Hotel & Restaurant Spotlight: Joan’s in the Park, St. Paul, MN

Berit Thorkelson
| February 15, 2024 | 4 Minute Read
Closeup of hands using a chef’s knife to cut limes on a wood cutting board iStock

The seeds of this upscale local hotspot in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood were sown nearly twenty years ago, when Joan Schmitt and Susan Dunlop worked together at a popular downtown Minneapolis steakhouse. The two went on to buy a pizza restaurant, building and all, although they quickly figured out that the pizza business wasn’t for them.

They regrouped and decided to go the white-tablecloth route, opening the AAA Three Diamond Joan’s in the Park, with Schmitt as maître d’ and Dunlop executive chef, in 2011. The goal? Warm hospitality paired with creative, locally sourced food within a cozy, upscale atmosphere. More than a dozen years later, that goal remains beautifully met.

Closeup of a hand pulling bread rolls out of a brick oven with flames in the background iStock

Another defining element holding strong: the pair of pizza ovens that serve as the main heat source—no broiler, fryer or sauté station here. Chef Dunlop’s dialed-in custom temps roast chickens, dehydrate fruits, bake breads and sear steaks on cast-iron skillets. The ovens—plus some induction burners for boiling—drive the kitchen, and ingredients are supplied in large part by local farms. Most menu items, including cheeses, sauces, desserts—even both butter and bread—are made from scratch.

A person harvesting fresh vegetables from a garden. Vegetables include carrots, radishes, broccoli and leafy greens iStock

Joan’s is an intimate dining experience, with just 40 seats, though capacity nearly doubles when the covered patio opens in spring. The four-course tasting menu builds on seasonal ingredients and the chef’s inspiration. Recent fourth-course options, for example: filet mignon with Bordelaise sauce, cauliflower mousse and mokum carrots; an Italian cheese soufflé with morels, asparagus and basil; pork tenderloin with Worcestershire caramel and roasted sunchoke purée; and a market seafood choice. Custom wine parings and desserts are optional add-ons.

Reservations are required at Joan’s, and seating on the patio is available upon request when it’s open.

AAA Inspector Notes:

“The food is impressive and the service attentive at this intimate neighborhood spot. The accomplished owner-chef uses fresh seasonal ingredients in creative recipes. Presentations are eye-catching, and the dishes taste as great as they look. The four-course prix fixe portions are sized just right to enjoy multiple courses.”

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