Strip Club serves up meaty hedonism

Enjoy the pleasures of the flesh in St. Paul

The menu's meatstravaganza extends to the starters, including duck confit and shrimp scampi, and sandwiches, such as the Italian-style steak on ciabatta. And it includes both foie gras and the poor man's version, Braunschweiger. "It's like lutefisk," Fratzke says of the German liver sausage. "Unless you grew up eating it, you're not going to develop a taste for it later in life." His choice to pair it with Dijon mustard and port-wine-simmered shallots, though, might mask the livery flavor too much for people who like it—and not enough for those who don't.

By the end of one of my mostly-meat meals, I found myself forgoing a very tasty piece of pistachio-topped salmon in favor of feverishly finishing off the accompanying carrots. Was I coming down with a case of the rickets? The meat and fish were delicious, but sometimes a little much. I'm hoping Fratzke's next menu expands its offerings of lighter dishes, as, for me, those items best display his creative talents.

The tomato-celery root soup I tried was a perfect partner for the smartly seasonal, warm winter greens salad. Fratzke pan-sears frisée to bring out its sweetness, and then combines the bushy green with grapes, Lucques olives, pecans, and sharp shallot vinaigrette. It was so good it could have easily commanded twice its $5 price tag. The whole roasted tomato is another clever way to work within the season, by using heat to concentrate the tomato's flavor and then building on it with melty mozzarella and blue cheese. The wild rice salad served at lunch—lentils, pork sausage, grapes, and our state grain knit together with house-made remoulade—is a great example of Fratzke's flavorful, no-fuss philosophy, combining the hearty healthiness of a co-op deli with the comfort of a Lutheran church-basement potluck. "You've got to pay a little homage," Fratzke says.

While the salad is a definite keeper, I'd send a few items to the chopping block. The ahi tuna tasted like quilt batting and seemed oddly paired with balsamic vinegar. Deep-fried oysters were smothered in breading. Walleye fritters didn't taste of fish at all, just potato binder, and were horribly salty. And I never found a dessert I would order again. Fibrous blueberries ruined what would have been a good cobbler. The trifle had the right spirit—Chambord-infused custard, dried cherries, hunks of flourless chocolate torte—but left me feeling leaden.

If the food isn't always perfect, the room certainly is, especially if you sit in the loft and look down on St. Paul's skyline (though be careful how many Phoebes you order, or you'll be hanging onto the railing when you try to climb back down). At night, the pristine view, with its cluster of tiny lights, is a reminder of the energy that a good gathering place can inject into a community. Just as the burning bulbs of the Town Talk Diner have brightened the Hi-Lake neighborhood, the Strip Club offers east St. Paul much the same possibility.

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