Sunday, April 26, 2015

612 meets 318

318 Water Street, Excelsior, MN 55331

The Internet has shrunk the world and brought us all closer together. We no longer have to wait to read about disasters in the morning paper. We now know about earthquakes in Nepal minutes after they happen. Deaths of Google executives are tweeted long before the obituary can be researched, edited and printed. There are bad things about this shrunken world. On the Internet, for example, all of the restaurants seem pretty close to us, so when Sarah puts out a call for breakfast on the “Wayzata side” of Minneapolis, and I find a website for a place in Excelsior, it seems like no problem to make it there for breakfast at 9:00. After all visiting the website took no more clicks than visiting the website of any old restaurant in my East Lake Street neighborhood.

It wasn’t until I was in the actual bricks-and-mortar car, driving past actual strip malls that I realized that the Internet had tricked me again. 318 Water Street, which looks so close on the Internet is actually quite a drive from all of our homes (except for the one Sarah and Perley are housesitting). It’s so far in fact, that I even felt a twinge of carsickness on the drive home when my full belly jostled around in the back of Jimmy’s Mini Cooper. Spending most of the morning driving to and from breakfast is going to affect the grade. How can it not?

To get the full impact of the distance on my review, picture this: I am a breast-feeding woman four hours past waking up, with no pre-breakfast breakfast on board, having endured a seemingly endless drive past strip malls and bike trails and sprawling suburban schools and more strip malls and a technology-induced tour of a cul-de-sac (no GPS, seriously, just tell us to turn around. We don’t need to drive 0.75 miles out of our way to do it). And just as we neared the restaurant – that shining beacon of hope of finally getting some food – Jimmy decided to park the car two blocks away so that his beloved could get some extra Fitbit steps on the way to the restaurant. About then, Sarah texted me a picture of her mimosa. I tried not to faint.

I exaggerate. It’s what we do.

Anyway, the location is “main street suburbia”. It’s the kind of place with plenty of antique shops and boutiques and nostalgia for the 1950s (ahh…for the days of Joe McCarthy and brutal redlining and women in the kitchen and glorified conformity). Still it’s a preferable suburban architectural movement to “Bennigan’s suburban hell,” so I’ll take it.

Perley informed us as we sat down that four other tables arrived just as we did, and the waitstaff and kitchen were slammed. I regretted again the lack of a first breakfast. It was another hour before I saw any food.

The menu is slim. One page, one side. I skimmed it and quickly determined that the best option was the breakfast burrito. In fact the second and third best options seemed like rearrangements of the breakfast burrito ingredients. I could see that only Sarah’s stubborn will prevented her from ordering it. She got some kind of breakfast sandwich. Jimmy and I had no such qualms. He got it with pork and I got it without. Judy ordered one of the breakfast burrito rearrangements, even though she can’t stand even the tiniest bit of spiciness. She only ordered it because she feared we’d mock her if she ordered any of her actual top three choices (granola, fruit and yogurt, or oatmeal). Yes, I just realized that two of our members were afraid to order what they really want because of the judgy mc-judgypants nature of our group. Perley on the other hand clearly has no fear of mockery because he ordered the quiche.

When the food finally arrived, it was adequate. It was good. It’s not worth the trek. It was definitely not worth the wait once we finally made it to the table. Luckily, I came for the company, judginess and all, and the company did not disappoint. It’s been too long since we sat down together for the most important meal of the day and shared good conversation and laughter without chasing children or worrying about cleanup.

On to the grades.
First, let’s be honest. My burrito was only on my plate for about 3.5 minutes before I wolfed the whole thing down. It tasted fresh. I liked the kick of the salsa and the flavor of the chipotle sour cream and the mix of black beans and eggs. I don’t remember a thing else about it. I was starving. I give the experience a B. I’d raise it to an A- if you already live in the suburbs. Hell, if you have to choose between this and a Bennigan’s I’ll give it an A. Please, choose this. Seems like a good sort of place to have around in the suburbs.

Perley: Quiche. He tried to grade each item, but I’ll average it so you don’t have to. Coffee tasted a bit burned, quiche lacked fluff and was too small. The mimosa was his favorite part of the meal, but he wanted 5% more orange juice. B

Judy: Queso freco egg sandwich with black beans and corn salsa. Too spicy. Too few beans. She didn’t like the corn. Eggs were overcooked. Staff was nice. Setting was pleasant. Food was slow. B-

Sarah: Egg sandwich with ham cheddar and spinach. It wasn’t worth the wait and it’s not a destination restaurant, but it’s good in a limited menu kind of way if you’re already in the neighborhood. She liked that the sandwich was full size and she had enough food. C

Jimmy: Breakfast burrito with pork. It had nice spices, but the tortilla was doughy. C

Full confession. I had to stop for a scone on the way home. I told you I was starving.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

LOUD noises.

