DIAMONDS COFFEE SHOPPE, 1618 CENTRAL NE
Picture a warren of high-ceilinged rooms with mismatched thrift shop furnishings. This hipster/artist coffee shop haven is the stylistic and vibrational opposite of your average Starbucks. The coffee is well above average and available in a bottomless cup. Mine was served in a friendly mustard-colored ceramic mug. The menu offers soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, and pastries. I went for the black bean burger. It was served with a generous helping of kettle-type chips and a dill pickle wedge. The burger was a bit mushy, and the bun was not structurally up to its task. But I ate it with relish (actually with pepper jack cheese, lettuce, ketchup, and mayo). The guy who took the order and delivered the food fits the vibe of the clientele—youngish, with tats, introspective, efficient, not chatty, at least not with me. And that’s OK.
I chose the room just to the left of the entrance, made cozy with a couch and chairs, a small table, several plants that appear to be just hanging onto life, and a 25-cent vending machine filled with multi-colored Smarties, proceeds going to the American Red Cross, although the sign is suspiciously faded.
The overriding theme of the place is motorcycles—motorcycle magazines, motorcycle art, etc.—which I am trying to connect with the name “Diamonds”. And I also wonder how the motorcycle theme connects with the neighborhood, which has evolved as a home to artists and their studios. The coffee shop building itself contains a large number of studios, as evidenced by a directory near the door, and a steady in and out flow of artistic-looking folks. Across the street, a stained glass studio is housed in a lovely old limestone block building with red brick arches above long windows.
Writing time. After cracking opening my laptop I went up to the order counter to check if WiFi was available. Yes, the password was posted on a highly visible bright pink sign above the cash register. The woman who politely pointed this out was either the owner or the manager or a thief, as she subsequently removed a wad of cash from the till.
Today I am working on a fun scene. Claire, the main character, is taking a Greyhound bus from Chicago to “Border Falls”, the setting for much of the novel. Detail will need to be added after I take my own investigative bus trip to Chicago. I love the idea of Claire taking the Greyhound. It connects her with life outside of her previously relatively affluent sphere, and it enables her to encounter some pretty quirky people very up close and personal.
The writing goes well. Diamonds is just noisy enough. The bottomless coffee carries me through after-lunch drowsy time, and gives me an excuse to periodically stretch my legs.
Diamonds is worth a return visit for the comfy atmosphere and good coffee.
Footnote—I bought a freshly made Rice Krispie bar for my daughter, who is quite the aficionado. She gave it an 8.8 out of 10, commenting on the good crunch and prominent cereal flavor, the reasonable amounts of marshmallow goo, and the buttery flavor. Her only critique was that it could have benefited from a bit more of the marshmallow.
CENTRAL DELI & COFFEE, 1831 CENTRAL NE
According to my tightly structured plan, today’s lunch site is Kim’s Vietnamese. Pulling up in front, I observe tightly shut blinds. Posted in the window is a handwritten sign informing the world that due to retirement, Kim’s is now closed. I would swear it was open just last week…alas.
Next in line up the street is Central Deli and Coffee, a non-descriptively named East African eatery of unassuming appearance. Upon arrival the only person visible is a red-vested man sitting in a booth. I later learn he is one of the owners. After perusing the menu, being a non-meat eater, I need help figuring out which items are suited to a vegetarian who eats fish but not seafood. The red-vested man suggests fish and rice, so I order fish and rice.
After taking a seat in a booth by the front window, I observe a man coming in, dressed in sports jacket, jeans, and an orchid color dress shirt. He spots the writer and does a double take. Perhaps not too many slightly past-middle-age women of Scandinavian ancestry eat here? As the gentleman eats his food, he carries on a conversation with his phone on full-volume speaker, which bothers me not at all. Thereafter, several other customers enter, still leaving me as the only woman, and only person of non-East African descent—and I feel perfectly at home. As to the furnishings and décor, there are a total five booths and two tables covered with a pleasant dark-red printed fabric, which nicely coordinate with the booth upholstery and the wall color.
In just the right amount of time for me to check out the place and begin writing, delivered to the booth is a heaping plate of lightly coated white fish cooked to a nice crunch, on a bed of saffron rice with raisins and tiny vegetable bits, topped with mild onions sautéd in a spice that had turned them a pale orange. Iceberg lettuce and a container of SPICY avocado green-colored dressing accompany the main course. After a bite of incautiously dressed salad, followed by many sips of water, I discover that a tiny dab of the dressing is great on the fish. The meal comes accompanied by a whole banana, which I find charming. All in all, the food is delicious. I would return, and I would again order the fish and rice.
(On my way home I stop at Aki’s Bread Hus for a post-lunch treat, selecting two cookies—a snickerdoodle and an oatmeal raisin. They are dangerously yummy.)
MAYA CUISINE, 1840 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
Maya Cuisine is colorful, with the exterior and interior painted in shades of lime, papaya, and red pepper. As you can see by the photo, the restaurant is located right next door to a psychic reader. The psychic was out on Wednesday. My own powers of insight suggested that even if she (I’m assuming gender) had been in, I’m better off saving my money and letting the future unfold as it will.
Time for lunch.
Inside Maya the seating options are varied, including a long window table with stools looking out to the street, a row of booths opposite the cooking/ordering area, a back area with table service, and farther back, a bar. At the take out counter are menus with photos and descriptions of the offerings—tacos, tamales, burritos, salads, quesadillas, platillos (plates), and tortas. Each is available with a choice of meats, or (yay!) vegetarian. To this Minnesota native, the food seems authentically Mexican, beef stomach and beef tongue being offered in addition to standard meats. Beverages options include Mexican beers and sodas. So there you have it.
