Winter at the Barrio Tequila Bar

I adore this part of winter; the Beginning. The contrast of green to white with the first snow, temps cold but not yet bone-shatteringly so, storefronts festooned in swags, wreaths, globes and garland, luring you with their candy coated promises. In this moment even the mundane of my closet becomes appealing. Last year’s winter clothes a novelty now hang from my still-summer body in good-humored accommodation. This very early winter time begs that I leave the confines of my home to find my friends and follow enticement. “Eat, Drink & be Merry” has never had more meaning than in December. Find a place for me to sit beside an expansive window and watch the world from inside.

Recently I spent an evening at Barrio Tequila Bar whose street side facade vaunts a wall of glass overlooking Mears Park in lowertown St Paul. Such decadence taken for granted, to be surrounded by this energy-infused warmth with nothing more than a simple pane of glass shielding me from the algidity. It’s here friends and I sip bar concoctions with meaningless names; “The Trinity”, “Macho Camacho” and “Enter The Dragon”, each softening the edges of our day with their velvety smoothness. My attention vacillates between the alcohol steeped chatter at my table and the winter life outdoors. Pulsing gusts of snow race across the street heedless of cars, men and women walk past, strides confident in their Sorrel-clad feet. Food arrives at our table, mini-Mexican works of art; Mahi Mahi Taco, Red Snapper Ceveche, Amish Chicken Quesadilla and a Trio of Salsas. Nestled at the center of the Trio lies the Habanero salsa, co-dependent lover of my tequila, task master to my taste buds; nothing brings me to present like my incendiary compadre, daring me, swearing no harm while bringing tears to my eyes.

And so the evening proceeds, friends wrapped together in the raucousness of the Barrio, a crazy confluence of tequila and capsaicin sharpening the contrast of what awaits outdoors. I know the freshness of December will pass, eventually my clothes will conspire to strangulate me and I will curse each and every snowflake that falls from the sky. But for now I will sit toasty warm indoors and enjoy the newness of my winter relationship.

kal


Light ‘er Up – Eating Fireside in St Paul

What is this fascination we have with fire?  Mine began as a 5 yr old on the farm gathering dry grass & placing it into a coffee can along with some kerosene, culminating in singed eyebrows and a spanking.  Later as a preteen I discovered a more effective accelerant, gasoline; culminating in a trip to the emergency room.   Now as an adult (sort of), I’ve moved onto the more socially acceptable (& marginally less dangerous) lighting of brush piles and bonfires.  But with the weather cooling off, I started to think, ‘hey, I wonder how many places I can find in St Paul to either drink or eat by a fire without that pesky problem of catching on fire?”  So I did what anyone would do; Googled it.  List in hand, friend Nanci in tow, I was off to find the fire.

We started at Cheeky Monkey Deli on Selby.  Don’t let the ‘deli’ part put you off; evening introduces a whole different feel to The Monkey, making it an attractive spot to enjoy a glass of wine.   The sofa & chair seating in front of the fire was a cozy place to linger during Happy Hour & share some small plates.  Our server, Courtney, was the perfect blend of attentive and friendly.  It was a great starting point.

The Cheeky Monkey

The Happy Gnome, upstairs

Next we stopped at The Happy Gnome, located kitty corner from The Cheeky on Selby.  The Gnome has a fireplace in both the upstairs dining area and the downstairs bar.  The bar FP, we were informed, is usually on only during very cold days as it throws out enough heat to hold a Bikram Yoga class.  Saddened, Nanci & I consoled ourselves by sampling one of the many martinis offered.  Before leaving we checked out the scene upstairs.  Nice FP; request a ‘fireside’ table if dinning there – you’ll be pleased.

The Happy Gnome bar

Out the door of the Gnome & down the street sits W. A. Frost which most fireplace devotees must surely already know about.  The appeal of Frost’s is obvious; the dining rooms are beautiful and the food can be quite good – add fire to that mix on a cold winter night and who would want to go anywhere else?

