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Bill of Fare: ‘Let’s meet for coffee’

Black Dog Lowertown’s customers include activists, creative types, and foundation/nonprofit staffers. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., is reportedly a regular. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Black Dog Lowertown’s customers include activists, creative types, and foundation/nonprofit staffers. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., is reportedly a regular. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Sometimes a cup of coffee represents more than just a few fluid ounces of inky liquid. It can also be a pretext for a networking opportunity, a job lead, or even a low-risk “pre-date.” The next time someone suggests, “Let’s meet for coffee,” consider these options near the Capitol campus.

“We have a number of folks from the Capitol as customers, probably because we’re close enough to be easy to get to, but far enough away to provide a cozy, neighborhood feel,” says Paul Johnson, Amore Coffee’s roaster and coffee trainer. “I’m tempted every day by the scones we bake in the mornings, and we have lots of other great items, including gluten-free choices,” Johnson says. “We welcome people of all political persuasions, but we do see a lot of DFLers here, as well as people from the City Hall and Police Department of West St. Paul, and even a group of ladies who get together to knit bears to send to Africa.”

Fun Capitol fact: Black Dog Lowertown’s co-owner Andy Remke served as chief sergeant-at-arms in the Minnesota House of Representatives more than 20 years ago. These days, he’s helming a neighborhood eatery he describes as “a fiercely independent business that values civic and community engagement.” After a recent expansion and remodel, Black Dog now offers breakfast, a day-to-night menu and a full bar. “We strive to provide service relevant to our clientele’s wants and needs as they navigate through the day,” he says. Customers include activists, creative types, and foundation/nonprofit staffers. Congresswoman Betty McCollum is a regular.

Nina’s Coffee Café (pronounced NINE-ahs) was the “above” to Garrison Keillor’s bookstore for many years, and it’s still a literary hangout. “It’s an awesome spot to people-watch and be inspired,” says manager Seth Olson. The café has a new happy hour and dinner menu with beer, wine and appetizers. In addition to salads and sandwiches, look for pizzas and creative paninis like ginger tuna melt, honey mascarpone with turkey, apple and bacon, and sun-dried tomato BLT. And don’t forget to order a cup of steaming or cold press coffee, all from artisanal supplier Roastery 7.

Must. Have. Coffee. When you require an immediate caffeine infusion, there are a few spots for hot brew and minimal ambience, beginning with the coffee vending machine on the basement level of the State Office Building. “It’s actually a pretty good networking spot,” says Capitol Report reporter Chris Steller. “You can help a legislator get the correct change or just have a friendly chat with a colleague.”

Another quick stop is the Fresh Seasons Café in the Minnesota Department of Transportation Building, open every weekday from 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Truly desperate? Try the McDonald’s at 471 Marion St., with a drive-through open from 5 a.m. to midnight.


Amore Coffee

879 Smith Ave. S., St Paul


Cuisine: High-quality specialty coffee, sourced globally and roasted in-shop

Two most popular items: Brewed coffee and cold press coffee

Cost range: $2.25 to $5 for drinks

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day

Closest Green Line station: Capitol (62 bus also stops right outside the door)

Delivery: No


Black Dog Lowertown

308 E. Prince St., St. Paul


Cuisine: Contemporary American Casual

Two most popular items: Lemonade with infusion of Farmers Market mint, Black Dog Burger

Cost range: $3 to $15

Hours: Monday to Thursday: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Closest Green Line station: Union Depot

Delivery: No


Nina’s Coffee Cafe

165 Western Ave. N., St. Paul


Cuisine: Coffee, snacks and hot entrees

Two most popular items: Cold press coffee, lattes

Cost range: $3 to $11

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day

Closest Green Line station: Western Avenue

Delivery: Pending (Potential deal with Bite Squad is under consideration.)

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