I choose the veggie quesadilla with guacamole and a side of pinto beans. It arrives in a few minutes. A garnish bar offers salsas and other toppings. The quesadilla and beans are filling. My only gripes are that the free water from a glass jar with spigot tastes weirdly musty, and my booth table rocks back and forth on an uneven bottom.
The place is busy for lunch, with a clientele skewing young, seasoned with a savory selection of older folks. The front section, being near the ordering and cooking areas, is fairly noisy, but the table and bar section are a lot quieter if your dining plan focuses on serene conversation.
The highlight of my Mayan adventure is a conversation with two young women in the rear bar area. Observing me snooping around and taking photos, they ask in a friendly way what I am doing. I share my strategy of visiting all the non-chain Central Avenue restaurants in NE Minneapolis and blogging about the experiences. They love the idea and proceed to recommend other restaurants. Their favorites? Ginger Hop and an Ecuadoran place, but they couldn’t recall that name. I’m thinking maybe Chimbaroza? We’ll get that far up Central by about mid-summer if all goes according to plan, which of course it most likely will not. And that’s OK.
A work colleague asked me recently if I was dining alone on these outings. Having given thought to inviting friends to share the experience, I told her that I had decided to go it alone because, at least for me, solo dining encourages observation and interaction.
Be good to yourself.
MILL NORTHEAST, 1850 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
On a Wednesday at 11:23, the clientele at Mill Northeast includes an older scholarly-appearing woman wearing round glasses, diligently correcting or editing papers in her booth. At the counter sits a long-haired man wearing a hoodie advertising a local film company. At the side of this “larger than life” guy is a long-haired woman. They engage in lively conversation. On the counter next to the man rests an interesting black case with a large silver cross on the lid. It resembles a briefcase but the dimensions are smaller and the case is taller. In a booth near, me two guys are having a meeting, perhaps a job interview, as the younger guy can be overheard presenting his credentials as an engineer. Nope. It actually seems that younger guy is selling something, a service maybe. The older man uses the phrase “alpha product”.
On the menu is a veggie burger, always my favorite, but given the recent question from a reader, ‘why on earth would you order a veggie burger at Bonicelli?’ (see previous post), I decide to eat outside my box and order the caprese beet salad. It is constructed of house-pulled mozzarella, beets (obviously) both gold and red, crushed pistachios, a bed of arugula, topped with a balsamic glaze, and garnished with olive oil powder. Tasty, tasty! In my perfect world a nice plate of salad would always be served with a nice piece of bread. Yes?
The atmosphere is pleasantly noisy, and the comfy interior is nothing fancy. I ponder the original function of the building, as it has the look of being repurposed, like a garage turned into a man cave. Perhaps it was a drive-in with indoor seating? I ask Sara(h), the very nice server, and yes, she confirms that it began life as a Porky’s. Cha-ching!
Observing a burger being served to one of the business meeting people, I notice that the accompanying fries look fabulous–golden, skin-on. Yup. I do love a good fry, and briefly consider asking the guy if I can try one, but didn’t want to disturb their conversation about “food modeling”, another interesting phrase.
Today’s lunch is earlier than usual. At 1:00 I will attend a funeral in St. Louis Park. In addition to writing, I work part-time as a hospice spiritual counselor. In addition to that, I freelance for funeral homes in planning and leading services. This leads me to spend a lot of time with dying people and at funerals. You might see this as odd or gloomy. Someone once said of my hospice work, “Well, I guess someone has to do it”, as if it was a vaguely distasteful endeavor. It is interesting to observe how people can be appalled by death, which in truth, is every bit as natural, if not as cheerful, as birth. But these feelings provide much of the raison d’etre for my role with patients and families. Being invited to share in an experience as intimate and tender as death is a huge privilege.
From the book of Ecclesiastes, following on the famous passage about everything having its season*: What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He (sic) has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
Until next week from Las Colonia, enjoy all that comes your way!
* Used by Pete Seeger as the text for “Turn! Turn! Turn!, the number one hit for The Byrds in December of 1965. The exclamation points are in the title.
LA COLONIA, 2205 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
The first bit of good news about La Colonia Columbian & Ecuadorian restaurant is the large parking lot in back, complete with a rear entrance. Parking on Central can be a bit of a challenge. The second is the music, Latin and so appropriate to the setting. The third arrives shortly after placing the order—a tomato de arbol (wine tree tomato) milk shake. Having no previous experience with wine tree tomatoes, or with tomato milk shakes generally, I am skeptical but intrigued. The server attempts to explain what a wine tree
tomato is, but we run into a language barrier. All I can say is muy bien. It is sweet, but not too, and tastes of tomato in a surprisingly positive way. It reminds me that a tomato is, after all, a fruit. The fourth bit of good news is that the muted TV up on the wall (not generally my favorite feature in any setting) is showing highlights of last night’s Twins game on a Spanish version of Fox Sports. And I love the Minnesota Twins in any language.
Sipping on my shake, I eavesdrop on the one other couple sharing the room. The late middle-aged man describes a recent DNA ancestry test. He is surprised by the results (less Scandinavian than anticipated). The woman appears to be entranced by the story. Perhaps they are dating. When I run out to my car to retrieve my cell phone, they promise to watch over my laptop. Nice people. As noon approaches, other customers drift in, taking their places in surrounding booths. La Colonia has three separate seating areas and a small bar area. A two-for-one happy hour is advertised. The place is clean, attractive, and comfortable.
