If Strip Club is the bookish older sister who dresses only in vintage and drives a Studebaker no matter what the more practical, Chevy-lovin' neighbors say, then Saint Dinette is the Millennial younger bro who moved to the city, put a hefty down payment on a slick loft, and knows exactly how to stir a proper martini but still plays in his softball league on Tuesdays.
The gentlemen who brought you The Strip Club Meat and Fish way back eight years ago, long before any culinary trendsters had a twinkle in their eye about the possibilities of the East Side, have opened a second restaurant in Lowertown, Saint Dinette. And just as they were trailblazers with their pretty vintage building up on the east St. Paul hill, they saw an opportunity next to the new ball field and grabbed it.
The eastern end of Lowertown doesn't even look like its old self anymore — the ball field is a stunner in itself, but then no fewer than four new restaurants have cropped up at its threshold — Saint Dinette, Big River Pizza, Ox Cart Ale House which opens Tuesday), and Heartland Wine Bar, giving the dusty old 'hood a promising new lease on life.
The Saint Dinette space is the exact opposite of the Strip Club, which charms like an old-timey saloon, all dark reds, shadowy corners, and twisting filigree staircase. SD sits in the vestibule of the ultra-modern Rayette Loft building and maintains that light, bright, clean, of-today aesthetic with poured concrete floors, an open kitchen, and little more ornament than lots of windows and simple white chairs for sitting in.
The menu is also its very much its own animal, relying on smaller plates and sides, at the kind of convivial price points (lots of stuff at or under $10) that make you declare: "Let's order a bunch of stuff and share, mkay?!"
And then a bunch of cool things hit the table and you order another round.
It also reads like a greatest hits of "what cooks and chefs want to eat when they get done working," and even if you are not in fact a cook or a chef, this of course is a good thing, because there are no dogs on this menu, no protein + veg + starch entrees priced at $29, because you're smarter than that, Saint Dinette is better than that, and Lowertown is all grown up now, remember?
There are a few gotta-have-its, like a perfect, Smash Burger-style double cheeseburger with American cheese and squishy bun and pickles, very reminiscent of the beloved Parlour burger, or as owner Tim Niver mentioned, the one from Au Cheval, a Chicago bar and diner that seems to be inspiring all the good chefs these days with its super-smart takes on iconic American classics like bologna sandwiches, fried chicken, and many ways to treat eggs.
Also get the crinkle-cut fries that wake up the sleeping '70s kid in us, the one that got to pour the frozen fries onto the baking sheet and crank up the oven, all without mom's supervision. Only these ones are hand-cut and deep-fried, naturally, and are mostly what a fry should be — brittle on the outside, lush within, and good for putting down on the table while everyone decides whatever else they want.
Something called beef ceviche with dulce de leche cream, jicama, and pickled chile played on the senses like busting open a taco and sending it to Le Cordon Bleu. Beef tenderloin gets "cooked" in citrus juice just like a traditional ceviche, and then gets sliced a little thicker than carpaccio so it eats like a cross between that and a tartare. Daubs of dulce de leche crema gave it a sweet edge and toasted beef tongue gave it the familiar funk of a street taco but was also a little like eating whiskers. I can't decide if I wouldn't in fact have rather eaten a taco, but I give it an A for total innovation. I'm still thinking about it.
Other things to watch for: boudin with potato chips, pickles, and creole mustard —- you don't find boudin just any old place around here; nettle and ramp Parisian gnocchi (Parisian gnocchi gets made with a pate choux dough, and eats like little donuts in sauce. Nick and Eddie used to have one and Saffron does one sometimes and they are worth seeking out and paying for like a bra that fits); and a half roast chicken with dirty rice and gravy. Pair it with one of a half dozen veggie sides, like a spin on Elote that introduces lobster roe, or collards with ham hock and chile.
Do you see what I see? While Strip Club is a classic American restaurant with a steadfast love of the upper Midwest, Saint Dinette has packed its bags and gone down south. Not only have they headed down the hill (Strip Club is almost a straight shot up Third Street as the crow flies), but like a kid off to the big city, they've shaken of the shackles of the motherland and grabbed the atlas and a bottle of chile sauce on the way out the door.