Great food, good friends, stellar drinks

Helena V Berbie

Doesn’t everyone want a clubhouse?

A place where you feel comfortable hanging out with friends, where you can meet and forget about your day or celebrate the little victories?

For Tara Coleman and Gina Mangiameli, both recent transplants to the Twin Cities, it was the thing they felt they were missing. So they created it with Chip’s Clubhouse, next door to Coleman’s smash-hit bakery Hot Hands Pie & Biscuit on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul.

“After this pandemic, we wanted to make a place where people just wanted to come and hang out,” Coleman said. “We noticed that St. Paul doesn’t really have many relaxed places, that have high-quality food and drinks, that are great to hang out in.”

Coleman met her boyfriend, a St. Paul native who was going to school in Chicago, a few years ago and moved here from the Windy City for that reason. Mangiameli did some soul searching during the pandemic and decided to give up her job as culinary director of the venerable Hogsalt Hospitality group (Au Cheval, Bavette’s, Green Street Smoked Meats and many others) to move here and go into business with her friend Coleman, whom she had worked with at Girl and the Goat in Chicago.

The friends have an easy rapport — and a similar sense of humor. Both are apparent when you ask who Chip is.

“Gina and I were brainstorming restaurant names, and saying all sorts of inside jokes and cracking each other up,” Coleman said. “The whole bit of the restaurant is that it’s nostalgic, and Gina calls her sister Chip. And we have a friend that we call Chip, because he flew over his handlebars and chipped his tooth, and he was running around like that for a while, so we called him Chip.”

So Chip’s Clubhouse stuck. And if you think it’s odd that two women named their restaurant after a guy, that’s part of the point.

“Tara and I are planning to open more restaurants in the future, and we like the idea of opening restaurants named after men,” Mangiameli said. “It’s a little bit poking fun at, well, you know. It’s rare for a woman to open a restaurant, to be a chef, to be the owner.”

The interior of Chip’s is dark, like a proper clubhouse, and features oddball family pictures and portraits, many of which the pair picked up on a few trips to the St. Paul Mall antique shop. But there are also photos of Coleman, Mangiameli and barman Tim Leary as kids.

“Tim is wearing a sailor hat,” Coleman said, laughing.

And a few less funny items — a chest that Tara’s great grandmother brought over from Sicily, and a Purple Heart from Coleman’s boyfriend’s grandfather.

“There are a lot of really sentimental things that I was surprised our families let us have,” Coleman said.

Customers dine amid antiques and family photos at Chip’s Clubhouse on a recent Friday. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

All of this is neither here nor there if the food isn’t great. But it is.

Mangiameli’s menu is simple and fairly brief, but everything is well-executed. There are options for all kinds of dietary restrictions, too, which both Coleman and Mangiameli said stems from working in Chicago where more people tend to avoid certain foods. And Mangiameli has other reasons for including lots of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options.

“With what’s happening with the climate and all, I don’t want to solely sling meat,” Mangiameli said. “Cooking a dish with only vegetables is a challenge that I like. It’s simple to make a cheeseburger that tastes good — I mean meat and cheese always taste good — but I like to challenge myself like that and make vegetables taste great.”

In fact, some of our favorite dishes on the menu contain no meat.

Cashew and Herb Pâté with Texas toast, cornichon and pickled mustard seeds. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

A pâté made from rich, creamy cashews is at the top of that list. Loaded with fresh herbs and served with buttery Texas toast points, it’s light and satisfying at the same time. And frankly, I’d take it over a little jar of paté or rillettes any day.

There’s also a mushroom melt on Texas toast (yes, Mangiameli, a good Midwestern girl, loves her squishy white bread) that is loaded with umami-packed shiitakes, sweet caramelized onions, gooey American cheese and a little caraway mustard aioli to cut through the richness. You can get it with a burger patty for a killer patty melt, but it’s so good on its own that there’s really no need.

There’s also a lovely orecchiette with fresh, green pesto, a vegan cheeseburger, an elotes mac and cheese, and a bouquet of broccoli the size of your head, perfectly charred and drizzled with a tart, garlicky aioli before being sprinkled with crisp, puffed wild rice.

All of this is not to say that Mangiameli doesn’t know her way around meat. Having worked for the team that created the Au Cheval burger — the double-patty, cheese-laden inspiration for half of the best burgers in the Twin Cities — it is no surprise that hers lands near the top of my list.

The cheeseburger. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

You can order hers with one patty or two. I recommend a second, mostly for the meat-to-bun ratio. Share it if you must. The patties are wider than the (properly buttered and toasted) bun, and brought to a perfect crisp on a griddle. Thinly sliced onion and just the right amount of pickle bring the crunch. And a mustardy sauce perks things up.

And then there’s the ramen.

Mangiameli is clearly obsessed with the ubiquitous Japanese soup, and her dedication to making it awesome knows no boundaries.

Mainly, it’s about the broth. First, she boils pork femurs and neck bones for 24 hours in a huge stock pot.

“It’s a pain in the ass, because when you’re making it, it has to be ripping boiling,” Mangiameli said. “Tara tends it in the morning when she’s here early, because you have to keep adding liquid.”

Pork belly ramen with spicy tonkotsu broth, glazed pork belly, seasoned egg and alkaline noodles. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Then she adds chicken backs and feet, which helps give it that gelatinous mouthfeel, and balances out the intense “porky” taste.

Then she adds sesame oil, red miso and a spice mixture that includes a generous amount of white pepper for complexity. Springy, alkaline noodles, glazed pork belly and an egg finish things off.

“If I was making a bowl of that ramen, start to finish, it would take a week,” Mangiameli said. “I love it.”

I could go on, because really, every dish I have tried at Chip’s is something I’d order again — the light, airy batter on the fish and chips and the perfectly poached, keep-it-simple-and-delicious shrimp cocktail are both worth mentioning, in particular.

But I’ll leave you with this: Go to Chip’s. Order what sounds good to you, and wash it down with one of Leary’s stellar, balanced cocktails, or if you’re not in the mood for booze, a thoughtful, refreshing non-alcoholic drink. Relax, linger with friends and remember what it’s like to eat in a restaurant you love. That’s my plan, anyway.

Chip’s Clubhouse

The patio at Chip’s Clubhouse. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)
  • Where: 272 S. Snelling Ave., #200, St. Paul
  • Contact: 651-330-1617;
  • Prices: Starters, $9.95-$19.95; sandwiches, $9.95-$14.95; entrees, $14.95-$16.95
  • Good to know: Ample on-street parking; gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. Patio in the back.
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