For the main course I order Encocado do Pescado, described as “cod fish cooked in a coconut broth and served with rice, avocado, and sweet plantain”. The fish is meltingly tender and has a delicate coconut flavor, which is enhanced by the garnish of chopped cilantro. The fried plantains are tasty and not overly greasy. The rice is rice and the avocado is avocado. A ramekin of fresh-appearing and perky-tasting hot sauce is served on the side.
When I conceived the idea that became “Eating (and Writing) Up Central”, I expected this adventure in near-weekly eating and blogging to be fun. But it far exceeds my imagination. This marvelous diversity of places and people and food is within two miles of home. My only regret is not starting sooner. After working my way up Central Avenue NE and visiting all the non-chain restaurants as far up as 694 (this will take awhile!), my plan is to continue weekly adventures. Maybe museums, or parks, or galleries, or historic buildings, or off-the-beaten path neighborhoods. Ideas? You, too, could fashion your own adventure and share the experience with others.
FOOTBALL PIZZA, 2239 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
“Are you a health inspector?” Shortly after I take my place at a table a man named Joe stops by and in a benign manner asks me this unexpected and potentially disconcerting question. I tell him that I’m just here to eat, and ask him what he does. “I do some maintenance around here.” He sets his reading glasses and water bottle on my table and disappears into another area of the building.
At Football Pizza, one orders at the counter. Options include pizza and Afghan dishes. I order bean korma from the guy at the counter, who tells me his name is Wais. Later I learn that he is the owner of the building and the business. I ask what happened to Crescent Moon Bakery, the former occupant of this location. He tells me that it is still Crescent Moon, but because of the pizza factory, they changed the name to reflect that, so people know where the pizzas are made. Along with eat-in and take-out, one can buy frozen pizzas and bags of pita bread.
Why “Football Pizza”? I discover that the pies are football-shaped. Based on the name of the establishment, one might mistake this for a sports bar, but that would be an error. However, there are TVs, including a huge one right across from where I sit. The set is tuned to TNT, which is broadcasting a movie featuring a man with a sewn-together face that looks like the work was done by a complete stitching novice. Terrible and not terribly appetizing.
Undeterred, I attempt to avoid looking at the giant TV screen.
After I get my plentiful plate of food, Wais comes over to deliver a pitcher of water. He explains that the place is not busy today due to the Ramadan fast. Normally, he said, they do a great business, and are starting a lunch buffet in addition to the current evening buffet. In the windows and inside hang many “Best of” awards, mainly for the pizza, which lead me to plan a future return visit to sample a signature football-shaped pie.
The tasty bean korma is neatly served with a lemon wedge, seasoned rice topped with raisins, a lettuce salad, and quarter of toothsome pita. For those who may be wondering,
Afghan bean korma is made of beans, in this case kidney and chickpeas, and onions, served in a tasty thick sauce. When I eat the leftovers at home, I will add a dollop of plain yogurt.
In the course of our conversation, Wais mentions how NE Minneapolis is changing, noting that home prices have doubled. I share that the impending transformation is one the motivating factors in my “Eating (and Lunching) Up Central” project. He approves.
Jim stops by for his reading glasses but leaves his water. With a pleasant nod, he leaves.
Stay cool and be good!
ADELITA’S MEXICAN RESTAURANT, 2405 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
Do you ever suspect when someone asks you a question, for example, “How was your day?” what the person actually wants is for you to ask about their day? It’s true, friends, and we all engage in this slightly manipulative conversational maneuver.
Me: “So, what’s your favorite day of the week?”
You: (Fill in the blank)
Me: (Waiting for you to ask me the same question.)
You: (After an awkward conversational pause) Um, what’s your favorite day of the week?
Me: I’m so glad you asked! It’s Wednesday, without a doubt.
You: Interesting. (Spoken in an overtly ironic, disinterested tone.)
Me: Not only do I get to have lunch at a new restaurant every week and eat interesting, if not always fabulous food, I have the joy of writing about the experience and sharing it with my friends, who may or may not give a rat’s behind. But, hey! I love it.
Meanwhile, back to Adelita’s. There is more to this place that one might suspect. The restaurant area is spacious, with comfy booths, two bar areas, and a karaoke booth. The menu is vast and tantalizing. Upon being seated a server brings me water, a basket of see-through thin tortilla chips, and a dish of pretty good salsa. After examining the menu and scrutinizing my fellow diners, I order a veggie burrito and a Pacifico beer. The beer and food arrive in record time. The burrito is the size of a
small animal and arrives unadorned. My suspicion is that the burrito is vegan, and this is confirmed by a lack of cheese in the filling. No matter, the mixture of rice, beans, cabbage, lettuce, cilantro, corn, peas, carrots, celery, and onion is more than enough, and tastes quite delicious when doused with Valentina Salsa Picante, a bottle of which I will seek to purchase on my next grocery outing. If I ordered the burrito again, it would be with a side of guacamole.