On to Grand Avenue.  Dixies has an outdoor patio fireplace in addition to patio heaters.  Dressed appropriately it would be a great spot to have a hot toddy.  If that doesn’t work for you, just sit indoors next to the floor to ceiling windows and gaze at the fire from there.  Dixie’s always supplies a fun atmosphere to be a part of.  Thanks for adding a flame!

Billy’s on Grand has a fireplace, something I hadn’t known prior to this evening.  Imagine hanging by the fire, beer in hand, surrounded by good friends & cheering on a team.  A definite perk on a winter weekend.

Billy's on Grand

Across the street from Billy’s is Axel’s Bonfire.  (And really, with a name like ‘Bonfire’ how could they not have a fireplace?)  Aesthetically, Bonfire may have one of my favorite fireplaces.  Located at the end of the bar, it’s a great spot to sit and enjoy a drink and something to eat.  And you can’t beat the people watching both in the bar and out through the windows onto Grand; pretty easy place to pass some time with friends.  Bonus to Bonfire is that it is located right across the hall from Café Latte!  No fireplace at C. Latte but the cupcake and cappuccino more than made up for it.  It was a sweet finish to a pleasurable evening in search of fire.

Bonfire

While this was enough for one night, there are additional locals in St Paul to explore in search of fire.  I’ll keep you posted as to what I find at The Downtowner Woodfire Grill, Forepaughs, St Paul Hotel Lobby Bar and Luci Ancore.  And if you know of any other fire-friendly spots I should check out, please please let me know.

Cheers!

Kal


Get. OUT.

No, seriously, get out as in Outside.  Need I remind anyone as to what lies around the corner?  Starts with a W and is followed by white stuff & frantic calls from your mother about ‘driving conditions’.  So with that in mind, I decided to amble about in St Paul, choosing the Selby Dale area.

First things first; a hit of caffeine at Nina’s Coffee Café, on the corner of Western & Selby.  Nina’s serves up just about everything I want with my latte; great space, fab service and an interesting mix of people.  On this particular day I met Doug, a frequent patron who chatted me up while I waited for my skinny.  Turns out Doug is the one who keeps the water & biscuit bowls filled for the four-legged companions.  (Bonus pts; Nina’s street side tables are dog friendly!)  So instead of staring off into space while my latte was in production, I met someone new and got a tiny glimpse of another person’s life.  Plus, he showed me his tattoos.  I know.  Sounds weird but trust me, it was interesting.  And you know what else?  The barista brought my coffee out to me.  With a smile.   Very nice!

Now properly caffeinated, I headed down Selby to check out Allee Metro Chic.  Allee’s, formerly located on Snelling Ave, is now at 493Selby.  Allee defines itself as a ‘European inspired boutique’.  It is indeed quite groovy.  Housed downstairs of the boutique (which happily is light and bright due to the building design!) is a selection of antique and vintage home accessories.  Whether you are shopping upstairs or down, there’s nothing ordinary here.  Definitely worth a look.

Next I bopped into Fleur de Lis flower shop.  Besides the obvious, Fleur de Lis stocks an interesting array of gift items way beyond the usual kitsch of most floral shops and many designed by local artisans.  This I will be sure to remember once the snow starts to fly.  Not only are there some great gift ideas (think Christmas or Hanukah!) but to get a whiff of that fragrance of fresh flowers in the Winter . . . how wonderful!

Time for my lunch date with Q at Cheeky Monkey Deli.  Being just a bit too cool to sit outside, Q & I nabbed a table over by the fireplace.  (Note to self; fireplace = great girlfriend/wine drinking/ cool weather spot.)  I like the feel of Cheeky’s indoor space; better in so many ways than your average ‘deli’.  Q & I split a roasted mushroom sandwich & a bowl of tomato soup.  Yum!  Oh, and that glass of sauvignon blanc wasn’t bad either!

Needing just a little something sweet after our lunch, Q & I hit up the bakery A Piece of Cake.  Q had a chocolate cupcake, giving it a high review.  I had a decadent little sugar cookie piled high with frosting.  The cookie was very tasty but it was the frosting I fell in love with.  They could sell that frosting alone in Dixie cups!

