Old Favorites

Two iconic restaurants in St. Paul will be closed by the end of this week. This saddens me, because I love a good neighborhood restaurant, and hate to see them replaced by the chains or the glitz that seems to accompany so many newer restaurants. (Even although I’ve never lived in St. Paul, these two were well enough known that I had made my way there all the way from Robbinsdale.)

The St. Clair Broiler, a burger and malt place (visited by Al Gore), closed at the end of September after 60 years in business. Back in the late 70s, we used to meet a St. Paul friend for a burger at the Broiler, followed by a movie in a theater on the same block, if memory serves. A St. Paul Pioneer Press article  reads: “With the recent boom in neighborhood restaurants, staying competitive has been a concern for the Broiler, which underwent an extensive menu change and decor refresh in 2015 in the hopes of attracting some younger customers. Apparently, the gamble didn’t pay off, as the restaurant was no longer profitable…”

And it breaks my heart that Muffuletta is closing this weekend, Nov. 11 being its last day after a run of 40 years. A European style bistro, its wonderful outdoor patio was a huge draw in the mild months of the year, and the indoor space was cozy in the winter. If I could, I would drive up for one last brunch with a friend (including a nice glass of wine), followed by shopping at Bibelot and a tour through Micawbers Bookstore, both on the same Como Avenue corner. Apparently upcoming street construction is a factor, but even this icon hasn’t been a money maker for some years. Sigh.

What are some of your favorite places that are no longer with us?

72 thoughts on “Old Favorites”

  1. Another recently-departed St. Paul restaurant is Red’s Savoy Pizza. I don’t recall ever actually going there, but drove past it many times. It had a very recognizably vintage exterior.

    I was at the final day of the River Room in St. Paul’s Dayton’s store, and that of its counterpart, the Oak Grill Room, in downtown Minneapolis. I was at Nye’s shortly before its closing, but not on the final day.

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    1. I’ve been to the original Red’s Savoy Pizza numerous times over the years. In addition to good pizza, it had a dark, dive bar quality to it. It was a convenient place to order take-out as well. They were another victim of the attorney I mentioned below. Mickey’s Diner has also been targeted, as has numerous well known and loved, old St. Paul eateries.

      The Barbary Fig was one of my favorite St. Paul restaurants; it closed last year. It was located on Grand Avenue next door to Muska Lighting. It was housed in an old two-story house that has now been razed. Hadj, the owner, is an immigrant from Algiers, and he cooked wonderful Mediterranean food. He, too, was a victim of aggressive pursuit by the above mentioned lawyer.

      There’s a new trend in “pop-up” restaurants: a local restaurant inviting a chef from another restaurant to cook for just one evening. Cook St. Paul on Payne Avenue does that with some regularity. A couple of weeks ago, Eddie Wu, Cook’s owner, had invited Hadj to cook at his restaurant on a Thursday evening. No walk ins, only people with reservations, and a prix fixe menu was served from 5 to 9 PM. We made reservations for 5:15 PM, and when we arrived the restaurant was only half full. By the time we left at 6:30 PM, there wasn’t an empty seat in the place. It was a regular love fest, with Hadj making the occasional tour of the tables to greet his old patrons. Lots of smiles, handshakes and hugs. It was a fun evening, and what a creative way of filling a restaurant on a weeknight.

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      1. Hope you don’t mind me being so verbose this morning, but since there isn’t much going on, I figure it’s OK. If not, just ignore me.

        The Barbary Fig night at Cook was really a win-win for everyone. It was obvious that the preponderance of guests at Cook that night were fans of Hadj’s food, many of them had never been to Cook before. It was a creative of reuniting Hadj with his beloved patrons and at the same time expose them to Eddie Wu’s Cook.

        Eddie Wu is an interesting character in his own right. His wife is Korean, and when they married he took her last name; he’s American but has gotten into Korean food which is part of the normal Cook menu. After hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Eddie held a fundraiser and solicited contributions from patrons to allow him to drive to Houston with a truck full of food to cook for first responders there. He set up shop in a fire station and cooked for them for a week.

