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A Cool Person’s Guide to Visiting Saint Paul

16 March 2022

After two years, the NCHC Frozen Face-Off has returned to its former glory (well, will it ever return to the glory of the year we dressed up as birds? Probably never, Miami is never making this tournament again).

This is what downtown St. Paul looked like on March 20, 2020, right before the evening semifinal should have begun:

Of course, it didn’t end up being “next year in St. Paul,” as the tournament was temporarily relocated to a garbage dump.

This year, the tournament returns to St. Paul, Capital City, home of yours truly. The NCHC has partnered up with Visit Saint Paul to come up with some very generic recommendations, but why cram yourselves butts to nuts at Tom Reid’s or get vomited upon by a UND fan in the Patty McGovern’s beer tent when you can take the recommendations of a cultural icon, me?

Without a doubt, my favorite restaurant in St. Paul is Moscow on the Hill. I went there for the first time with my friends from BC Interruption, and was enthralled by the atmosphere and the authenticity. And the tiramisu-flavored vodka.

Across the street in Cathedral Hill is Handsome Hog, which has elevated Southern food, a sausage gravy poutine, and so many kinds of whiskey/bourbon/scotch. I’d recommend this place to Whiskey Dave if he ever left his zip code. Handsome Hog’s executive chef is Justin Sutherland, who is currently on a billboard on I-94 because he’s on a TV show.

After you eat at either of these fine establishments, it’s a short walk down Selby to the Cathedral of St. Paul. You can stroll down Summit Ave and see the James J. Hill House and the other mansions, or duck off onto a tiny secret street, Maiden Lane, which always makes me feel like I’ve traveled back to the Belle Epoque. The former home of F. Scott Fitzgerald is further down on Summit (stop and take in the view from Summit Overlook Park before you turn!), and you can loop back to where you parked for lunch/dinner by taking Dale back to Selby, where you can stop by IDUN for on-trend clothes, accessories, and objects. Only a block away from IDUN, on Laurel, is Fitzgerald’s birthplace!

Slightly farther away, but absolutely worth a trip, is Taste of Rondo, in St. Paul’s historic Rondo Neighborhood. I loved the Avon Southern Chicken Sandwich (menu items are named after streets in the neighb, as are signature cocktails). A few blocks away, you can learn more about the history of the Rondo Neighborhood (a vibrant, historically Black neighborhood effectively obliterated by the construction of I-94) at the Rondo Commemorative Plaza, or at the permanent exhibit at the Minnesota History Center.

The Aaaahj and I had a mini-staycation in St. Paul a few years ago, where we visited the Minnesota History Center (at the time, it had a First Avenue exhibit, but you’re like 3 years too late for that), ate at Cossetta (not recommended during hockey weekends because it’s so busy, though you can get macarons at the pasticceria next door), then visited the grounds of the Capitol. I believe there’s a bit of construction going on there, but I do love the Capitol Mall. Please, North Dakota fans, do not insurrect.

Instead of going to Cathedral Hill, you could go down West 7th and start your drinking at the Summit Ratskeller. Pace yourself by ordering from the food truck du jour, there’s one there Thurs/Fri/Sat this weekend! Take a hike at Crosby Farm Park (might be a bit slushy but there are both paved and unpaved trails) or cross the river and visit Fort Snelling State Park – I love Pike Island but I’m guessing it’s either too icy or too sloppy right now.

For dinner, there’s nothing more apropos than Bennett’s Chop & Railhouse. They are huge supporters of Bulldog hockey, so you know they’re awesome. They have fancier entrees but I go there for burgers and sandwiches – the Juicy Juanita or the Chicken Asparagus Brie. On your way back, you can pick up a one of a kind gift for yourself at Center for Lost Objects. I need to own this shirt.

You don’t want to go that far from the X? Pas de problème. Tragically, you can’t eat at the iconic Mickey’s Diner from the Mighty Ducks, though you can eat at the other Mickey’s like Winona Ryder, which is also on West 7th, but much farther away.

While you can’t have breakfast at Mickey’s, you can try to get into Hope Breakfast Bar, in an old firehouse on Ramsey (the flat part of Ramsey, not the giant hill). During the pandemic, Hope did amazing things for the community; instead of focusing on takeout during the 2020 shutdown, they prioritized people experiencing food insecurity and provided students missing their prom with a free drive-thru dinner. The restaurant is extremely popular, so it might be hard to get in, though the pearl-clutchers from the suburbs can now visit their second location in St. Louis Park instead of quaking in their Rothys/Adidas shower shoes while visiting downtown so you might squeak in. I’ve had the Cafe at Tiffany’s and I MUST try the Banana Bread Latte.

That takes care of breakfast, but for dinner you should definitely try Degidio’s if you want Italian (PORCHETTA MEATBALLS, FRIENDS). Nearby, you can see one of the oldest houses in St. Paul at 454 Smith Ave; there’s another one between Tom Reid’s and Burger Moe’s, tucked away where you might miss it!

Tom Reid’s has great poutine, but believe me, it’s going to be packed. Instead of going in, take a walk down Walnut Street to Irvine Park – it won’t look like this but it’s beautiful all year, and it’s surrounded by cool houses.

Avoid the hotel treadmill by running along the Mississippi River – you can take Eagle Parkway to Upper Landing Park and access the Mississippi River Trail for a short run or the beginning of a weeks-long run to the Gulf of Mexico. You can do hill repeats on the Wabasha Street Bridge (beginner – and while you’re there, take the stairs down to Raspberry Island, loop over to Harriet Island, or stay awhile for delicious Mexican food at Boca Chica, a banana cream pie latte at Bootstrap, or a Horror Frost at Wabasha Brewing Company), the High Bridge (advanced – make sure to check out the overlook!), or Ramsey Hill (Murderhorn).

Venture to the other side of the X and walk through Rice Park (it’s Fan Fest-adjacent), checking out the Landmark Center on your way to Afro Deli on Seventh Place (I’ve loved this little pedestrian street ever since I saw Hamlet at the Park Square Theater in junior high) – order sambusas and whatever else you want, but definitely sambusas. They have vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Around the corner, indulge yourself in Chippos (chocolate covered potatos chips) at Candyland – they also have something called “Butter Vanilla Shamrock Popcorn,” which is green, and for which I cannot vouch. The Wild’s practice rink is just across the street (the Tim Horton’s is gone, sorry) and Candyland has both a Snoopy and a Lucy, if you’re doing a Peanuts scavenger hunt. (It’s not within walking distance, but Charles Schulz arena is located in Highland Park, in the shadow of the iconic water tower.) Eclipse Records (the store, not the label) is just down the street, and while I do all of my own record shopping at Down in the Valley, I’ll always recommend supporting local record stores! Whatever you do, don’t let tUMD fan Brett the Scientologist suggest an audit at the nearby Church of Scientology.

There are gorillions of other things I could recommend (Union Depot! King Thai! Cecil’s! Purrniture! Kevin Pates’s childhood home!), and even more places I haven’t even tried yet (Hotel Celeste! Buttered Tin! St. Paul Hotel High Tea!), but this list should at least make you feel like one of the cool kids. (Naturally I didn’t recommend any of the place I’m going to this weekend, but I can’t give away all my secrets.) Enjoy, comrades!

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