When I was a junior in college my folks moved out of my childhood home on the tough streets of south Minneapolis and upgraded to a pleasure dome two blocks from Lake Harriet in southwest Minneapolis. Other than the loss of some of my street cred I welcomed the move as I got a basement apartment out of the deal. The new neighborhood had a bagel shop, an Italian deli, a pasta bar, and a good pizza joint. However as a newly turned 21 year old that stayed on and off with his parents during and after college, the neighborhood lacked the most important thing…alcohol.
Now years later, on a site previously housing a sub par deli and stuffed next to a hardware store, we have Café Maude. This is the place I dreamt about when I lived in the neighborhood. During the day it’s a bustling brunch/lunch destination and at night it’s packed with the dinner crowd and those stopping by for a drink or two. Being that this is Minnesota where we can’t even buy booze on Sundays, it was quite a battle for the owners to get the neighborhood to support a full liquor license for Maude, but thank god they did because if not my brunch experience this past weekend would just have been good instead of great.
Since Maude has become one of the hottest tables in town since its opening, I figured the best tact to get in was for my companion and I to sneak in to a brunch seating. We made reservations for 11:30 and when we arrived at 11:15 it appeared we had over anticipated Maude’s daytime popularity. Our host quickly sat us at a table in the sun drenched restaurant. The design of the place belies the fact that the restaurant is stuck in a quiet neighborhood. The deep colors on the wall and the beautiful bar make one think of a downtown hipster joint rather than a place across the street from a seamstress and a ranch style home.
Our server came over to take our drink orders and here is where Maude left a permanent imprint on my culinary mind. Since brunch was the word of the day we started out with two Bloody Marys. My companion opted for the traditional interpretation which was the perfect mix of vodka and tomato juice with a nice but not overpowering kick to it. It did not come with a beer back which was the first of many service missteps. However before I let the service issues get the better of me, I must discuss the Bloody Homer. Yep the Bloody Homer is an ode to everyone’s favorite Simpson (sorry Maggie fans). The watch word here is bacon; bacon infused vodka, the thickest slice of bacon I’ve ever seen as a stir stick, and yes, a bacon mini donut on the rim. The mini donut was the perfect blend of sweet and savory and if I were Maude’s chef I’d make a plate of these available as a brunch option. The bacon didn’t overpower the drink but instead raised the flavor levels of everything around it and it definitely popped more than the traditional interpretation. Oh and I almost forgot the Velveeta stuffed green olives and “Duff” beer back that truly made this the complete drink experience.
Of course this was brunch and being it was the weekend after Thanksgiving we had to get some food in our bellies to do some holiday shopping. The brunch menu is a combination of breakfast items, salads, soups, and sandwiches. On the menu there was no indication of any cut off time for any of the options but when we began our order our server asked us what time it was as apparently only the breakfast items are available prior to 11. He proceeded to mention that he’s been yelled at before for putting in orders prior to 11 for sandwiches. A note to management, perhaps it would be a wise investment to invest in time pieces for your staff. After getting that confusion out of the way we settled on an order of the already legendary house cut fries with cheese fondue to start and they did not disappoint. The fries themselves rival The Bulldog NE in cut and taste. There was a hint of truffle oil on these fries and the golden brown potatoes packed incredible flavor into each small bite. The fondue was an acquired taste as at first I felt it overpowered the fries themselves but after that initial reaction my companion and I found ourselves trying to get every last bit of melty goodness. Since we were doing fries we decided to split a couple of sandwiches. I went with the crab cake sandwich which featured two silver dollar sized cakes on a brioche-like bun with a tangy remoulade. In a town where my complaint is often about crab cakes with too much filler, Maude has somehow managed to error in the opposite direction. Each cake was almost 100% crab and sub par crab at that. I prefer to see some onions or peppers mixed in there as these left an overpowering fishy taste in my mouth. Also, if you’re going to serve these as a sandwich it might be a good idea to make one larger cake to fit the bun. I found myself eating it open faced as the bun, while quite tasty, was just too much. My companion opted for the vegetable Panini and here the kitchen hit another home run that matched the fries. The mix of eggplant, red pepper, zucchini, and onions was cooked perfectly with a hint of balsamic vinegar and a subtle pesto. Again the bread here was amazing and clearly baked goods are a strength of this kitchen.
Unfortunately bread played a role in exposing the relatively new restaurant’s biggest weakness, service. While we suffered at the hands of a server who didn’t know what time it was, it appeared we were the lucky ones. While my sandwich was missing the promised mixed greens and my companion missed her aforementioned beer back at least we weren’t left without sides for out entire meal. As I mentioned when we arrived the place was busy but by no means full, but by the time we left each table was full and most of them were waiting on bread. The tables had gone from ordering omelets (which I overheard raves about from many tables especially the smoked salmon with brie option) to soups and salads. However as these orders came out the accompanying bread items were missing. I overheard server after server promise that it would be right out but I saw at least three tables finish their dish before the bread made its way out. While I heard great things about the bread once it arrived, a restaurant that has been this busy since it opened should anticipate the lunch crowd and adjust their baking schedule as needed. There were also two cases of dirty flatware around us which is also a disturbing comment on the organization of an establishment.
In the end though the shortcomings in the service could not over shadow the quality of the products coming out from the kitchen and the bar. When the worst thing you eat is a crab cake that was still better than half of the ones in town then I think you have a winner. For a neighborhood that has long needed a hipster joint for young and old, Café Maude delivers on the promise on their signage, civilized leisure. I just wish it had been there 12 years ago when I could have used a late night snack and a decent drink.
Café Maude, 5411 penn ave. s. minneapolis 612.822.5411, cafemaude.com