Historically, many authors were cafe habituates. Think Paris. Think Sartre, Fitzgerald, de Beauvoir, Baldwin. Today, writers and coffee shops are similarly symbiotic. The same can be said for many readers. While most book aficionados are not writers, I defy you to find a serious writer who is not a serious reader. (For my recent favs, see below.) Go to any coffee shop and observe latte sipping writers hunched over laptops or notebooks, readers lost in a book, be it hardcover, paperback, or ebook, seated amongst duos sharing stories of breakups or exotic travel destinations.
Unless you are reading aloud to someone, or tandem writing in person, writing and reading are solitary endeavors. For those of you who are far along on the introvert scale, days spent alone toiling away on the evolving masterpiece or latest great novel must sound like unmitigated bliss. For those (including me) who swing more to the extrovert side, spending day after day in one’s own company is a recipe for derangement. The LONG commitment of writing a book with no assurance of publication is scary enough, without the additional stress of too much alone time.
Solution? Find a harmonious coffee shop.
I have three favorites, all in NE Minneapolis. They are: 1) Mojo Coffee Gallery, 2) Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, and 3) Anelace Coffee. Both Diamonds and Mojo have yummy baked goods. Mojo has good brunch/lunch food and the consistently best coffee of the three. Anelace is aesthetically pleasant, with coffee of varying quality, and non-appealing treats (to me). But Anelace offers free sparkling water. Both Mojo and Diamonds rank high on the retro-artsy scale, with Mojo displaying engaging artworks and pottery. Diamonds is just plain old funky fun. Anelace has the best restroom.
Coffee shop people–where do you hang out? Why? What are you reading?
My recently read and highly recommended fiction: Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, The Idiot by Elif Batumen, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Olga Tovarczuk.
Judging by the photo above, you can imagine my astonishment at having missed this establishment during my exploratory/gustatory journey up Central NE. Seriously! It looks like a lost circus tent, plopped between Durango Bakery and Sen Yai Sen Lek.
From one of the counter servers, I learn that Dipped and Debris has been open for 7 weeks, which is about the time I observed its blue and white striped presence. Looking back at the blogs, my visits to restaurants on that particular block pre-date Dipped and Debris. Whew. What is now D & D formerly was the south half of Sen Yai Sen Lek. I’m not sure what the story is with that transformation.
As to the name, it plays on the fact that the two featured menu items are the “Dipped”, a beef sandwich dipped in gravy (which my dining companion ordered, more on that later) and “Debris”, described as tasty bits of roast beef on a French loaf. They also sell frozen custard, another factor on the “Dipped” side.
One orders at the counter. In addition to sandwiches and ice cream, there are small bags of chips and beverages available.
Let’s start with the good news. I order the “Pseudo Fowl”, described as a Mock Duck Po Boy garnished with cabbage, pickled carrots, mushroom gravy, on a crispy French loaf. While the bread does not hold up to the contents, it tastes fabulous. I would definitely get this again. Now the less good news. My friend Judy orders the “Dipped” with gravy on the side, and is disappointed to be served a pile of roast beef on a roll. Nothing but meat and bread. I must concur that the sandwich appears rather stark. Down the road, the owners might consider including a side of good slaw and a few chips, along with sturdier bread.
Lest this sound excessively critical, Judy said the beef is tasty, and as noted, my mock duck sandwich tastes yummy. The sound level is comfortable, and the business, take-out and eat-in, flows steady. Seating-wise, diners may choose amongst low tables, high-top tables, and stools at the window counter.
A future visit, which I envision happening on that first really warm day in spring when one’s fancy turns to thoughts of frozen desserts, will include a Pseudo Fowl redux, followed by a bowl of custard with an extravagant array of toppings.
From The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, “Beware irony, ignore criticism, look to what is simple, study the small and humble things of the world, do what is difficult precisely because it is difficult, do not search for answers but rather love the questions, do not run away from sadness or depression for these might be the very conditions necessary to your work. Seek solitude, above all, seek solitude.”
How can one respond to the pervasive atmosphere of violence, dishonesty, fear, and anger afoot today? Option one: respond in like fashion. Spew invective, engage in name-calling, hunker down, buy weapons, and let survival mode dictate your actions. Option two: respond in a diametrically opposite manner. Project kindness, open your arms, turn swords into plough shares, and see the other as kindred. Visit the Fair State Brewing Cooperative taproom, study their business model, and have a beer.
Fair State is a cooperative. You have to admire the strategy of getting people to invest their money in a venture like brewing and purveying beer. The real benefits are slight enough to make one believe that it is the concept into which members are buying, not the actual financial or material return. They are investing in community. Membership is $200 and this is forever, or for the FSBC lifespan which, judging by the brisk business at each of my several visits, will be lengthy. One does get a discount on merchandise (hats, tee shirts, hoodies), a portion of future profits, invitations to special events, and an occasional discount on beer. Members can serve on the board of directors, and have input on beer varieties.
