For much of the year, Minnesotans have to rely on grocery stores for produce. Asparagus from California, strawberries from Florida and a whole lot of things from Mexico. But when summer hits, those in Saint Paul flock to the Farmers Market in Lowertown for locally sourced produce, honey, wild rice, garden plants and more. And if you’re looking to stay for a bit and grab a bite, here are two places you might want to try.
Saint Dinette sits just on the corner across from the market, perfect for after-shopping brunch or coffee. Before the restaurant opened in June 2015, owner Tim Niver, general manager Laurel Elm and chef Adam Eaton were discussing a coat-check option for the restaurant, along with “different ways that we could be a better, supportive partner to Saint Paul,” Elm says. The topic of the farmers market came up.
“People who have six bags of groceries aren’t going to want to walk into a restaurant and leave them sitting out. They want to go home and get them in the fridge,” Elm says. “So [Niver] said, ‘Why don’t we just grocery valet?’ ”
Fresh from the farmers market, shoppers can walk in and hand their purchases to their server. They get a ticket, just like for a coat check, and the groceries go to the walk-in fridge while the customers enjoy their meal.
“It’s just part of what we do now,” Elm says. “And I don’t think anyone else is doing it.”
So while your kale and corn are safely in the fridge, you can take full advantage of the Saint Dinette menu, crafted by Eaton. For brunch after the market, biscuits and gravy ($12) are always a hit, as is the tartine-benedict crossover with smoked salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise and dill ($14). The dining room has tall ceilings and giant windows, “and it just kind of glimmers in here,” Eaton says. That atmosphere lends itself to lighter fare, he says. “We have smaller portions—it’s not going to fill you up too much.”
It might be smaller-portioned, but it’s still indulgent. You’ll see “a lot of decadent-type roes, fish roes, caviar on eggs” on the menu, Eaton says.
And for any good brunch after a morning of shopping, a cocktail is a must. “We have two that have been on the menu since day one and are very popular,” Elm says.
The first is the orange Julio ($10). “This was literally chef Adam saying, ‘Make me a cocktail that tastes like an Orange Julius,’ ” Elm says. What she thought was going to be a terrible idea turned into a brunch favorite. “Why wouldn’t you have this super-delicious adult version?” she says. It’s made with spiced rum, vanilla liqueur, orange juice and egg-white powder, which gives it the frothy top that the original drink is known for.
The second is the Canadian cold press ($10). A house-made cold press is mixed with bourbon and amaro, and again some egg-white powder. “We shake it up and it goes in a latte cup so it’s kind of this brain trick,” Elm says. “It’s chilled and delicious, but it’s frothy and looks like a hot drink.”
Elm says when they were creating the menu and deciding what they wanted Saint Dinette to be, they tried to think of ways to differentiate themselves from their sister restaurant, the Strip Club. That’s more of a fancy dinner place, she says, and at Saint Dinette, “we wanted it to feel like a city café.” Patrons can feel comfortable ordering a full meal for brunch or simply a pastry and coffee (or maybe just dessert).
The restaurant switches to its full menu at 2 p.m., and Elm says they’ve noticed a much-welcomed growing afternoon trend between 2 and 5 p.m. “You can just sit and linger; the room is full of sunlight,” she says. “It’s less of the formal; ‘It’s just brunch,’ or ‘It’s just dinner.’ ”
“People are eating differently than they used to,” Elm says. Diners want more variety at different times of day and they want to share—especially after snacking at the farmers market all morning. “Or you want to come over here and eat a snack so you don’t overbuy,” at the market, she says.
Open at 10 a.m. on weekends, Saint Dinette is not necessarily for the early risers. “We’re much more about those people who are coming in to the city to be a part of the city,” she says. Sometimes diners come in not realizing there’s a farmers market until they see it through the window, and others discover the restaurant because of the market. “So there is this give and take,” Elm adds.
However you discover Saint Dinette, Elm says, “before or after the farmers market, you can just sit in this corner and watch the world happen.”
Within the farmers market, you might notice a cart with a significant line. People won’t be walking away with bags of produce, though. They’re walking away with bagel sandwiches. It’s Golden’s Deli bagel cart.
The brick-and-mortar restaurant is only a few steps across the street, but the cart’s origins go back more than 30 years. It was the 1980s, and owner Jim Golden and his brother had just graduated from the University of Minnesota and Augsburg, respectively. They decided to canoe from the Twin Cities down to New Orleans, and at a stop in Grafton, Ill., Golden says, “We saw this guy selling bagels outside a reggae bar. And he’d only work two hours a night.” For two recent graduates, this sounded like a great business plan, so they brought the model back to the campuses of the University of St. Thomas and Macalester College in 1984.
It quickly gained a following. Golden brought the cart down to the farmers market by 1985 and says, “I haven’t really missed a Saturday since.”
“It was a good fit, because our stuff is fresh,” he says. “We were doing the farmers market, farm-to-table back in the ’80s. And why wouldn’t you? Everything [we needed] was there—eggs, tomatoes, cheese, and cukes.”
Today, it’s a routine for most people. Arrive, get coffee, get a bagel sandwich, shop. And the options are (nearly) limitless. Bagel and cream cheese, egg sandwich, egg and cheese, the works, etc. The most popular, by far, according to Golden, are the fried-egg sandwich or the veggie (his personal favorite).
“We go through hundreds and hundreds of eggs every Saturday and Sunday because people love it,” he says. Fresh organic eggs from the market are the centerpiece, followed by the in-season veggies, a protein like ham or turkey, and cheese and jalapenos for a kick. “And [the sandwich] just spills over,” he adds.
If you would rather have a sit-down meal, Golden’s Deli is easy to find, with live music playing in the alley near the entrance every weekend. The music is usually courtesy of some of his servers who are students at McNally Smith College of Music. They also feature folk musicians. If you head inside, the artwork—most of which is for sale—is courtesy of local artists. “Art makes things better,” Golden says. Art, music, some fresh air—and a bagel sandwich.