Back when The Salty Tart first opened as a small bakery stand inside Midtown Global Market, it was only phase one of Michelle Gayer’s master plan. The one-time pastry chef for Charlie Trotter had moved to Minneapolis to help Franklin Bakery expand its business. While sifting through paperwork and trying to find the best wax paper for cheesecakes and the like, she dreamed of her own place. It would be heavy on the pretty, comfortable, unfussy and serving sweet and savory dishes.
The 2008 opening of the bakery featured a small space, done in white with a twinkling chandelier and elegant lettering. The case was lined with chocolate croissants, savory pastries, cakes, cookies near a basket filled with baguettes. As she racked up multiple James Beard nominations, the time to expand was never quite right until recently.
Her breads, especially the milk buns, a squishy dome with a glistening top, were in such high demand that she had to turn down orders due to lack of production space, until she was able to expand production into a commercial kitchen earlier this year.
There is also a small stand at the airport, but it was the opportunity to open a cafe in Tim McKee’s Market House Collaborative inside the former Heartland deli space in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood that was the realization of that long-held vision.
The room is light with a few tables, a pastry case and a small kitchen. Along one wall is a plush bench, repurposed from the former Heartland. Designer Liz Gardner had it reupholstered in a vintage-feeling velvet fabric of indeterminate 70’s-chic color. People quickly take these seats and linger long past meal time.
Behind the counter, where diners order, is a sleek, vintage Italian espresso machine that was all but donated to the cafe from Nina’s Coffee Shop up the hill. Truestone Coffee is served and trained all of the baristas.
In addition to fresh bread, full cakes, the usual pastries, including the coconut macaroons that Andrew Zimmern once called the best thing he ever ate, there are several savory breakfast and lunch items.
Breakfast dishes include shirred eggs in cream with spinach and bacon, fritatta, hot oatmeal with quinoa and dates, cured salmon tartine and a breakfast sandwich of soft scrambled eggs on that infamous milk bun.
Lunch options include a couple of paninis, soup, plus brandad of salt cod and potato.
There is just one last piece of this puzzle, Gayer hopes to one day add a liquor license so that diners can sip a little champagne with that brandad.
For now, thirsty patrons will need to stick to cortados or the specialty coffee drinks like The Green Line with matcha and lavender or Up North For the Weekend with maple and pecan.
The Salty Tart Saint Paul is open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.