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Chicago Bears Q&A: Do the coaches doubt Justin Fields as a passer? What is with Kyler Gordon’s rookie struggles?

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Chicago Bears Q&Amp;A: Do The Coaches Doubt Justin Fields As A Passer? What Is With Kyler Gordon’s Rookie Struggles?
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After the Chicago Bears threw the ball only 11 times in a 27-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 2, readers want to know if the coaches doubt quarterback Justin Fields’ ability in the passing game — as well as questions about Kyler Gordon’s rookie struggles and whether Week 3 against the Houston Texans is a “must-win.” Brad Biggs answers those questions and more in his weekly mailbag.

Aaron Rodgers seemed to target receivers matched up against rookie Kyler Gordon. He was also ineffective in run support. What was his performance grading in the game? How long will this coaching staff be patient with a rookie CB that needs development? — Ryan Y., Libertyville

There were a handful of questions about Gordon, the second-round pick from Washington, this week and that wasn’t surprising because he had a rough go Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Gordon also made some nice plays in the game and no one asked about some of the better snaps he had, such as the pass breakup in the corner of the end zone when Rodgers was trying to connect with Allen Lazard.

The Packers ran four vertical routes on the play from the Bears’ 18-yard line. That concept is designed to stress a Cover-2 look from the secondary. Gordon was able to jam Lazard at the line of scrimmage and then sink. He could have been a little more aggressive with his jam and forced Lazard inside because he had some help from the interior. But Gordon did a great job of flipping his hips, tracking Lazard downfield and attacking the football for a pass deflection. That was a veteran-level play.

The bad outweighed the good, and Gordon let Lazard get inside on an RPO near the goal line that resulted in a 5-yard touchdown pass. He also had some poor fits against a well-oiled Packers ground game that rolled up 203 rushing yards. That’s a big total, and in four seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts, Matt Eberflus’ defense allowed that many only once — Nov. 29, 2020, when the Tennessee Titans ran for 229 yards.

After the game, I asked Gordon about the play at the goal line.

“We’re playing with leverage and we have help in a certain area,” Gordon said. “I guess just being able to read keys faster and see it beforehand, have that accelerated vision.”

With more experience, Gordon is going to have better pre-snap recognition and understanding of where the receiver is aligned, what routes should be keyed when considering the down and distance and where his teammates are in the scheme.

The Bears have put a lot on Gordon — having him play on the outside in the base defense, which the Bears were in 31% of the time against Green Bay — and in the slot in the nickel package. So, Gordon is learning two positions and that should not be overlooked when considering his development.

Looking specifically at this game, what did you think was going to happen? As a four-time NFL MVP, Rodgers knows where the inexperienced players are on the field on every snap. He knows the matchups and how to exploit them, and he’s going to challenge younger players. If he thinks he and his wide receivers have an edge, he’s going to keep going that direction.

There are going to be growing pains for a young cornerback. Gordon is going to get beat. He’s going to be out of position at times. There are going to be ups and downs. I think everyone — the coaches included — expected that. The Bears are not going to have to defend against Rodgers every week.

“It’s everything I say to every young player … that’s gone through these moments,” Eberflus said Monday. “There’s going to be ebb and flow over the course of a rookie season and that’s the way it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a guy that’s rookie of the year or not, there’s going to be those things. What you tell them is, ‘Take one experience at a time and put it in your file.’ You have to learn from that.

“So go back and look at all the plays that you made, all the plays that you want to correct and then put them in a file and say, ‘What would I have done?’ Put those to memory. Making sure you study those things and visualize those things as you go during the course of this week coming up so you can make those corrections. Because a good pro doesn’t make the same mistake twice. They get better and they improve and that’s how they become a better pro in Year 4, Year 5 and then become an All-Pro.”

I wouldn’t be overly concerned about Gordon’ right now. The sample size is incredibly small and he has the kind of athletic traits that the Bears cannot coach. He has excellent change of direction. He has really good size at 6-foot, 200 pounds for a slot corner and he’s a willing tackler.

I understand frustration with Gordon through two games, but I believe he has a bright future and think a lot of the mistakes he’s making will be things he can quickly correct. He’s a little aggressive at times keeping his eyes in the backfield and that’s a pitfall nearly every young cornerback experiences. The Bears are better off having Gordon learn as he goes than considering a replacement.

How impressed were you with David Montgomery’s performance Sunday night? He had the hot hand. — @just_acy

The eighth 100-yard game of Montgomery’s career has to be one his best. He ran for 122 yards on 15 carries and has topped that yardage total only twice (146 at Minnesota in 2020 and 135 against the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019).

All of Montgomery’s strengths were on display. He ran with great contact balance, he was physical and he finished every carry. He also ran with excellent vision and was more decisive than he was in the opener against the 49ers in the slop at Soldier Field. It was fair to wonder if Khalil Herbert was a better fit in the offense after Week 1. You don’t want to make knee-jerk reactions after one game, but it was a legitimate discussion, in my mind. Questions about Montgomery’s fit, however, were definitively answered at Lambeau Field.

