Dining with RNC delegates

"Mr. Speaker, the great state of Texas wants to know, where's a good place to eat around here?"

Welcome politicos, pollsters, and protesters. For the next few days, downtown St. Paul is going to be a madhouse, as tens of thousands start showing up for the Republican National Convention. Frankly, I can't even wrap my head around how the city will deal with the crowds, and what sort of antics might take place. The one thing I do know is that all that cheering, debating, and hand-shaking is going to make you hungry...and probably want a drink. So when you're hankering for a real meal—one that's close to the convention, or one that's worth the drive across town—here's what you need to know. And if you're a local, crib this list for the next time you're headed to the Xcel or want to impress out-of-town guests.

CLOSE TO THE CONVENTION

There are plenty of bars and restaurants right near the Xcel Center, particularly clustered around Rice Park and along the West Seventh strip. Some will be closed for private events (Pazzaluna, for one), but several other favorites are open and in walking distance. All are within the Vehicle Restriction Area (between 35-E and Shepard Road, and Chestnut Street to St. Peter), so try to avoid traveling by car. "As for your parking situation, I can't tell you what to do," one employee warned. "I'm going to have to take my bike or the bus. Or have my mom drop me off."

COSSETTA ITALIAN MARKET & PIZZERIA
211 W. Seventh St., St. Paul
651.222.3476

Elephants on parade: Check out the convention action from the rooftop patio of the Liffey
Jana Freiband
Elephants on parade: Check out the convention action from the rooftop patio of the Liffey

Location Info

Map

Cossetta Italian Market & Pizzeria

211 W. Seventh St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

The Liffey

175 W. 7th St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

Meritage

410 Saint Peter St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

St. Paul Grill and Bar

350 Market St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

Details

PRICE GUIDE

Based on a complete three-course meal for one, excluding tax, tip, and beverages:
$: less than $15
$$: $15 to $25
$$$: $25 to $35
$$$$: more than $35

For complete dish listings, visit our Restaurant section.

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Just a couple of blocks down West Seventh Street from the Xcel, Cossetta's nondescript green awning marks the location of some of the best Italian-American fare in town. The Cossetta family has been in the restaurant business for nearly a century, so they've had plenty of time to perfect their recipes and cultivate a loyal following. There's thin-crust pizza by the slice, crisp Caesar salads, and a hot line that dishes up items like meatball sandwiches, chicken cacciatore, and veal parmigiana. Last time I had the world-class lasagna—stuffed with meat and cheese and slathered in a red sauce I can only guess is laced with crack—it came not just with a hunk of garlic bread but a separate side of penne, so come hungry or be prepared to share. If the lines are long and the second-floor seating is taken, duck into the deli instead. You might be better off picking out a rustic loaf of fresh-baked bread and a few slices of imported salamis and cheeses and carrying it out for a picnic. $

THE LIFFEY
175 W. Seventh St., St. Paul
651.556.1420, www.theliffey.com

If you want to keep your eye on the action, seats on the Liffey's sunny, rooftop patio will keep the Xcel Center in your sights. Even though the deck is lovely, the restaurant's interior is worth at least a peak, as Irish artisans hand-carved the bar and walls from burnished teak. The Liffey serves all the best Emerald Isle fare, from fish and chips to house-cured corned beef sandwiches, plus several pub favorites—Harp, Smithwicks, and Guinness—on tap. While you're here, be sure to sample the locally brewed Finnegan's Irish Amber, as it's sold only in Minnesota. The light-bodied, potato-based brew is perfect for summer drinking, and it's made by a local company that donates 100 percent of its profits to charity. $$

MERITAGE
410 Saint Peter St., St. Paul
651.222.5670, www.meritage-stpaul.com

Tucked into the historic Hamm Building, this charming French brasserie is the classiest restaurant in downtown St. Paul. The name refers to an American wine made in the Bordeaux tradition, which seems an accurate reflection of the restaurant's cooking. On the one hand, there are the French classics—sole Grenobloise, bouillabaisse, steak frites; on the other, there's seasonally inspired American fare, from Iowa pork chops with green tomato jam to Wisconsin rabbit with spring vegetables and tarragon-Riesling sauce. The menu features a nice mix of gourmet options, such as foie gras au torchon, and comfort food, including a knockout chicken soup with matzo balls. September 1 to 5, Meritage will open for breakfast at 6 a.m., but they will be booked for private events during some lunch and dinner hours, so be sure to call ahead. $$-$$$

ST. PAUL GRILL
350 Market St., St. Paul
651.224.7455, www.stpaulgrill.com

The St. Paul Grill is a top watering hole for Minnesota's politicos. Norm Coleman hung out there so much when he was mayor, he probably should have been paying rent (or at least below-market, long-overdue rent). The booths are prime real estate, especially the ones in front with a view of Rice Park, which are reserved for the biggest movers and shakers. The classic Grill meal is a thick steak, a dry martini, and a slice of the multi-layered devil's food Chocolate Lust Cake. The Grill will be open during the convention for both lunch and dinner, but on the evenings of August 30 through September 5, you'll need to reserve a spot with a $75 per person, non-refundable food and beverage deposit. $$$$

ON AN EXPENSE ACCOUNT

When you're entertaining an important crowd, here's where you go when you want the food to be perfect, the wine list to be stellar, and the service to be polished and discreet—oh, and if money is no object. Downtown Minneapolis's longtime standard-bearer of four-star dining, D'Amico Cucina, is already booked solid, as is the venerable Dakota Jazz Club. Luckily, there are several other haute cuisine temples that should still have space available.

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