Regretfully, that’s all the time I had for Selby Ave that day.  I left with plenty of reasons to come back, though.  So GET OUT & either explore some of the places I’ve mentioned or find some of your own while it’s still nice enough to walk around!!

Ciao!

Kal


Claddagh Coffee – a new place on the block

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I live on the other side of the river  – so bridges are part of the daily routine.  In 19 years, I’ve never tired of the view crossing the 35  bridge.  Heading north the skyline of St. Paul with whatever backdrop the sky gods have chosen for the hour . Heading south, the shimmer of   river , bisected by an island of green.  In winter a monochromatic blend of ice floe , limbs,  infinite grey sky.  And crossing the High Bridge, I never fail to admire the perfect site line of the  classical Capitol Building, its dominance over the landscape until the sky opens over the south end of the bridge and announces St Paul Cathedral’s more dominant psychic  hold over the land, and then, a smattering of skyscrapers to the east.

What does this have to do with coffee?

The ramp to the 35  bridge is closing this week, cutting off the mainline to my usual coffee joint. So I was  out scouting an alternative yesterday, and  reminded by someone from the Minnesota Food Bloggers  to visit Claddagh Coffee.

It’s a sweet, clean place, admirably designed with a light touch.  Brick walls backdrop the obligatory coffee shop gallery display.  Huge blackboards serve double duty as design elements and daily menu announcements.  The proper quotient of hard-working folks sitting at wified computers, and good-natured baristas in training made for an approachable place.   Delving a bit into the menu I found that the pastries came from all the well reviewed places around town.   Add to the mix some custom baked items.  Boars Head meats and cheeses are used for panini.  Fresh and organic produce comes from nearby Mississippi Market.   There’s a downstairs seating area with a conference table for groups who can reserve it for meetings.  And for a basement, it was cosy rather than close with a nose of mildew.

And the coffee.  Well, I had already consumed my daily quota; the caffeine was still creating a nice buzz in my mouth, where, according to the baristas at my usual place,   caffeine from espresso preparation works its magic.

The ramp to the bridge is closing on September 6.  I’ll be back with a coffee report then.


Valley Girl visits Tut

Walk like an Egyptian

I set off last Wednesday with a specific goal in mind: no matter what happened, I was going to make it to Tut. I set aside plenty of time to get to the museum and like last time I had my trusty sister and mom in tow.Once again we made it all the way across the river to the science museum and without heat or traffic there was nothing that could stop us from discovering the depths of Egypt.

We bought our tickets at the box office, something that might be a bad idea as the exhibit comes closer to its end on September 5th, and made our way upstairs to the entry point. There are two ways to view the exhibit: with the audio piece and without it. If you have the time to spend, I would strongly recommend renting the phone like device that gives you details about some of the most stunning pieces that you can see. They sent us through the large double doors with a group of about 15 other people and we were on our way.

The series of rooms that you walk through get more and more intense as the layers of the tomb are uncovered. The treasures also get more fascinating and beautiful; however I wouldn’t rush straight to the end. While the artifacts from the grave are beautiful the story of King Tut’s life is worth spending the time to listen to. There are also pieces of Egyptian society that are explained, the relationship between teachers and children for example. The body language that is expressed in the pieces is very clear, but the translation of they hieroglyphics that you get through the head-piece makes it all the better. For the Egypt enthusiast the tour could take hours, I was out in just under two.

Some of the most incredible pieces were the pair of golden sandals that were found next to Tut in his tomb and the incredible gold jewelry that was scattered throughout the exhibit. There are some beautiful things that are made in the world today; however, they can’t compare to the things that you see at Tut. It is one thing to get a beautiful necklace at a store and a whole different thing to have something last for thousands of years and still shine. Following the tour, we looked at the Science Museum’s real mummy and did a little scouting around to see what else was going on.

With our time there done we decided to get dinner at Pazzaluna. A restaurant known for its fantastic Italian food, it didn’t disappoint three hungry diners in a quick, delicious meal. All of us had pasta, and we would all happily go back again, now if only we could get them to move to Minneapolis… We began the long trek back to Golden Valley after dinner and talked about Tut the whole way there.


