Nirvana for the Sippy-Cup Set

Andy's Garage
1825 University Ave. W., St. Paul;
(651) 917-2332

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Friday 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Saturday 9:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; closed Sundays, Mondays

 

[Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.]

Tony Nelson

Location Info

Map

Andy's Garage

1825 University Ave. W.
St Paul, MN 55104-3401

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Macalester/Groveland

Can you spot Mr. Potato Head? Here's a clue: He might be sitting on the Wurlitzer, lit up by the whirling candy lights on the jukebox. Or he may be lurking by the dessert towers that stand on the old-fashioned counter, crouched behind the shiny glass and glossy slices of pie. Or he might even be up on the malt machine, standing while the kids mix stainless-steel cup after stainless-steel cup of hand-scooped malts. Still can't find him? Well, keep looking, there's a valuable prize for your sleuthing: Every Mr. Potato Head identifier wins a Tootsie Pop.

This, as you can well imagine, is rather captivating to the Velcro-sneaker contingent. And as if Mr. Potato Head were not enough, youth can also request a small, personal bowling-bag filled with a miniature Etch-a-Sketch and other games to amuse themselves at the table. And as if that were not enough, children can plug the jukebox to hear the Beach Boys and Nat King Cole as they await their meals. Those meals may come from a six-item kids' menu that includes macaroni and cheese ($2.45), grilled cheese ($1.50), peanut butter and jelly ($1.30), a corn dog ($1.55), chicken tenders (for any old and clueless diners those are fried strips of boneless chicken breast, $2.50), or a small hamburger ($2.50). This is to say nothing of the ice-cream treats, the hand-cut French fries, the way that one may amuse oneself between courses by spinning in circles on one's soda-counter stool. Or the fact that, when you check your parents' register tape at the end of the meal, if a red star appears you get a mini six-pack of Coca-Cola in glass bottles to take with you. Ladies and gentlemen: Goodfellow's for the skinned-knee set.

And you ain't seen nothing yet. "We're going to start having special promotions soon," says DJ Traudt, who opened the retro, Forties-themed malt shop and diner this past June with his wife Sande Traudt and daughter Andrea--the Andy of Andy's Garage. "We're going to do a pumpkin-patch thing outside in the fall, and an old-fashioned Christmas both in and outside of the building--frosted windows, old decorations, and plenty of old Christmas music on the jukebox. We wanted to make our place fun for families." Fun for families indeed: On Friday and Saturday nights, enter this garage and you'll find squeaky-clean live music bouncing off the tin walls while patrons sip malts: a cappella groups, jazz, swing, blues, even rock. "We wanted to provide a gathering place for the community," says Traudt.

I don't bother telling Traudt how often I hear that phrase, and how often it's emptily meant: We want to provide a gathering place for the community of platinum Visa card holders, the community of expense-account padders. But at Andy's Garage they really mean it; both DJ and Sande Traudt come from a social-work background. Sande is a social work professor at Bethel College, where DJ is currently the director of alumni and parent relations, but DJ used to do youth programming at the YMCA and has coached teams at local parks. The Traudts actually know how to make a community space thrive.

For example, one of the first things I noticed about this place is its utterly unusual age diversity: It's the only place I know of, besides a McDonald's, where you can regularly see tables of kids and gatherings of senior citizens side by side. I think this stems from the fear-free menu of all-American classics and the unusually low prices: An adult grilled cheese runs $2.80 with potato chips, or $5.20 with fries and coleslaw; a cup of soup is only $1.85; coffee, served in old-fashioned diner cups, is refilled constantly and only costs a buck.

For my money, though, what makes Andy's Garage worth driving across several communities are the French fries: Hand-cut from fresh potatoes, fried to that golden, caramel-tinged stage of perfection, and rushed to the table piping hot, these skin-on fries are the height of the art (a basket runs $2.50).

Amusingly enough, these fries evolved by accident: The Traudts, new to the restaurant world, considered using frozen fries, but realized their teeny, tiny kitchen--the space really used to be a garage--couldn't accommodate that much freezer storage. So they decided to use fresh potatoes, simply because they can be stored just about anywhere. These perfect fries were the outcome. The malts and shakes are the other triumph here--made to order in either a one-glass half-size for $2.95 or a glass-and-a-metal-container size for $3.95--and they're all made with hand-scooped, hard-pack ice cream and real whole milk (not soft-serve or shake mix) and taste delicious. Rich, creamy, and luxurious.

I learned something about shakes at Andy's Garage, namely, that you can order them to taste: Thick, thin, double chocolate (chocolate ice cream and chocolate syrup), with add-ins like a fresh banana or peanut butter. Who knew? A couple of visits to Andy's Garage and I'm ordering malts like a soda-shop veteran: "I want a half malt, double chocolate, extra thin, and throw in a banana."

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