As you said, he had the hot hand and that is not taking anything away from Herbert, who also ran well with 38 yards on four attempts. Interestingly, the Bears are 4-4 in games in which Montgomery has topped 100 yards.

Non-sarcastic question: Given how little the team has allowed Justin Fields to play football, is it fair to wonder if Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus are tanking in order to have a higher draft pick? Everyone has conceded the season long ago. Is draft position factoring into game plans? — @jickbaggins

You are not the only one who has wondered about the Bears angling for draft position this season. Personally, I think that is a reach and not accurate. As you know, the Bears have turned over the roster under Poles, going from the second-oldest on kickoff weekend in 2021 to the eighth-youngest this season. Nothing is going to develop young players more quickly than success. As Poles and Eberflus work to develop the nucleus of a team that can compete, they want to find building blocks for the future — 2023, 2024 and beyond. Building a championship roster isn’t something that happens overnight and they are not going to find positive answers in their search for players on both sides of the ball without them stepping forward and playing well.

Sure, Poles and his staff would love to have a high draft pick come April. You know what they would prefer? To see a bunch of the young players on the roster really develop and gain a foothold on positions they can hold for seasons to come. If they don’t find those answers as they go through this season, they’re going to get to the end of the year with a ton of young players and nearly as many questions as they began the new era with. Where would that leave them knowing the high draft picks in Rounds 1 and 2 are going to answer maybe two of those questions?

Moreover, the idea that offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is holding back Fields because he wants the Bears to tank is way off. If the Bears offense can take a major step forward — and early returns from a very small sample size are not encouraging — Getsy is going to be on the radar as a candidate to become a head coach. So, do you really believe Getsy is considering draft ramifications when crafting a gameplan during the week and calling plays on a Sunday? I don’t. In my mind, Getsy is making decisions he believes gives the team the best chance to win each week and on each play. That is the only way he can approach his job.

I know it’s a small sample size, but having thrown so little in the first two games makes me wonder if the coaches have any confidence in Justin Fields as a passer. Is Fields the future? — @skerr24

The Bears managed to do something that hasn’t been done in 44 years in the NFL: attempt only 28 passes through the first two games. Yes, there is a mitigating circumstance when considering the heavy downpour during the opener against the 49ers at Soldier Field. Yes, the Bears ran the ball very effectively Sunday night at Green Bay, but they also trailed by two or more scores for the final 34 minutes. As many have accurately pointed out, the success on the ground could have opened up opportunities in the play-action passing game.

You raise a valid question about the confidence level of Eberflus and Getsy in Fields’ ability as a passer and probably more importantly their belief in the unit as a whole to operate effectively throwing the ball. You’re not going to win a lot of games in the NFL when the quarterback attempts only 17 passes as Fields did against the 49ers, and it’s really difficult to win with 48 net passing yards as the Bears had at Green Bay. Since 2000, NFL teams are 17-55 (23.6%) when totaling 48 net passing yards or less and 1-13 (7.1%) since the start of the 2013 season.

That is why you heard Eberflus say Monday the Bears need to have greater balance in terms of the run/pass ratio.

“At the end of the day, we’d like to be 50/50 in a game,” he said. “It keeps the defense honest.”

As far as Fields being the future, I don’t know. Fields is the present and how he develops remains to be seen. There is an immense rush to judgment for young quarterbacks, who are forced onto the field almost immediately. Most times, highly-drafted quarterbacks are dropped into rosters in which much improvement is needed across the board. It’s OK to say we don’t know what Fields’ career arc will be after 12 starts. There is nothing wrong with that.

What we can do is take a sober look at where he is right now, and that is where the folks who have declared the quarterback and the new offense have turned a corner at various points have erred. Fields and the offense need to be significantly better.

Why abandon the run game? It was going great and the Bears could have used play-action. Why throw jump balls to Darnell Mooney? I think Dante Pettis should be used more. The Bears have some very good running backs and an O-line committed to run blocking. — @bigten5151

You can attempt more than 11 passes without abandoning the run game. As I detailed above, it’s extremely difficult to win in the NFL when you cannot challenge an opposing defense with a passing game when there isn’t a legitimate downfield threat. That is a simple and clear-cut answer to your first question.

I don’t know that anyone is advocating for the Bears to call jump balls to Mooney. That isn’t his strength as a 5-foot-11, 173-pound wide receiver. Mooney’s best attribute isn’t as a contested catch guy downfield. He has excellent speed, he’s a very good route runner and he can take the top off a defense. He needs far more than five targets through two games. Pettis had 23 snaps against the Packers and has been on the field for 46.4% of the offensive snaps. It’s fair to say all of the wide receivers need to be used more when the Bears have not been throwing the ball enough.

What’s the long-term benefit of rotating Teven Jenkins and Lucas Patrick? I don’t understand what short-term purpose it serves or how it helps the team. — @lgparlay

I don’t see this as a long-term move by the coaching staff. This is a short-term arrangement that has been made with a couple factors in play.

First, Jenkins is new to the guard position, a move that was made late in training camp, so he needs all the experience he can get. Patrick missed a little more than a month following surgery on his right thumb, so he needs action too. As long as Patrick is playing with a club to protect the thumb, playing center and snapping the ball is not possible. The Bears are able to get two players experience, one that the team inherited from the former regime and the other signed to a two-year, $8 million contract by the current regime.

