The 2016 Best of Saint Paul

Meet the winners and finalists in our Best of Saint Paul poll.
Editor's Pick for Saint Paul's best ambassador: Wally O. Wonka

We asked, and you answered! In October, we invited readers of Saint Paul Magazine to tell us their favorites in several categories in an online survey. The response was terrific, and a great way for our magazine to celebrate its first anniversary in the Capital City. In addition to the poll results, we’ve selected a couple of other “bests.” Read a touching reflection by poet and baker Danny Klecko on his longtime friend, Saint Paul poet laureate Carol Connolly, and a short profile on someone in Saint Paul who is always having fun, Wally O’ Wonka, owner of Leprechaun’s Dreamcycle.


Best Patio Dining
W.A. Frost and Company

There are many reasons to love W.A. Frost and Company; however, our readers have notably selected this Saint Paul spot as the winner for its exceptional patio dining space. Guests are impressed when dining en plein air, enjoying wonderful food as the buzz of the city seems to melt away. 374 Selby Ave.; 651.224.5715;
Runners-up: Los Ocampo Mexican Restaurant, Louis Ristorante & Bar

Best Tavern/Bar

Barrio has been in its Lowertown location for seven years; general manager DeAnna Loux notes that Barrio often wins people over for the “completely unique experience that we provide. We have the widest selection of tequilas and mescals in Minnesota.” According to Loux, all the food at Barrio “is local, organic and sustainable when it can be, with a scratch kitchen.”
Runners-up: The Happy Gnome, W.A. Frost and Company

Best Breakfast
The Buttered Tin

Owner Alicia Hinze continues to cook up some tasty breakfast fare at the Buttered Tin with specialties like the Damn Good Egg Sandwich and the Huevos Rancheros Benedict, along with delicious baked goods and more.
Runners-up: Bon Vie, Keys Café

Best Bakery
P.J. Murphy’s Bakery

With more than 80 years’ experience, this family-owned bakery is the place to satisfy your craving for freshly baked doughnuts, cookies and bars, and is also the perfect spot to find a special occasion cake.
Runners-up: The Buttered Tin, Saint Agnes Baking Co.

Best New Restaurant
The Commodore Bar and Restaurant

This restaurant is located in one of the most historic buildings in Saint Paul, which was a one-time social playground for the city’s literary native son, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Newly renovated, but still imbued with Art Deco charm, the bar and restaurant, which launched in October, are open Tuesday-Saturday nights from 4 p.m. to midnight.
Runners-up: Saint Dinette, Ox Cart Ale House


Best Fitness/Yoga Studio
The Saint Paul Athletic Club

With more than 40 classes per week, including barbell strength, yoga and spin, and accommodating all fitness levels, Kristin Montpetit, membership director, says they have “something for everyone.” Club members get unlimited access to group fitness classes. Most popular sessions? Muscle Playground and SPAC Cycle Cinema.
Runners-up: CorePower Yoga, Tula Yoga & Wellness

Best Pediatric Clinic
Central Pediatrics

With a legacy of more than 50 years keeping children healthy, Central Pediatrics continues to offer quality, comprehensive care for children from birth through college-age.
Runners-up: Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Pediatric and Young Adult Medicine

Best Dental Clinic
Park Dental Grand Avenue

Park Dental on Grand Avenue offers services beyond your standard semi-annual teeth cleaning, including teeth whitening and Invisalign. These dentists understand that patients have busy schedules, and offer early-morning and evening appointments. The staff at Park Dental on Grand Avenue takes pride in their community, and enjoy participating in events like the Grand Old Day Parade, where they hand out toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Runners-up: Dr. Bob Maley Family Dentistry, Associated Dentists

Best Orthodontic Clinic
Meister Orthodontics

Considering that most children wear braces at a time in their lives that is often socially difficult, Dr. Tammy Meister and her staff do a good job of making the experience as enjoyable as possible, even offering an automated “Color Planner” tool on their website, which allows children to pick out rubber band colors. For adult patients, Meister offers Invisalign services as well, in case they’re not as interested in having their braces match their wardrobe.
Runner-up: HealthPartners

Best Chiropractic Clinic

University of St. Thomas and Northwestern Chiropractic College in Bloomington graduate Mike Madison, DC, owner of the Saint Paul Skyway clinic, believes in the ChiroWay philosophy, which gives everyone the ability to receive regular chiropractic care through the use of affordable membership plans. ChiroWay was designed so clients never need an appointment, and a $49 monthly fee (or a $19 pay per visit option) provides access to regular chiropractic care.
Runners-up: Caron Chiropractic Clinic P.A., Langford & Karls Chiropractic Clinic