        He’s also involved with Urban Roots, an East Side St. Paul organization that works with teens to teach them how to grow their own food. Much of Cook’s seasonal produce he buys from them.

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    2. reds savoy pizza is run by. new president who is an eden prairie guy
      his eden prairie location in a strip mall with zero personality is alive and well
      he is kind of a putz with analytics as the bottom line
      my guess is profit vs rent didn’t fit the spreadsheet

      i did read a lengthy article about muffuletta and how those two guys started with muffuletta as the only restaurant of its kind all those years ago and used it as the stepping stone to do chino latino and mannys steakhouse and burger jones

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    3. When we lived in downtown St. Paul, we occasionally got takeout pizza at the St. Paul Red’s Savoy. The few times we ate in we were not impressed. It was so busy that there was always a long wait and we usually felt like the staff considered that they were doing us a favor by letting us eat there. Our kids are big fans of the brand and on family pizza nights we frequently get take out from Savoy’s takeout-only store in Eagan.

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  2. Child and I visited Liberty Custard every few days in the month before it closed – by then we had many, many quarts of custard in the freezer!

    The one I miss the most though is Mud Pie, the vegetarian restaurant that used to be at Lyndale and 26th. It was the restaurant that wasband and I went to on the first night we lived in the Twin Cities (as well as the first vegetarian restaurant I had ever been to) – it was a miraculous ending to what had been a terrible day!

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  3. Thanks for this blog, BiR. I agree that Mufuletta’s closing is a big loss. It was such a sweet restaurant with excellent service and very good food. I suspect that one of the reasons it closed, it was targeted by an aggressive local attorney for not complying with the ADA. The St. Clair Broiler, on the other hand, orchestrated its own demise.

    Years ago, Hans and I used to go to the Broiler occasionally, mostly because he really liked their burgers and the diner atmosphere. Then it changed hands, and service and food went to hell in a handbasket. The last time we were there (three or four years ago), the service was not merely indifferent, it was downright rude. I went home and checked the reviews, and discovered that they had gone from fairly consistent four star reviews to one or two stars. People were hammering them, being quite specific about their gripes, but nothing changed. Here’s but one example of a review written by an unhappy customer. There are numerous more:

    “As a decades long loyal customer of the Broiler, it has been sad to witness the decline of this neighborhood institution. The fabulous neon sign sign remains an icon of restaurant Americana, alas, its classic diner menu has been eviscerated. The interior is clean, the decor is fine and the service is friendly. However, the new owners apparently think the tastes of its longtime loyal customers are too mundane. No more Spartan omelet, tuna melt, chefs salad, club sandwich or barbecue bacon cheeseburger.

    Even if you think you have found something you like on the Broiler’s new ‘upscale’ menu, there is no guarantee that it will be the same way twice. In the past, I often picked up dinner after a long day at work. The first time I tried the Asian salad I thought I had found a new favorite. The second time it was all soba noodles and no greens. Last night I called in a takeout order for the same salad, mentioned my previous experience and asked for more greens and less noodles. When I opened the container at home I found an abundance of greens but ZERO noodles — wait, I’m wrong — there were TWO(2) soba noodles at the bottom of the salad. Ha ha. The chef took his revenge. I recognize the humor but the deliberate insult motivated this obituary. You couldn’t pay me to go back.”

    You can’t expect to stay in business if you consistently ignore and alienate your long-time supporters, especially if you’re not doing a good job of attracting new ones.

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    1. I agree, PJ. I took my mom to the Broiler for breakfast about a year ago. That neighborhood is a wander down memory lane for her. She and my dad were students at Macalester when they met and married. MacVille, the post WWII, married student housing quonset huts that were in the space now occupied by the Macalester athletic fields, was their first home together. The Broiler wasn’t there yet, but every time we went there she pointed out the football field and told me that that was where they brought me home from the hospital.

      When we were there last year, she ordered a mushroom-only omelet. After we had waited a good 45 minutes and not even seen a waitress to see if we needed more water or explain the delay, she got a huge, farmer omelet with the wrong kind of toast. We explained that it was not what she ordered but her husband was in the hospital at the time and she wanted to get there to see him, not to mentiion that we were hungry and not in the mood to wait any longer, so she picked out what she didn’t want, leaving a pile of everything but the eggs, and left. Never to darken their door again.

