My grandmother’s hands were delicate. Age had bent her fingers, swelled her knuckles, and I could trace the roads of purple veins through her skin; soft, but crinkled like tissue paper. These hands held mine as mine grew. On her finger she wore the diamond ring set that now resides on mine. As she read me storybooks I would watch her hands, fascinated by all she did with them. In the kitchen I watched as she used a stick of butter to prepare a pan for baked goods. Then she would scoop a handful of flour, dust the pan, tap the sides, and unceremoniously dump the excess in the sink. Then we would pour the batter, often her signature blueberry muffins.
While I was chatting with Jennifer Lueck about her new St. Paul breakfast and lunch spot that she recently opened with business partner and pastry chef Alicia Hinze, all she had to do was say the name and I was instantly back in that kitchen; smiling at the memory of those hands that I haven’t held in too many years. That’s exactly the feeling they were hoping to evoke. While there are most certainly comfort-food memories to be found inside, like sticky slices of coconut cake and a stroke-of-genius Easter dinner sandwich, everything is executed at a higher level than a home cook could ever hope to achieve.
The restaurant, located in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood, doesn’t feel like a throwback. The walls are the color of lemon buttercream, capped with chocolate-colored tin ceilings and filled with gleaming white accents. It’s elegant without being fussy.
Hinze arrives early in the morning, when she and her bakers assemble a collection of biscuits, cookies, cupcakes, cakes, and the bread for the sandwiches. There is always a collection of cupcakes in the cooler, items she gained some amount of fame with, when she made an appearance on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars (she was on the winning team). Every day there’s a different savory biscuit offering, one day it was spinach pesto, another was ham and cheddar, which can be eaten at room temperature, or warmed up by one of their friendly staff members.
On the savory side, Chef Jason Schellin has been brought in. Schellin is known for his elegant, seasonal work at Muffuletta. The Buttered Tin hasn’t been open long, but I’ve been drawn back time and again to work my way through this entire menu. Perfectly fitting for this walkable neighborhood’s lucky inhabitants, you could eat here every day for lunch and breakfast. Hearty breakfast fare includes items like their huevos rancheros benedict which is built upon tender, savory/sweet cornbread squares and topped with creamy avocado slices, perfectly poached eggs, and black bean-studded salsa. Served with a perfectly dressed mixed green salad and a pile of fresh fruit, it’s a beautifully balanced meal.
Other breakfast highlights include an “omelette” made of hash browns. Be still my heart, ultra-crispy shredded potatoes are folded over Gruyere and tender, young asparagus. Top it with a poached egg and you are in breakfast Nirvana.
They also have seriously good pancakes topped with bacon-packed butter and real maple syrup.
An instant classic served, as Lueck joked with me, “as God and I intended,” is the Easter sandwich. Roasted ham (not those sad, floppy cold cuts but real ham) and cheesy scalloped potatoes are served on fresh ciabatta. Not only did I wish my family ate like this every spring, this dish also won me over on ciabatta which is a bread that so often goes awry being chewy and the sort of thing that spits out your sandwich fillings.
Their clever take on a Rueben is loaded onto caraway rye bread–perfectly cooked beef short ribs that yield juicy flavor explosions with every bite–topped with gooey cheese, a house made, pickle-crispy Thousand Island dressing, and ribbons of caramelized onions. Sandwiches are served with options of fresh greens or Bugles, perfect for making finger puppets.
My favorite classic-inspired dish reinvented is the Iceberg Stack salad, layers of crispy lettuce dressed in herb-flecked buttermilk, topped with lardons (fat hunks of crispy pork belly), and cherry tomatoes like jewels. Each bite is crunchy, cold, rich, salty, and awesomely porky. I’ve heard there’s a t-shirt on order declaring you got your lardon at The Buttered Tin. Made me snicker.
No matter how spectacular the entrees are, you’ve got to save room for dessert. The daily cake selection is worth lingering over. Today is, after all, your very merry unbirthday. The coffee cake inspires a Golden Girls sort of coffee break, one where all your secrets are spilled with a cup of joe and a couple of great friends. They even have a blueberry-packed poundcake, with just a little bit of lemon flavor, not exactly like grandma made, but maybe even better.
The Buttered Tin
237 East 7th Street, St. Paul
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