Overall, I like the energy of the place. The servers are pleasant and efficient if not overly friendly, and the Mexican music enhances the atmosphere. The business is steady and mainly comprised of folks who probably know good Mexican food. Adelita’s offers a happy hour with $3 imported beers and $4 margaritas. Check it out
KHAO HOM THAI, 2411 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
The highlight of the Khao Hom Thai experience revolved around my inability to keep track of my cell phone. After being seated in a booth in the back by the gracious host/server, I scoped out the place. The space was formerly occupied by my go-to Thai place, Karta Thai, which moved about 14 blocks north on Central, meaning you will get to virtually visit in about 1 year, she says hyperbolically. While the menu looks similar, the seating has been altered with the replacement of the south wall booths by tables–increased seating capacity, decreased coziness.
By my calculation there are a total of 3 Thai restaurants on Central. So I devise a plan–order Pad Thai, ubiquitous to Thai cuisine, at each place, thereby enabling a fair comparison.
Khao Hom Thai offers lunch specials, which include a salad. The salad arrives almost immediately. Despite containing iceberg, my pet-peeve green, it is fresh, nicely presented, and tastily dressed. I give it a qualified seal of approval. The Pad Thai with tofu is delivered after a suitable interval, also attractive, sizzling hot, and delish. However, having forgotten that Pad Thai is noodle-rich and veggie-poor, I realize that the all-Pad Thai plan will need to be reconsidered.
A table of 5 youngish men and 1 woman of a similar age, are seated next to my booth. Yay! I get to listen to their conversations. They are co-workers, wearing unreadable badges on lanyards. They discuss whether or not they are millennials. One of them checks Google, learning that the millennial window runs from the early 1980s to the 2000s. One of the guys terms them, “he stupidest generation”. Another guy calls millennials a “movement”. The response, “I want to disassociate myself from that movement.” Self-loathing millennials! They discuss Shark Tank, and chocolate chip cookies. These are intelligent people with a good rapport.
Back to the cell phone. The bill is modest, $12.00 including a 25% tip, and I leave with a take out carton containing another meal. (Note: Henceforth I will carry a container with me for leftovers. They are rarely recyclable or compostable.) Post-lunch I stop at the Eastside Co-op. In the co-op parking lot, I decide to check my cell. NO PHONE! Mentally retracing my steps, I realize that I left it lying on the booth seat. Fortunately, at least in this circumstance, I also have a work cell and use it to call the abandoned phone. A guy hesitantly answers and I learn that, indeed, it was left in the booth.
Upon return to the restaurant, I am greeted by the host, who raises his arms, exclaiming, “There she is!” He directs me to the man who found the phone, a member of the group of 6 upon whom I eavesdropped. They were all pleased have been part of a good deed.
Until next week from El Taco Riendo, do something dumb to make someone else feel helpful. It’ll make you happy, too!
EL TACO RIENDO, 2412 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
Enroute to lunch, I am stopped at a light behind an oversized all-black pickup with out-of-state vanity plates. The plates reads: BCUS I CN. After a minute, my brain fills the blanks. “Because I can.” Is the driver saying, for example, ‘I will run you over with my giant black pickup________________.’ You can fill in the blank. In this interpretation, the vanity plate is a statement of pure narcissistic individualism. Or is the message intended graciously, as in, ‘I will help old ladies across the street_______________.’ My intuition leads to the first interpretation, perhaps influenced by the size and darkness of the truck, but my cockeyed-optimism leads to the latter.
El Taco Riendo features counter service offering “generous portions of Mexican Staples”. I opt for simplicity and order a cheese quesadilla. If a restaurant can do the basics well, the rest should be good. Yes? The quesadilla is huge! Like the black pickup! Only yummier! It includes a simple salad, sour cream, good guacamole, and spicy-enough salsa. The tortilla is thin and tender with crisp edges. Inside is a ton of white cheese, with cilantro and onion. I eat half and take half home. Those who read last week’s post from Khao Hom Thai may recall that I vowed to always bring my own container for leftovers. Well, I did bring one, but left it in the car, and was too lazy to run across the street. Good intentions, faulty execution.
The atmosphere is comfortable and low-key. I sit in booth right behind two younger men, but alas, the acoustics are such that eavesdropping is impossible, a good thing if you are trying to have a private conversation near a nosy woman. From the kitchen I hear conversation and laughter. (Note: El Taco Riendo means “The Laughing Taco”). The clientele skew young and diverse. Prices are reasonable, to say the least.
Until next week, be good, BCUS U CAN!
SABOR LATINO, 2505 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
My meager Spanish is clearly not up to the task of ordering at Sabor Latino. The menu is in Spanish, the kind server speaks little English. So I end up eating an anatomically intact fish with MANY bones. This presents a gastronomic challenge on several levels!
As you can see by the photo, the mystery fish, which my daughter subsequently suggested may have been caught in Lake Harriet, is accompanied by fried plantain, beans, and rice. With the addition of a spicy green sauce, it all tastes pretty good. “Sabor”means flavor or taste, from the same root as “savor” and I’ll give a thumbs up the the flavors. However, my fish-related queasiness casts a bit of a pall over the dining experience.
By noon the place is hopping with diners, most of whom seem to know each other. Many happy greetings are exchanged, all in Spanish, so my ability to communicate and listen in is foiled. The space is long and narrow, with the kitchen area on one side, where there is also a counter for take out orders. Beer is available.
The biggest excitement comes courtesy of two little girls, ages around 4 and 6, who lock themselves in the restroom. Their dad, realizing their dilemma, stands at the door, attempting, or so I imagine (again the language barrier) to coach them on how to deal with lock. After maybe 5 minutes, during which the father’s mounting frustration is apparent, the door opens and the girls emerge, smiling as if nothing adverse had occurred. Dad commences to address them in a tone suggestive of a gentle lecture on the dangers of locking oneself in a restroom without the requisite skills to complete the unlocking procedure.
