The Street Within

She's not the only one. On Sunday nights, says Connor, the shop hosts a Methodist outreach group that wanted "an unchurchy sort of place to meet--coffee shops have been critical in creating nontraditional spaces for people to have spiritual experiences. But on the flip side, we have Coffee Cauldron, a group of people who are from the occult or pagan sides of things. They get together here and talk about tarot cards and what's the latest and greatest in astrology." Saturday mornings around 9:30, an old-time music jam attracts fiddle, banjo, and harmonica players, and sometimes cloggers.

Connor says this confluence of Methodists, pagans, and cloggers is something that can't be engineered; that opening a coffee shop is like "setting a top spinning and seeing where it flies around the room. Opening a business to a community is setting something in motion, then stepping back and seeing what happens. Of course, you continue to show up to make the soup, to make the coffee, but the community makes the rest."

Distrustful of a word that often seems to mean anything and nothing, I asked: So who is this community? "Whoever comes back," replied Connor. "Here, people want to have a home away from home. That Cheerscliché--to have a place where you are recognized and somebody knows what you like to eat, what your drink is, where you can chitchat about the weather, where it's safe and it's pleasant and it's not complicated. Prairie Star isn't what I created. It's the interaction between the humans who are behind the bar and the humans who are in front of the bar."

And there, I think, I got my answer to the street-food question. For the real value of sidewalk snacks is that they serve as the glue holding a city together, the common ground for people who otherwise share only geography. Was there a need for cultural glue in some places, and did coffee shops spring up to fill that need? (I can't think of what Seattle's street food would be, either.) Did they arise as spontaneously as friendships or love affairs, unplanned, suddenly formidable? Says Connor, reflecting on her Saturday morning jams: "I had nothing to do with this--this thing emerged. Sometimes it nearly spins out of control, people dancing in the aisles, the whole room just pops. And it happens nearly all on its own."

TABLEHOPPING

LENT AT MURRAY'S: Rumormongers like myself have been fretting about news that Minneapolis's most photogenic steak house was exploring moving to another space. Well, put that to bed--it's not happening: The folks at Murray's say they're staying right where they are (26 South Sixth St.; (612) 339-0909). Better yet, as a Lenten special, Murray's will be selling a walleye dinner--walleye fillet, house salad, potato or vegetable, rolls and butter--every Friday night until April 2.

GREAT LEAP FORWARD: A few months ago I wrote about Fuji Ya, the new incarnation of an institution that opened in downtown Minneapolis in 1959, closed in 1988, and recently reopened on Lyndale under the auspices of the original chef's granddaughter, Carol Weston Hanson, and her husband Thomas Hanson. Basically, my review concluded that the new Fuji Ya was a nice try but no cigar, that the sushi was uneven and the servers sometimes obtusely clueless.

And wouldn't you know it, the owners have spent the past few months powering through an aggressive improvement campaign. Last December they introduced Teng Thao as their new sushi chef--fans will recognize Thao, nicknamed Tengo, from the sushi bar at Origami. April 1 will see the introduction of a new kitchen manager, and a new menu will follow sometime this spring.

I stopped by for lunch one day last week, and oo-la-la, things have picked up. A couple of pieces of tuna were the freshest I've ever had in Minnesota, blood red and delectable. A caterpillar roll was the epitome of caterpillary perfection: razor-thin slices of avocado on the outside, hot creamy grilled eel within. Undeniably, it was a million-mile leap ahead from my previous Fuji Ya experiences. "We weren't pleased with our sushi quality," explains Thomas Hanson. "So we got the best sushi chef in town. We've been on a path of steady improvement since we opened; this is just the latest step. We're going to be better than anyone in town. But you don't necessarily have to print that." Oops.

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