The St. Clair Broiler has anchored the corner of St. Clair Avenue (duh) and Snelling Avenue in St. Paul since 1956. There aren’t many restaurants in the Twin Cities that can boast that kind of longevity. Perhaps coming up on 60 years triggered a mid-life crisis – the venerable diner closed for a few days at the end of July to redecorate the space and retool the menu.
In keeping with many decisions made during mid-life, not all of them were smart. The updated menu includes 38 new items, which means some old favorites got the boot, replaced by updated breakfast dishes and fancy-shmancy new burgers. Some of the changes may have been too ambitious, both for the kitchen and for loyal customers. Judging by posts from longtime customers on Yelp as well as on the diner’s own Facebook page, the changes will take some getting used to.
The front area of the restaurant is cheery and vaguely art deco-ish, with lovely seafoam-green and blue tiles on one wall. There is a small counter and a few booths along the windows. The interior dining rooms are more generic, although you can tell the old dame is making an effort with track lighting and wall sconces as well as some perky art on the walls, but the overall effect is fairly nondescript.
That pretty much describes the food as well; it is uneven and in some cases simply unappealing. In honor of the State Fair, cheese curds seemed like a good starter, but they needed more time in the fryer and were a greasy, sodden disappointment. The curds, from Ellsworth Creamy in Wisconsin, deserved a better fate.
The pecan-crusted walleye in the fish sandwich and the accompanying fries, like the cheese curds, could have used more time in the pan and the fryer respectively. The coating on the fish was a soggy, but edible. The fries were just sad and limp, which is too bad, since they’re hand cut and could be great with a little more TLC. Sandwiches come with a choice of fries, potato chips, or fruit, and standard-issue chips would have been more satisfying. The patty melt, a diner classic, was tasty and hit all the right notes, with a nicely seasoned burger and sweet caramelized onions, although, again, those fries…
Luckily, there is beer. Good beer. The menu boasts eight local tap beers including Bent Paddle from Duluth, Surly and Fulton from Minneapolis, and St. Paul’s own Summit and Flat Earth. A list of bottles and cans broadens the selection. There is also a small but serviceable selection of wines. And don’t forget about the shakes and malts. You can get a chocolate malt, but why not go with the spirit of reinvention and try something new like the salted caramel or peanut butter cup? These hand-dipped classics will take you back to the ‘50s in a good way.
The new menu adds lots of upscale burger choices like the Spicy Hawaiian with Sriracha, Canadian bacon, pineapple, roasted red pepper, and sweet chili paste; the Kitchen Sink, with bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheddar, Snelling sauce, mushrooms, sautéed onions, jalapenos, and an egg; and the Garlic Burger with roasted garlic mayo, crushed garlic, house-made hot sauce, pepper cheese, jalapenos, and Fritos.
Breakfast is served all day, and you’ll find diner staples like French toast, omelets, steak and eggs, and pancakes. For the morning after, try the Hangover Helper, a stack of three pancakes with your choice of craft beer.
There are a few entrees on the menu, but based on experience, you’re best off sticking with the tried and true — breakfast, burgers, and beer. The St. Clair Broiler is a diner, after all, and diner fare is what helped it get to the half-century mark.