The question facing the coaching staff is what will the line look like when Patrick is fully healthy and able to snap the ball? Will he be inserted at center? Will he stay at right guard? One thing we have consistently heard from the coaches since the spring is a goal of getting the best five players on the field. So the short-term goal is pretty clear to me. They want both players to get some experience to evaluate them. I don’t know if it serves a “long-term” plan but it does inform the coaches as they determine who will play in the near future.

I’ve seen a lot written about Justin Fields, Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet from Sunday. The problem is there was so much we couldn’t see on that telecast it’s difficult to know what’s true. Was Fields standing back there and indecisively missing open receivers? Were Mooney and Kmet unable to get open? Bad combination of both? — Marc B., Nashville, Tenn.

The passing game failed as a whole. There were openings for Fields to get rid of the ball quickly with decisive reads. That’s apparent when you go back and rewatch the game. Of course, we’re talking about a super small sample size with 11 pass attempts and three sacks.

The idea that the receivers were blanketed throughout and Fields had nowhere to go with the ball is not true. But it takes a combination of the quarterback making accurate pre- and post-snap reads, the receivers winning their routes and the protection holding up. The Bears didn’t have enough of all of the above and blame should be spread around.

For it to click, Fields will have to see it faster and get the ball out in rhythm more regularly. It’s a process. It’s a new offense. We’ll see how the next couple months shake out.

Lots of opportunities to critique an O-Line that starts several young players players. It sure seems like Sam Mustipher is a good kid, and he probably has overachieved to this point in his career, but he gets “blown up” pretty regularly, especially when pass blocking. Any idea when Lucas Patrick will be cleared to play center and will it make a positive impact? — Jeff Z., Washington, Ill.

I think Mustipher has played pretty well this season and my hunch is the coaching staff feels the same way. Does that mean he remains at center when Patrick is cleared to snap the ball again? I don’t know the answer to that. But Mustipher is off to a good start this season and he has improved from a year ago.

Yes, Mustipher got beat badly on one play by Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who used the old Reggie White “hump” move to get into the backfield. That was one snap and Clark is probably among the top three at his position in the league. He’s an elite interior defender and he’s going to beat centers from time to time. That’s one bad-looking snap through two games.

The anti-Mustipher crowd has latched on to one player and laid an overwhelming amount of blame on him. Basically, everyone that wanted Charles Leno run out of town switched to blaming Mustipher for everything that was wrong with the offensive line. Mustipher is improved this season and the coaching staff is evaluating him based on what he has done since they arrived. We’ll see who is playing center when Patrick is fully healthy.

Facing the 49ers and the Packers defenses is a tough way to start the season, but the first two weeks haven’t instilled much optimism in the Bears offense or the quarterback. Is this week’s game against the Houston Texans something of a must win? Not just on the scoreboard, but for Fields facing off with another draft selection in Davis Mills? — Jacob, Chicago

Must win in Week 3 of Year 1 for a new coaching staff? No such thing exists. What the Bears need this week is gradual improvement throughout the season. It’s not going to come in leaps and bounds even if it looks like it.

Remember the excitement after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in Week 4 of the 2018 season? It was the 16th career start for Mitch Trubisky and the offense exploded in a 48-10 victory at Soldier Field. Trubisky completed 19 of 26 passes for 354 yards and six touchdown passes. The offensive bonanza came against one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

My point is that you’re looking for improvement by Fields but it has to be steady growth, not blips here and there. Poles and Eberflus aren’t going to make some definitive decision about the quarterback based off Sunday’s game against the Texans. They’ve got an entire season to see him play.

I’ll paraphrase what I said above about the quarterback: It’s OK to say we don’t know what Fields’ career is going to become right now and we sure as heck don’t need to have an answer — one way or the other — by Monday morning.

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Letters: Gov. Walz, stop digging and apologize

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Letters: Gov. Walz, Stop Digging And Apologize
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Stop digging and apologize

Gov. Walz has wrongly besmirched a Ramsey County District Court Judge, John Guthmann, in a desperate attempt to cover up the poor performance of Walz’s own administration and attorneys in a lawsuit in which the government fired its litigation guns in 2021 at the fraudsters at Feeding our Future, and missed the target completely. The government attorneys forgot the cardinal rule for an infantryman or a litigation attorney — it is the rule of “ready, aim, fire.” They fired first and didn’t get ready or aim. Failure was bitter for all of us, since Walz’s administration unnecessarily lost more government funds to the fraudster army.

To practicing attorneys who actually go to court in Ramsey County, Judge Guthmann is regarded as an evenhanded judge of sound judgment, intellect, integrity, a balanced judicial temperament, qualities lacking in a governor who obviously has been misinformed when making a political hack attack that is unbelievably missing its target again.

Only one thing to do governor.  Apologize now and stopping digging the hole you are in.

Ferdinand Peters, St. Paul

 

This scenic drive? Better do it this year

The trees are turning and it’s time for a scenic drive.

