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Bill of Fare: The lowdown on Lowertown dining

Editor’s note: Bill of Fare is a feature on St. Paul dining that runs on the first and third Thursday of each month. Capitol Report is building an online dining guide, which is available here.

What used to be a sleepy neighborhood known for the St. Paul Farmers’ Market now has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to restaurants and nightlife. Lowertown is just a short hop on the Green Line from the Capitol, making it a convenient and fun place to grab a bite for lunch or unwind after work.

A margherita pizza goes into the wood-fired oven at Big River Pizza. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

A margherita pizza goes into the wood-fired oven at Big River Pizza. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

The neighborhood can satisfy most any culinary craving, with numerous newcomers in the last two years and many old favorites. From pizza, Japanese, and Mediterranean to Mexican and from-scratch American, Lowertown offers variety, proximity and delectability.

The team behind the Strip Club steakhouse recently opened Saint Dinette. It’s a neighborhood hot spot that pays homage to the French influence on North American cuisine, from Montreal through New Orleans down to Puebla, Mexico. Along the route diners find small plates to share, including beignets, fried smelt, chicken cordon bleu, jambalaya, and ricotta dumplings.

Its elevated bologna sandwich and three-cuts-of-beef, Smashburger-style double cheeseburger with house-made American cheese both are winning rave reviews, with the burger accounting for a quarter of the restaurant’s sales.

The menu constantly changes, reflecting the best of the season. “We have a broad palate that we get to play with. We’re building trust with our guests that it won’t be the same but it will always be good,” says general manager Laurel Elm. “This part of the River City is coming back to life, and we wanted to be part of it.”

Steve Lott, chef and owner of Big River Pizza, was drawn to Lowertown for its proximity to the St. Paul Farmers’ Market. He spent four years making pizza from his mobile oven at farmers markets across the Twin Cities, taking full advantage of their fresh produce for his pies. He decided the time was right to open a permanent location.

Lott calls his pizzas Minneapolitan — modeled after Neapolitan-style pies but with local instead of imported Italian ingredients. Whatever looks good at the market finds its way onto the menu, such as the farmers market salad and the 10,000 Leeks pizza with leeks and purple potatoes. Meat lovers, don’t fret. Lott gets his carnivorous toppings from Red Table Meat Company in Minneapolis and other area purveyors.

“The closer you are the source of the food, the better the taste,” Lott says. “We wanted to be next to the farmers market and create synergies with their ingredients.”

Big River offers lunch specials and online orders so customers can eat on the fly or head outside to Mears Park. Diners feel good knowing that they are supporting small business owners and local farmers who supply the restaurant with the freshest of ingredients. Lott adds, “It’s good for you and it’s good for the community.”

SAINT DINETTE

261 E. Fifth St., St. Paul

651-800-1415

Cuisine: North American

Two most popular dishes: Bologna sandwich, double cheeseburger

Cost range: $6-$25

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday (Open Mondays on Saints game days)

Delivery service: No

Closest Green Line station: Union Depot

 

BIG RIVER PIZZA

280 E. Fifth St., St. Paul

651-683-2186

Cuisine:

American/pizza

Two most popular dishes: St. Vincent, 10,000 Leeks, and Dr. Zeus pizzas

Cost range: $7-$16

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday (Open Mondays on Saints game days)

Delivery service: Order online for pick up

Closest Green Line station: Union Depot

 

RIVAL HOUSE SPORTING PARLOUR

411 Minnesota St., St. Paul

651-255-0645

Cuisine: American plus tons of bar games

Two most popular dishes: Sesame ginger chicken salad, Cuban Reuben sandwich

Cost range: $7-$19

Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday

Delivery service: Bite Squad

Closest Green Line station: Central Station

 

TANPOPO RESTAURANT 

308 Prince St., #140, St. Paul

651-209-6527

Cuisine: Japanese

Two most popular dishes: Udon and soba noodle soups, chicken kara-age meal

Cost range: $4.50-16.25

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Delivery service: No

Closest Green Line station: Union Depot

 

FACES MEARS PARK  

373 Sibley St., St. Paul

651-209-7776

Cuisine: Moroccan, French, and Mediterranean

Two most popular dishes: Tuna Nicoise salad, filet mignon sliders, Moroccan sampler

Cost range: $7-$40

Hours: 10 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday, 2 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday

Delivery service: Bite Squad

Closest Green Line station: Union Depot

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