close to slowing its growth, and more joints will likely jockey to win the long race, but I, for one, would bet on this Dark Horse. 250 E. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-313-7960, darkhorsebarandeatery.com