      It’s sad to loose an icon, but the icon has to live up to it’s part of the bargain.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Judging from the reviews I read, this downward trend had been going on for some time. If I were the owner of a restaurant that started losing business, I’d sure wonder what was going on. Checking reviews seems like a logical first step. Some of the reviews were so specific as to name the waitress who was downright rude to customers. And the comments on the food, and how inconsistent the quality of it was, should have led to some close attention from management. One reviewer ended his review with this comment: “I’ve heard tales of meals that made folks stop eating red meat, if that’s your plan this is your place.”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I had breakfast at the Broiler from time to time over the past couple of years, and I never really noticed much change in the place. The breakfast menu seemed pretty basic and not overpriced, and the service was always fine. I haven’t been there for dinner in quite a while, though.

          William Kent Krueger wrote much of his fiction there, I understand. I hope he finds somewhere else to write.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Short lines all across the country. Voter fatigue. Voted NO on Ohio issue 2. It would have tied the cost of state-paid drugs to the cost the Veterans Administration pays. Lot’s of misinformation caused much confusion.

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  4. I was just enjoying a session on the computer, reading about old times in Dinkytown and the West Bank. Those sessions take on a life of their own as one pursues the twisting trail of old questions and old contacts, and each turn of the story suggests new questions. And then it happened. I was reading a fond recollection of an old friend when I noticed that the author was using the past tense as he talked about him. Mike Justen, a dear friend although I’ve not seen him in about 50 years, died earlier this year.

    Mike was the owner of The Scholar coffeehouse on 247 Cedar Avenue. It had been in Dinkytown, but Mike bought it (for a dollar) and moved it to the West Bank. The Dinkytown location is famous because it is the first place Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman then) performed. I went to The Scholar several nights each week to spend an evening listening to Leo Kottke, Lazy Bill Lucas, Bill Hinckley & Judy Larson or Koerner, Ray & Glover. At the end of the last set I often sat up with Mike and his wife, Kit, while Mike rolled from one story to another.

    The stories were amazing. Mike talked about coming within an eyelash of becoming the manager of a talented duo called Art and Paul, two talented teens who later hit the big time under the name of Simon and Garfunkel. Mike told me about the best jazz musician in the Twin Cities, a guy I’d never hear perform because he never left his apartment and was slowly killing himself with booze. That turned out to be Butch Thompson, who (happily) is very much alive.

    I’ve fallen in love with three places that no longer exist. Of them, The Scholar was the most magical.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t know Mike and Kit as well as you, but I played the jug in a jug band one night at a Scholar open stage. Kit came out from the back to say that my jug sounded like a trombone. That was when I still had some chops left from playing baritone horn in high school. We weren’t great, but when you are as ad hoc as we were, what can you expect?

      I was also friends with Dennis Burch, who with Mike founded Oblivion Records and produced the first Leo Kottke album, the one with the armadillo on the cover. I used to have a copy but it disappeared somewhere along the way. A shame- I hear they’re valuable now.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. The Scholar was my “second home” in the late 1960s. My first date with my erstwife was at The Scholar on 1-6-1968. That’s where we had our first kiss. Years later Dale and Tom helped us celebrate that day with a funny riff and song dedication. So many memories.

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    1. The last movie I saw at the Grandview theater was You’ve Got Mail. The plot was about how Meg Ryan, the owner of a beloved little bookstore, was driven out of business by changing times and a large bookstore chain owned by Tom Hanks. Seated in front of me at the theater was David Unowsky, still then the owner of the Hungry Mind, although that was soon to be changed. As I watched the movie I couldn’t help speculating on what it meant to the man sitting right in front of me.

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      1. David Unowsky has moved on from the book business and is demonstrating kitchen utensils in the Cooks of Crocus Hill Department in Kowalski’s Shoreview store. He does some consulting for writers about the business end of writing (finding an agent, finding a publisher, self-publishing, author events, communicating with booksellers, publicity etc.) through Springboard for the Arts as well (Chris in Owatonna are you listening?). He truly is a remarkable man who hasn’t let the major setback that the closing of the Ruminator stores was, do him in. A remarkable man.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I still miss that place. It was such a great bookstore.