Best Eye Clinic
St. Paul Eye Clinic

St. Paul Eye Clinic opened its doors in 1969 with one ophthalmologist. Things have changed quite a bit over the years, with the practice now expanded to nine locations, including one conveniently located on Grand Avenue, and a menu of services, including Lasik.
Runners-up: Associated Eye Care, InVision Distinctive Eyewear

Best Medspa
Spa MD Consultants

Be it Botox, dermal filler, or microdermabrasion, Spa MD Consultants has been serving the area for 10 years, offering high-quality skin treatments. In addition to the medical procedures, clients rave about their other services such as eyelash extension and brow tinting.
Runners-up: Dermatology Consultants, LifeSpa at Life Time Fitness

Best Dermatology Clinic
Dermatology Consultants

Offering a wide range of client services for everything from acne and eczema to treatments for pre-cancerous and cancerous skin conditions, Dermatology Consultants has been serving the Twin Cities since 1949.
Runners-up: Allina Health, Dermatology Associates


Best Home Furnishings
Traditions Classic Home Furnishings

Traditions features a wide selection of everything from furniture to accessories perfect for every home. Lauren LaGoo says the staff at Traditions offer design services “that go beyond the walls of our store; our designers make home visits to help with anything from a paint color to throw pillows to an entire home refresh.”
Runners-up: Warners’ Stellian Appliances, Abbott Paint & Carpet

Best Interior Designer
David Heide Design Studio

David Heide claims that the challenges found in renovating many older homes in Saint Paul “are the most fun parts of the project.” The goal, he says, is to leave a completed project looking as though their team hadn’t been there at all, with a solution that won’t be dated in 10 years. “It’s important to pay attention to the original house,” says Heide. The studio works on approximately 12 to 15 projects in Saint Paul each year.
Runner-up: Traditions Classic Home Furnishings

(A room renovation by David Heide Design Studio; Photo by Susan Gilmore)

Best Builder/remodeler
Castle Building & Remodeling

“I love older houses, and I think that our company is good at working on projects that have a timeless quality,” says owner Loren Schirber, who took over the business from his father in 2007, and since has been busy expanding their footprint in the community. “We have designers on staff who are wonderful to work with, and we’re able to guarantee all of our work,” Schirber says.
Runners-up: Custom Renovations & Builders, North Star Remodeling, LLC

Best Landscape Designer/Architect
Bluhm Brothers Landscaping, Inc.

Bluhm Brothers Landscaping has been operating their family business in the Saint Paul community since 1996, and the family tradition has always been to leave their clients satisfied with their quality work. In addition to basic lawn care, Bluhm Brothers offers construction of paving or retaining walls, walkways and patios.
Runners-up: Bachman’s, Meg Stevenson and Associates

Best Home Service
Bonfe’s Plumbing, Heating and Air Service

Whether it’s summer and you’re trying to stay cool, or the dead of a Minnesota winter and you’re simply trying to ease the chill, home temperature regulation is key. Bonfe’s offers a four-hour “Quick Heat Response” service guarantee, offering clients $100 if their technicians aren’t able to respond within four hours to set up temporary space heaters until the furnace is repaired. Bonfe’s services are not limited to the emergency furnace fix, however, as they also can do handy-man jobs around your home, all with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.
Runners-up: Boehm Heating & Air Conditioning, Minneapolis St. Paul Plumbing Heating and Air

Best Senior Living Residence
Shaller Family Sholom East Campus

Quality care for older adults is the hallmark of the Shaller Family Sholom East Campus, which includes the 48 apartments in the Bentson Family assisted living residence and the Jay & Rose Phillips Center for Memory Care featuring 10 studio apartments well-suited for those with mild to moderate dementia.
Runners-up: Carondelet Village, The Wellington Senior Living


Best Preschool/Childcare
St. Paul’s Childhood Center

Tina Gatzke, executive director, says there are many features that make SPCC, which celebrated 45 years in September, a special place. “Our approaches are family-centered, and our curriculum projections emerge from the interest of our students,” she says. “Parents love the warmth and sense of community at our school, but more than anything commit to the investment of sending their children here because of the relationships our faculty build with children and families.” SPCC serves children ages 6 weeks to 12 years.
Runners-up: St. Paul Jewish Community Center, Dodge Nature Preschool

Best Veterinary Clinic
Grand Avenue Veterinary Center

Dr. Ann Brownlee and her staff know that pets are valued family members, which is why they offer the best possible care at their clinic, certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, using the most updated technology. But perhaps more importantly, they also offer compassion to pet owners and their pets in all situations, joyful or sad.
Runners-up: St. Paul Pet Hospital, Highland Animal Hospital

