Minnesota’s capital city is often overshadowed by its more populous neighboring city.
Previously, many of those from the east looking for entertainment and dining would travel across the river to Minneapolis. But in just the last few years, a resurgence has occurred in St. Paul.
It’s vibrant, spunky energy has come alive again with the rejuvenated Lowertown, new infrastructure and an increased attention on dining.
“They used to roll up the sidewalks [at] 7 p.m. There was nothing going on down here,” Aaron Johnson said. “It’s nice to see that kind of energy because St. Paul’s got great energy.”
Now, the city has one more restaurant calling Minneapolitans and suburbanites to its downtown. Herbie’s On The Park, a tribute to former Gopher and Olympic hockey player Herb Brooks, opened last week across from Rice Park.
“[It’s an] ode to St. Paul,” Johnson, General Manager of Herbie’s on the Park, said.
The restaurant was a result of the collaboration between Herb Brook’s brother, David Books, and the owner of the Minnesota Wild, Craig Leipold. Herbie’s lives in the building that houses the Minnesota Club, owned by David. Leipold joined as a backer to the project honoring the hockey legend.
“He was an East Side boy,” Johnson said. “His life was hockey and he loved St. Paul.”
Aside from donning his name, a large, iconic oil painting of Herb in his Olympic uniform sits on the wall above a grandiose fireplace in the dining room. The restaurant is also home to Herb’s Olympic ring.
It doesn’t stop there.
Memorabilia was not enough to channel the memory of Herb, so the restaurant made sure to incorporate some of his favorite dishes.
The fare is defined as “upscale tavern,” what Johnson describes as delicious but approachable food.
He said the layout was also designed to accommodate any type of dinner, with a fast-casual feel in mind. Guests can sit in the full dining room, in front of the fireplace, or enjoy their meal at the expansive square bar. And the two spaces bump up next to each other.
“That upscale tavern fare has a real St. Paul feel to it,” Johnson said. “I think people are looking for that place where they can walk in with jeans and a T-shirt and grab a burger and beer before an event, or a place with a real social house feel where they can have a great meal.”
This theme is continued on the menu, as seen in items like the Herbie Burger.
The Herbie Burger is a “nice, beautiful, never frozen angus beef [patty] with fried onions. That’s the way he ate his burger,” Johnson said.
And for $2 you can enjoy this luscious burger with a can of Hamm’s. Yup, Hamm’s.
As Johnson explained, Hamm’s has ties to Herb and to Minnesota.
Other items that channeled Herb are the chicken wings, Herbie’s offers them in three different flavors – parmesan peppercorn, garlic buffalo and black vinegar; the walleye cake, the pork shank with cheesy grits and the half roasted chicken.
Herb liked traditional, comfort food, and Herbie’s is offering it made with an extra touch.
“We wanted to take tavern fair, because that’s what he ate, but pull it up a notch,” Johnson said.
Aside from Hamm’s, the bar program also channels Herb with its “pack of mules,” five variations on Herb’s cocktail of choice – the Moscow Mule.
“We took what is an original Moscow Mule, which is ginger beer and vodka, and we said let’s play with this,” Johnson said. “From vodka to tequila to bourbon to rum, each [has] different components that punctuate the individual flavor.”
The restaurant also makes homemade syrups and tonic to be used in these drinks.
Of course, the menu wouldn’t be complete without dessert. While perhaps not directly inspired by Herb, it is certainly inspired by Minnesota. A menu with crème brule and banana cream pie-inspired dish is rounded out with an apple crisp.
Housed in a historic building, inspired by a legend and located in the heart of Minnesota’s capital, Herbie’s on the Park hopes to become as central to the state as all of these elements.
“It’s already embedded in history and community,” Johnson said. “I want it to become that social house, that place where you come with a friend to a happy hour, or on a birthday, or on an anniversary and enjoy the food, the service and the gorgeous room. There are some pretty rooms in town but this is it.”
Herbie’s on the Park serves brunch, lunch and dinner. It is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, or to make a reservation, call 651-726-1700 or visit them online.