Chompin' At The Savoy

The Savoy Inn

421 E. 7th St., St. Paul; 227-1437

MANY PEOPLE THINK that St. Paul is a far more desolate place in the evening than the middle of the woods. Now I know better. There are plenty of people in St. Paul, it's just that they're assembling in select places. One of those repositories is the Savoy Inn. I can't remember seeing so many people in one place before. The Savoy is packed with all shapes and sizes, including vigorously gesticulating business people, nervous teens on dates, barflies, children in high chairs, and sleeping babies. I even saw a few people that I knew and felt a little deflated that they hadn't tipped me off long ago. But I guess some things are better when you stumble over them with your own clumsy feet.

Earl Schoenheider has been the proud owner of the Savoy on East Seventh Street (there are two others, on Burns Avenue in St. Paul, and off of Hwy. 61 in Newport) for more than 30 years. The menu is full of American/Italian mom-and-pop standards, and the full, busy bar and its movie-screen-sized television sets keep those not in it for the food extremely happy. Vino snobs should certainly stay away from the wine list, which flashes along the bottom of the menu: Rose... Lambrusco... Burgundy... Rhine... Liebfraumilch... Chablis... Chianti... Zinfandel. Oh well, I've never appreciated excessive descriptions. The glasses of chianti that my friend and I drank, kindly described by her as "not a very deep chianti" (soda 'n' vinegar would have been the less kind way to describe its taste); nevertheless, the liquid had its intended effect and soon our faces were cast in a light shade of rose. Wine doesn't have to be the best in order to enjoy it, and at $1.95 a glass, the best isn't exactly what we were expecting.

The same philosophy holds for the rest of the menu: not el supremo, but certainly good enough. The chef may not get up at six in the morning and go to the farmers' market to get the freshest ingredients, and the vegetables aren't cut just so to look like flowers or the Eiffel Tower, or anything other than vegetables. Quite frankly, these flourishes aren't always all they're cracked up to be.

But the small pizza we ordered, with Canadian bacon and green peppers ($10.95), tasted wonderful. Even the two die-hard, diametrically opposed, thin crust vs. thick crust fans at our table agreed that this medium crust was heavenly. Slightly greasy yet still crispy, it was slopped over with a hearty tomato sauce and bubbling mozzarella cheese, and stuffed with the toppings we'd chosen. A note to the fusty: With the exception of the sauerkraut pizza, the toppings here are not exotic. You'll have to go elsewhere for your porcini mushroom-smoked venison pie.

We also tried the Savoy Sampler ($5.95), a gigantic plate of rigatoni, ravioli and spaghetti with two meatballs, served with a small plate of tossed salad and a miniature loaf of buttered garlic bread. A nice meal to be sure, especially the meatballs, which were well-seasoned with loads of garlic, oregano, and basil, and cooked just right. The sauce was lacking, but the bread compensated nicely; it was crusty enough to leave a quarter of every bite all over our shirts, the way tasty baked bread should.

Other standard delights on the menu include barbecued ribs ($7.50), chopped sirloin ($5.50), jumbo-fried shrimp ($7.50), and burgers ($3.50-$4.50). But it's the pizza that's justifiably best loved here. When we were finished, we too were smitten, our place mats looking like crime scenes, what with tomato sauce splattered everywhere.

Our waitress told us there were no desserts. Maybe once we are among the hundreds of regulars here, we'll be trusted with different information. Until then, there are ice cream drinks from the bar (all $3.95), one of the best desserts around if you are over 21 years old. Make friends with a pink squirrel or a grasshopper, ride in a golden Cadillac, get hit with a velvet hammer--it's all splendid fun. My brandy alexander provided the final turbo drive for a ridiculous speech I was engaged in. I can only guess how seriously my companions could take me as I busily poked my fingers through the remains in my margarita glass, looking for an overlooked filbert or a forgotten clump of ice cream. But one of the best things about the Savoy is that no one among the crowd is looking at you. They're too busy relishing their own experience.

TABLE HOPPING

REJOICE, REJOICE, YOU HAVE NO CHOICE: One of the oldest neighborhoods in Minneapolis is celebrating its rebirth. The Brighton Development Corporation of Minneapolis has opened the restored Marquette Block of East Hennepin Avenue between University Avenue Northeast and Second Street Southeast (that's right across from Kramarczuk's European Deli). Once a bustling hub on the streetcar line, the block was in decline for several decades. Now these completely restored buildings have reopened as the Bobino Cafe and Wine Bar, an American bistro specializing in the coastal foods of southern France, Italy, and Spain; Taraccino Coffee, an espresso cafe, and Bruegger's Fresh Bagel Bakery. Says architect Paul Madson, who designed the restoration, "It would have been a shame to see the block leveled. The restoration maintains the flavor of the neighborhood and is an inspiration to East Hennepin. It will be a lively spot for many years to come."

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