The Mill Northeast
1851 Central Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418

UPDATE: Joe has provided us with a detailed review of his experience. See below.

***Hey, so we discovered this new thing called twitter. You should check it out, I think it is going to be pretty big soon. When you are there you can get up-to-the second updates on all things Twin Cities Breakfast, @tcbreakfastclub.***

Last week as we were dipping our toes back into the breakfast club water, we kept it small. Four people. We picked a place well in advance, no muss no fuss, show up for bottomless mimosas and some schmancy French food. Done. Since that was so successful, clearly the next step was to double the size of the club. We don't do baby steps here. Zero to sixty.

Here's the problem with a group of eight. EVERYONE IN THE TWIN CITIES LOVES BRUNCH/BREAKFAST. If you are meeting your seven friends for breakfast at 10:30, on a Sunday, you better be prepared for a wait if your chosen restaurant doesn't take reservations. I am terrible at waiting for a table. I hate being stuck in no mans land in the vestibule, jealously ogling every plate that come out of the kitchen. I feel guilty about sending, "Finish your food, pay your bill and leave" mental daggers to all of the people who were smart enough to arrive before you. In a perfect world, we'd all get the Copacabana treatment in Goodfellas. Kudos to the Mill for having tiny warm muffins for the sad patrons waiting for their table. A tiny warm muffin is almost as good as getting your own special table at the front of the restaurant.

Our locale was chosen because it is close to the best hair salon in the upper midwest and Rachael and I had appointments at nine to get prettied up. I suggested everyone meet at 10:30 at the Mill. Aren't I a nice person for picking the place and time? Avoiding all the discussion and confusion about where to go? Or am I a devious super genius who knew we wouldn't be done with our haircuts until 10:45 so by the time we got there we might already have a table ready for us because my club compatriots are nothing if not prompt? I've heard it both ways. No matter, the angels sang, seas parted, and Rachael and I strolled past two groups waiting for a table and sat right down to a solid brunch at the Mill NE.

There is really only one issue I have with the Mill. And that is the volume level. So, so loud. With a group of 8 I felt like I only ate brunch with four people. My friends at the end of the table were essentially out of ear shot. This is not a problem specific to the Mill though, and I feel bad faulting them for it. It's the new normal. Maybe one day someone will open a restaurant with walls made entirely of that recording studio acoustic material. Until then we must trudge on, yelling to our table-mates.

The food at the Mill is solid, but not perfect. I'd recommend checking it out at least once, but I don't say drop everything and make this your destination every weekend. Grades below.

Amadeus. The Buddy with Italian sausage, fries instead of roasted chevre potatoes, and about 52% of the mimosa pitcher. There are some things for which american cheese is made. An egg sandwich is one of those things. Skip those fancy cheeses with my egg and muffin, just give me that melty yellow square of salty deliciousness. Tubular sausage is a sub-optimal format for a sandwich however. Especially when it is cut lengthwise and then tetrised onto the bun. A patty would have been preferable. The fries were cooked perfectly. Solid B.

Rachael. Cubano central, mimosa and Bellini. The meat was very good, bread not so much. Rachael wants her Cubano to get the panini treatment. Kind of a gut bomb, but that is exactly what a Cubano should be. Fries not as good as Le Town Talk. A-/B+.

Sarah. Cubano central. The meat was quite good, but the spicy mustard was overpowering. Nice atmosphere (Sarah apparently is fine not hearing her tablemates, I am somewhat unsurprised). B.

Perley. Ecuadorian baked eggs, mimosa, bloody Mary, and coffee (props for having three different drinks in the same meal!). The bloody was totally weak sauce, no backbone. Eggs had good flavors, but not mind blowing. Good coffee. C+.

Brian (NEW MEMBER!). Ecuadorian baked eggs, bloody Mary, coffee, and a beer (another three beverage meal). "I like beans with breakfast so this was right in my wheel house. Also, there was Cholula on the table. Points for that. The bake was a little saucy and, dare I say, a little too cheesy. The potatoes with chèvre were tasty, but a bit incongruous with the meal. Waitress did a good job splitting up the bill. I'll say B+. I've had better bloody Marys but the pickle was tasty and pretty spicy."

Maria (NEW MEMBER!). The buddy and fruit. Basically just English muffin with American cheese and an egg. Like a Mcmuffin but fancy. Fruit was amazing. Actually worth the five dollars. The mimosa was good. Perfect combination of orange juice and champagne. B.

Cathy (NEW (KIND OF) MEMBER!). Blue gill tacos. Perfectly cooked with just the right amount of cornmeal. Salsa with mango was a nice touch. Would have liked the corn tortillas to be steamed more. Fries were a bit on the soggy side. Enjoyed the complimentary strawberry chocolate mini-muffins while waiting and the drink option. Bloody Mary was a little watery, but spicy pickle garnish was a plus. Tried some of Joe's biscones and did not like the chevre potatoes. Was kind of gummy and potatoes not really crispy. B+.