Take Highway 34 northeast of Detroit Lakes and drive towards Park Rapids. You’ll pass through the stunning Smoky Hills State Forest. Do it this year, however, for there is a proposal to log off many of the trees along the roadway this winter. “Safety” is the justification, but is there a better way?

Here’s the challenge for our engineers and technology companies: Enhance safety while preserving these very special places. Don’t our companies like 3M and Cargill have ideas on better road materials and chemicals?

The outcry of opposition from residents, the county and travelers should be more than enough to spark action.

Gov. Walz, as Minnesota’s leader, can you help stop this project and turn it into a prototype for the future before it’s too late?

Vern Whitten, Fargo

 

Deal breaker?

The voting season has begun in Minnesota. Some may need a few more weeks to determine for whom to vote, but based on many factors, my decision has been made.

As a veteran, one of my priorities is national defense, and our current administration has made the U.S. and the world more dangerous because of a poorly executed pullout from Afghanistan.

Illegal immigration over our southern border has been at an obscene level, seemingly allowing anyone who can make it through, entry into our country.

Inflation is at such a level that many aren’t able to afford the price of groceries. Gasoline, heating fuel and other petroleum product prices are hurting middle class Americans.

Crime has increased in major cities, to the point that citizens are afraid to go out, even in daylight hours.

The question is, how can anyone who is affected vote for the Democratic Party majority based on their performance over the past two years?

We will find out whether, in the year 2022, in the United States of America, that protecting the lives of babies in the womb was the “deal breaker.”

Jerry Wynn, St. Paul

 

Non-ideological?

The Sept. 21 Letter to the Editor referring to “the respected Woodbury/Cottage Grove League of Women Voters” is misleading. The League of Women Voters is not a non-ideological group. They support a broad, pro-Democratic Party agenda. Why would someone opposed to a broad Democratic Party agenda participate in a debate run by those who do support that agenda? Why bother?

Tom Acheson, Maplewood

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Other voices: Liberating Iran: Biden learned from failures of Obama-era approach

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Other Voices: Liberating Iran: Biden Learned From Failures Of Obama-Era Approach
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With dozens of protesters now killed in Iran as unrest sparked by the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the country’s morality police engulfs the country, U.S. leadership finds itself in the familiar yet uncomfortable conundrum of how to respond. So far, the Biden administration is threading the needle ably.

Over a decade ago, when President Barack Obama found himself watching mass protests from afar, his tendency toward dispassionate calculation left him taking a tepid stance, likely out of fear that a stronger stance would open the door for the Iranian leadership to paint the homegrown protests as something driven by external U.S. meddling.

That was a mistake; the Iranian leadership needs no additional encouragement to lay its problems at the feet of the perennial bogeymen in Washington, and instead it could only have demoralized everyday Iranians hoping for broad international backing.

Obama’s then-second-in-command, now President Joe Biden, seems to have learned this lesson well and has thankfully been much more direct in both calling out the heavy-handed Iranian response and taking concrete action, including by imposing sanctions on the morality police specifically and moving to give tech companies more latitude to help circumvent the mullahs’ attempted internet blackout.

That’s not to say Biden should heed the hawks who’ve spent decades clamoring for the U.S. to attempt direct regime change, a terrible idea that the results of other recent military misadventures should take off the table. He should also remember that, while Donald Trump’s more forceful sanctions against Iran arguably feed the current domestic discontent, unfocused economic punishment can end up harming the very populations we intend to help. Biden is understandably still pursuing a nuclear deal — though he must tread especially carefully now.

The current approach, of forcefully backing the protesters in the public sphere while continuing to negotiate for a tough deal that will prevent Iran from continuing on a path toward the ill-conceived goal of nuclear weapons, is sound. It’s likeliest to result in a liberalized Iran without an immense body count.

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Mike Preston: Ravens offensive line needs stability, and Ronnie Stanley could provide it | COMMENTARY

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Mike Preston: Ravens Offensive Line Needs Stability, And Ronnie Stanley Could Provide It | Commentary
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As the Ravens continue to tinker and revamp their team, the offensive line remains perhaps the biggest question mark.

Right now, the unit is a revolving door, even though it seemed to find some rhythm in Sunday’s 37-26 win over the New England Patriots. The Buffalo Bills will be a much bigger challenge because they have the No. 2 ranked run defense in the NFL led by Von Miller, Gregory Rousseau, Boogie Basham and Jordan Phillips.

The Ravens will counter with guards Ben Powers and Kevin Zeitler, rookie center Tyler Linderbaum and right tackle Morgan Moses, but left tackle remains a mystery. It could be Patrick Mekari, rookie Daniel Faalele or possibly the All Pro himself, Ronnie Stanley, who has played only one game in the last two seasons because of an ankle injury. Stanley dressed in shorts and shoulder pads Wednesday, but Faalele took the repetitions with the first team.

The constant shuffling is one of the major reasons the Ravens are ranked No. 15 in rushing offense, way below their top-five standard of previous seasons. Offensive line play is about chemistry and being in sync, and the Ravens haven’t had any consistency at left tackle, the most important position on the line.

“We’re striving for it,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s a position we want to be in, for sure. There is value in having backup guys, a backup plan, with guys who can play different positions because things happen. Ideally, you want to have one group out there just like on defense, just like in the secondary, where you have a group out there as much as you can.”

