Comfort food done right at Stewart’s in St. Paul

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Stewart’s

Stewart’s opened in late 2016. Well, technically Stewart’s was open long ago, then it was 128 Cafe operating in the unique garden-level-of-an-apartment-building space, and now it’s Stewart’s again. We knew nothing of the original (admittedly, hadn’t even heard of it), but 128 Cafe was a special place. When we heard they were re-branding to the former, and going “more casual,” it was a little hard to get excited.

But any fears we may have had were unfounded.

The makeover added a gorgeous new bar, and there is still the intimate back dining room for those looking for a quieter meal. New lighting (thankfully straying from the long-overused Edison bulbs) gives the small space a warm glow. If it was nice before, the soft tones and rich blue accents make it one of the coziest and most comfortable restaurants around.

But, of course, it’s all about the food.

For brunch

The Kimchi Nacho Scramble ($12) was awesome. Full stop. With red island peas, cabbage, jalapeño, cilantro, scallions, and ssamjang sauce, it felt more like Korean chilaquiles than American pub nachos. The kimchi had just the right amount of bite, the chips were crunchy, and while maybe not known a brunch standard, it was a filling and savory meal to heal any Saturday-night hangover.The Omelette Is An Omelette Is An Omelette ($8) is an omelette that’s also available for lunch and dinner. The eggs are pillow soft, reminiscent of Meritage‘s Omelette du Jour (one of our favorites). Here, the goat cheese makes each bite creamy and flavorful. With a little acid from the salad, and some of the densest toast in the world on the side, it’s a great option for a hearty, but not too heavy, breakfast.

It’s pretty hard to screw up something as tasty as a Monte Cristo ($11). Improving upon it is the true challenge. Stewart’s makes its own version with apple, apple butter, fontina cheese, ham, and an egg on top. A little sweet, a little tart, and so rich from the ham, cheese, and eggs; it will definitely have you crawling back into bed happy and full afterward.

(Add a side of maple sausage anyway, a sweet/savory steal for $4)

We don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that it’s not brunch without cocktails but it’s certainly nice to have the option. The umami-rich Bloody Mary ($9) is often all you need in the morning, while the Maple Old Fashioned ($9) is an awesomely-smooth, not too sweet, not too boozy bourbon breakfast cocktail (like an adult-version of the Pancake/Breakfast Shot).

And or those looking to drink something NA, there is a house-made Honey Lemonade that is a must-try as well. It reminds maybe a little too much of summer as the weather gets cooler, but then that isn’t so bad either.

For lunch

The Northwoods Meatloaf Sammy ($9) is a truly Minnesotan meal, made from venison and pork, with wild rice, blueberry and fontina. It’s delicious, but pretty heavy in the middle of the day; certainly not advising against it, just be warned.The “casual” part of Stewart’s concept really shines on their lunch menu. The Asian influence does as well. Along with the Kimchi Tostada ($5, also offered on the dinner menu), there is a fantastic Rice Bowl ($11) that comes with kimchi, grilled pork, sunny egg, scallions, bok choy, and sprouts.

There are also a couple of burgers on the menu. In addition to the sufficiently-tasty Smashed Burger ($7), there’s the more hearty Steakhouse Burger ($12) made with grass-fed beef, bacon, blue cheese, sweet pickles, red onion, and dijonaise. If you’re going for a burger here, go for this one.

Protip: For daytime laborers or students who don’t have the luxury of sitting down for a long lunch, Stewart’s offers a grab-and-go option as well.

A side of French Fries ($6) gets royal treatment at Stewart’s, covered in Korean chili flakes and with a miso aioli and spicy ssamjang sauce on the side. They certainly hit the spot (especially with a cold beer discounted for happy hour…)

For those who enjoy eating later, happy hour is a great way to enjoy a few sips and bites in the middle of the day. Tenants of the apartment complex are lucky to have a happy hour like this downstairs: $2 and $3 pints, and discounted eats (including the Brussels sprouts pictured above) are available from 3-5pm and 9-10pm daily (yes, on weekends too).

For dinner

The coffee-rubbed Steak Tips ($15) come out kebab-style. The grass-fed beef is juicy and tender, shining from the Coca-Cola BBQ glaze. You won’t taste any soda in the sauce, but it adds just the right amount of sweet to the meat. A warm fingerling potato salad with arugula on the side has a mustard zing that will linger until you take your next bite of steak. It’s an awesome plate.Starting with the Kimchi Tostada ($5) is a great choice, even if it’s not quite as much fun as the nachos version offered during brunch. The omelette (if you haven’t already had it for brunch or lunch) is also not a bad way to begin. It reminds that eggs don’t have to be, or shouldn’t be, relegated to the breakfast menu.

The  Buffalo Brussels Sprouts ($8) came highly recommended by the waitress. With just enough Buffalo spice, and just the right amount of crisp on the outside with a sink-your-teeth-into center, we absolutely agree; we had to remind ourselves that there were other plates on the table.

Only the Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($8) failed to make an impression. The bread was a little too dense, and the cheese cooled so quickly that it congealed before we could take a bite. Some tomato soup could help, as the tomato aoili isn’t quite bright/acidic enough to save it. Casual here doesn’t mean a lack of innovation or care. It doesn’t mean going with the standards for fear of trying and failing at something new. Stewart’s embraces an accessible dining aesthetic while still introducing exciting new flavors and concepts. It’s everything you want when looking for comfort food, with an added flare.

But if this is what “casual” means, we certainly don’t have a problem with it.

It was easy to get a table without reservations the three times we went, as they are still reintroducing themselves, but don’t expect it to stay that way for long. This is the type of restaurant you make yours; that spot you can go over and over, the hidden gem to which you can bring out-of-town guests, a comfortable joint where you can truly relax and enjoy a good meal no matter what the occasion.