Our Sunday started with a leisurely walk from the West Bank LRT station to Ted Mann Concert Hall. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra performs at 12 or so different places around the city and it’s a fun way to see some of the best classical music venues in town. Ted Mann is located on the U of M West Bank campus and, while smaller than the Ordway or Orchestra Hall, it boasts impressive acoustics. Chris performed on the stage when he was in college and said that even on stage, it was like being enveloped in sound. The orchestra was a bit smaller this week, but there was a Tchaikovsky piece with a cello solo that just knocked our socks off.
After the concert, we decided to just head downtown instead of briefly going home before Iron Bartender at 8pm. It was a tight squeeze on the train as the Vikings game had just gotten out, but thankfully, most of them hopped off at Downtown East to catch the blue line. From the Hennepin station we made our way to Spoon and Stable and grabbed a seat at their bar. This may change with the seasons, but for now the bar opens about 4pm and food service begins at 5pm. Reservations can be hard to come by, but the bar is first come, first serve – it has it’s own food menu but you can also order from the full menu. It’s definitely the way to go!
The light and airy space somehow manages to feel a bit industrial and sparse while also being comfortable. As is so often the case, it’s the service quality that affects how I feel in a space. On our first brief visit, it was a hot summer day and we had just walked over from Red Stag’s block party. We were tired and a bit grubby in very casual clothes. The front of house manager still greeted and chatted with us as if we were expected guests. No one made us feel out of place or unwanted, even though we weren’t dressed the way we would usually be for a nice drink out. Most of my favorite places in town are defined by the people who work there, Spoon and Stable gets this right.
A few years ago, any random hodge podge of meats could be called charcuterie but these days we have places like Red Table, Northern Waters Smokehaus, and St. Paul Meat Shop. If you are going to do some or all of your charcuterie in house, you had better do it well. The Spoon and Stable charcuterie plate was mostly house made (with the exception of a Red Table salami) and contained “city ham,” a duck terrine with a bit of foie gras and pistachios, the salami, and a Braunschweiger that I would eat in obscene amounts if allowed. The soft, light, still warm Parker house rolls almost stole the show.
After sharing the charcuterie plate, a half-portion of sorghum, and sweet corn risotto, we still needed to try our other restaurant judging staple – fries. French fries come in a variety of styles and all can have their joys – but all are also easy to do wrong. These fries were perfectly fried and crispy on the exterior while the interior was like a perfectly baked potato. The Béarnaise powder and Herbes de Provence were nice, but even without special seasoning, these fries would be amazing.
Oh, I mentioned we were sitting at the bar, right? Given that we were fueling up for Iron Bartender, we obviously had to have a few cocktails from one of the teams we’d see competing in a few hours. The Fizz made with Aquavit instead of the usual gin was citrusy and herbal, creamy and frothy without being overly rich. A summer delight. The Julep was also a twist on a classic, this one made with pumpkin spirits, maple, and sage. As we walked around this early autumn day that still felt like mid-summer, this drink could have been our mascot. It’s got the chill needed for a summer julep but the flavors of fall. I especially enjoyed it with the bleu cheese on our cheese plate.
I’m anxious to see how the Spoon and Stable menus continue to change with the seasons and hope to get back for the full dining room experience. They really don’t need any more press, as Chef Gavin Kaysen has been profiled everywhere from Bon Appetit to the New York Times. Now that I’ve had more than just a few sips of what they’re doing, I can see why.