Directly above the restroom door is a large television tuned to Telemundo coverage of the world soccer tournament. No game was in progress, but I am treated to many scenes of celebrating fans, mariachi bands, and dancers, which are interspersed with the ubiquitous trio of commentators common to all sports broadcasts.
After lunch I head next door to Holy Land Deli, the site of our next dining adventure, to pick up some of their marvelous fresh pita from which I will construct pita pizza for a family dinner this evening.
Will I return to Sabor Latino? Probably not. Would I discourage you from dining there? Definitely not. Just bring your favorite interpreter and contemplate the wonders of living in a community with such marvelous diversity!
HOLY LAND DELI, 2513 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
After a two-week vacation hiatus, the blog is back. A Huge Thank You to the three people who said they missed the postings (one of whom was my only-begotten son). Ha! I don’t do this for the glory, my friends. It just makes me happy.
I fell in love with falafel on the streets of Jerusalem, where it is the ubiquitous street food, often served with French fries and pickles stuffed into the pita. However, falafel is a food eaten across the Middle East, enjoyed by folks of all traditions and ethnicities. And small wonder. It is delicious, nutritious and inexpensive. Win, win, win!
Holy Land is an institution in NE Minneapolis, as an eat-in or take-out deli, grocery store, and bakery. It is owned by a Jordanian gentleman, and has expanded to an additional location in the Mid-Town Market on Lake Street. The Central Avenue location grocery is my go-to destination for freshly baked pita bread, and all manner of Middle Eastern ingredients. It’s an overall good-energy kind of place.
Today I am lunching with long-time friend Judy. She orders the falefel salad, I order the falafel sandwich. The falafel balls are crunchy and tasty, as they should be, and the bread is fresh.
Judy and I have some catching up to do, so this report is lacking in atmospherics and overheard conversations (alas, my fav!). I can share that the clientele is diverse. During our meal a woman, perhaps Mama Fatima herself, stops by our table with a gratis dessert for us to share–two marshmallows stuffed with fruit jam and a piece of honey cake. How nice was that! And they are yummy.
As I finish editing this is, it is Sunday afternoon at 4:45, and I am craving more Holy Land falafel. Should I drive over there for a take-out dinner, or should I be a good girl and eat the left over pasta primavera in my fridge?
Next week’s blog will explore the deli at the Eastside Co-op. Until then, consider this quote from novelist Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well if one has not dined well.”
EASTSIDE CO-OP, 2515 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
Full disclosure–I visit the Eastside Co-op at least once each week and have been a member for about a decade. However, until this week I had never purchased food from the deli, being the kind of person who tends to “cook her own” rather than do take-out. And if a meal out with a friend is on the agenda, I would lean more toward an actual restaurant than a deli.
Eastside underwent a major rebuild and renovation maybe three years ago. It was transformed from an old-school co-op to more of a Whole Foods-type set up. Initially I was unthrilled by the change. Now I am resigned, and in some respects appreciative of the care shown in the design and layout.
On to lunch. The deli has a made-to-order menu, hot and cold buffet/salad options, as well as pre-made salads, sandwiches, and desserts. I opt for the black bean burger with chips and pickles. The alternative side option, hummus and carrots, sounds a bit too healthy to suit my wild and crazy mood. For dessert I select a slice of raspberry bundt cake with vanilla icing. (I CANNOT think or write the word “bundt” without hearing the My Big Fat Greek Wedding version, accompanied by the perplexity inspired by a cake with a hole in the middle.)
The burger is above average, with a pleasant beany flavor, served on a toasted whole wheat bun with chipotle mayo. The accompanying chips and pickle are inoffensive. The cake is dense and flavorful. It takes me a bit to identify the spice used, but eventually I land on nutmeg, which I probably wouldn’t use my myself but then again, it was generally pretty good.
While the deli is located in the far back corner of the store, the eating area is near the entrance. where there is also a coffee and snack area. The lighting and sound level are good, and the chairs and tables comfortable enough to sit for awhile and people watch.
I don’t take pics in the dining area as a number of the tables are in use, and it seems creepy to be photographing people at close range. Even I have my limits. The crowd is diverse, trending young, with a very high level of device usage. At one count, of the nine total diners/loiterers: a solo eats and studies with a pile of books and an often-checked phone, one couple and three singles sip beverages and nibble snacks while being engrossed on laptops or notebooks, a pair of women converse intently, and a group of three eat while making awkward conversation, interspersed with phone checks. I, of course, devote my time to eating, spying and jotting notes. Ah. The joys of Wednesday lunch.
AL-AMIR, 2515 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
NOTE: AL-AMIR, SADLY, IS GONE
Al-Amir joins the pantheon of my Central Avenue favorites, based on food, friendliness, and sparkly table coverings. I order at the counter from a young man for whom English is a distant concept. Yet we communicate just fine. That is until later when I ask to buy a bag of pita to take home.
“Pizza? No pizza.” He gestures at the menu posted above our heads.
“No pizza. Pita!” I attempt clear articulation.
At this point a woman emerges from the back. “You need help?”
“Yes, thank you. I would like a bag of pita to take home.”
“Ah, you want bread.”
The woman, whose name is Faduah (I think), speaks of the popularity of their Iraqi bread. She asks me if this is my first visit. When I confirmed that it is, she fries me a sambusa to take home. No charge.
“Tell your friends! All the food is wonderful!”