Perhaps I will replicate this strategy in order to fund my writing life. You can buy a membership into what . . . me? No, that sounds weird. Perhaps an investment in future published books. For that, you get a preview chapter, a free autographed copy after publication, and an invite to a members-only book release event with FSBC beer. Woot-woot! I think we have a plan.
In addition to an investment strategy, Fair State has an inviting atmosphere. A brew pub where people bring their kids and their dogs presents an communal ambiance. Their website notes that dogs must be accompanied by their humans. Don’t you love the image of dogs coming in on their own? Some customers sip alone at the bar, others are coupled at the small tables along the wall, while others sit in groups at the longer tables up front. You can buy a pretzel from Aki’s which is their next door neighbor to the north. Or you can bring in food from one of the great area restaurants, or have it delivered. What a deal! Fair State also sells beer at local liquor stores, and has off sale of large bottles, cans, and growlers on site.
They have a weekly trivia night on Wednesdays, and release a new beer each Thursday. If you are a card-carrying member of a local food co-op, your first pint is free on Mondays.
My personal preference is for beers of non-hoppy, but unique and tasty varieties, From my son, who is an expert in many areas, including beer, I learned several years ago about IBUs. A high IBU (International Bitterness Unit) equals hoppy and bitter, which generally makes me unhoppy. ABV stands for percentage of Alcohol By Volume.
At today’s visit I sample two tap brews. First was Bowsaw, described as a “Kvass-style ale brewed using pretzels and bread from our neighbors at Aki’s Breadhaus, as well as Pilsner and Beechwood-smoked barley malts. In essence a farmhouse table beer, Bowsaw is dry, spritzy, a touch acidic, and has hints of smoke and minerality.” ABV: 3.5 IBU: 5.* Relatively speaking, Bowsaw is low in alcohol and low in bitterness. The idea of using leftover bread products is appealing. I enjoy the brew, while being slightly put off by a smokier flavor than I anticipated from the description.
Next I sample Extreme Leisure, described as a “Fruited Berliner Weiss for those days when you can’t be bothered with anything at all whatsoever, and all you want is a super fruity cocktail, we present Extreme Leisure. guava passionfruit sour wheat beer, made with 2lbs./gallon fruit puree.” ABV: 4, IBU: 10.*’ And this about sums it up. If you like fruity, sour, low bitterness beer, as I do, this is a great choice, even though the description makes it sound like a brew for the idle and slow-witted.
Being at Fair State gives me a feeling similar to the Minnesota State Fair. A sense of kinship, community, and hope for humanity.
In the spirit of consistent kindness, I wish you farewell until next week.
* For comparison purposes, amongst the current Fair State beer lineup, the highest ABV is 8, and the highest IBU is 70.
The proprietor Eric is welcoming but not so welcoming that it feels awkward, if you know what I mean. After browsing the newly opened store, I ask him the origin of the name. He attributes it to a conversation between he and his co-proprietor. They liked the name. Googling the phrase, I discover that videos of cat versus cobra fights are popular, and the band Les Savey Fav has an album by that name. For what that’s worth.
What we have here is a vintage store with a biker theme. The first clue? Vintage motorcycle as window display. A rack holds more varieties of Harley shirts that a non-biker could imagine existing. According to Eric, the shirts are highly prized in the Far East. You can also find boots, boots, boots, jackets, denim and other interesting stuff.
I pause over a Bemidji Woolen Mills shirt-jacket, and a fringed black leather jacket. But it is a fall-hued Italian-made mohair pullover that makes me pull out my credit card. It is soft and pleasingly fuzzy. My granddaughter, who attends a Spanish immersion daycare, dubs the sweater “Grandma’s oso jacket.” She approves of the purchase.
My chat with Eric is engaging. We discuss the demise of Bonicelli’s Kitchen, which was located directly across the street. His diagnosis of the cause of death is lack of curb appeal and visibility. I agree. One could pass by regularly without noticing. Too bad. We also discuss the popularity of vintage pinball machines and the idea of a pinball pub. Having good memories of playing pinball in my slightly misspent youth, the idea of combining pinball with beer sounds like a winner. A motivated entrepreneur could likely find an available and appropriate space on our street.
Motorcycles are not and never will be my thing, having experienced during college an uneventful ride up 35W which nonetheless terrified me. Nevertheless, I feel comfortable and happy at The Cat and Cobra. If that fringed leather jacket is still there next time I venture in, it may have to come home with me.
Our next stop on Central Avenue NE will be Fair State Brewing Cooperative.
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
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.
This adventure will continue and may result in a book-length exploration of the intersection of people, place, and time in the context of this neighborhood’s evolution.
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”.
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.