Born in 1885 of brick and limestone, with her iron-patterned cornice and lean arch piers, 378 Maria Avenue was one of St. Paul’s architectural jewels. With a spectacular view of the burgeoning Downtown, she was a majestic addition to Dayton’s Bluff. Unfortunately, after World War II, the neighborhood fell on hard times. Suffering a series of ill-conceived renovations, the building was completely dilapidated by the early 1990s. But a new owner removed the 1970s shingles, and restored the Victorian glory, leaving a handsome new restaurant ready for christening.
The location couldn’t have been better for General Manager and Partner Tim Niver (Town Talk Diner). Though the Strip Club’s moniker originally was conceived for an Uptown eatery, he felt the racy name would help attract customers to the gentrifying St. Paul neighborhood. The New York Strip steak is the restaurant’s specialty, but because of its distinguished taste, perhaps new customers would do better to think of it as a form of meat burlesque.
Executive Chef J.D. Fratzke (Pronto, Muffuletta) certainly knows how to tantalize diners, offering small tapas-style plates to accompany his steakhouse entrées.
“I try to give him 100 percent creativity, and the freedom to take that creativity and make that work for the restaurant,” Niver says. “J.D. is an unbelievable chef with a great pedigree, and he has cooked all around the world.”
My dining partner and I were seduced with our first taste of The Devil’s Eggs ($4.50)—each egg white base bears a velvety filling infused with chile oil and curry. Two of the whites have been soaked in beet juice, which imparts a lovely bit of flavor, as well as a firmer texture.
We also shared the ABC Foie Gras ($15), which is prepared according to what ingredients catch Fratzke’s roving eye. On a recent Tuesday, it was laced with brandy butter and pistachios.
Charcuterie devotees must request the Ledebuhr’s Wild Rice Sausage ($8), served with wicked Dijon mustard.
However, the biggest surprise of the evening was the dowdily named Beans & Toast ($5). Nivers had informed me over the phone that the Italian peasant dish is one of his favorite snacks, but I remained unconvinced. I soon ate my words. Fratzke’s dish of buttery cannellini beans, sage, olive oil, red onion, and grilled bread is the culinary version of a sexy librarian—conservative on the plate, but get it near your lips, and I swear you practically can hear it singing, “Let me entertain you.” Furthermore, it is sizable enough to make a meal, and all the more lovely for a twosome to share.
One of the greatest aspects of The Strip Club is the value it presents to the epicure. One can find complete contentment with a small plate and an entrée, the majority of which are under $20. With what you save on food, you can—and should—spend on some of the best made-from-scratch cocktails to be found in the Twin Cities.
The Jamo Toe ($8)—a Strip Club invention of Jameson, Apfelkorn, and ginger beer—was a table favorite, and when I return, it will be my drink of choice.
If Niver himself is your server, seek his advice regarding wine pairings. His untraditional German Riesling was fabulous with the foie gras—the bright, acidic finish brought out the sultriness in the dish.
A dark, aromatic wine was Niver’s pick for the grass-fed New York Strip ($29.50). Served with poached carrots and a grilled lemon, it stands alone, or can be accompanied by a range of sauces ($3-$12).
A Westerner at heart, I usually prefer my steak as the cowboys intended. However, if you really want your meat to put on a show, try the spicy Asian “Love You Long Time,” the criminis in red wine rosemary glace; or my favorite, the “Whip Me, Beet Me,” beets and horseradish whipped cream.
Be sure to take a few bites au naturel—grass-fed beef is very flavorful, producing leaner meat from healthier animals.
Good animal husbandry is important to Nivers, who states, “We live in some of the best farming land in the world, and you can couple well-treated and well-fed animals with farms that have some of the best products in the world, and they’re right here at our doorstep.”
The desserts, all priced at $8, are off-menu. One standout was a naughty little Apple en Croute, baked to flakey pastry perfection. My readers know I dislike an overly sweet Midwestern dessert. But I found Fratzke’s desserts to be as balanced and enjoyable as any of his savory plates.
If you seek such satisfaction, my only caveat is to plan ahead: The Strip Club is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday nights. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 9 AM to 2 PM, and lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11 AM to 2 PM.
Avoid anything mentally challenging after dinner—my food coma brought on the untroubled sleep of the angels. In that 10-hour bliss, I dreamed of meat…performing the exotic fan dance.
The Strip Club
378 Maria St., St. Paul