One of the best things about the ever-booming Twin Cities restaurant scene is that restaurateurs are continually rethinking and reimagining spaces we might not have otherwise thought about much at all.
PinkU recently squeezed into 1,000 square feet of Northeast space that we never even noticed was empty; Como Dockside went into a park building where we thought we were content with ice cream and hot dogs; and now Red River Kitchen has transformed City House, a former grain elevator and storage facility on the river, into a lovely little eatery.
If you're a St. Paulite, you've probaby been not-noticing City House your entire life. It's been there since forever (well, since the '20s anyway) and is one of those landmarks that's just part of the landscape, like the river itself. But this new transformation will have you seeing it a whole new way.
The space is open and raw like so many fancy new condos are these days, more free space and natural light than anything else. (The top-dollar condos behind City House are in fact a big reason for its reimagining as a restaurant).
Inside, floor-to-ceiling windows allow in picture-perfect vignettes of the rolling river, with the barges lumbering by. A strip of deck with benches allows for open-air views with beer in hand.
The format is one we've become well familiar with. Belly up to the counter, order your beverage (there's a full bar!), which they'll pass you tout de suite, order your food, and get a number. Once your number is up, they'll deliver the goods. (Make sure to bring plastic — they are not currently accepting cash.) The only difference: The goods come off of the Red River food truck rather than from a traditional kitchen. You'll never notice the difference.
That full bar includes good beer, naturally, but also good ciders. Don't think you're a cider person? Get a few glugs of Sweet Land Orchard’s (Webster, Minnesota) cherry rhubarb cider and report back. There’s also a decent red and a decent white and a smattering of mixed cocktails like a Minnesota Mule with ginger beer and Prairie Organic Vodka.
The eats are an eclectic mashup of tacos and noodle bowls, sandwiches and salads, and a couple nibblers for snacking like chips and guac and sweet pea falafel. Both the mahi mahi tacos and the noodle bowl with crab and curry were highly addictive and packed intense flavor.
Our only knock is that portion sizes were wee — more like drinking snacks than a meal, and the price points ($9 and $15 respectively) didn’t really reflect that. Maybe they’ll even that out, maybe they won't, but consider yourself warned. Sharing either of these dishes will be an exercise in restraint and a testament to how much you like your friends.
The tacos with tender corn tortillas held succulent fish, sweet but tart pineapple salsa, and queso fresco. Rice noodles in a light curry broth with tender crab, tomato, and sweet corn was elegant enough for white tablecloths, though we’re glad there weren’t any. City House is far prettier.
Drinks are priced in that very fair $6 to $8 range, which encourages staying for a couple, a thing we quite like because tearing yourself away from the river while you sit and think about how great our cities really can be is no easy thing.
Red River Kitchen at City House is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m, but don’t delay: They’ll only be open through September. This is a seasonal deal.
Getting there: Avoid getting turned around and pretend like you are going to the condo buildings. There's some parking there. City House is just down a bank of steps beyond the condos.
Or better yet, ride your bike along the most excellent greenway that glides right past the space.
258 Mill St., St. Paul