Dear Blog Friends, consider yourselves told.
I am the solo in-house diner, choosing a table which gives view of the door and of the counter. As noted above, the tables (there are 5) are covered with sparkly plastic, covered again by plexiglass. Any child, including yours truly, will find themselves entranced.
I don’t like to compare because you might have a totally different experience, but in my opinion, Al-Amir trounces Holy Land. The falafel sandwich is delicious, served with hot crisp fries, on soft chewy bread. Something in the sandwich is just-right spicy and the texture of the falafel is spot on. Plus, there are pickles inside! Woot-woot!
The end of my planned route up Central Avenue is in sight. Next week, we will visit Chimborazo, and the following week will feature Hill Valley Cafe. There are those who are encouraging me to continue. My thought is to backtrack and check into non-restaurant businesses. This would include for example, a couple of bakeries, the Fair State brewery, maybe even the psychic. Or perhaps a visit to the psychic should come first to properly chart my course forward!
CHIMBAROZA, 2851 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
This week I am accompanied by a charming guest, who is an adventurous eater, and sharply opinionated on any number of topics. I am anxious to see how she will react to the food served at Chimbaroza, an Ecuadorian/Andean restaurant popular with diners both in and out of the NE Minneapolis area.
First, four words of caution–beware the back parking lot. This is actually my third Chimbaroza visit. Each time I’ve parked in the lot, and each time I have struggled to get out. Easy in, tough out. Maybe it’s just me, but next time I will repeat this mantra–Park on the Street. My guest and I arrive right at 5:00, their evening opening time. Being a hot late afternoon, we decide to opt for indoor dining over the pleasant back patio area. Not surprisingly, we have our choice of tables. Over the next hour it will fill with happy diners of all descriptions.
My chum approves of sharing an order of Chupe de Pescado, described as “halibut sauted with pepper, onion, tomato, and a splash of white wine. Served with rice and patacones.” A peek at the appetizer section confirms that patacones are plantain patties. While awaiting our food we snoop around the two-room dining area and take photos.
The space is pleasant and comfortably lit. Wall art features photos of Andean people and scenes. Just as other diners begin arriving in droves, our food arrives. The kind server brings an extra plate for sharing.
As you can see, the plate looks appealing. My companion first tastes the plantain patty. “Yum!” Then she tries the rice. “Yum!” Finally the fish. “Yum!” Forget Michelin Stars. Chimborazo has received the coveted 3-Yum Seal of Approval from my almost-2-year-old granddaughter!!! A sidenote–last week she and I were at the State Fair with other family members, including her mommy and daddy. Just outside the horse barn she looked at the Golden Gophers tee shirt I was wearing and spontaneously said, “I don’t like that.” “You don’t like my shirt?” “No.” It’s a good thing that in addition to being opinionated, she is beautiful, sweet, and brilliant, says her totally unbiased grandma.
The halibut dish really was fabulous. When you dine there, please order it and report back.
This is the 16th Eating and Writing Up Central blog posting. What an adventure it has been! Meeting unique people and eating mostly great food, while spending time in places that I would likely never have visited otherwise. Next week I shall document my final restaurant visit, this to Hill Valley Cafe on 33rd and Central. From there we will rewind and start again with a coffee at Diamonds. The plan is to chart a course back up Central, documenting interesting non-restaurant businesses along the way.
Thanks for reading. Go forth and have your own adventure!
HILL VALLEY CAFE, 3301 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
NOTE: HILL VALLEY, I AM SORRY TO SAY, IS OUT OF BUSINESS
Last week’s Eating and Writing up Central guest was my two year old granddaughter. This week’s companion will soon celebrate her 92nd birthday. My paternal aunt Lydia, who has a great sense of humor, works out with a trainer 3X/week, and went sky-diving on her last birthday, joins me for lunch at Hill Valley Cafe.
Friends have recommended Hill Valley as a worthwhile breakfast/lunch spot. Our experience is mixed, due in part to there being a solo person doing the cooking and serving. There is only one other customer, the service is less than great, but hey, we are in no particular rush. Lydia opts for the B.F.C., a sandwich with turkey, ham, bacon, cheddar, lemon mayo, tomato, and greens, easily justified, as she worked out this morning. I choose the Veg Burrito, which comes filled with potato, eggs, veg sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and cheese.
The coffee is topnotch; the food is pretty food; the place is charming. Lydia’s sandwich is sizable. Half returns home with her for a future nosh.
I ask the server, a youngish guy, about the history of the building, which occupies a corner right across from the Columbia Golf Course. He reports that as far as he knows, it was once a law office, prior to that a private residence, and at one time a candy store. As it appears quite old, it likely has had many other incarnations. Online research reveals that it was built in 1924. On a real estate site it is described as a multiple family dwelling of 3046 square feet, with no mention of a business. Have we stumbled into the ultimate zoning mystery?
The decor is a mish-mosh journey through time, which I love. Lydia appreciates the old cookstove which serves a counter for beverages. As noted above, an interior door leads one step down to a mid-century modern vintage shop. We take a browse through, not buying but appreciating the quality, variety, and whimsicality of the merchandise.
Friends, this marks the end of our lunching adventures. It is today, and at this moment, I have arrived back at Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, where I sit in a tubular chrome chair sipping from a bottomless cup of brew, having devoured a piece of zucchini-pineapple bread.