Starting left tackle Ja’Wuan James ruptured his Achilles tendon in Week 1 and is out for the season. Mekari sprained his ankle against New England and didn’t not practice Wednesday. Faalele replaced Mekari against the Patriots and played reasonably well after a slow start, but he’ll struggle against the Bills’ defensive line.

This situation was somewhat predictable. James was struggling to make it through training camp after missing the entire 2020 and 2021 seasons and Mekari has been bothered by a bad back for years. It was only a matter of time before they missed extensive playing time due to injuries.

The Ravens need Stanley to play. He has had nearly two years to heal, and Harbaugh basically said a week ago that Stanley had to decide on his own when he could return.

The time is now.

“It’s what he sees, it’s what he feels, those two things have to be taken into account,” Harbaugh said. “Ronnie doesn’t want to go out there and we don’t him to go out there if he doesn’t feel he is ready to go. It’s a priority for him to be at his best when he comes back. At some point, he is going to have to jump in there. It could be this week.”

In his first five seasons in Baltimore after being selected No. 6 overall in the 2016 draft, Stanley became one of the top left tackles in the NFL. When coming out of Notre Dame, though, he was criticized for his work ethic and there were times earlier in his pro career when Stanley decided not to practice when he should have been on the field.

There are whispers of the same criticism again from the Ravens’ fan base and from some within the organization, but patience is needed. When a player that large (6 feet 6, 315 pounds) has an ankle injury and multiple surgeries, it’s going to take time to heal.

But let’s be honest. Stanley will never be mentioned in the same breath as tough guys like Orlando Brown Sr. (nicknamed Zeus), guard Jeff Blackshear or nose tackle Tony Siragusa.

His return, though, could mark a turning point. In the past, the Ravens prided themselves on winning time of possession, but this year opponents have held the ball nearly five minutes more per game.

The Ravens have allowed the most passing and total yards in the league this season, which doesn’t bode well against Buffalo. If you want keep players like Bills quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs off the field, the best way to do it is to control the tempo.

There is nothing more demoralizing in a football game than an offense with a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter running the ball effectively. That’s almost as good as any defense.

This Ravens offense still has that potential, especially with J.K Dobbins returning as the starting running back and Justice Hill emerging as his primary backup. But the key is having all five starters on the offensive line playing consistently.

Against the Patriots, quarterback Lamar Jackson powered the running game with 107 yards on 11 carries. It worked Sunday, but a quarterback shouldn’t be that exposed to punishment, especially against Buffalo.

The idea is to be balanced enough to run or pass depending on the opponent’s weaknesses and the down and distance. Buffalo could be without top safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer and cornerbacks Tre’Davious White and Christian Benford on Sunday, so that gives the Ravens some leeway.

Faalele isn’t the best answer at left tackle, but at least he will get more playing time to develop. Another option the team might consider is moving Moses to the left side because of his athleticism. If Mekari returns, the Ravens should insert him as left guard because he is more technically sound than Powers, but Harbaugh prefers having bigger bodies on the line. Mekari weighs 305 pounds compared to 338 for Powers.

The Ravens have plenty of options, including David Sharpe, who could be elevated from the practice squad in an emergency. The versatility is a good thing to have, but the best offensive lines are cohesive because they have played together consistently.

The Ravens need to find that kind of rhythm.

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9 St. Paul hot spots to eat at right now

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Banh Xeo Savory Crepe , With A Salad.
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It might seem like restaurant openings have slowed down a bit since the pandemic, but I’m here to tell you that there are so many new and exciting restaurants in St. Paul that I’m having a hard time keeping up.

A west metro, food-loving friend of mine told me recently that St. Paul is where it’s at, and after compiling this list, it’s hard to argue with him.

Here, in alphabetical order, are eight relatively recently opened places (and one with a notable new chef) in St. Paul that are absolutely worth your time and money. It’s a good time to live in the Capital City!

EM QUE VIET

Banh Xeo savory crepe at Em Que Viet on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

One of the newest on this list, Em Que Viet is the younger, hipper “little sister” of Minneapolis’ Que Viet. If you recognize the name, it might be because these are also the folks responsible for the delicious giant eggroll on a stick a the Minnesota State Fair.

The exterior of the Grand Avenue restaurant is hard to miss — a canopy of pretty pink flowers marks the spot — and the interior is bright and modern. There’s an adorable little patio in the back, too, to savor the last drops of fall sunshine.

There’s plenty of traditional Vietnamese food — including those ridiculously delicious giant egg rolls — on the menu here, but also some harder-to-find items like a silky beef carpaccio and Banh Xeo, or a crispy, bean-sprout-filled Vietnamese crepe. There are tons of vegan and vegetarian options here, and they have a full liquor license. The cocktail list includes craft drinks using Asian ingredients and flavors (like an espresso martini with Vietnamese drip espresso or a whiskey sour with Japenese whiskey).

Great for a date night or a business lunch, Em Que Viet is a welcome addition to St. Paul’s dining scene.