Bars (a lust for)

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-Guest Blogger – Colin McDonald

Yes, Bars Bakery, located in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood, sells cookies, scones, croissants, and, of course, bars. And yes, I’m sure, they’re great. But I’m going to concentrate on owners Sandi Younkin and Kara Younkin Viswanathan’s caramel rolls alone, in part, because I haven’t tried their Savory Tarts or Doughnut Muffins and, in part, because I can’t say that I ever will. By which I mean that I’m beginning to suspect it will take time before I’m able to drive down Selby and Dale, without all but tasting the real butter and brown sugar that somewhere in between each first and second bite, I swear, sends signals to your mouth that never make it to your brain. Like the memory of a failed relationship or missed connection, it’s everything I still don’t know, months now since my first encounter, including what about these rolls I fell for in the first place, that makes my drop-bys at Bars Bakery attendantly more aggravating and worth the trip.

“When can I see you again?” I think, pretending to need more time to decide over the assortment of homemade this and that’s prepared from scratch on any given day. While the rolls themselves seem to say, “Meet me in the front seat of your car in five, and bring a napkin…”

Probably, we can all agree it’s rare to find food items great enough to make you think irrationally and often of what “almost was.” But timing can, in fact, aid in planning or, by happenstance, stumbling upon your trip to Bars, en route to The Happy Gnome.

St. Paul, as I’ve said for years, is a wonderful city to eat like crap in. And with that reputation comes not a responsibility so much as a rotary of bakeries, sweet shops, and ice cream cafes to choose from and then lie about not having planned to stop in. The difference between Bars and them has everything to do with the quality of Bars’ ingredients (which is obvious, without fanning itself off in the altruistic manner of “farm to table” manifestos and frequently asked questions hanging from the toilets) and the ephemeral nature, assumedly of all their goods, but (not to get off-track) their caramel rolls.

And so, to get the most bang for your buck (and here I’m not about to tell you how to shove one into which side of your face or where the wax paper should lie in relation to your partner), eat your roll ASAP, even if you’re still in line. The staff at Bars is pretty friendly, and anyway it would be fun to see what happens if you “accidentally” drop it, while fumbling for your wallet. Also, try to get there in the morning or early afternoon, not because the rolls are bad by 5 o’clock, but they are usually gone. Of course, worst-case scenario, you can always sample something else, which should leave you just enough room and excuse for a return visit to find yourself living in St. Paul and eating in the past.

Bars Bakery

612 Selby Avenue
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102
651-224-8300
info@barsbakery.com

Open Tuesday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Closed Mondays

For a full menu, visit www.barsbakery.com

 

For a comprehensive listing of St. Paul events and restaurants, please visit our website and/or download our app on iPhone and Android at all the usual places.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dining Out For Life – access St. Paul on your mobile phone

On  Thursday, April 28, dozens of St Paul  restaurants  are participating in the Dine Out for Life event.  On that day, a portion of the proceeds of your lunch or dinner bill is donated to The Aliveness Project, a local nonprofit organization that provides on-site meals, food shelf & other supportive services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS and their families.

We’re listing the restaurants here so our St Paul Spot app users can have an easy link to them on their smart phones next Thursday when they are out and about, and want to do a little something extra to make their meal special.

