DeRushaEats: At St. Paul's Best Restaurants

I admit to having a Minneapolis eating bias. There are more restaurants, more “hot” restaurants, and more top chefs. Go ahead and argue with me in the comments.

But I’m not sure if I’ve had more fun eating out than I did last Friday night in St. Paul.

We started at Meritage in their Oyster Bar. At seven, the place was hopping. The vibe was as alive as the oysters—those slippery, salty, sexy morsels, sliding right down my throat.

Our server in the bar side could not have been better—truly some of the most helpful, friendly, non-hovering but attentive service I’ve had in awhile. He guided us to oysters from Canada, because let’s be honest, selecting from a dozen different varieties of oysters is pretty overwhelming.

Meritage oystersThe Kobashi oysters were incredible, meaty goodness. The Chef Creek has a gorgeous shell and beautiful flavor, and the Peacock Cove was just salty goodness, straight from the sea.

We also tried an amusement of saffron-mussel soup, and a fried escargot—both were delightful.

The cocktails are not to be missed either, with my wife loving her Pimm’s Provençal: Lavender-infused Bombay Sapphire, Pimm’s #1, Elderflower & Cherry Bitters. I had a Tequila Sunburn: a tequila drink with smoke. It was great.

The whole experience was so welcoming, laid-back yet polished. It was truly a fantastic visit to Meritage.

Then, on to what is my go-to favorite restaurant in town. I don’t write about The Strip Club Meats & Fish in St. Paul too often, because my wife and I have become friends with the owners: Tim and Christy Niver, and chef JD Fratzke. But don’t let my clear bias deter you from making the trek to one of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities. The food is phenomenal; we loved a fried shrimp salad with kimchee Friday night. I also love their fried pickled vegetables and anything with curry or pork.

But, like at Meritage, it was the service that makes the experience stand out. Visit The Strip Club more than once, and you’ll probably be greeted by a smiling Tim Niver with a giant hug for you at the door. The cocktails are incredible—with bartender Dan Oskey whipping up creative drinks, including my all-time favorite the Cobra Kai.

It was a night to make me wish I lived in St. Paul—and it was a reminder that the part of the restaurant experience that so rarely gets written about is possibly the most important. Service matters. It can make or break a meal.

So who else is nailing it in the Twin Cities? Does service matter as much as food to you?

410 St. Peter St., St. Paul

Strip Club Fish and Meats
378 Maria Ave., St. Paul