Since the pandemic, I have no office.
Like many Twin Citizens, I’m still working from home, and likely will be for the rest of my time working for Pioneer Press.
While this arrangement suits me well – quiet alone time is when I do my best to write – I still need to meet with colleagues a few times a month.
Cafes are perfect for this, don’t get me wrong, but I often prefer something a little more sophisticated: business lunch.
My preference, however, was met with a hiccup. Since the COVID closures, many restaurants have chosen not to reopen for lunch. This means less choice for all diners, and busy restaurants aren’t always the best meeting places, especially if others are waiting for your table.
Here are the places I’ve found the most comfortable – and delicious – to meet colleagues during lunchtime.
Where do you organize your lunch meetings? As always, let me know at [email protected]
Noyes & Cutler
This new Lowertown restaurant (in the former Public Kitchen + Bar space) recently added lunch, and the bright and airy space is perfect for it. And because the tables are larger, there’s plenty of room to carry your laptop and notebooks if you need to share information. The day I visited there were also plenty of extra tables so we didn’t feel the need to rush.
The lunch menu includes more salads, sandwiches, and lighter entrees than dinner, with prices that won’t necessarily break the bank. I opted for a delicious chopped salad topped with an 8 oz New York strip, which is $16 more, but you can also choose a chicken thigh for $6 or no extra protein. We were also big fans of the mortadella sandwich, a version of the fried bologna and cheese sandwich served on the street in Saint Dinette, but the meat is a bit tastier. Mortadella a la mode goes on the griddle for delicious crispy bits, there’s plenty of gooey American cheese, and a sharp shot of dijonaisse helps cut down on the richness.
Noyes & Cutler: 229 E. 6th St., St. Paul; 651-968-1050; noyescutler.com
The chic, clubby dining room here is always crowded, but a little less at lunch. Lots of tables around us were lingering and we didn’t feel rushed at all. Another bonus: the coffee is strong and delicious, and our server was so good at refilling it that I left with LOTS of energy.
I was very happy that their signature (and pricey) miso bar was available as a sandwich and that I could get a side salad with it instead of fries. The deeply umami fish soaked into the sandwich bread a bit, but the bread also soaked up some of the delicious sauce, so I didn’t mind using a fork and knife to eat the last one. There’s also a beefy rib sandwich for those of us with heartier appetites, and full entrees if you feel like splurging. For those of you who don’t like looking for parking downtown, Baldamar, which is located in a Rosedale Center outlot, has its own parking lot.
Baldmar: 1642 County Road B2 West, Roseville; 651-796-0040; baldamar.com
Yum! Kitchen and Bakery
For a casual lunch, Yum is one of my favorite places in town. It’s bright, open, airy, and modern, and the food and baked goods are warm and delicious. Oh, and the coffee is good and strong (sensing a theme here?). My favorite lunch dish here is the tuna fondant, which is served open on a homemade English muffin. The tuna salad itself, spiked with Kalamata olives, is delicious, but paired with that perfect muffin and melty Muenster, it really is a thing of beauty.
The salads, burgers, and soups are homemade and delicious, and if you’re looking for indulgence, the desserts are serious and have that homemade feeling. I like Coconut Cake best, but Patti Cake is also an often-requested birthday treat in our household. It’s a counter service place, but since they bring the food to you, your meeting won’t be interrupted by the need to pick up your lunch.
Yum! Kitchen and Bakery: 164 N. Snelling Avenue, St. Paul; 651-615-1230; miamcuisine.com
Moscow on the Hill
Dumplings and martinis are the answer to many of life’s problems, but did you know that this charming Russian restaurant in Cathedral Hill also serves lunch? It’s a pretty well-kept secret, so if you need a place with good food that isn’t usually too busy during lunchtime, Moscow on the Hill is a great bet. Most of the usual dinner fare is available at lunch, but there’s also a sandwich section that includes a reuben, a burger topped with sauerkraut and cheddar, and a fried chicken sandwich. However, I can’t get past the cabbage rolls and pelmeni dumplings. Seriously, just writing about them, I’m planning a while to get here.
Moscow on the Hill: 371 Selby Avenue, St. Paul; moscowonthehill.com; 651-291-1236
If you haven’t been to Babani’s in a while, here’s a reminder that they moved across the river to the west side of St. Paul a few years ago. Their new digs are a bit more spacious, but the Kurdish food is exactly the same, which is to say delicious. It’s usually not too busy during lunch and quiet enough to have a conversation. Everything on the menu is great, but my favorite lunch item is the Kurdish salad, which looks like a Midwestern seven-layer salad, but make it Middle Eastern. Succulent lentils, fresh cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, crispy iceberg, tender rice and salty feta cheese, all served with a slice of spongy Kurdish bread adjacent to the restaurant’s focaccia. It’s a winner, and easy to snack on while having a conversation. Chicken tawa and dumplings are other favorites.
At Babani: 32 E. Fillmore Ave., St. Paul; 651-602-9964; babanis.com
The Loon Cafe
Bright, airy and reasonably priced, The Loon is a great place to meet colleagues. There are tasty sandwiches, salads or my favourite, especially in cold months, chili. You can even get a sampler to try all three types of chili, which I highly recommend. The service is also friendly and quick, so if you need to get in and out quickly, this is a good option.
Loon Cafe: 426, rue Saint-Pierre, Saint-Paul; 651-330-4777; looncafe.com
Herbie is on the park
Due to its prime location, Herbie’s is a hot spot for pre-event gatherings, but lunch is a bit more low-key. You can get any of the usual fish, chops, steaks or sandwiches during lunch, but there is also a menu of soups and sandwiches which is only available during the lunch hour. I’m a big fan of their burgers, but also their chicken fondant, and I also really like that I can get a side salad instead of fries at no extra cost.
Herbie is on the park: 317 Washington Street, St. Paul; 651-726-1700; herbiesonthepark.com