      Another favorite was a small store in the same vicinity as where the Hungry Mind used to be: Coat of Many Colors. It carried unique women’s clothing, much of it from Flax, a brand that specialized in loose fitting linen clothes. The owner just wanted to retire, and did.

      And then there was Mama Rosa’s on Riverside Ave.on the West Bank. Remember that funky Italian restaurant profusely decorated with plastic grape vines and Chianti wine-bottle candle holders? It was always packed until they had an outbreak of some food borne disease that was indicative of poor hygiene in the kitchen. They weathered that first outbreak, but when a couple of years later they had a second outbreak, everyone stayed away; not even students would eat there anymore.

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      1. Funny, I was going to mention Mama Rosa’s as well. We were regulars when we lived on the west bank. My usual order was an Italian sausage sandwich. I don’t remember the disease outbreak. It was perhaps after we moved from the west bank.

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    3. I used to spend a lot of time at the Hungry Mind when my younger daughter was taking Scottish highland dancing instruction and the lessons were in the arts building at Macalester. I would drop her off and then make my way to the bookstore for an hour or so every weekend.
      Kristin Eide Tollefson, now of Bookhouse in Dinkytown, had a used bookstore across the street at that time, so I’d hit that as well.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes – it seems to help rather than hurt when bookstores cluster like that – becomes a niche known for bookstores that draws more people… true also of Uptown Mpls, where you had, at one point, Odegard;s (later bought by Border’s), and what was that more esoteric shop a couple of doors away? ________ Then a block or so away the used mecca Booksmart. And now there’s Magers and Quinn…

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        1. I knew Brian Baxter from my B Dalton days when he was a buyer. After he left B Dalton and started up his book store downtown, my book club used to get their books from him every month. He gave me a discount and stamped my parking slip.

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        2. Yes, Orr – thanks, Bill – loved that little store.
          I worked with Brian Baxter at Birchbark Books, where he was buyer/manager after Baxter’s closed down (due to the fact that their rent was tripled…) – quite the character. 🙂

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  5. I’m a little surprised that Steve hasn’t mentioned Caravan Serai, an Afghani restaurant that we both loved. The first time I visited CS, I had recently separated from wasband so I went by myself. A young Afghan man greeted me at the door, and when he learned that I was by myself he hightailed it to the kitchen, in an obvious panic, to consult with the owner about what to do with me. I could hear the entire exchange from where I was standing. The owner calmly told him to show me to a table.

    At the time, CS didn’t have a liquor license, but regulars knew that if you brought a bottle of wine in a paper bag and discretely handed it to you the host when you arrived, it would reappear on your table in a teapot. I always thought that was so amusing. They had excellent food, and it was fun sitting on big cushions on the floor around a low table under the huge black parachute that simulated a Bedouin tent.

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    1. Oh yes. Caravan Serai. Steve is not the only baboon who is sorry that restaurant is gone. I was actually thinking about it 2 weeks ago, when YA and I had Tandoori bread in Indian restaurant. Nobody made Tandoori bread like Caravan Serai.

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  6. Lucia’s in Minneapolis, and Ristorante Luci, and Tanpopo Noodle Shop in St. Paul all closed within the last year or two. I miss them, but guess I didn’t go there often enough to keep them open.

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  7. Hi-
    There was just an article in a local magazine about local restaurants that are gone from Rochester.
    the ones I miss most are Waldos pizza and Tinklers. Waldos was the pizza place of my youth. Thick crust and just really really good. All the John Marshall HS kids hung out at Waldos.
    Tinklers was a restaurant bar where we often went after the theater. Hot Fudge Sundays with an AMAZING hot fudge. And either Teriyaki buffalo wings or Regular buffalo wings.
    OH, and Edwardos Pizza. Mozzarella sticks 1 1/2″ in diameter, 4″ long and solid cheese. Cheese curds that came heaped on a dinner plate. I had my 25th Birthday party there. If they were still open we’d all be dead with clogged veins. But, man they were good.

