Blue Door shuts on beans, opens for pub food

St. Paul restaurant puts fresh twist on Midwestern bar treats

If you walk into the Blue Door Pub in St. Paul, you may need a moment to get acclimated. The space is no longer Puerta Azul; although the name has been translated into English, the old Puerto Rican menu has been wiped clean. Kiss those famous black beans goodbye.

But once you get your footing, you'll probably be intrigued. A menu driven by Midwestern pub fare—lots of fried items, lots of hamburgers—turns out to hold a number of fresh ideas.

At the heart of the Blue Door's menu is the Jucy Lucy, the cheese-stuffed hamburger patty that was born somewhere in south Minneapolis but these days seems to find its most inspired translations just across the Mississippi. The pub offers no fewer than eight (sometimes dramatically) different interpretations on the menu, ranging from a pineapple, mozzarella, and Canadian bacon "Luau" version to an old-school Classic. Out of a limited sampling, the standout was the uncannily named Breakfast Lucy ($8.50), which the menu hastens to inform you can be enjoyed at any hour of the day. Sure enough, the creaminess of the fried egg, plus the thick-cut salty bacon, plus the burger, plus a whole mess of liquid cheese added up to one devilishly delicious meal on a bun.

Far more austere is the bierock ($6), a meat, cabbage, and onion-stuffed pastry that connects with Europe via co-owner Jeremy Woerner's Lincoln, Nebraska, roots. It's both less greasy and less substantial than a Cornish pasty and recalls the Russian piroshki served at St. Paul's Russian Tea House.

"Back in Lincoln, there's this 'Germans from Russia' museum," says Woerner. "They were known as the Volga Germans, and they came to Nebraska. They had this simple food made with onions, ground beef, and cabbage, and it was a big deal back where we're from, so we thought we'd bring it up here."

An added attraction for those who love their food fried and Midwestern is what may be the best incarnation of cheese curds in the Twin Cities, exceeding even the inspired effort at the Town Talk Diner. The curds ($7.50) are beer-batter fried, light, crispy, not greasy, and filled with fully melted and delightfully stringy cheese. They are damned delicious.

The mishandling of fried food and dairy products has been the downfall of many a pub kitchen, but the Blue Door seems determined to do justice to both. The cheese in their Lucys (including the thoughtfully moderate blue cheese in the Blucy) is flavorful and generously applied, and their fried items are done with restraint and real inspiration. Fried green beans ($5.50) are a particularly nifty treat. Even an overly greasy order of fries seemed to come from a cook with his or her heart in the right place; the fries were freshly cut and rugged with character.

With some inspired new styles of Lucy and a staff that's friendly as hell, the Blue Door is poised to take humble St. Paul pub grub to a new level.

For a detailed exploration of the Blue Door's Spam Bites appetizer, visit blogs.citypages.com/food.

 
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