Breakfast. Most days it's just cereal, a piece of fruit, or one of those sad grab-and-go muffins at the gas station, but when you get up early enough or make plans to meet friends, breakfast becomes an event. Instead of chancing your poached eggs on an amateur, wasting calories on anything less than the best baked goods, or getting fancy when you really want no-frills (or vice versa), consult this, our handy guide to the best breakfasts in St. Paul.
10. Copper Dome
Yes, Copper Dome uses canned fruit, fake maple syrup, and from-concentrate juice, but the place is a total institution. The exhaustive breakfast menu features more than a dozen omelets, crepes, waffles, and lacy potato pancakes that have no equal. Don't expect anything fancy (there are Lil' Smokies on the menu, people), come with cash, and think of this as the one place where both small children and aged grandparents will be free of complaints.
9. Shish Cafe
It's such a pleasant surprise to find out that a restaurant you love and frequent for lunch or dinner also does daily breakfast. At Shish on Grand Avenue, they take every imaginable combination of eggs, feta, spinach, spicy sausage, and pita bread and make unique, flavor-packed morning meals. Shish's chewy-crisp lamb bacon is worth the trip alone, but we love the affordable Benedicts and the hearty Jerusalem breakfast -- a this-and-that platter with spiced ground beef, hummus, olives, falafel, and veggies.
A staple of the Payne-Phalen community for decades, Magnolias is a no-frills family-friendly eatery with nary a sherry reduction or micro green in sight. Instead you'll find diner-ready dishes like corned beef hash, steak and eggs, and crispy, buttery French toast all served by ladies who all look vaguely familiar, like maybe they were extras in a John Waters movie. The textbook biscuits and gravy are available by the half order as a side, which is as much as any one sane person can eat. In short, Magnolias has all the scrappy charm of an underdog baseball team. The portions are big, the food is scratch-made, and clip art is everywhere.
Every neighborhood should be so lucky as to have a place like Groundswell anchoring it. It's homey yet hip. Quick enough for an early AM coffee and gluten-free muffin stop, but comfortable enough that you'll want to linger when you have the time. During the week the breakfast menu is limited, but every item is a winner. We particularly love the perfectly in-between texture and tang of the cornmeal buttermilk waffle and the fact that you can get the two-egg breakfast sandwich with Groundswell's south-by-Midwest version of pimento cheese. Coffee and espresso drinks are top-notch, and unlike some other establishments in St. Paul, no one scoffs if you ask for your latte with almond milk.
Ever since the original location opened in south Minneapolis, Colossal has been synonymous with breakfast, the standard to which all biscuit sandwiches should be held. But the St. Paul outpost has really hit its stride. It has twisty, winding, golden blocks of hash browns; sandwiches of egg, prosciutto, and sun-dried tomatoes on super-buttery homemade toast; and the signature doughy-bready, tender-firm yeasted pancakes, which are most heartily served with big hunks of brie cheese, tart apple slices, and walnuts. Coffee is bottomless and self-serve, so you're never waiting for someone to come by and get you a much-needed refill.
5. French Hen
The French Hen in Cathedral Hill echoes the casual elegance of the historic neighborhood that surrounds it. The biscuits and gravy with Andouille sausage are a picture of spicy, creamy excess, while the bacon cakes are a study in balance, with the heft and fiber of whole-wheat flour made exciting by the bits of smoky, house-cured bacon scattered throughout. The only thing your French-Creole breakfast needs to be complete is a glass of bubbly, which is happily now served here.
This year we voted Neighborhood Cafe's buttermilk pancakes our favorite traditional flapjacks in the Twin Cities, but that doesn't mean those are the only ones you should order at Neighborhood Cafe. The thick, sweet, slightly gritty cornbread pancakes are ridiculously good with maple syrup, and the whole-wheat cottage cheese cakes taste like a healthy blintz if eaten with a spoonful of jam. Regulars come for the massive Cajun breakfast and Tex Mex-inspired items like the migas with house-made salsa and the indulgent breakfast chimichanga filled with scrambled eggs and tender marinated pork shoulder.
3. Ward 6
If Magnolias represents Payne-Phalen's breakfast foundation, Ward 6 is quite possibly its breakfast future. From 8 to 11 a.m. during the week, Ward 6 serves made-to-order New Orleans-style beignets, steel cut oats with house-made fruit compote (cross your fingers for something with rhubarb), and a delicious, cheese-covered block of sausage-studded savory bread pudding. The breakfast poutine -- French fries, squeaky cheese curds, pot roast gravy, with a fried egg -- is tempting as a hangover cure, but the Bloody Mary here is the true ticket to recovery.
2. Buttered Tin
This little cafe made us sit up and take notice of Lowertown once again last year. With the Fischer Farms pork products, ingenious huevos rancheros Benedict, and meat-n-cheese loaded hash browns, how could we not? Pastry chef and co-owner Alicia Hinze puts the actual icing on the cake at this sunny breakfast spot with her fabulous granola, mini coffee cakes, coconut cream cupcakes, and homemade real cream-filled Twinkies.
1. Coffee Cup
It's fair to think of Mickey's Diner as the ultimate greasy spoon, but if you want greasy spoon food that doesn't make you feel like a greasy sack of doubled over mess an hour after you eat it, go to Coffee Cup in St. Paul's North End. They open bright and early at 5 a.m., when customers will already be hungrily awaiting the simple, scratch-made fare. Denver omelets have properly caramelized veggies, French toast is made from thick slices of Texas toast (a welcome respite from the baguette/brioche thing every once in awhile) and dipped in vanilla custard, and the bacon is crisp and plentiful. It's everything you want in a friendly neighborhood breakfast and it's cheap to boot.