Wrong Turn

At Nordeast Eatery, meals too often go south

If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to feel pure, primal rage directed at a plate of strawberry-stuffed French toast, head over to the Nordeast Eatery. Place your order at the counter, and rest assured: You're going to be angry.

For $5.95, you get the equivalent of two grilled cheese sandwiches, minus the tasty, protein-rich slices of cheese. Inside of each diagonally cut sandwich is a meager smear of Knott's Berry Farm strawberry jam, a substance that resembles actual strawberry jam in the same way that Spam resembles grilled pork tenderloin. There's also a bit of cream cheese.

The four mini-sandwiches lack a buttery taste; they are not dusted in powdered sugar; they don't have a single thinly sliced real strawberry inside them. They are served with food-service-grade syrup. The showboat entry for the restaurant's "sweet" breakfast options is essentially something you could improvise while locked inside a storage closet at IHOP.

Nordeast Eatery does savory-style breakfast and lunch, too, and it's worth noting that no other offering dips to the harrowing depths of the French toast. But that bottom-of-the-barrel mentality largely defines the eatery's approach to its menu.

For fans of the Taher, Inc., restaurant mini-empire, this is a demoralizing development. The Wayzata Eatery offers creative—no, scratch that, inspired—cooking at a reasonable price. Its curried egg salad naan sandwich is one of the best lunch options within 50 square miles. The Alaska Eatery is spendy, but it grills meat and seafood so well that it makes your meal an event.

So where does Nordeast fall down? A mini-sandwich sampler for lunch is typical. It includes three kinds of sandwich: smoked chicken, tuna salad, and dilled egg. But with the exception of the tuna, the tough, rustic buns overpower their fillings. The muted dilled-egg sandwich includes a stingy allotment of protein that loses out completely against the lettuce and bun. You've eaten these same sandwiches at corporate functions—for free. Now you've got the opportunity to pay $7.95 for them.

The tragedy is that it didn't have to be this way. How much would it have cost to make good—or at least decent—strawberry French toast involving a palpable buttery taste, a couple of real strawberries, better jam, powdered sugar, a higher grade (and more generous smear) of cheese? Another 50 cents? Another dollar? How crazy would it have been to hit one of the three mini-sandwiches with a blast of spice, a dried-fruit compote, Nueske's bacon, something—anything—to make one of them pop off the plate?

With an aggressive overhaul aimed at bumping up flavor and using quality ingredients, Nordeast Eatery could join the constellation of Taher successes as a junior partner. Until then, we'll have to hope this is a random cock-up...and not a sign of things to come.

NORDEAST EATERY, 2100 Summer St. NE, Minneapolis; 612.746.5001; www.nordeasteatery.com

 
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