Recipes From Polly’s Slow Food In St. Paul

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Polly’s Slow Food served comfort food in St Paul for just over a decade. Owner Polly Sidney’s restaurant was the antithesis of the fast-food joints crowding out independent, sit-down eateries across the country. Polly’s Slow Food felt like you walked into a friend’s home for tasty, homemade food in a wholesome atmosphere.

The Early Years

Polly’s Slow Food first opened at 1589 S. Robert Street in 1979. The restaurant took over a building that was once an old Texaco gas station and gave it a homey makeover. Cinnamon-colored wallpaper covered the walls, and vases filled with flowers were placed throughout the dining room to brighten the space. Polly and her father made the dining tables unique by collaging vintage postcards and old photos on the tops. It was then covered by thick plastic to make cleanup easy. Each collage featured a small photo of Polly — if customers could find it, they got a free slice of pie.

Polly designed the original menu to give diners a break from the basic fast-food offerings that surrounded her restaurant. Classics like sandwiches, salads, and burgers were made to order based on the customer’s preferences. But it was the made-from-scratch meat pies, pasta, soups, and desserts that created a group of devoted customers. Fresh lahvosh – a traditional Armenian flatbread – was served with meals. 

A New Location

Polly’s needed a new place to call home within a couple of years. Around the same time, the former Northern Pacific Railway Company’s Como Shops were being converted by AHW Corporation (a subsidiary of the Wilder Foundation) into an enclosed shopping center named Bandana Square. 

Polly was the first tenant to sign a lease at Bandana Square, giving her the pick of spaces. She chose a prime location with three rooms on the second floor. It had a view into the central part of the building with its original clerestory windows and timber trusses.

Polly’s unique dining tables and carved chairs made the move across town, as did many menu items. Polly reinforced her commitment to not rushing good food by adopting the famous quote from Aesop’s Fables, “Slow and steady wins the race.” The restaurant mascots were the tortoise and the hare. 

When the restaurant opened in its new location in November 1983, many loyal customers showed up to see Polly’s new digs. It wasn’t long before Polly’s reputation for delicious, seasonal food grew a faithful following in Energy Park. Polly planned a revolving menu each week that featured seasonal ingredients. The only item on the menu every day was the wine cheese soup. Polly’s mom, Ciel Bearth, was in charge of making the incredible pies offered each day.

If one of Polly’s avid customers had a request, Polly added it to the menu for the following week. She let the customer know which day it would be on the menu and asked them to return on that day. One of those requests led to Polly’s opening early for the breakfast crowd starting in 1987. Then-governor Rudy Perpich and his wife, Lola, were loyal customers who frequented Sunday brunch. 

Bandana Square Struggles

Other than Polly’s, only a dozen or so shops and eateries had moved into Bandana Square in those early years. Polly’s and another popular restaurant, Filbert’s, were the main draw for the mall. The mall mainly served its neighborhood, with few people coming from other parts of the city or neighboring suburbs. Even after an aggressive campaign to advertise the mall and its tenants, Bandana Square never got enough foot traffic to entice new businesses into signing a lease. 

By the end of the decade, the mall’s retail space was still only a little over half full. Rent was too high and traffic was too low, forcing several tenants out of business within a year or two. The project was unsustainable for the Wilder Foundation, which had lost $9 million on the project. After requesting assistance from the Saint Paul Port Authority (SPPA), they decided the only way to get out from under the project was to turn it over to the SPPA in 1989. 

Sputtering To An End

With Bandana Square going into redevelopment mode at the end of the decade, many tenants were left to wonder about their future. For many, redevelopment likely meant losing more money as the SPPA and their partners reconfigured the retail space and decided which businesses were profitable enough to stay. Unfortunately, the uncertainty about what was to come caused several businesses to close their doors, including Polly’s Slow Food. 

After the closure, Polly directed operations and made wedding cakes for Buttercreme Desserts. Ciel joined her there creating desserts to be sold at Dayton’s store restaurants. 

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Polly’s husband, Terry for graciously sending photos of Polly, the restaurant on Robert Street, the construction of Polly’s in Bandana Square, menus, recipes, and his memories. All of the photos in this article belong to Terry. Please do not use them elsewhere without his permission. Here are a few more of the photos he sent.

Polly’s Wine Cheese Soup

Polly's Slow Food served comfort food at Bandana Square in St Paul through the 1980s. This recipe comes directly from Polly's recipe box. You can see the handwritten recipe in the photo gallery in the post above.

Ingredients

  • 4 small carrots, thinly sliced
  • 3 sticks celery, thinly sliced
  • cups chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. onions, chopped
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 cups hot chicken stock
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 can (8.75 oz.) tomatoes, chopped
  • 10 drops hot sauce
  • tsp. nutmeg
  • salt
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • cups whipping cream

Instructions

  • Simmer together the celery, carrots, and 1½ cups chicken stock until vegetables are soft.
  • Melt butter and sauté onions. Add flour, then slowly stir in hot broth. Cook until thickened.
  • Blend in cheese. Add tomatoes and undrained carrots and celery. Add seasonings and wine.
  • Stir in cream before serving.
  • Garnish with parsley or popcorn.

Polly’s Slow Food Spinach Lasagna

Polly's Slow Food served comfort food at Bandana Square in St Paul through the 1980s.
Servings 7

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. lasagna noodles, cooked
  • 2 lbs. cottage cheese
  • salt, to taste
  • white pepper, to taste
  • garlic powder, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup soft butter
  • 1 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
  • 2 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Mix cottage cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley, unbeaten eggs, and butter.
  • Grease a lasagna pan. Layer noodles in a pan followed by a layer of cottage cheese mixture, Monterey Jack, spinach, and Parmesan; repeat.
  • Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until lightly brown.
Course: Main Course

Polly’s Slow Food German Chocolate Pie

Polly's Slow Food served comfort food at Bandana Square in St Paul through the 1980s.
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 1 9-inch pie shell
  • 4 oz. baking chocolate
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 14 oz. canned sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • tsp. salt
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup flaked coconut
  • pecans and whipped cream as garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375-degrees.
  • To partially bake pie shell: Do not prick pie shell. Line with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 5 minutes. Remove foil, bake 1 minute more.
  • In heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt chocolate and butter. In large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and warm chocolate mixture; mix well. Add eggs, water, vanilla, and salt. Mix well.
  • Pour into prepared crust. Top with the ½ cup of pecans and coconut. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until set.
  • Cool; chill 3 to 4 hours. Garnish with pecans and whipped cream.
Course: Dessert
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