Found Art

An erstwhile hipster chef and a preservationist philanthropist team up to provide truly artful diner food

Band Box Diner
729 S. Tenth St., Minneapolis

If you will consider the received wisdom of the most learned minds of western culture, you will see that high art is considered our collective exemplary achievement, while the diner is not considered at all. As usual, everyone is wrong. Consider:

Art:The Diner:
Discus throwers cut from marble
New conductor, better song: Brad Ptacek, chef and part owner of Minneapolis's Band Box
Allen Beaulieu
New conductor, better song: Brad Ptacek, chef and part owner of Minneapolis's Band Box

Location Info


Band Box Diner

729 S. 10th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

Commissioned art thefts, with priceless masterpieces hidden in billionaires' secret dens

Crinkles cut from fries $2.99
Monet's Hay StacksStrawberry short stacks
American abstract expressionismAmerican fries
Bottomless ennuiBottomless cup of joe

And such.

Obviously then, if considered with an unbiased and well-reasoned mind, the diner is undeniably the highest achievement possible to humankind. Egalité? Fraternité? Liberté? Check, check, check. With fries, no less.

Unfortunately, while even the average American schoolchild recognizes that most artists are merely pretenders to the title, fewer recognize the dire straits in which the American diner currently flounders.

To wit: Most diners these days are one of three things. The first and most common: Low-rent horror shows where they heat and serve the cheapest possible things off the back of the Sysco truck, and the toast counts as its two parents the wheat field and that part of the American petrochemical industry that allows toxic wastes to be re-encapsulated into such shelf-stable products as I Can't Believe It's Not Poison! Second, diners may be '50s-ish retro faux simulacra where children roller-skate to the sounds of songs recorded before their parents were born, and the Bay of Pigs is something inventive with ham. Finally, of course, there's the Janis Rolls in Her Grave diners, where tempeh-calamata olive-rice milk malts might be sucked up through a hemp fiber straw, and for only $31.45 per child.

A real diner, you know, a real diner is a place where $3 buys something. Where potatoes come from the ground, and not from the industrial, chisel-it-open bucket. Where your worth comes from your ability to be nice, to not get all attitudey about Tibet-grown hemp oil or French cold-pressed lanyards, to appreciate homemade whipped cream when it shows up and to be, above all, regular. Regular in the sense of showing up frequently, doing your own weird, idiosyncratic thing, but simultaneously not hassling your fellow diner-sitters out of their own weird thing. Of being appreciative and neighborly and not too much of a pain in the ass.

I didn't think Minneapolis had any such diners. Brother, was I wrong.

And all it took was one single little Band Box baby burger to convince me. Order one of these things and you get a wee, flat little burger that's been expertly diner-griddled until it gets all that gilding of flavor that only a continually operating diner grill can provide: Little whiffs of the morning's omelets; little wisps of flavor from some other guy's onions; more. The soft, sweet bun is griddled up there too, so it toasts and soaks in that magic grill flavor. Sidle up to a counter seat or tiny table and they'll serve you that burger and that bun right next to a pile of fresh and real garnish: a bright slice of tomato, green disks of pickle, purplish circles of red onion, and a vivid green leaf of lettuce. Whip the whole rigamarole together, voilà! That superlative combination of meat and rich, salad and fresh, salty from the grill, and sweet from the tomato: Heavens! This thing is so good that you can simply have the plain meat and plain bun--no ketchup, no nothing--and it's great. And it's two bucks! Two bucks for the plain baby burger!

Or, you know, $3.50 for a double-meat and cheese, which I don't recommend, because it throws off the singularly perfect ratio of meat to stuff that the baby burger achieves. There are also big burgers, which feature a bigger meat patty, but if you're really hungry the magic move is to get two baby burgers--two baby burgers! One to marvel in awe at, murmuring that you can't believe a burger this good, this authentic, this real exists just in the shadow of downtown, and a second with which to lord your good fortune over the universe. Add crinkle fries for a dollar.

Or, if you've got some time, add American fries for $2.25. These things are wonderful too, made the real, from-scratch way, with potatoes boiled the night before and let cool so they lose any excess moisture, then cooked to order on the grill with plenty of onions until they get that caramelized and crisp concentration that is the holy grail of all potato cooking. This kind of magic doesn't come quick, however: Figure at least 20 minutes for American fries made the old-fashioned way--but brother, they're worth it.

And just to add to your losses and woes, please know that one week I was there and there was, as a special, the best possible corned-beef hash of the diner variety: Homemade corned beef, diced and shredded, added to the potatoes; the whole of it griddled to that miracle of crisp and soft, paired with eggs and toast for $6.95. But it's gone now, until chef Brad Ptacek decides to whip up another batch.

Now, if you are currently storming up and down and gnashing your teeth while cursing me, because you have been to the Band Box and you know it to be horrible, dirty, greasy and lackluster, a place where mere nostalgia is the only engine, I say to you: Hold your horses there, pardner. I, too, held a low opinion of the Band Box, based on long-ago visits when the place, quite frankly, stank. But things are different now. See, what happened was that Brad Ptacek took over the joint--and he's not just a diner chef, he's the old chef from Café Solo, the long-gone warehouse district restaurant that defined young, chef-driven Italian food in the Twin Cities in the early '90s. And he's not just the chef at the Band Box, he's also an owner.

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