1332 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-330-4363; emqueviet.com

EMERALD LOUNGE

  • Mussels On A Plate

    Mussels at Emerald Lounge in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Chips And Dip

    Chips and dip at Emerald Lounge in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Shrimp And Grits

    Shrimp and grits at Emerald Lounge in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Four Cocktails -- Three In Martini Glasses And The Fourth In A Short Glass.

    Cocktails, including The Huntress, foreground, at Emerald Lounge in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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This pretty little cocktail lounge has been an instant hit in the Capital City. But if it’s full when you arrive, don’t worry — tables generally turn quickly, and a friendly staff never makes you feel out of place while you wait.

The snack-heavy food menu here is short but tasty — try some tender mussels in a Thai-inspired coconut broth or chips and two kinds of housemade dip (French onion or harissa aioli). The menu changes frequently, but most everything we have tried has been tasty.

Cocktails here are thoughtfully crafted and well-balanced. The martini of the moment is always a great selection — it’s usually a variation on the classic gin drink. The Huntress, an aquavit version of the martini that includes white balsamic vinegar and an anchovy and a pickled onion as garnish, is a savory revelation. It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I love aquavit and a salty drink, so I really, really loved it. The wine list focuses on some underrepresented varietals. If you haven’t heard of it, order it anyway.

Overall, it’s an awesome spot to meet up with friends and have a nosh and a drink — whatever your preference.

455 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-410-1650; emeraldstpaul.com

GABE’S NEIGHBORHOOD BAR & KITCHEN

  • Birria Quesadilla On A Plate, With A Bowl Of Sauce.

    Birria quesadilla at Gabe’s Neighborhood Bar & Kitchen on Lexington Parkway and Energy Park Drive in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Loaded Brussels Sprouts On A Plate.

    Loaded Brussels sprouts at Gabe’s Neighborhood Bar & Kitchen in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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This Como Park neighborhood staple underwent a branding change and brought on chef Scott Brink, who was the chef at The Happy Gnome for many years, and his wife, Emily Brink, who is running the front of the house.

The changes haven’t been huge — a few new menu items, fun daily specials, a bathroom remodel, a new logo and sign — but the food, especially the new items, are great for bar food.

My dining partners and I especially liked the birria quesadillas, which include tender beef, lots of cheese and a rich, spice-infused consomme, and the loaded Brussels sprouts, which include bacon, queso fresco and sriracha aioli. Bang bang shrimp tacos, with crispy shrimp, crunchy cabbage and a mildly spicy bang bang sauce, are also worth an order.

991 N. Lexington Parkway, St. Paul; 651-646-3066; gabesmn.com

GUS GUS

  • Sea Bass

    Sea bass at Gus Gus in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Chips With Speck And Creme Fraiche

    Chips with speck and creme fraiche at Gus Gus in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Red Jell-O Shots On A White Plate.

    Jell-o shots at Gus Gus in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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This beloved Mac-Groveland neighborhood restaurant space (it was 128 Cafe for many years, and after that, Stewart’s) is happily still one of my favorite eateries in town.

Hospitality vets Anna Morgan (front of house) and Kevin Manley (chef) opened Gus Gus this spring, and it’s as comfortable, and approachable, as ever. The killer Stewart’s burger is still there, but also fun bar snacks like house-made potato chips topped with bits of speck ham and creme fraiche and simple, well-executed entrees like sea bass on a white bean ragu and a tender, beefy ribeye.

The bar program is better than ever, especially for cocktail lovers — the list of inventive craft drinks is long, and everything we sampled has been great. You can also get fancy Jell-o shots, made with Aperol, blood orange and bubbly, which are delicious and are a fun way to kick off your experience.

I also love that you can get a reservation, but they keep bar seats open for spontaneous drop-ins.

128 N. Cleveland Ave., St. Paul; 651-645-4128; gusgusmn.com

KALSADA

  • A Row Of Lumpia On A Plate.

    Lumpia with banana ketchup at Kalsada on St. Paul’s Selby Avenue. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Chicken Adobo With Eggs.

    Chicken adobo at Kalsada on St. Paul’s Selby Avenue. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Three Plates Of Carrots Ginataan, Lumpia And A Tomato Cucumber Salad

    Carrots Ginataan, lumpia and a tomato cucumber salad at Kalsada in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • The Outside Of Kalsada, A Restaurant.

    The outside of Kalsada in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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Filipino food has been hard to find in these parts, and I’m thrilled that this restaurant in the former Augustine’s space on Selby Avenue has filled that void.

Chefs Leah Raymundo and John Occhiato, who also own Cafe Astoria and Stella Belle in St. Paul’s West Seventh neighborhood, did very little to the pretty space here, which already had a tropical vibe.

Raymundo is channeling her home country with modern, soulful versions of dishes like lumpia, chicken adobo and kinilaw, the Filipino version of ceviche. The flavors are bright, deep and tropical and the vibe very comfortable and neighborhoody. There’s a full liquor license in the evenings — and a long list of tropical cocktails — and a full espresso program for weekend brunch.

1668 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651-340-0496; kalsada-stpaul.com

MARIO’S

Pepperoni Pizza
Pepperoni pizza from Mario’s on Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

Pizza, for some reason, really evokes strong feelings in people. It’s why I’ll never do a “best pizza” story — I’d never see the end of the emails.

