Uptown Cafeteria & Support Group opened on Tuesday, so I stopped in with a couple of friends to check it out before the Twins game (in which they ha-whooooped the Rockies).
The space is a cross between cool and cute, with sky blue vinyl chairs, white bar tops and a rather deliberate throwback to the days of cafeteria trays and lunch ladies. Save for the bathrooms, the walls are art-less (at least on opening day) but there's enough color and geometry going on to keep your eyes busy in between bites and sips. It's bright and airy, thanks in part to the garage windows that open up to Lake Street. I got a kick out of one thing: the number of seats in the dining room proper and booths next to the kitchen don't even come close to adding up to the number of high tops and bar stools. My first hint that Cafeteria is going to be a drinks-driven restaurant.
I've said it at least 6 times since I was there on Tuesday, but Cafeteria has the most comfortable bar stools I've ever had the pleasure of sitting in. They're soft and the chair backs are at just the right height. The foot rails fall in just the right place and there are even handbag hooks all around the bar (I do not understand how this still manages to get overlooked by decorators). Those in the industry and those of us who work peripherally with the industry tend to eat dinner at the bar, so these features are much appreciated.
As I said, my impression of Cafeteria is that the focus is on the bars, drinks and drinking.That's not to say Parasole Culinary Director Todd Bolton didn't do a great job on the food menu; the theme is a hodge podge of what he referred to as "comfort foods of all kinds" and at least one or two items will no doubt appeal to everyone that walks in ready to eat. I ordered the pair of Southwest veggie sliders made from black beans and topped with pico de gallo and sliced avocado. Good texture (as in not too mushy) and plenty of cumin flavor on same-day fresh and toasted baby buns. At the suggestion of my friend Ben behind the bar, I had the "little salad" as my side; an overflowing cup of mixed greens and cherry tomatoes served with a tiny boat of hemp seed vinaigrette. The dressing was unexpectedly sweet, but herby enough to not be overpowering. A solid choice for the first taste of a new restaurant.
Cafeteria's happy hour is quite generous, starting at 2pm and going 'til 7pm every night of the week. It's also happy hour all day every Sunday, plus another little happy hour from 10pm 'til 12am Monday through Thursday. During these amazing times is when you can get any draft beer, Happiness shot (a shooter of vodka and the freshly-juiced blend of the day), house wine, mini bacon burger, fried egg sandwich or disco fries for just $3. (The latter, a pile of crispy crinkle-cut fries doused with cheese sauce and gravy, can of course be made vegetarian by omitting the gravy.)
There are a lot of things on the menu that will have me back at Cafeteria within the next 72 hours: Leine Battered Onion Rings, Big Hippie Salad (made with quinoa), Chilaquiles (could they be as good as mine?), pancakes and waffles on the weekend breakfast menu and malts and shakes with flavors like Oreo Grasshopper and Espresso Heath Bar. Desserts at Cafeteria might sound familiar; old Figlio favorites like Key Lime Pie, Red Velvet Cake and Chocolate Cheesecake come fresh from the Parasole bakery off Nicollet. There's also a cotton candy machine on premises; you won't see it on the menu, but ask and you shall receive. Cafeteria has a nightly blue plate special, but it doesn't yet cater to the vegetarian lifestyle. Also, it's possible that there might be a vegetarian version of the curry (served up all cutesy in a tiffin carrier) in the future, but for now it's just chicken masala. Order the Employee Meal off the menu and you'll be treated to a walk down the kitchen line with your own plastic tray, where the cooks will load it up with whatever -- you guessed it -- the employee meal is that day.
I had a couple of draft Fox Barrel Black Currant Ciders at Cafeteria, a crisp and tasty alternative to the bottled Crispin option in the cooler. It's no Strongbow, but it's pretty good. Ben explained to me that Crispin actually took over the Fox Barrel cidery and will soon be marketing it aggressively in the area. I had a Happiness shot, as well, which was awesome despite the fact that I can't remember what was in it. But does it matter? It's fresh-from-the-juicer juice with a little antioxidant-absorber-helper kick! Fruit and booze, people. I've been on a hiatus from vodka and the like for quite a while, but one of these little shooters suited me just fine. I do want to try the Pomegranate Wallbanger, maybe over breakfast this weekend. A longtime fan of Harvey Wallbangers, I don't think I'll be able to resist for long this classic concoction made with an added splash of Pama liqueur. Cafeteria also highlights an authentic Dark & Stormy, the snappy cocktail made with Gosling's Black Seal Rum and Gosling's Ginger Beer that's been popping up on better cocktail menus all over the Twin Cities this past year.
I spent some time up on the Sky Bar patio and it's very well-done. A ridiculous amount of seating with a separate space to lounge, high tops with a view for dining and a long stretch of bar real estate. It's an enviable rooftop patio with enough seating to absorb the overflow from Stella's across the street. The Sky Bar will be what Uptown is all about this summer, so check it out and check it out often.
Oops, sorry, a little long-winded for a first impression. But at least my next review of Cafeteria will be all about the food.
For a slideshow of Cafeteria from the Metromix website, click the photo below: