Good news, downtown St. Paul: There’s a new solid burger bar in the middle of downtown, with a good beer list, and bean bag toss! It’s called The Minnesota Saloon, and opened earlier in September, replacing the spare sports bar, the Bullpen, which itself replaced an old institution, The Buttery. Turns out the Bullpen was so spare because they ran out of finishing funds, and owner Patrick Conroy tells me he had always wanted to do an all-Minnesota themed bar with a restaurant. So now they have. And it’s good!
Of great interest: Cheap locavore beers! Schell’s, Angry Planet, Badger Hill, Surly, Summit.And during happy hour (weekdays from 2-6 p.m.) each one is only $4 a pint—and rise to a reasonable $5 a pint after happy hour. They also have all sorts of interesting flights of beer: $5 during happy hour gets you four 5 oz. beers arranged on a theme—all Summits, or all very pale, or dessert, featuring cream ales and stouts. During happy hour all the appetizers are half-price. I tried some truly good, and very big and meaty chicken wings (two pounds for $10.95, half that during happy hour), some light and quite good chicken strips ($8.95, ditto) and terrible fried corn ($3.95). Why deep fried corn? For a little Minnesota theming there’s also light and good mini donuts on the dessert menu, so now you can have the State Fair year round, by throwing a hot one right into your cold beer.
But the Minnesota Saloon has no cheese curds. Why?
“I was really disappointed in cheese curds,” Conroy said, “I wanted to have everything half off during happy hour with the apps, and we couldn’t get there with cheese curds without charging something like $14. I just wanted to keep everything: Come in and get an appetizer and a beer and walk out under $10. And the cheese curds wouldn’t get along with the plan.” Well, none of us can typically get cheese curds to go along with the plan, and yet still, that’s logic I can respect. We need more cheap places in downtown St. Paul.
We also need more good places, and Conroy has a chef named Dave Hoel who worked for years on the grill at Shamrock’s, the St. Paul burger legend. And you know what? The Minnesota Saloon burger is solidly good. Not quite The Nook good, but a real contender, and the best I know of in downtown St. Paul, save Meritage and the St. Paul Grill.
I tried the standard cheeseburger and the Juicy Lucy, both had good sweet buns and the right burger-to-stuff ratio. I particularly liked the Juicy Lucy. It was appropriately squishy and gooey but also meaty and soft. It’s definitely in the top 10 of metro Juicy Lucys, and that’s saying something, especially for a place that’s been open for less than a month. What can they do once they really get going?
More things to like about this new Minnesota Saloon: I’m happy to see another St. Paul establishment carrying forth the new St. Paul tradition of giving their restaurant a risqué name. This tradition was founded in the modern era by the Strip Club, the locavore steak house that will make your Sunday School teaching aunt look at you funny every time you mention it. And now we have the Saloon! No, not the iconic Minneapolis gay bar which has been serving the five-state area for 30 years (with Hard Mondays, Drag Tuesdays, Minneapolis Movie Bear Bar Night, etc.) A new Saloon.
“Honey, where did you and Dave go all night?”
“The Saloon ?!”
“No no no, not that Saloon, not that Saloon—the one with the new Juicy Lucy contender!”
And cut to the Sunday School teaching aunt looking at you funny. Oh, by the way: At the original Saloon, in Minneapolis, they have cheese curds. Which amuses me, because I feel like they have such a raver-hardbody advertising presence. But maybe that’s what makes the original Saloon an icon—somehow they made cheese curds get along with their plan.
395 N. Robert, St. Paul, 651-340-0583, mnsaloon.com