When was the last time you visited Edina’s 50th and France and had a great time?
Maybe not after your $50 workout class, where uninspired salad bowls and $10 cold-pressed juices await. Certainly not after visiting the chiropractor to have your neck adjusted, as I did recently.
For about the same price, all-inclusive, you can dine at Mr. Paul’s Supper Club, where every night feels like a VIP night out at your friend’s new Louisiana hotspot. Valet ($10), hospitality (doing) and acoustics (loud) will guarantee it, as will artful versions of club classics, like Pimm’s and Big and Beautiful Juleps, which you sip in the company of patrons at the expensive look and the hoarse tunes of Jo-El Sonnier. It’s also the kind of place where glasses regularly break – as they did on two of my three visits – but no one blinks.
Let your mind wander a bit, and Mr. Paul’s can be as family-friendly as a Mad Hatter tea party. See: circus colors at the bar and a wild assortment of chandeliers throughout the restaurant – some have pearls, one has feathers, another has tree bark. If you are celebrating, don’t forget to let the staff know; there are balloons.
Food is also served. Creole and club classics? Steaks and chops? A salad? There’s enough for you to choose your own adventure, and most of them are awesome. When you’re in the care of co-owners Tommy Begnaud, who was executive chef at Butcher & the Boar, and Nick Kosevich, the highly decorated mixologist, you should expect no less.
Of course, you can eat extraordinarily well with timeless club classics like the smashburger and steaks, which are reasonably priced and come off the grill perfectly. The supper club strip, with its blacked-out armor and uniformly pink interior, is $28 for 12 ounces, and it’s probably the best food deal on the block. Another favorite item on the clubby menu are the popovers, which are golden and crispy on the outside, moist on the inside.
But you’d miss what Begnaud planned to achieve with his supper club when he and Kosevich opened Mr. Paul’s last December. Visiting Mr. Paul without trying his Creole classics would be the culinary equivalent of traveling to New Orleans on Mardi Gras without celebrating Mardi Gras. Begnaud may have been born and raised in Minnesota, but he leans heavily on his family’s Louisiana heritage. That may explain why his crayfish gratin is among the best I’ve ever had: sweet shellfish lobes in a stew so viciously rich that I paused between bites to calm down, then stayed up that every crevice on the plate is taken into account.
The stew is lighter but still full-bodied. It’s terrific, as is his intense take on bourride, the thick shellfish stew that browns a perfectly cooked Chilean sea bass. These experiences can be wonderful when you surrender to Begnaud’s brand of excess.
It works with the classic Nantua sauce, a type of roux enriched with shellfish broth, which gives lobster gnocchi its aromatic depth. And his prime rib stroganoff, reminiscent of a stew cooked for days until the broth turns black and sticky, which Begnaud accompanies with pappardelle and serves over mashed sweet potatoes with hazelnuts.
Occasionally, the appearance of wealth detracts from shoddy cuisine. Yes, the kitchen was able to cook lobster, crayfish and sea bass. They succeeded in cooking over grilled jumbo prawns, another recommended appetizer. But the duck breast I ordered on a recent evening ran the gamut from gray and lifeless to rare and chewy. Likewise, a double-cooked pork chop had good flavor on its crust that was dumped all the way to the core, but was cooked so well that no amount of brine could dull its toughness.
Negligence takes nothing away from the bluster on which Mr. Paul thrives. For one thing, I never understood the appeal of meatloaf until I tried it at Mr. Paul’s. When you use the trimmings from a good strip loin steak, wrap it in bacon and brush it with enough butter, you will too. And when you use generous chunks of that raw strip and smother it with bone marrow aioli, you might find another reason to order steak tartare.
Sometimes excess overwhelms. Grilled romaine, Begnaud’s take on a Caesar salad, looks like a spectacle because there’s a suffocating amount of pecorino on a wedge of romaine. It’s attractive until the salt kick isn’t.
Likewise, there is so much icing sugar on the donuts that you could make a snowman out of them. But give it a go and give them a try, as they’re easily the best of their kind in town – denser and fluffier than the archetypal Cafe Du Monde.
If only the rest of the desserts were up to par. The chocolate pudding is more random than fancy: it combines chewy mousse and brownie cake under chocolate tuiles, the overall flavor of which tasted less like chocolate and more like malty Cool Whip. With the sweet potato creme brulee, a thick crust of sugar gives way to a concoction that I can only describe as a cloudy slurry of liquefied custard.
So stick with the donuts and order a celebratory cup of the excellent iced Irish coffee, generous on the airy whipped cream and those crunchy nibs. Or do just two – the night is still young.
Mr. Paul’s Supper Club
⋆⋆ ½ Highly recommended
Location: 3917 Market Street B, Edina, 612-259-8614, mrpaulssupperclub.com
Hours: 4pm-10pm Tue-Sun Prime reservation times fill up fast.
Prices: Appetizers $14-$21, entrees $17-$30 with steaks, chops and seafood in the $28-$64 range; there are also several sides ($10) and desserts ($10-$12).
Beverage program:A long list of inventive and classic cocktails ($13-$17), as you’d expect with Kosevich at the helm, but the beer and wine offerings are varied and plentiful.
Tip:The normal failover model applies.
Do not forget :There are also lunch options and special events: the adjacent Mr. Paul’s Po’ Boys & Jams (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday) and the Balloon Emporium, a “cocktail circus with food pairings.” and wines” to seven courses.
What do the stars mean:
⋆⋆⋆ Highly recommended
Jon Cheng is the Star Tribune’s food critic. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on @intrepid_glutton.