But if you are a lover of a thick crust, this new spot from the owners of Estelle is for you. I personally love all pizzas if they are done well, and these springy-crisp-crusted pies, which are topped with just the right amount of sauce and cheese — are definitely done well.

There’s a lot of complaining among food writers I know that it’s tough to get a really good sandwich in the Twin Cities. That’s still true, but I’d definitely put the hoagies here — with their sesame-crusted, house-made bread — in the really good category.

The restaurant, in the former Tillie’s Farmhouse space on Cleveland Avenue, has plenty of space for eating in, but the team is also doing a brisk takeout business.

232 N. Cleveland Ave., St. Paul; 651-207-5252; mariosstp.com

MOMENTO

  • Pepperoni Pizza

    Pepperoni pizza at Momento in downtown St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Salmon In Sauce On A Plate, With Vegetables.

    Salmon at Momento in downtown St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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It was definitely a sad thing for many St. Paulites when Pazzaluna never reopened after pandemic closures.

Happily, the restaurant’s wood-fired oven has been fired up again with this (much smaller) restaurant. The bar here is front and center, and for many people, that’s where they preferred to be at Pazzaluna anyway. Momento is the latest restaurant from Morrissey Hospitality, which ran Pazzaluna and also runs St. Paul Grill across the street.

It’s clear they’re going for quick service for people headed to events downtown in the evenings (they are also open for lunch), and they have accomplished that. I’ve been there before several concerts, and the service is brisk and the food comes out fast.

The food — burgers, tacos, pasta and the like — is decent, and the cocktails are solid. The best thing we had in three visits was definitely the thin-crusted, properly topped pizza.

360 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651-223-7000; momento-stp.com

MYRIEL

  • A Plate Of Duck.

    A duck dish from Myriel in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Black Lentils In A Bowl, With Garnish.

    Black lentils at Myriel in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • A Bowl Of Soup.

    Celery root soup at Myriel in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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I have long admired chef Karyn Tomlinson’s sparse, Nordic-inspired cuisine, and Myriel, in the former Bar Brigade space on Cleveland Avenue, is the perfect place for the first restaurant of her own.

Tomlinson, who was at the helm of Minneapolis’ beloved Corner Table when it closed, also won the national Cochon 555 competition. She’s a big believer in whole-animal butchery — which also means using every part of the pig, cow, lamb or whatever is on the menu. That also means that the menu changes frequently. I usually recommend a la carte dining here, unless you want to make an entire evening of dinner, as that experience has run three-plus hours for me several times.

That being said, everything I have eaten here, including the best duck I’ve ever tasted and black lentils that I’m still craving six months later, has been delicious. It’s where you want to take your food-loving friends when they visit, or where you want to linger over pretty plates of food on a romantic night.

470 S. Cleveland Ave., St. Paul; 651-340-3568; myrielmn.com

NOYES & CUTLER

  • Salmon On A Plate.

    Salmon at Noyes & Cutler in St. Paul’s Lowertown. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • A Porterhouse Steak With Butter On It.

    A porterhouse at Noyes & Cutler in Lowertown. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • A Restaurant Dining Room.

    The dining room at the new Noyes & Cutler in Lowertown. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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Another space that has been rebooted since the pandemic, Noyes & Cutler has opened in the former Public Kitchen + Bar space on Mears Park in Lowertown.

Noyes & Cutler, named for the historic building in which it resides, calls itself a modern American steakhouse, and if you’re going to hang your hat on steak in these beef-obsessed cities, it had better be good. Lucky for us, it’s great — especially the juicy, perfectly cooked prime rib, which comes with horseradish sauce and au jus. It’s kind of a hard cut to find, and many places that offer it do so only certain days of the week.

Chef Aaron Cave is also making a killer porterhouse, which seems really expensive at $70 with no sides until you see the thing and realize it’s enough meat for four, easily. And the non-beef options we’ve tried, including a lick-the-plate good salmon preparation, have all been special-occasion worthy, too.

Public Kitchen never really found its footing, but I’m happy to say that Noyes & Cutler has food befitting the beautiful space in which it resides. Hopefully enough people find it to keep it around.

229 E. Sixth St., St. Paul; 651-968-1050; noyescutler.com

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ASK IRA: Is there an expiration date on Heat development when it comes to follow-up contracts?

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Ask Ira: Is There An Expiration Date On Heat Development When It Comes To Follow-Up Contracts?
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Q: Hi, Ira. With Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson, it isn’t that people were mad they spent the money. It’s the apparent disconnect between continued evaluation of these players when initially signed to these unwarranted sums and lengths of contracts to extend them. The Heat seem to do fantastic at unearthing hidden gems that either go undrafted or were outcasts. But then when the time to further secure their services comes, they overvalue their worth and give out these contracts that they shouldn’t. That’s the real problem. – David, Miami.