Next week we will begin anew, slowly working our way back up Central NE, visiting non-restaurant businesses: Mecca Linen, Anelace Coffee, Divinas Boutique, Fair State Brewing, and Valeria’s Carniceria (that will be a real thrill for a yours truly, a diehard carnophobe!), and many, many more.
ANELACE COFFEE, 2402 CENTRAL AVENUE NE
My visit to Anelace Coffee is abruptly cut short by the impending arrival of a thunderstorm, combined with the realization that the windows are open at home. Prior to departing I bus my half-full coffee cup and empty water glass to the counter. The young man at the counter answers a question and leaves me needing more info. But time is short. A sudden wind burst swirls leaves and debris down Central Avenue.
“What does ‘Anelace’ mean?” I ask.
He looks slightly surprised. “Anelace. The dagger. The name of the dagger is Anelace.”
I had imagined it to be the name of the owner’s daughter, or an amalgam of two names, although what those names might be had not been well considered. Anel and Ace? Ane and Lace? An and Elace? Nope. It’s a dagger, begging the next question–why name a coffee shop after a type of medieval dagger? I will need to return to find that out, as their website gives no clue, and a bit of research uncovers no connection with coffee.
A cup of the brew of the day is my order, and I am offered a glass of still or sparkling water. Nice touch. “Sparkling, please.” Scanning the pastry case, I see a single dark chocolate cookie, a single croissant, a single scone, many bagels, and several squarish pastries with almonds on top. I inquire and learn that they are a type of brioche. Morning, maybe. Afternoon, no. I stick with the beverages.
The seating spans the length of the south side of the space. On the right is the service area and counter seating. A wooden bench against the wall spans three tables. As a view of the proceedings is essential to my work, a seat at the bench is in order. The back is quite straight. Good posture, Gail. Seven solo patrons focus on laptops or phones. No conversation is happening at Anelace except between the two workers, who also spend a lot of time involved with their phones.
The decor is spare with a provisional feel. White subway tile, black fixtures. Not much in the way of decoration. The building is old, evidenced by the back wall of rough brick and the substantial oak door.
My reason for choosing a coffee shop today is the need to complete some online training for work and to write an agenda for the upcoming gathering of a group I facilitate. Problem numero uno–the training requires listening and I didn’t bring earbuds. Problem numero dos–the coffee, dispensed from a thermos pot is not super-hot, and tastes stale. Why this is a distraction I am not certain. But it prevents me from getting settled in and comfy.
Then comes the storm. Have you noticed that you can feel a storm as it approaches? I don’t mean when you are standing outside in the wind being pelted by small stones and plastic debris, I mean within yourself. A tingling vibrational awareness of atmospheric change. Yes? I feel it and look out the large front window. Gray-white swirls and rags and globs of cloud speed across the sky.
I visit the restroom (when in doubt, go) and ask the workers, who are looking at their phones, if a storm is coming. “Yes!” My marching orders arrive and I pause only to ask about the name “Anelace”.
Hence the half-cup left upon departure.
AKI’S BREAD HAUS, 2506 CENTRAL AVE NE
Aki’s Bread Haus is located amidst an area of rich possibility. On the same block you will find Sabor Latino, Holy Land Deli, Al Amir, and Eastside Coop. Walk a block south to Sen Yai Sen Lak, El Taco Riendo, Khao Hom Thai, and Adelita’s. I may just sell my home, rent an apartment above one of the businesses, and dwell in this land of diversity.
According the the friendly woman who is working here today, Aki is the childhood nickname of the owner, who emigrated from Germany, Although the “Bread Haus” designation helps us to know what is being purveyed (usually enough for this lover of baked goods), we must ask and experience to learn the specifics. Aki’s makes breads, pretzels, pastries, and cookies with a German twist. One can also order the soup of the day.
Yes, I have previously visited Aki’s to assuage a cookie craving. While the cookies are great, today I am looking for lunch. Hence a cup of mushroom barley soup and a LARGE cinnamon bun. Ooftah! This is why I limit my food adventures to once per week and attempt regular exercise in between.
First, the soup–chewy barley, toothsome cremini mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions, all in a tasty broth with good body. I approve. The coffee is amongst the best I have tasted on my Central Avenue adventures, better than some of the coffee shop brews. And then there is the cinnamon roll–soft yet sturdy, with a great cinnamon flavor, not too sweet nor excessively iced. The spelt roll will be taken home and experienced later. It is cute.
During my visit, while several patrons came to purchase bread and pastries, I was the solo eat-in customer. Come on, people! Abandon your usual haunts and take a drive down Central. You won’t be sorry.
As noted in an earlier posting, NE Minneapolis is undergoing rapid change. Next week we will take an observational walk from 18th Street up to 28th Street and back, noting enroute what businesses have come and gone since our adventure began in April.
SURVEYING THE STREET
On a persistently gray damp Sunday I slow-walk the 8 blocks from 26th Street NE to Diamond’s Coffee Shoppe and back north again, jotting notes on each building and taking photos until my IPhone conks out. A few passersby eyeball me and my little spiral notebook with suspicion. Or maybe it is just curiosity. Whatever. I focus on the detailed documentation of an area which has become my obsession.
Despite having traversed this section of street numerous times, I see what had previously gone unnoticed: a gorgeous old brick 4-plex; an abandoned storefront with a fading sign of a confusing design, “IKE Vanity”, perhaps?; a mysterious-looking stucco-faced building with a vaguely Asian design.
My desire to know more deepens.
