Public Kitchen + Bar, overlooking Mears Park in the Lowertown neighborhood of Saint Paul, brings together the antique and the modern to create a tasteful and chic dining experience. Dark wood tables pop against large white tiles lining the walls and a massive arched window allows diners an unobstructed view of the park.
A long bar lines one of the walls, and since we did not have a reservation, we chose to sit there rather than wait for a table. The bar, which seats around 20 people, was spacious and comfortable. There was one bartender serving up drinks for both the bar and the restaurant. His frantic chugging of Red Bull and speed walking back and forth, hands piled high with drinks, did not create a relaxing environment, but that was quickly remedied by the incredible food.
We ordered two appetizers to share, the calamari ($13) and the lump crab cake ($11 for one/$18 for two). The bowl of calamari was large, easily enough for two people. The heaping pile of lightly battered squid was tender and perfectly seasoned. Accompanying the calamari was a herb aioli that added a subtle lemony kick to the dish.
The lump crab cake was the highlight of my experience. Although $11 for one crab cake may seem pricey, the patty of lump crab was large and densely packed. The crab was fresh and there were no breadcrumbs taking up space, a pet peeve of mine. The crab cake came beautifully arranged, plated on top of crispy kale chips and a generous dollop of chipotle remoulade.
If seafood is not your thing, Public Kitchen + Bar still may be. The dinner menu offers a curated mix of offerings ranging from house-made pasta, which is made fresh daily, to burgers and a variety of charcuterie boards. I would not classify the entrees as cheap —the majority of them range from $15 to $34 — but if you are just looking for some appetizers to share, it is definitely worth it.
The drink menu offers an extensive list of wines and beers, as well as 10 cocktails. My friend ordered the Southside, a delicate mix of gin, lemon and mint served in a champagne coupe ($7). Happy hour runs Monday through Friday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and then from 9 p.m. until close (10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 a.m. on Fridays) and all day on Sunday. During this time, beer is $4, wine is $5 and select cocktails are $6. Additionally, the calamari is bumped down to $7 and chips and salsa are only $3.
The Public Kitchen + Bar is a great restaurant if you are looking to have some fresh seafood at a moderate price. Although the service was slow, the quality of food more than compensated. Public Kitchen + Bar is a quick 20 minute ride on the 63 bus line.
Public Kitchen + Bar is located at 229 6th St E, St. Paul.