The Happy Gnome is No Place to Go by the Book

I bought my wife a book for Christmas called The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks. I bought it because she asked for it -- she's awesome and I'm a lucky human male. In the book, the editors' top ten choices for beer bars in the nation are listed. Among those chosen were The Happy Gnome in St. Paul.

This shouldn't come as any surprise, and I won't waste your time expounding on their legendary tap selection ... but did you know the Happy Gnome's got a solid breakfast game and a cocktail I think you'll do a headstand over to boot?

Happy Gnome on UrbanspoonI've been to the Happy Gnome twice; I love it, and I've never ordered a beer there.

THAT'S what you need to learn today reading about the Happy Gnome.

The Basics: Find the Happy Gnome just off Selby and Dale in St. Paul in bricks and right here on the web. Their website took me an awfully long time to load, for what that's worth.

Let's settle one thing right off the bat: I can tell you from personal experience, this is a great place to bring a church band right after service. My boy Pretty Ricky backed me up on Sunday with two members of his band, a drummer and a bass player. Ricky also plays bass, but claims this gentleman plays it better. I played a mean saxophone in high school (mean to your ears, maybe), but I presently employ no instruments. Or talent.

Do you know who does, however? The three-piece band playing Sunday afternoons at the Gnome. It's simply marvelous -- three gentlemen jamming together, nipping off bottles on breaks, grooving most righteously. Their sound was part-lounge, part-pub, environmentally perfect.

All around them, the Gnome produces the whimsy of a storybook drinking hole with the street cred they've earned with the crafties. Little gnomes hide in the shelving, and a larger alpha gnome keeps watch on a back wall mantlepiece. The sunken roof above the bar, in its warped wooden shingles, looks fantasy film-ready.

The Gnome runs 76 lines of suds that make your run-of-the-mill craft bar turn away sheepishly. Let's face it, Surly and Summit aren't THAT hard to come by anymore. Oh, you've got Lagunitas on tap? That's adorable. Meanwhile, the Gnome slides you stuff like Robinson's Iron Maiden the Trooper and Central Waters Mud Puppy Ale. Oh, your Bender's infused with coffee? Neato ...

As I've said, though, I've never ordered a beer here.

I mean, I've had beer, but ... see, there's this cocktail called Southern Breakfast. I call it "the craft cocktail I'll touch." It's made with one of my favorite milk stouts, Left Hand; and one of my favorite human inventions, bourbon. For real, take bourbon away and we can be jellyfish for all I care. I don't need a brain if I can't have bourbon.

The Southern Breakfast is devilishly smooth. I'm talking Elizabeth Hurley-as-the-devil smooth. Nothing about this drink insinuates ill effects, but the bourbon hides in the maple syrup and sneaks through you with the stealth of an Appalachian shine-runner. All throughout, it remains bourbon. The decision to drink it is never a bad one -- it radiantly outshines the Gnome's Bloody Mary bar -- but tread carefully.

In January, I had the Gnome's Croque-Madame. It's billed as having homemade biscuits, smoked turkey, gravy, and a fried egg. I would not recommend this item; however, the Gnome went 4-for-4 Sunday and struck down any doubts of the Gnome's kitchen acumen. Instead, it proved the Croque-Madame is merely "the wrong thing." Every menu's got one.

Sunday, I had a BELTA -- bacon bits, egg, lettuce, tomato, and avocado. Also on the sandwich is my lover, cream cheese. I prefer strips over bits, but the injection of avocado and cream cheese into a BELT is a wise one. The bread was well-toasted, but only crispy at the crust, but sturdy enough to keep a mess from ensuing. Very satisfying sandwich.

The BELTA comes with breakfast potatoes, a side that's usually mundane filler but the Gnome does it right. In the drummer's words, "It tastes like a bonfire." Not like smoldering ashes, stupid: She meant a hint surge of heat but comfortable, crispy on its boundaries, and altogether guilt-raising but you ate them up regardless. She nailed it like the final note with a drum kick ... thingy. The potatoes were unlike any I'd had before. The Bassist Who's Better Than Pretty Ricky ordered the steak and eggs, and was observed smearing his slab through the yolk praising it.

What did the ever-helpful Ricky have to say about his breakfast poutine?

"It's good."

That's all he gave me. He's not a wordy one, that Ricky.

I was pleased to have had a better experience my second time around at the Happy Gnome. The BELTA was $10, with $3 for the side of bacon (a good amount, too), neither of which made me wince. I was tightly-packed, yet loosened up just a smidgen, for what would've been $22. That's a passable price for the haul.

You already knew you had to get to the Happy Gnome, but you need to know it isn't a necessity to go and have beer. They're successful in so many other dimensions, and Sundays are pleasant especially. You can go by the book if you want to, but just know you're missing out on some considerable comforts if you never dare deviate.

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