My own powers did not see it coming but the Psychic Reader is gone. In her place I discover, “The Cat and Cobra,” a vintage shop offering a collection of Harley tee shirts, boots, jackets, sweaters, and miscellaneous, which opened a couple of weeks ago. To my dismay, and undoubtedly much more so to the former chef/owner, Boncelli’s is out of business. Even the building looks dispirited.
The former Bonicelli’s, after two months.
A Central Avenue business person, who will not be named, shared his belief that the owners of the original buildings in this stretch are waiting for redevelopment demand to spread up from the lower end of Central NE. Properties will be sold, existing buildings razed, and the construction of new residential and commercial structures will commence. Many of the current businesses will be priced out. Hence, my effort to document what is here today. And thereby encouraging you (yes, you!) to come and wander amongst the wonders of the street.
Since we are in a somber and sentimental mood, let me share an image taken in front of the former Bonicelli’s.
A couple of blocks are already rebuilt. Tellingly, one houses a bank, another a realty development office, another a jobs program for economically disadvantaged people. A block-long stretch of new construction houses senior apartments, and Volunteers of America offices and programs, including a law office and the defunct-looking Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association.
Contrast that with another structure which I hadn’t noticed until today.
For those who are as weirdly interested as I am, the next posting will be an all-inclusive list of buildings between 26th and the Thorp Building. Following that, we will visit the newly opened business “The Cat and Cobra”.
AS IT STANDS TODAY
This 0.7 mile stretch, no more than a 15-minute walk is home to a surprising number and rich variety of businesses and dwellings. Below you will find what we have as of 10/24/18 in our target area of NE Minneapolis. As changes occur, and they will, the list will be updated. The properties on each block are listed from north to south. Note the number of businesses on redeveloped blocks versus those on blocks with original structures.
UPDATES: (1) This morning an electrical company truck sat outside the one-story vacant property on the southwest corner of Central and 22nd. (2) The “2 Amigos” store has a sign in the window advertising 50% off. Never a good sign. (3) I saw a man entering the empty block where Kim’s Chinese closed down this spring. The building appears run-down, so we will see if it stays or goes. (4) And I received some fascinating and spooky news about the Thorp Building. This will be further investigated.
KEY: +Subject of Previous Blog Post; * Redeveloped Property; X Vacant
26th– Lowry (East side)
+ Eastside Coop
+ Holy Land Deli
+ Sabor Latino
26th– Lowry (West Side)
+ Al Amir
Central Avenue Liquor
Islamic Community Center
Central Giant Wash
Water Bar and Public Studio
Sarah Jane’s Music School
Duke Albert Lifestyle Collective
Abu Shanach Barbers
NSC Tax/MN Financial Group/Home Realty
+ Aki’s Bread Hus
Fair State Brewing
Lowry – 24th (East Side)
Empty Lot/Community Garden
Paolitos Sur Envios
+ Khao Hom Thai
+ Adelita’s Mexican
Botanica y Herberio/Icebox Picture Frame
Jackson Hewitt Taxes
Lowry – 24th (West Side)
Liberty Tax/ Chicago Dollar/Spring Wells Massage and Colonic (Arcana Building)
+ Sen Lak Sen Lai
Dipped and Debris
+ El Taco Riendo
National Association of Letter Carriers
+ Anelace Coffee
Los Gallos 3
24th– 23rd (East Side)
+ Football Pizza/Crescent Moon Banquet Hall
24th– 23rd (West Side)
US Bank *
Madina Academy Central *
Multicultural Health Clinic *
Amana Dental *
Lions Tae Kwon Do
Amana Family Care
Central Insurance Agency
23rd– 22th (East Side)
Martha’s Hair Salon
Degados PC Repair
El Trebol Express/Rushford Bingo Hall
Hafiz Travel Agency
EZ Travel Services/Asly Care
X (IKE Vanity + Attached Vacant)
La Colonia +
23rd– 22nd (West Side)
* NW Dental
* Community Connection Partnership
* Cornerstone Studios
* Life Track/Knockout Bodies
* Higgins Insurance
* Hennepin County Library Branch
22nd– 20th (East Side)
* MGM Property Management
* NM Designs
* Shift Massage
* H & R Block
* Rise Vocational Rehab
* Joca Rehab
22nd– 20th West Side
X (One-story brick building)
8-unit apartment building
Old Brick 4-plex
Central Lock and Safe
20th–19th (East Side)
2nd Precinct Police Station)
20th-19th (West Side)
Cabinet and Flooring Liquidators
* Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association
* VOA Offices
* Monroe Village Senior Rentals
19th–18-1/2 (East Side)
The Mill NE + (former Porky’s Drive-In)
+ X (Bonicelli, 8/18)
Little India Grocery
+ Central Deli and Coffee
19th–18-1/2 (West Side)
LG Travel and Shipping
The Agency Brokerage
The Cat and the Cobra
Magus Books and Herbs
18-1/2–18th (East Side)
*Parkway Skyview Apartments (high-rise)
*Senior’s Place/Food Shelf
181/2–18th (West Side)
X (Kim’s Vietnamese, 4/18)
X (Gene’s Barbershop)
X (Central Sauna)
Central Car Wash
18th–Railroad Bridge (East Side)
Central Child Care
X Empty warehouse – lights on inside?
X (Flashlight Vinyl, 10/18)
Gaytee Stained Glass
Object Partners – Software developers
18th– Railroad Bridge (West Side)
NAPA Auto Care and Tires
Thorp Building – + Diamond’s Coffee/Tattersal Distillery/Numerous Galleries, etc.