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  8. My Dinkytown musings reminded me of the first restaurant I fell in love with, Sammy D’s in Dinkytown. Although it was named for Sammy, the real heart (and cook) of the place was Mama D, Jenny D’Agostino. What a character! She ran for mayor in a campaign that was mostly her plea to treat young people well. She gave away many fabulous meals to hungry but poor kids.

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      1. Yes, I think that’s what I heard. The first restaurant was named after her son on a sort of hope he would take it on. But Mama D (Jenny) was always the force behind it, and I think she named her new restaurant for herself when she was forced to move. She was spectacular, one of the great individuals who put her stamp on that era.

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    1. When I worked in Dinkytown at Art Materials, naturally I ate at Sammy D’s once in a while, but I always found it uncomfortable because Mama D was so vicious to her serving staff. I know she cultivated a public image by giving away meals once a year and perhaps other times but it was apparent she was thoroughly unpleasant to work for. Sammy was associated somehow with the Mob. I remember one day when the curb along the street where Sammy D’s was located was lined with white Cadillacs with gold trim. Inside, in the back room at a long table were a group of men, including Sammy. At the head of the table was a guy everyone addressed as Big Luigi (really!) Next to him was a blocky guy everyone called Runt. The conversation included the news that one of their mutual acquaintances had been “busted in Vegas”

      The restaurant on University, Cafe Biaggio, is (or was- I haven’t kept up) run by her son John. A friend of ours worked there for a while and he seems to have been a good employer.

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        1. I agree about Sammy. What was fascinating about Mama D is the duplistic personality. She went to such lengths to portray herself as generous and compassionate and she may even have sincerely believed it but you and I both know that how one treats those one has power over is a truer measure of character. I have never since then been witness to as harsh employee treatment as I witnessed in her restaurant.

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  9. Hello Baboons Late in the Day!

    I had an early morning meeting this morning, so I missed my usual sign on.

    The “place” I miss the most was a daily event: TLGMS. Doggone it, there was so much good about that and even after all these years of it being gone,

    I
    MISS
    IT.

    Sigh.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. OT – Just read that Red House Records has been acquired by Nashville’s Compass Records Group. Wonder how that will affect the current staff here in St. Paul.

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  11. I learned long ago that places I love have a way of disappearing. It always feels so wrong . . . kinda like when a pet dies. But that’s the way of the world, and maybe the lesson is that we should enjoy ’em while they’re there and not expect anything good to last forever.

    I’m reminded of my favorite cartoon character, ol’ Porky Pine from Pogo. Porky used to say, “Don’t take life so serious, son. It ain’t nohow permanent.”

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It looks like Jeremiah Ellison, Keith Ellison’s son, has won his race for a seat on the City Council for Ward 5 in Minneapolis. I worked with Kim Ellison, Jeremiah’s mother, for twelve years. Solid family, good people.

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  12. Nucci’s had the best gelato in Winnipeg. It closed a number of years ago. It was a classic hole in tbthe e wall where Italian men sat around watching soccer on tiny TV screen, drinking espresso.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. There are at least four restaurants/coffee shops in the St. Paul area that I can think of that have restrooms on the basement level. They’re vulnerable to lawsuit, and may not be around ten years from now.

    A breakfast place in my neighborhood, Backstreet Grill, closed several years ago for reasons I don’t really understand. I think the owners just wanted to retire. It was my favorite breakfast place for about 25 years. They had simple inexpensive breakfasts. Good French toast. The coffee wasn’t great, but I still miss that place.

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    1. Cecil’s Deli also has a basement bathroom. The attorney in question apparently only files a case if he’s fairly certain that the restaurant will settle rather than take the case to court. The type of lawyer that gives attorneys a bad name.

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      1. I don’t think having a bathroom in the basement is illegal so long as it is accessible to people in wheelchairs. So if you have an elevator that reaches the basement, you’re in compliance with the ADA. WA Frost, by the way, does have bathrooms on the main floor as well as in the basement.

        The Pioneer Press had a front page article on this about a month or so ago. I’m sure you can find it in the archives if you care to read it.

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