Usually every month my dinner club gets together for a night of great food, wine and conversation. Our usual format is to go out one month to a new restaurant and the next month to dine in with a fabulous meal. Last night we were out-and-about and ventured to a new’ish restaurant on the east side of Saint Paul, called Tongue In Cheek.

I was a little reluctant to traipse over to this part of Saint Paul having personally grown up in the east side of Saint Paul. I always remembered Payne Avenue as being the sort of rough and tumble area that was frequented by bars and strip clubs, however don’t mistake this area as being anything other than an up and coming area with exceptional dining.

Located in the heart of the the Payne Avenue-Phalen Boulevard resurgence, Tongue In Cheek is where you will find Chef Leonard Anderson and his wife Ashley Newman along with co-owner Ryan Huesby, serving up a wide variety of humane treated and sustainable, meat-centric and fish-friendly dishes.

Guests first walk into the bar area where I observed the bartender mixing up a variety of signature drinks, including a flight of six mini-cocktails to highlight different sensory perceptions, such as salty, sweet and spicy. Once inside the restaurant, we were greeted by Ryan and he took us into the main dining room, which was lined with tables as well as rather comfortable booths.

We opted to skip the “sharing” appetizers and instead focused in on the “teasers” appetizers, which in reality are mini-bites of exceptionally crafted dishes. The three teasers I chose were the Goldi-lox, the Charred Feta and the Torched Ahi, as shown below. Several of my table mates ordered the East Friend Pride, which is the perfect bite of pork belly, with a stonefruit salsa. For me, I really enjoyed all three of my teasers, as the Goldi-lox had some finely diced salmon, topped with salmon roe and horseradish. The charred feta was balanced nicely with a berry jam and just a hint of smoked sea salt. Lastly, the torched ahi was topped with capers and kalamata olives. In a matter of three or four bites, all three of these teasers were now safely secured in my belly.

In between our teasers and our entrees, Chef Leonard sent out to us a complimentary Berries & Bubbly teaser. This teaser is a sparkling wine apertif, with a slight hint of ginger, but includes a berry sphere. We were told to sip half of the sparkling wine, just above the berry sphere, then to shoot (i.e. guzzle) the remaining sparkling wine and the berry sphere. What I will say is, you will be in for a pleasant surprise if you try this teaser (now that’s what I call a tease).

We then moved on to our entrees, where our table was pretty evenly split between the Pasture Pork Belly and the Market Steak. But don’t be fooled by the Market Steak nomenclature, as last night it included a traditional beef steak and an ahi tuna steak. Now with a name like Tongue In Cheek, I would have expected to find some tongue and at least some cheeks, but alas none were to be found. I call that irony.

As I don’t eat pork, I had to sit through my mates oohing and aahing about how delicate the pork belly was cooked and how amazing it tasted. Therefore, I opted for the ahi tuna steak, which a rather large cut of ahi tuni steak. Normally when I eat ahi tuna, I ask the chef to sear the ahi tuni steak, so that it is prepared rare. In this instance, I think I actually requested this to be seared but raw. Have no fears, the ahi tuna steak was slightly warm and prepared to my liking. Along with the ahi tuni steak, was a nice serving of mash potatoes and vegetables.

Everyone was thoroughly full, two bottles of wine had been partaken, yet we couldn’t leave without having coffee and dessert. Our table of five ordered two desserts to share, which was the perfect amount for five, fully-stuffed friends. We ordered the Chocolate Ode to The Dome and the Irish Coffee Brulee. Both were exceptional desserts, but our table tended to enjoy the Irish Coffee Brulee slightly more. Both of these desserts were also gluten free, which was a big plus for one of our friends.

All-in-all, we had a wonderful time at Tongue In Cheek. From the teasers, to the entrees, to the desserts, Chef Leonard and the team have truly created an exceptional dining experience, right where you would least to expect it. I can’t wait to come back again and try some of the other dishes. So don’t be shy and give Tongue In Cheek a try.

Tongue In Cheek is located at 989 Payne Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Telephone number is (651) 888-6148. Hours for dinner are Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 4pm to 10pm; Friday and Saturday from 4pm to 11pm. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 2pm. Current menu can be found here.