Best Place to Spoil Your Pet
Bubbly Paws

Blueberry facial scrub and self-service baths are some of the luxuries available at Bubbly Paws. Co-owner Keith Miller says one of his favorite things is when owners post pictures of their dogs, before or after grooms, on Instagram or Facebook. “One pet owner was at the High Bridge dog park, sent a picture of their dog all muddy on Snapchat and warned us to be ready,” says Miller.
Runners-up: Chuck & Don’s, CocoBear Petcare

Best Doggy Daycare/Kennel
Dog Days

Owners give much thought to considering who can take care of their beloved pet when they leave town. At Dog Days, Fido will have plenty of room to play with other dogs in their 14,000-square-foot space, and will be well taken care of by staff members.
Runner-up: Now Boarding

Best Learning/ Tutoring Center
College Nannies, Sitters and Tutors

Whether your child needs help with math or science homework, or is getting ready for college entrance exams, College Nannies, Sitters and Tutors is able to provide customized one-on-one assistance to get students across the finish line.
Runners-up: Learn to Learn, Mathnasium

Best Place for Kids’ Activities
Minnesota Children’s Museum

This Saint Paul museum that countless kids and families have loved for the past two decades is poised for some big changes. A $30 million expansion and renovation is in process, and after a brief shut-down beginning in January 2017, the big reveal will likely take place in March 2017.
Runners-up: Circus Juventas, St. Joseph’s School of Music


Best Hairstylist/Barber
Taylor Diebel, Phresh Spa Salon

As a team lead, nail technician and stylist, Taylor Diebel regularly works with clients to help them realize their beauty from the inside-out. “I want clients to feel beautiful, and whatever that is for them, that’s how they should feel when they leave,” says Diebel.
Runners-up: Annie Jones and Rachael Stahnke, Phresh Spa Salon

Best Salon/Spa
Phresh Spa Salon

Phresh is a full-service salon and spa. Husband and wife owners Tracy and Rick Fiebiger encourage staff to work together to best serve the needs of the clients. Everyone works on a non-commission basis, allowing stylists and estheticians to focus on the individuals they are serving.
Runners-up: Estetica Salon & Day Spa, Juut Salonspa

Best Financial Advisor
Julian Locke, Edward Jones

As a certified retirement planning counselor, Julian Locke at Edward Jones is happy to work with her clients to protect their financial future and develop strategies that will best help them reach their goals.
Runners-up: Focus Financial, Ameriprise Financial

Best Esthetician
Kecia Jacobson, Phresh Spa Salon

Kecia Jacobson’s favorite part about working at Phresh Spa Salon is the ability to build relationships. “I think they are the key to working, and specifically to working at Phresh Spa Salon. The clients are the center of our business … the goal is to make them feel really special inside, and use our talents to reflect that on the outside,” says Jacobson.
Runners-up: Marta’s European Skin Care, Juut Salonspa

Best Insurance Agent
Ian Davy, State Farm

Working in Saint Paul “feels more like a small town than other cities of the same size,” says Ian Davy, who likes helping his fellow community members. “I like being able to help clients through difficult situations and provide that peace of mind,” says Davy.
Runners-up: John Griep and Steve Woog, State Farm

Best Law Firm
Larson · King

This Saint Paul law firm specializes in litigation in areas including insurance law, class action and commercial litigation. Being involved in the community is also important to the attorneys and staff members, many of whom serve on boards, volunteer and donate to scholarship programs for organizations such as the American Heart Association, Harriet Tubman Center and Neighborhood House.
Runners-up: Walsh & Gaertner, Yaeger and Jungbauer Barristers


Best Apparel Boutique
Heimie’s Haberdashery

Bespoke suits and accessories, a deluxe on-site barbershop and more make Heimie’s the preferred destination for the well-dressed Saint Paul gentleman. Owner Anthony Andler, the fourth-generation member of a family devoted to ready-to-wear and tailoring, says, “You have to understand the fine sartorial art of dress, be versed in it and implement it into your lifestyle.”
Runners-up: BlackBlue, Evereve

(Shoes from Heimie’s Haberdashery; Photo by Tate Carlson)

Best Florist
A. Johnson & Sons Florist

Tom Johnson is a proud third-generation member of the Johnson family; he’s worked for 42 years at the family floral business which has been in the same location for 80 years. Today, his sons Blake and Ryan, along with his wife Heidi, are integral members of the A. Johnson team. What is the best part about the floral business? “We’re involved in different parts of people’s lives, the happiest and sometimes the saddest moments,” says Tom.
Runners-up: Martha’s Gardens, Fleur de Lis Fresh Flowers

