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. Yes, I’m a lucky human male. Anyhoo, in the book, the editors’ top choices for beer bars in the nation were listed. Among them was The Happy Gnome in St. Paul.
Surprised? Didn’t think so. The Happy Gnome’s legendary beer program is documented far and wide on the Internet, in print, via pigeons, wherever … but did you know the Gnome’s got a rock-solid breakfast game and a cocktail I think you’ll do a headstand over to boot?
I’ve been to the Happy Gnome twice, and I’ve never ordered a beer there. You can do that, and love it the same. THAT’s your lesson for today.
The Basics: Find the Happy Gnome just off Selby and Dale in St. Paul in bricks and right here on the web.
So, I came with members of a church rock band: Two bassists (including fan favorite and Cowboy Jack’s cougar bait Pretty Ricky) and a drummer. Ricky insists the other bassist is better than him. I’ve heard neither, so I’ve no basis for an argument either way. Moving on.
The Gnome is a fascinating oasis, indeed. They’ve got this sub-roof over the bar, with wooden shingles poking down from the main ceiling. There are little gnomes on the shelves, gnomes painted onto a big portrait over the fireplace, and an alpha gnome keeping watch from atop the mantle. It looks … Warcraftian? Kind of.
The Gnome runs 76 lines and keeps a good mix of local, core, and rare craft beers … but I’ve never ordered one here.
I mean, I’ve had beer. See, there’s this cocktail called Southern Breakfast. It’s made with a personal favorite, Left Hand Milk Stout; 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 was smooth, and I mean Elizabeth Hurley-as-the-devil smooth. 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.
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?
That’s all he gave me. He’s not a wordy one, that Ricky.
A couple of month prior, I’d had the Gnome’s Croque-Madame. The BELTA is much better; and, at $10, about $4 less. A side of bacon, a good sized-side, ran $3. In the end, the haul lightened my account by a reasonable $22.
So that’s that. 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.
Editor’s note: Minor clean-up edits were made to this post 04-Dec-2015.