Okay, so, I just saw one of the best plays I have seen in ages, Distracted, at Mixed Blood Theater, about a kid with ADHD and his family. But I cover restaurants, not theater, so I am trying to figure out a tie-in between Distracted—which is funny and moving and beautifully acted, and runs through October 19—and the restaurant I am going to tell you about, Pop!! at 6th and Wabasha in downtown Saint Paul, and I think I have come up with one:
Kids with ADHD – and adults, too – like lots of stimulation, and Pop!! is definitely a high-stimulation restaurant. (Okay, it’s a stretch…) Pop!! is a sister restaurant to the original Pop! at 2859 Johnson St. in NE Minneapolis, and there is a lot of overlap in the menus.
The double exclamation marks set the tone for the place, as does the decibel level, the comic book graphics and the color scheme of screaming red, blue and yellow. The flavors are just as forceful: there’s a definite Spanish / Latin accernt to the menu, with dishes ranging from a Spanish antipasto plate (Serrano ham, chorizo, Manchego cheese, etc., $8.50) to a Cuban sandwich ($8.75) and picadillo empanadas with a Venezuelan aji sauce ($5.50).
We were just grabbing a quick bite before heading off a play, so we ordered a few small plates to share. We split an order of Pop!! fritters ($6.25), crispy fried balls of chopped shrimp, black beans and corn meal breading, served with a spicy chipotle sour cream sauce and a Venezuelan avocado sauce – a little heavy on the breading, but quite tasty. I ordered the mahi mahi soft tacos (3 for $7.50) which were billed as a small plate, but were stuffed with enough grilled fish, black beans, avocado and queso fresco to make an ample meal. Carol’s Caesar salad ($7.25) was whole leaves of romaine, grilled and served with a cheesy garlic flatbread, with a creamy Caesar, heavy on the anchovy – a lively variation on the theme.
I washed these down with one of my favorite beers, the intensely hoppy (i.e., high-stimulation) Surly Furious from the Surly Brewing Company in Brooklyn Center, brewed with three pounds of hops per barrel, which gives it an IBU (International Bitterness Units) rating of around 100. (For comparison, a typical American light lager is around 5 IBU, and India Pale Ales are rated at 40 IBU and up.) It’s not as overpoweringly bitter as it sounds, though, because the bitterness is balanced by a lot of malt, but it’s still a very high-stimulus beer.
There is a lot more on the menu that I would like to explore. Nearly everything offered seems to have a high-stimulation twist, from the Ecuadorian shrimp ceviche ($6.75), “cooked” in citrus juice with roasted tomatoes, corn nuts and popcorn — to the Pop!!as bravas, ($4.50) a popular Spanish tapas dish of fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce and aioli (a garlicky mayonnaise).
The short list of entrees includes a couple of pizzas – one topped with mozzarella, grilled shrimp, chorizo and green sauce ($11.25); a couple of pastas, pork tenderloin currasco with soft chorizo polenta and a roasted pineapple serrano chili salsa ($15.50); shrimp cous cous with chorizo in a saffron tomato broth ($13.50); and one low-stimulus option: Swedish meatballs wth potato puree and lingonberry jam.
Pop!!, 6 WE. 6th St., Saint Paul, 651-228-1002.
P.S. Trust me. Go see Distracted.