Best Specialty Foods Store
Golden Fig Fine Foods

This epicurean shop is the go-to spot for foodies from all over, including President Barack Obama. Read more about Golden Fig on page 16.
Runners-up: Penzeys Spices, St. Paul Cheese Shop

Best Jewelry Store
R.F. Moeller Jeweler

This family-owned and -operated jewelry store has been proudly serving the Saint Paul community since 1951, providing residents with quality engagement rings, jewelry and watches that can be passed from generation to generation.
Runners-up: Gold’n Treasures, Charlemagne Fine Jewelry

Best Liquor Store
Solo Vino Wines

The independent wine shop, located in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood, is happy to serve Saint Paul’s wine needs. Learn more about Solo Vino and owner Chuck Kanski on page 14.
Runners-up: Thomas Liquors, Morelli’s

Best Gift Shop

Patina has been serving the Twin Cities since 1993. Husband and wife Rick Haase and Christine Ward take great pride in their carefully curated collection of art and gifts. With two Saint Paul locations to choose from, it’s easy to find an excuse to stop in often to browse.
Runners-up: The Bibelot, CorAzon

Best Grocery Store
Kowalski’s Market

Truly a neighborhood institution, stocked with the finest fresh produce, meats and cheeses, bakery and deli items, accompanied by helpful and friendly service, Kowalski’s is the Grand Avenue grocery store that many have grown up on and it’s a Saint Paul favorite.
Runners-up: Lunds & Byerlys, Mississippi Market

Editor’s Pick: Saint Paul’s Grande Dame Poet laureate Carol Connolly brings words to life.
In 2006, poet Carol Connolly was named Saint Paul’s poet laureate, an ongoing role, and has been called upon to write poems for civic events including the second inauguration of Mayor Chris Coleman. Over the course of Connolly’s storied life, she has become an inspiration to readers, writers and others. In 2011, she received the Kay Sexton Award for her contributions to literature in the Twin Cities.

We asked Danny Klecko, poet, CEO of St. Agnes Baking Co., and a close friend of Carol Connolly, to write a reflection about her for this Best of Saint Paul issue.

> I have been asked to write a few words about Carol. Everyone in the city knows her for her poetry, her wit, her politics. Because I have served her the past couple of years as an escort, friend and biggest fan, I can tell you a little bit more about her.

I recently stopped by her apartment to accompany her to the monthly Reading By Writers Showcase she hosts at the University Club. She was in a thoughtful mood. Doubting herself just a little.

“As you know,” she said, “I’ve been running this showcase for 100 years. You would think people would start to get bored with it. Don’tcha think?”

This question was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received because it gave me the opportunity to say this to her:

“Carol, you’ve accomplished so much in your life. Everybody who has been touched by you is grateful and loves you. We live in a crazy world that people need to escape from at times. They want to be entertained. You have provided entertainment of a very high order.”

Then I hit her with this:

“How wonderful is it that your mere presence qualifies a roomful of people as an event?” Carol smiled and squeezed my hand. “You!” was all she said.

Friends, I’ve come to that point in my own life where my birthday cake has more candles than states in the union. Looking back, I know Carol Connolly not only helped me find my voice as a poet, but more importantly, how to obtain happiness by promoting others instead of myself.

That’s the gift she gave me. And how glad I am to be able to give it back. - Danny Klecko

(Photo by Tate Carlson)

Editor’s Pick: Saint Paul’s Best Ambassador
It can be rare to find someone who lives his job as much as Wally O. Wonka. Chances are you’ve seen him around town at local events, dressed in a white bespoke suit, and peddling the Leprechaun’s Dreamcycle, which just so happens to be filled with classic favorites such as ice cream sandwiches and yes, Dreamsicles.

Where did you find the Leprechaun’s Dreamcycle?
I purchased the tricycle on eBay about eight years ago, and transformed it. My wife and other family members thought I was a little nuts to want to become an ice cream man, but in less than eight weeks, I had it paid off. I started off by riding the Dreamcycle down West Seventh Street to Rice Park, and then expanded from there. Now I go all over Saint Paul, and also take it to northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. I do all kinds of different events, public and private.

What do you most enjoy about being an ice cream man?
Interacting with people is always joyful—I have these magical little experiences all the time. At an art fair, a little boy asked me if he could have ice cream for $1, and his dollar bill was literally ripped in half. Of course I gave it to him, and he got a balloon, too. I do a lot of events year-round, but going out on the streets is spiritually fulfilling.

What do you like most about Saint Paul?
People are so friendly, and I love the streets. I really share a reciprocal love with this town.

Look for Wally O. Wonka in Rice Park on April Fool’s Day, where he’ll be handing out free ice cream. Learn more about his events at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.