When was the last time you visited Edina's 50th and France and had a good 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 get your neck adjusted, as I did recently.
For roughly the same price, all-in, you can dine at Mr. Paul's Supper Club, where every night feels like VIP night at your Louisiana friend's hip new boîte. The valet ($10), hospitality (fawning) and acoustics (loud) will guarantee it, as do the artful takes on club classics, like Pimm's and Juleps, tall and handsome, which you sip in the company of expensive-looking patrons and the raspy tunes of Jo-El Sonnier. It's also the sort of place where glasses break routinely — as they did during two of my three visits — but no one blinks an eye.
Let your mind wander a bit, and Mr. Paul's can be as family-friendly as a Mad Hatter's tea party. See: circus colors at the bar and a wild assortment of chandeliers throughout the restaurant — some have beads, one has feathers, another has tree bark. If you're celebrating, don't forget to notify the staff; there are balloons.
Food is served, too. Creole and club classics? Steaks and chops? A salad? There's enough for you to choose your own adventure, and they're mostly great. 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 shouldn't expect anything less.
Sure, you can eat extraordinarily well with timeless club classics, like the smashburger and the steaks, which are fairly priced and emerge pitch-perfect from the chargrill. The supper club strip, with its blackened armor and evenly rosy interior, costs $28 for 12 ounces, and it's probably the best food deal in the neighborhood. Another favorite item on the clubby menu are the popovers, which are golden and crisp on the outside, moist inside.
But you would miss out on what Begnaud had set out to achieve with his supper club when he and Kosevich opened Mr. Paul's last December. Visiting Mr. Paul without trying his takes on Creole classics would be the culinary equivalent of traveling to New Orleans on Fat Tuesday without celebrating Mardi Gras. Begnaud may be Minnesota-born and -raised, but he leans heavily on his family's Louisiana heritage. That may explain why his crawfish gratin is among the finest I've ever had: sweet lobes of shellfish in a stew so viciously rich that I paused between mouthfuls to pace myself, then proceeded to ensure that every crevice of the plate was accounted for.
The étouffée is lighter but still full-bodied. It's terrific, as is his intense take on bourride, the thick shellfish stew that gilds a faultlessly 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 fortified by shellfish stock, that gives lobster gnocchi its aromatic depth. And his short rib stroganoff, reminiscent of a stew cooked for days until the stock grows dark and sticky, which Begnaud pairs with pappardelle and serves on a nutty sweet potato purée.
On occasion, the guise of richness detracts from shoddy cookery. Yes, the kitchen knew how to cook the lobster, crawfish and sea bass. They aced the doneness on grilled jumbo shrimp, another recommended appetizer. But the duck breast I ordered on a recent evening ran the gamut from gray and lifeless to rare and rubbery. Likewise, a double-cooked pork chop had good flavor on its crust that jettisoned through to the core but was cooked to a point where no amount of brining could salve its toughness.
The carelessness doesn't really detract from the swagger on which Mr. Paul's thrives. For one, I never understood the appeal of meatloaf until I tried it at Mr. Paul's. When you use trimmings from a good strip steak, wrap it in bacon and baste it with enough butter, you will, too. And when you use generous, poke-sized chunks of that raw strip and smother it with bone-marrow aioli, you might find another reason to order steak tartare.
Sometimes the excess overwhelms. The grilled romaine, Begnaud's take on a Caesar salad, looks like a showstopper because there is an asphyxiating amount of pecorino on a statement wedge of romaine. It's appealing until the blunt hit of salt isn't.
Equally, there is so much icing sugar on the beignets that you could build a snowman with it. But shake it off and try them, because they're easily the best of its kind in town — denser and chewier than the Café Du Monde archetype.
If only the rest of desserts would measure up. The chocolate pudding is more haphazard than whimsical: It pairs a stiff, rubbery mousse and brownie cake under some chocolate tuiles, the overall flavor of which tasted less of chocolate and more of malted Cool Whip. With sweet potato crème brûlée, a thick sugar crust gives way to a concoction that I can only describe as a murky sludge of liquefied custard.
So stick with the beignets and order a party cup of the excellent frozen Irish coffee, generous on the airy whipped cream and those crunchy nibs. Or make that two — the night is still young.
Mr. Paul's Supper Club
⋆⋆ ½ Highly recommended
Location: 3917 B Market St., Edina, 612-259-8614, mrpaulssupperclub.com
Hours: 4-10 p.m. 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 also are several sides ($10) and desserts ($10-$12).
Beverage program: A long list of both inventive and classic cocktails ($13-$17), as one would expect with Kosevich at the helm, but beer and wine offerings are varied and plentiful.
Tipping: Normal tipping model applies.
Don't forget: There are lunchtime and special event options, too: The adjacent Mr. Paul's Po' Boys & Jams (11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tue.-Sun.), and the Balloon Emporium, a seven-course "cocktail circus with food pairings."
What the stars mean:
⋆⋆⋆ Highly recommended
Jon Cheng is the Star Tribune's restaurant critic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @intrepid_glutton.