A: And yet that also is part of what makes the Heat the Heat, that they value living in the moment, that they don’t write off seasons. So, yes, if they need James Johnson and Dion Waiters in the moment, they sign them in the moment. And in the wake of the Big Three breaking up, they take the risk with Hassan Whiteside. Similarly, when an upgrade at point guard becomes available, they put aside concerns about Kyle Lowry’s age. And the reality is they ultimately were willing to give a third guaranteed season to P.J. Tucker. Why? Because the moment matters. The greater issue is the toll exacted by such long-term expenditures by living in the moment. And, to the Heat’s credit, they have gotten off that bad money before the ends of those contracts, with Waiters, Whiteside and the two Johnsons dealt, often in exchange for something better, be it Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder or tax or cap relief. There is plenty to be said about living in the moment. And there also is plenty to be said about a front office that also recognizes when it is time to move on. Soon there could be similar decisions on Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Omer Yurtseven, as we wait to see how this all plays out with Duncan Robinson. In the end, it could come down to whether Robinson is flipped, and what might come back in return.

Q: Omer Yurtseven has the potential to be the best undrafted, diamond-in-the rough find for this franchise yet. If he can hit the three, look out. He is a very underrated passer out of the post, as well, who can draw attention and kick it back out for an open three. He needs to be in the rotation. – Joe.

A: All of the elements you cite factor into the playing-time equation for Omer Yurtseven. But, more than anything, it will come down to his defense. That cannot be a net minus. What will be interesting to see is if Erik Spoelstra is prepared to meet him halfway, design a system other than requiring his big man to switch so often on pick-and-rolls. Spoelstra did that for Hassan Whiteside, and has done that with Dewayne Dedmon. So it could come down to a willingness to play more drop coverage when Bam Adebayo is out of the game and Yurtseven is in. That’s if Yurtseven gets in.

Q: Udonis Haslem will always be a Heat legend. Let’s have a great last ride. – Charles.

A: Of course, it’s not actually a ride until you get onto the road, or, in this case, onto the court. And that remains to be seen. As it is, the Heat are overloaded with center types, but lacking in aguile power forwards. I’m not sure Udonis Haslem qualifies anymore as a mobile big man.

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Friday is Orange Shirt Day in Canada. A Mendota Heights company is marking it, too.

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Friday Is Orange Shirt Day In Canada. A Mendota Heights Company Is Marking It, Too.
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A Mendota Heights company is marking Orange Shirt Day, a Canadian grassroots movement to reflect on the treatment of First Nations people in the residential school system.

Patterson Cos., a large medical supplies conglomerate primarily in the business of veterinary and dental products, is promoting the holiday across its North American locations. While only 720 of Patterson’s 7,800 employees are Canadian or work in Canada, the company said it strives to promote holidays and days of remembrance from different cultures and backgrounds.

“Since this matters to Canadians, this matters to Patterson,” said Sarah Schoeneck, media relations manager. “We’re trying to foster a diverse culture and that means celebrating not just American holidays, but other holidays outside of the country.”

Orange Shirt Day falls on Friday, which is also National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, a new statutory holiday that commemorates survivors and victims of Indigenous residential schools. Orange Shirt Day was founded by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, whose favorite orange shirt was taken away on her first day of school.

For the second-annual Orange Shirt Day celebration at Patterson, employees are able to purchase orange shirts through the company and are encouraged to wear them for the day. Several hundred T-shirts were sold across 47 locations in the company.

Proceeds from the shirt sales will be donated to the Squamish Neighbourhood Animal Partnership and Protection Society, which is run by a Canadian residential school survivor. Schoeneck said the company decided to partner with this organization due to Patterson’s involvement in the animal health industry.

This year, Patterson donated nearly $1,600 to S.N.A.P.P.S.

Many initiatives to foster diverse culture at Patterson have been led by the company’s Patterson Affinity Zone group, an employee-led initiative that promotes inclusivity within the company. The group helps provide context and education around holidays that may be unfamiliar to employees, according to Amir Abdou, an integrations consultant at Patterson and a member of the Affinity Zone.

“We’re just trying to educate and help folks who are underrepresented and work with our allies to figure out how we can keep things moving forward,” Abdou said.

While Orange Shirt Day is a holiday celebrated by many Canadians, Abdou said he feels that celebrating the holiday here creates an opportunity for Minnesotans to learn more about the state’s Indigenous communities.

“It’s just important for people and all large companies, especially in the U.S., to learn from this and maybe learn their own ties or their own history,” he said. “Native (Americans) are obviously all over America. So it’s just an opportunity to learn about that history, more than what we were necessarily taught in school.”

Issues of reconciliation and reparations have long been debated in Canada, where the country’s Indian Residential School system, a church-run, government-funded institution, took Indigenous children against their will and subjected them to abuse, neglect and dangerous living conditions as they attempted to assimilate them into white European culture and religion.

Survivors created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of efforts to advocate for recognition and reparations. The commission ran from 2008 to 2015 and afterward released a final report of 94 “Calls to Action” for the Canadian government.

One of these called on the corporate sector in Canada to do its part, according to Ronald Reyes, a category manager at Kane Pet Supplies, one of Patterson’s Canadian companies.

“It’s still going to take generations for this to be rectified and finally get reconciliation,” said Reyes. “But, you know, every small little step that we do today really contributes to that.”

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