Cafe Society

Kali's Kitchen

1901 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls.;

           AS THE ROMAN writer Juvenal famously proclaimed, "Two things only the people anxiously desire: bread and circuses." He was lamenting the decline of heroism, but bread and circuses are exactly what Pete Glaser, Jimmy Anderson, and John Tomars, the owners of Kali's Kitchen, think might bring us contemporary citizens a small degree of salvation. Kali's was conceived of as a meeting place for people more than as a cafe, the cafe being intended to provide monetary and nutritional sustenance to the community that Kali's hopes to attract.

           On the most basic level, this means that they won't be enforcing any dress codes or loitering laws. Stay and play Yahtzee as long as you like, pore over the Sunday paper at your leisure, and fear not the watchful eye of a staff who keeps tabs on how many refills of coffee you've had. Ideally, Kali's will be known as a place for people to read poetry and stories, play music, show films, perform, show their art work, and get to know their neighbors a bit better. That's the idea anyway; my own addiction to Kali's, however, is less than altogether civic.

           "Does it ever get busy here?" asked a middle-aged woman wearing rollerblades of the man behind the counter. "No, not yet really, but these things take a while," came the modest reply. It was the first time I was not their only customer.

           It is easy to pass by Kali's Kitchen, located on the part of Hennepin Avenue just outside Lowry Hill that's neither downtown nor uptown, and therefore territory untouched by the usual pedestrian crowd. I myself had been ignoring Kali's because of the rainbow-colored wind sock I'd seen hanging outside of its threshold. Must be some sort of new-age hangout, I'd surmised, the kind of place where they sell candles, burn incense, and fly wind socks. No place for a hungry grouch like me.

           Eventually, curiosity got the better of me, and I wandered in and ordered a coffee smoothie ($2.75). Even with the lack of other customers, it takes a few minutes to get your drink. After tasting it though, you are certain to appreciate the unhurried and careful attention to detail that goes into their construction. Served in gigantic mason jars, the coffee smoothies here are the most glorious things I've ever tasted, leaps above those icy concoctions sold at the ubiquitous chains, bounds beyond the spirulina, fruit-filled yogurt shakes you get at your high-minded health food store.

           The blend of espresso, bananas, sweetened milk (soy milk can be substituted for an extra $.50), coffee, chocolate syrup, and other undisclosed ingredients,with ice, is so wonderful and filling that you might find yourself developing a fast and mean habit for them. If you aren't a coffee lover, they can be made with fresh oranges, kiwi, strawberries, and blueberries (also $2.75). A row of jars filled with dried herbs and teas stands ready for your pleasure, and those looking for a new jolt should enjoy the cosmic caffeinator ($2), a punchy blend of coffee, espresso, black tea, and the herb gurana.

           The selection of non-liquid edibles on the menu at Kali's is quite small. Not to worry though; every meal that I've had there has satiated my stomach and spirits better than most places with more complex menus. Sandwiches are what you'll find here, although I hear that soups, salads, and stews will make their way come fall. All vegetarian, the sandwiches range from the terrapin ($3.50), made with avocado, a thick layer of cream cheese, a heap of sprouts, and a generous sprinkling of sunflower seeds, to the tegwich, a teenager's dream made with cream cheese, bananas, and jelly ($3).

           All the ingredients are incredibly fresh. Mr. Glaser makes a daily trip to the farmer's market to select his produce personally. I would eat the sandwiches here for the bread they come on alone--thick and chewy slices of seven grain, courtesy of Whole Foods bakery. Desserts here consist of simple treats: cookies ($1.50), bars ($1.50), and muffins (the black raspberry with Bavarian cream filling is beyond belief; $2), all made by a nice lady up in Crystal, I'm told. Best of all, in my opinion, is the Mexican hot chocolate ($2), a smoldering blend of semi-sweet chocolate, cinnamon, sugar, and a couple of ingredients that could not be divulged to this patron.

           The service is likewise friendly and welcoming. The single diner will find plenty to read if she decides to bundle off in a corner, though as the staff told one customer, "The books are a bit on the eclectic side, just a warning." Suffice it to say that those with a penchant for witches' almanacs, guides to various red light districts in foreign countries, and fanzines devoted to the gay counterculture won't be disappointed. In the windows sit several small pots of Begonia Varsity roses, a bit withered and struggling for survival. I hope that they, and this well-intentioned community cafe, can prosper in this harsh war-of-the-coffeehouses climate.


           JAZZ FREAKS: Those seeking late night glamour on a Friday night would do well to visit cafe un deux trois. Every Friday night the Twin Cities Jazz Quartet plays at the popular French bistro, interpreting music by American jazz greats like Armstrong, Coltrane, Hawkins, Parker, and Davis. Led by David Sigel, former pianist with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, the quartet also features Jim Anton on bass, Dave Anania on drums, and virtuoso Brian Gallagher on tenor sax. Enjoy this entertainment free of charge (no cover or minimum) every Friday night from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Food and beverage served until closing. Located in the Foshay Tower, 114 S. Ninth St., Mpls.; 228-9395.

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