St. Paul / All Cuisines / Any Meal

B = Breakfast – L = Lunch – D = Dinner – All = B,L,D

128 CAFE (Platinum Level – 35%)
View Details
Tel: 651-645-4128 D
Donation: 35%
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CHRISTOS UNION DEPOT PLACE (Platinum Level – 35%)
View Details
Tel: 651-224-6000 D
Donation: 35%
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HIGHLAND CAFE & BAKERY (Platinum Level – 35%)
View Details
Tel: 651-698-3400 D
Donation: 35%
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KHYBER PASS CAFE (Platinum Level – 35%)
View Details
Tel: 651-690-0505 L,D
Donation: 35%
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NGON VIETNAMESE BISTRO (Platinum Level – 35%)
View Details
Tel: 651-222-3301 D
Donation: 35%
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PIZZA LUCE – ST. PAUL Dine-In Only (Platinum Level – 35%)
View Details
Tel: 651-288-0186 L,D
Donation: 35%
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SAWATDEE ST. PAUL (Platinum Level – 35%)
View Details
Tel: 651-528-7106 D
Donation: 35%
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SEÑOR WONG (Platinum Level – 35%)
View Details
Tel: 651-224-2019
Reserve Online Now
D
Donation: 35%
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SUPATRA’S THAI CUISINE (Platinum Level – 35%)
View Details
Tel: 651-222-5859 D
Donation: 35%
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Carmelo’s Ristorante (Gold Level – 30%)
View Details
Tel: 651-699-2448 L,D
Donation: 30%
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Everest on Grand (Gold Level – 25%)
View Details
Tel: 651-696-1666 L
Donation: 25%
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Great Waters Brewing Company (Gold Level – 25%)
View Details
Tel: 651-224-2739 L,D
Donation: 25%
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St. Clair Broiler (Gold Level – 25%)
View Details
Tel: 651-698-7055 L,D
Donation: 25%
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Boca Chica Restaurant (Silver Level – 20%)
View Details
Tel: 651-222-8499
Reserve Online Now
L,D
Donation: 20%
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FACES Mears Park (Silver Level – 20%)
View Details
Tel: 651-209-7776
Reserve Online Now
L,D
Donation: 20%
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Glockenspiel (Silver Level – 20%)
View Details
Tel: 651-292-9421 L,D
Donation: 20%
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Trattoria da Vinci (Silver Level – 20%)
View Details
Tel: 651-222-4050
Reserve Online Now
D
Donation: 20%
………………
Black Dog Cafe (Bronze Level – 15%)
View Details
Tel: 651-228-9274 B,L,D
Donation: 15%
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Bulldog Lowertown (Bronze Level – 15%)
View Details
Tel: 651-221-0750 D
Donation: 15%
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Chris & Rob’s Chicago Taste Authority (Bronze Level – 15%)
View Details
Tel: 651-228-9347 D
Donation: 15%
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Muffuletta Cafe (Bronze Level 15%)
View Details
Tel: 651-644-9116
Reserve Online Now
L,D
Donation: 15%
………………
Tanpopo Noodle Shop (Bronze Level – 17%)
View Details
Tel: 651-209-6527 D
Donation: 17%
………………
W.A. Frost (Bronze Level – 15%)
View Details
Tel: 651-224-5715
Reserve Online Now
L
Donation: 15%
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St Paul Musician Ben Weaver and the SXSW line up

From the City Pages music blog, Gimme Noise,  I found this list of Minnesota musicians who will be playing in the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas  – commonly referred to as SXSW –  taking place March 11-20.

Alpha Consumer
Banner Pilot
Ben Weaver
Birthday Suits
The Blind Shake
Cecil Otter
Dan Wilson
Daughters of the Sun
Dessa
Doomtree
Farewell Continental
Four Fists (P.O.S. and Astronautalis)
Gayngs
Haley Bonar
Har Mar Superstar
Kid Dakota
Lazerbeak & Paper Tiger
Leisure Birds
Low
Marcy Playground
Marijuana Deathsquads
Mystery Palace
Now Now
P.O.S.
Prof
Retribution Gospel Choir
Sick of Sarah
Sims
Slapping Purses
Solid Gold
Storyhill
Swimming With Dolphins
Tapes ‘n Tapes
Trampled by Turtles
Wolvhammer

Yeah, quite a list.  Even after 6 months of managing music calendars for the iPhone app, few of these names look familiar to me.  I decided to go down the list and see which of the musicians were from St. Paul,  do a little research and give you an opportunity to hear them with a SoundCloud  sampling.   I’m way at the top of the list, with Ben Weaver , whose last album  was Mirepoix and  Smoke.

If you want to hear this St. Paul musician play, you’ll need to catch a flight to England or the Netherlands. Like many great musicians, he seems  to be touring primarily out of the country.

Here’s some of his music – I’m working to get the SoundCloud stream on the page.

This is going to be a fun project.