Uptown Cafeteria is tray chic, but can it keep up the pace?

Hennepin and Lake gets another Parasole joint

One hot summer night, on the sidewalk in front of Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group, a girl in a short skirt kissed a guy sitting on a crotch rocket, backlit by the rowdy glow of Stella's and Cowboy Slim's. The scene was pretty romantic, actually, until the guy paused, mid-amour, reached into his pocket, and answered his cell phone. Would the girl wait? Storm off? Slap him? It was The Real World: Uptown and nobody wanted to miss an episode.

Before the first martini glass or appetizer plate hits the table, the Parasole-owned eatery in the northeast corner of Calhoun Square is, first and foremost, the neighborhood's new commons. Spend a few hours there and you'll be just as apt to bump into an old high school friend as your dental hygienist or your mayor. Most of the time, this is among Cafeteria's greatest attributes. Until you find yourself face-to-face with the cyclist you hit with your Subaru, or the guy who dumped you last week for the receptionist at his tanning salon.

Don't take Cafeteria's name too literally. There are no serve-yourself queues, no pizza rectangles pooled with ruby-hued grease to sop up with paper napkins. (Though the molded plastic serving trays do make an appearance, as do a few hair-netted "lunch ladies.") Cafeteria is, instead, a full-service restaurant with a first-floor dining room and a rooftop Skybar whose name only suggests its resemblance to a school or workplace social hub. The Support Group aspect is equally metaphorical. When I made specific inquiries, the waitress offered to lend a listening ear, but her tone suggested that my problems would take a backseat to delivering a round of drinks or two. If you need something beyond a friendly face proffering food and beverage, you're better off with AA or CaringBridge.

A new spin on an old idea: the Cafeteria's dessert case
Alma Guzman
A new spin on an old idea: the Cafeteria's dessert case

Location Info

Map

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group

3001 Hennepin Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

Details

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group
3001 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
612.877.7263; www.uptowncafeteria.com
appetizers $7-$10, entrees $9-$20

After welcoming my group, our waitress suggested that we use our beer coasters to get her attention, should we need anything. "Just throw one of those little things at me," she announced with a laugh. She looked like she belonged behind the counter of a surf shop, between the pair of white sunglasses perched at the base of her blonde ponytail and her deeply tanned skin. Her assistance in guiding a decision was so vague—"Yeah, I've tried that, and I liked it"—that it could have just as easily applied to the choice between a classic longboard and a tri-fin as mac-and-cheese or meatloaf. "Is it on purpose that the whole staff seems to be high-school age?" one of my friends inquired.

Cafeteria's first floor is decorated retro-mod. Some elements feel slick—the plush blue-and-orange booths, the hip magazine rack near the bar—while others, like the rust-hued carpet on the wall, look as though they might have been ripped out of an old rambler's basement. A few elements suggest an institutional setting: glazed, white brick walls like those that line windowless corridors; coarse, towel-like napkins suited to mopping nursing home peas off whiskered chins; perforated ceiling tiles of the sort that junior high students used to hurl pencils toward, to see if they'd stick.

Cafeteria's practice of running the air conditioning in a room with its windows wide open makes for a lovely habitat: Patrons can feel as if they're enjoying the weather, without pitting out a body-hugging shirt. The climate is eminently comfortable, but surely the "bed-wetting hippies" that Parasole CEO Phil Roberts famously fingered for their opposition to the company's cheeky—some say racist—billboards, will soon protest.

As for the food and beverage offerings, the restaurant's concept is somewhat contemptuous of concept, inspiring a collection of American comfort foods and a few "mainstreamed" ethnic items. Chef Jeff Anderson, who previously ran the kitchen at Salut St. Paul, says he was "stoked" by the opportunity to lead the Cafeteria team and has dozens and dozens of recipes he plans to swap into the menu every few months.

Maybe it was because my visits to Cafeteria coincided with a period of sweltering weather I heard described as being "like swimming through the ass-sweat of God," but I often felt overwhelmed by the menu's ratio of heavy, fatty items to lighter ones. The restaurant's website defines its menu's theme as "deliciousness," but it's deliciousness of a very specific sort: "as in 'I haven't eaten all day' delicious; stoner delicious; last-meal delicious,'" it reads. (If you're surprised not to see pizza, Cafeteria doesn't offer it so as not to infringe on the turf of Parasole's neighboring Il Gatto.) This hearty-food focus might appeal in the winter, but Cafeteria, with half its real estate seasonal in nature, is more of a warm-weather place. If I wished for more dishes like the Big Hippie Salad, with its colorful array of sliced veggies, its sprinkle of quinoa and hemp seed vinaigrette, does that make me a bed-wetter?

The foremost reason to visit Cafeteria is its beautiful Skybar, which is now arguably the nicest roof deck in Uptown. It has more wood than a sauna, lots of curvy, pod-shaped lounge furniture, and a gorgeous view of the city. The deck's capacity is capped at 200, so during peak demand you could wait nearly an hour to get up there.

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