Well, cuisine isn’t exactly the right word, but the new Amsterdam Bar & Hall in downtown St. Paul does have a nice selection of Dutch broodjes (sandwiches) and appetizers, as well as Dutch and Belgian beers. It also offers its own version of one culinary specialty that the coffeehouses of Amsterdam are famous for: pot brownies.
Indonesian restaurants are immensely popular in Holland, and if you have ever tasted the native Dutch cooking, you will understand why. Actually, my aquaintance with Dutch cuisine comes mostly from the automats in the Amsterdam train station, where you can pop in a Euro or two, and get out a hot choice of fried greasy croquets (greasy meatballs), or bitterballen (deep-fried meatballs rolled in breadcrumbs) or frikandellen (another kind of deep-fried meatballs with mashed potatoes.)
The one great delicacy that I remember from dining in Holland is raw brined herring, sold on the street accompanied by chopped onions, on waxed paper — you just hold it by the tail and gobble it down. Better than sushi. The Amsterdam Bar offers, in season, both a herring broodje ($4.75) and a herring plate appetizer — but apparently they aren’t in season now.
At any rate, Dutch cuisine isn’t really known for its refinement, which makes it perfect bar food. The curried seafood salad broodje ($5.25), prepared with generous amounts of shrimp and squid, in a spicy curry mayonnaise in a soft, lightly toasted bun was delicious. So were the steamed mussels — about two dozen, in a savory broth of vermouth, tomato and garlic, accompanied by a chunk of baguette slathered with rouille (a bargain at $9). I can also recommend two other broodjes — the house-cured salmon ($4.50), similar to Scandinavian graxlax, and the croquets, the meatballs mentioned above, but not nearly as greasy as I remember them from Holland.
In the Low Countries, mussels are always paired with fries, and the Amsterdam’s rendition of Belgian-style fries ($4/$6.25), fried dark and crisp and served with chopped onions, catsup and mayonnaise, were right on the mark. During Happy Hour, which runs from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, the fries and Heineken draft beer are $2 each.
There’s a great selection of draft beers, and Holland is well represented, with Heineken, Grolsch and Amstel. But the really great complex beers on the list almost all come from across the border in Belgium — including three of my favorites: Hoegaarden Wit, a light white (wheat) ale, Duvel, a spicy pale ale; and Rodenbach, a distinctively sour, winey beer aged in oak.
As for the pot brownie ($4), it’s made with pecans, caramel and sage, and it’s called a pot brownie because it’s served in a hot pot – actually a cast-iron skillet. A little too sweet for my tastes, but if that’s the kind of thing you like, you’ll probably like it.
The Amsterdam is as much a music venue as a bar, with live music five nights a week, and Trivia Mafia on Monday nights.
Amsterdam Beer & Hall, 6 W. 6th Street, Saint Paul, (651) – 222 – 3990.
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