Joe (NEW MEMBER!). Biscones with gravy and a side of sausage. Loved the eggs, biscones and gravy. Not a fan of the potatoes. No grade provided on account of having to leave on a jet plane.

"Pro: mini-muffins at the hostess stand. Perfect for the few minutes we had to wait to be seated, and still warm!

Pro: while waiting for a table the hostess got drinks for our party.

Con: would have liked a bit more information about the beer selections. I could have asked the waitress, but it was loud enough and busy enough that it would have taken too long and been a pain, so I just drank water instead.

Pro: biscones - just a little sweet, and not overly large. I love biscuits and gravy but never get them (or make them) because it's just too much food. This was a perfect size. The mushroom gravy really complemented the biscones, despite the waitress's surprise at my choice.

Con: chevre potatoes - these were disappointing. A bit too cheesy, and not crispy enough.

Pro: side of Italian sausage - cooked just right.

The prices were fine for a restaurant sourcing locally, and with plenty of good options on the menu, I'll definitely be back, probably to try the quiche, French toast, hash, wild rice pancakes and/or the meatloaf sandwich.

I usually grade restaurants based on expectations, with a C-grade meaning it met but didn't exceed them. The Mill Northeast gets a solid B+, with the potential for higher on the next visit."


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Le Return of Le Club for Le Breakfast

Le Town Talk Diner
2707 East Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55406

We're back. Maybe. I wouldn't hold your breath, we've said that before then disappeared just as quickly as that first cup of coffee in the morning.

We were only four this morning. Rebirth of breakfast club has to come in small steps. If we started planning a full breakfast club with all charter members, we'd have a date and place set some time in October. Four is a manageable number for the 8am text, 'Town Talk at 9?'. So we assembled, me Rachael, Sarah and Perley. The siren song of bottomless mimosas could not be ignored.

The Town Talk is not a new venue for us. It has, however been nine (9!!) years and approximately four different owners since we've brunched there. Despite the change, the trusty old light-up sign remains, which provides me with a strange comfort. The current iteration is a French endeavor so all they had to do was add a "Le" to the sign. It good to know that is all you have to do to French something up. Pardon me while I put on my le shirt, les pants, and les shoes and ride my le bike to your le diner. Ooh la la!

What I miss most about breakfast club is the conversation. We're a close-knit group that stays in regular communication, but it is different around the breakfast table (with bottomless mimosas). That's where life's truly important questions are answered. Today's deep thought was: If you could only eat one food item for the rest of your life, what would it be? This was spawned by Perley's recollection of a crazy friend of his parents who decided to eat only squash. It seemed to work out for him, until he turned orange. It can be any food item, but not something like a burrito or hamburger. Individual food item. You were allowed to prepare it different ways, and add spices, but not other additional ingredients.

Since we were at breakfast, and I love breakfast above all other meals. I chose the trusty egg. Lots of variation available depending on mode of preparation. It was universally agreed to be a solid choice. Sarah chose an equally versatile and practical food, rice. No complains there. Then things got weird. Rachael chose to go down in a delicious blaze of glory and chose chocolate as her only food for the rest of her life. Even if that life was shortened due to her diet, she'd go happy. If I was given a thousand choices, I would never, ever have gotten Perley's initial choice. Kimchi. KIMCHI. He immediately realized the tiny box that he had put himself in and backed it up. In order to give himself more variety he modified his choice to cabbage. That gave him his beloved kimchi and also coleslaw, sauerkraut, and other delicious options. I love this group.

We did manage to eat real food from Le Town Talk. There were some real winners and I think we all enjoyed our meals overall. Those who chose poorly (thumbs pointed inwards, mouthing the words "this guy") were disappointed, but it was their own fault. Our server was great despite the fact that she was pulling double duty due to a no-show. On to the grades.

Amadeus. French toast bake with a side of sausage. This thing was the size of a French bulldog. So big that the very center had some cold spots. The thimble of syrup that I was given was not enough to alleviate the dry texture. The sausage was spectacular though. And I am writing this post 7 hours later not having eaten anything since. It'll stay with you for a while. For better or worse. It DID give me enough energy to bike all the way to St. Paul for the craft fair into the wind. Energy by French toast, decision making by mimosa. I'm wiped out. C.

Rachael. Ham crepe with a side of frites. The frites were perfectly cooked. The crepe was very good, if not a little light on the ham. Fresh herbs in the eggs were appreciated. Excellent vinaigrette on the salad. A-.

Sarah. Madame Benedict. Needed more ham (sensing a theme?), but very good. Full half-letter grade improvement for the attentive mimosa service. B+.

Perley. Le breakfast. Good sausage and near-perfect coffee but the potatoes were terrible and the eggs were cooked harder than ordered. Straight B.