Splendor in the Grass

A second glorious St. Paul experience was had courtesy of Mother Nature and Father Immigration down along the Mississippi, in Hidden Falls Park. I'm ever awestruck with this spot, tucked between bluff and water, blessed with white-sand beaches, gliding herons, skyscraping trees, and a view of the picturesque yellow-brick buildings of Fort Snelling. Likewise, I'm ever awed by my powerful feelings about a good salami sandwich.

Kiev Foods is a deli serving the Eastern European immigrant community in Highland Park, and they take salami quite seriously, offering over a dozen imports (Hungarian, Italian, German, Russian, Ukrainian) as well as domestic brands, so put that in your samovar and boil it, you lackluster generic sandwich shops! If salami sandwiches were bears, then Kiev's would be big, muscular polar creatures--potent, kick-ass, a little tough--and everyone else would just be dealing with various sorts of teddy bears. At Kiev you can ask to taste salami in order to pick your favorite; when I did, the hot-eyed teen behind the counter sliced off samples and held them up to me on the point of her long knife, which made me feel so tough it was all I could do to proceed with my picnic plans and not go start a rumble with some inferior salami vendors.

I eventually settled on the Gypsy and Bear brands, both peppery, garlicky, chewy salamis that will stay in my memory forever (and that kept me out of the kissing booth for the rest of the night). Salami sandwiches at Kiev cost $4.99 each, come between slices of sour, chewy rye bread, and are filled out with creamy havarti cheese, slices of tomato, onion, lettuce, and your choice of mayo, butter, or very, very hot mustard.

Michael Dvorak

Location Info


Ala Francaise

823 W. University Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Macalester/Groveland

Kiev Foods

2509 W. 7th St.
St. Paul, MN 55116

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Highland Park

Other picnic options at Kiev include a terrifically good smoked salmon sandwich ($4.99) made with butter and pieces of a not-too-salty cold smoked salmon; a red-caviar sandwich that I didn't try ($5.99); and somewhat lackluster turkey ($3.59) and "Black Forest ham" ($3.99). The deli also sells incredibly beautiful Russian candies folded in jewel-toned wrappers. My favorite is on a wafer the size of a single Almond Joy bar: It features a polar bear standing on ice floes, beneath a green and navy sky, pointing into the distance--is he smelling a sandwich? Sadly, the candy itself, a couple of wafer layers dipped in chocolate, tasted chalky. Still, I'm giving these to all my friends for their birthdays because of the fantastic wrappers, and if they don't like it they can kiss my salami.

The polar bear came from a candy section that cost $2.99 per half-pound; if you mix and match, you can have a fairly amusing taste test on the quick drive to Hidden Falls. Kiev is in a strip mall on the north side of West Seventh Street; to get to the river, go southwest on West Seventh, hang a left on Davern St., and turn right on Shepard Road, which will turn into Mississippi Boulevard. You'll see the park entrance to your left.

Further upstream the river's aspect is craggier and tougher, but just as sexy--the Clark Gable to Hidden Falls' softer-edged Carole Lombard. I've always relished those perfect 80-degree days when one can clamber down the bluff paths beneath the Stone Arch Bridge and picnic with a view of silos and skyscrapers. My picnic season this year has been notably enhanced by the jambon sandwich from the Aster Café in St. Anthony Main--a crusty baguette slathered with cold butter and filled with ham, much like the ones they sell on French streets. Chewy, buttery, and salty, it has all the texture and flavor variations a good sandwich depends on. Aster's other baguette sandwiches are decent, too, and at $3.95 each they will leave you with enough pennies to return to the pretty outdoor patio for a tap beer or latte. The restaurant has counter service during the week, and table service Friday and Saturday evenings.

I must emphasize again, though, how much the landscape enhances the experience of picnic food. Every time I sat down on a blanket beneath that turquoise-milkshake sky I felt like I had just dropped out of a Merchant-Ivory picture--and me without a shred of lace to call my own. Case in point: I've always liked Strudel & Nudel--the modest, spic-and-span coffee shop that is the Black Forest's sober kid sister--well enough; it's air-conditioned and inexpensive, and it often comes through with a great soup or a darn good muffin. But I fell in love with the Nudel when I took the food into Washburn Fair Oaks park. A blanket, a hillock, the Minnesota Institute of Arts peeking up to the south, the Gale mansion glowing all chateaulike to the northwest, and me with a thick, sweet, and meaty ham sandwich, chips, a pickle, and a rich, rich chocolate brownie--all in the Nudel's whole-sandwich box lunch, which runs $5.25. (Get your box lunch with both fruit and sweet, and a soup or salad, for $6.75; or opt for half a sandwich with chips, pickle, and fruit for $3.65.) Sawing into my perfect stack of house-baked bread, I had to ask: What did George Washington ever have that I don't have right here? I posed this question to Big W himself--he conveniently stands (in statue form) near the southwest corner of the park. Georgie was speechless with agreement, confirming once again what splendor we've got in these here grasses.

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