Brasa, Barrio, Bulldog set up shop in St. Paul

Will restaurants that originated in Minneapolis also find success across the river?

And while the second Barrio and Brasa are still too new to gauge their staying power, the Bulldog has been open about 10 months and is still packing 'em in every night. It's standing-room-only at closing time on a lot of weeknights, says Kaster. The St. Paul Bulldog was the first of the three to offer beer flights (they recently debuted at the original location), and it has some menu items that aren't available at the others, though Kaster says they're planning to pare back a bit and focus on what they do (and sell) best: burgers and dogs. And this Bulldog is becoming part of the community. Mears Park hosts free concerts every Thursday night during the summer, along with events including the Jazz Festival and upcoming Concrete + Grass Festival. Barrio, the Bulldog, and other restaurants in the Lowertown area take turns selling refreshments in the park on event nights (tacos and sangria, hot dogs and beer, etc.). They've also teamed up in a neighborhood business association.

SO THE MINNEAPOLIS duplication has been good for St. Paul, but what does it say about the Saintly City that it had to copy concepts from its neighbor in order to transform a part of downtown into something vibrant? Actually, not much.

Looking back a little further, it appears that this trend is part of a longtime cycle of local-chain-building, in which each city shares its strengths with the other. Plenty of St. Paul restaurants have crossed the river in the other direction. Red's Savoy, purveyor of some the down-homiest, least trendy pizza around, just opened an Uptown location. Punch Pizza, maker of some of the Cities' best Neopolitan pizza, started in St. Paul and recently opened a second location there (right next to the new Brasa) in addition to its popular Minneapolis and suburban outlets. Along with pizza, St. Paulites know their breakfast fare (the first Key's opened there) and are adept at preparing ethnic foods that are authentic yet appealing even to diners unfamiliar with them. Some of the West Side's best Mexican restaurants now have outposts in Minneapolis at Mercado Central and Midtown Global Market.

Loading meat into the smoker at St. Paul's Brasa
Alma Guzman
Loading meat into the smoker at St. Paul's Brasa

Location Info

Map

Brasa Rotisserie

777 Grand Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105

Category: Restaurant > Cajun

Region: Macalester/Groveland

Details

BRASA
777 Grand Ave., St. Paul
651.224.1628
www.brasa.us

BARRIO
235 E. Sixth St., St. Paul
651.222.3250
www.barriotequila.com

THE BULLDOG
237 E. Sixth St., St. Paul
651.221.0750
thebulldoglowertown.com

The highly successful local Thai chain Sawatdee also started in downtown St. Paul. That was in 1983, when most Minnesotans had yet to experience Thai food. Owner Supenn Harrison's first restaurant was in Lowertown, and more opened in Minneapolis, Bloomington, Maple Grove, and St. Cloud. The original eventually closed, but Sawatdee made a return to downtown St. Paul in late 2007, taking over the former Margaux at Ninth and Robert Streets.

SO IF ST. PAUL needs to bring in a bit of Minneapolis to get some nightlife downtown, it doesn't mean the city is losing its identity. The Minneapple might be better at hip, and at attracting top-notch chefs, but the exchange goes both ways.

As for the Lowertown resurgence, it might not have peaked yet. The building that houses both the Bulldog and Barrio looks to have some more prime space available. Dare we press our luck? Maybe the magic letter will work again, and Barbette, Be'wiched, or the new Butcher Block could keep the streak going. 

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