Cafe Maude adapts with sophistication

New Loring Park spot embraces cocktails and dinner dishes

Cafe Maude adapts with sophistication
Alma Guzman

The fact that our first visit to Cafe Maude's new location in Loring Park took place on the same night as the first presidential debate proved to be fitting in two ways. First, in the sense that perusing Cafe Maude's menu sparked a lively back-and-forth about what everyone should order. Should we opt for French? We could, but a little Norwegian flair might make for a more neutral platform. Going Roman might be a fine rebuttal, but perhaps the best strategy is to play it safe and stick to the American South. Believe it or not, that whole tête à tête only got us through the cocktail menu, which features some of the most sophisticated drinks in town. But Cafe Maude was also a fitting choice because of its patron saint and namesake, Maude Armatage, who was a progressive thinker and inspiring local politician in the early 20th century.

You might already associate the Armatage name with the south Minneapolis neighborhood (near the restaurant's first location) that her family helped to establish beginning in the 1870s, but Maude was also politically active as a member of the Park Board. In 1921 she made history when she was elected to be the board's commissioner at large, becoming the first woman elected to a Minneapolis municipal council. She went on to have a major impact on the parks system and made a particular mission out of linking the Department of Education and Board of Recreation. She was thrifty, smart, dedicated, and reportedly liked to have a good time. Basically, Maude Armatage was the Leslie Knope of Minneapolis, and much like Amy Poehler's character in Parks and Recreation, the restaurant named for Armatage has good energy, myriad achievements, and, occasionally, a tendency to overdo it.

After just two steps inside Cafe Maude's doors, it's impossible to recall the space the way it was as Nick and Eddie, its former resident. For one thing, there are many more customers seated in the dining room, toasting one another in dimly lit booths, feeding their toddlers bits of squash, and hanging at the bar chatting with the talented team of drink-makers as they mix a sweet but sturdy Kentucky Pilgrim, a cocktail made with bourbon, cranberry shrub (fruit preserved in sugar and vinegar), cranberry bitters, and soda. The bar program, headed by Adam Harness, formerly of Town Talk Diner and the main man at the helm of Maude's original location, is outstanding. Though unique components like Earl Grey honey syrup and hopped grapefruit bitters do make an appearance in his creations, Harness doesn't have to rely on oddities to produce an interesting cocktail, just good balance. The bar program is a major draw for the restaurant, especially in this location, where Cafe Maude will need to cater both to a younger general audience and, because of its proximity to the sculpture garden, the Walker, and the Basilica, a big-time Sunday brunch crowd.

Fried quail with pancetta and corn is just one of Maude's many high notes
Alma Guzman for City Pages
Fried quail with pancetta and corn is just one of Maude's many high notes

Location Info

Map

Cafe Maude at Loring

1612 Harmon Place
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

Appetizers $8-$13; entrees $10-$29

Several dishes are new to this location, and Maude's staff and owners seem to be putting their focus on dinner as the main event. A handful of dishes from that menu were executed beautifully, while others suffered from being overly busy. One example was the monster lamb shank, which had loads of robust fall flavor — beets, chevre, risotto, chunks of Merguez sausage, truffle, mushroom jus, marsala wine — but too many of them were competing with one another. The result was a bit of a muddled mess that overpowered the otherwise tender and tasty bone-in lamb. It was nice to see that portion sizes were generous, and I always like to have leftovers for the next day, but the dish could have benefited from a bit more restraint and (I can't believe I'm saying this) a little less truffle. Given the $24 price tag for fish and chips (albeit a rather dressed-up version that replaces fries with gnocchi and comes with English peas, which are so out of season they're almost back in season again), I'd prefer to get the real deal all good and greasy from the Anchor for about a third of the cost. The small plate of calamari la plancha had similar issues. It came with so much hot pepper oil dressing the plate, and squid ink saturating the greens, that our lips were left stinging and, when we wiped our mouths, scarily black. To boot, some mystery component made the dish so overwhelmingly salty we couldn't really enjoy the delicate sauteed rings of squid.

But dinner hit lots of soaring high notes too. The small plate of deep-fried yet still perfectly juicy quail with crisp pancetta and lots of fresh, sweet, barely cooked corn had all the elements of a satisfying, down-home summer supper in a smaller portion. The bone marrow starter was also exquisite, balancing out the richness of the scraped-out spread with sweet, tart, and smoky elements and a good amount of nicely charred bread. In the larger plates, simple pleasures continued to be the clear winners. An exemplary dish of steak frites featured a beautifully done piece of rib eye, a pile of truffled fries, and a little ramekin of textbook Bearnaise sauce for indulgent dipping. The unassuming-sounding "brick" chicken was the favorite dinner dish of all. The seared crust, produced by pressing the chicken down with a heavy object, which in some kitchens is literally a foil-wrapped brick, is a thing of beauty and keeps all the flavorful juices sealed in. Served with some slightly bitter but bright Swiss chard, a chewy pilaf made from farro, and an almost buttery, fragrant puree of apricot, this dish made me think some of the not-so-great plates were anomalies.

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4 comments
keithkam19
keithkam19

I'm a Loring Park resident and this place was just "meh". The crowd from the original Armitage location (think Linden Hills) is here in droves. I'm pushing 31and I was the young crowd the night I went: fun 20somethings are very absent there and that includes whenever I ride by, which is quite often. There were a few "yupsters" including some of the staff, but that was as diverse as I had seen it. Yes, it's nice that an empty spot was filled in, but a bar or bar-restaurant catering to LP residents, hello we live here, instead of the see-and-be-seen suburban fringe crowd would be truly refreshing. At least spots like Joe's Garage and Loring Kitchen & Bar attract a more diverse crowd. Just for the record: I do like Grumpy's better between the two, but it's at either the far north end of NE or the other end of Downtown and in that case it might come with a $15 cover on weekends.

 

A cool bar that offers good cocktails for under $10 and good beer selection geared towards a more eclectic crowd, i.e. way less stuffy than Cafe Maude, can and has been done elsewhere. Loring Park could easily support this untapped niche. I could go to the 19 or Ryan's Pub, but at the former I don't want to get hit on all the time at the only place that has cheap beer outside of happy hour and at the latter, well, it's just a sports pub and I'm not into sports. Cafe Maude just contributes more to the same problem found in the bar scene here: too far on one end of the spectrum or the other, but likely expensive all the same.

Alirox
Alirox

Overfuckingpriced.

 

If your idea of a fun evening is hanging out with Kenwood Bluehairs then this is your place.

curioso
curioso

 @mongoflickr 

Or hanging out with fun twentysomethings who like having a well-made drink and don't mind paying a bit more for it?

 

Go back to Grumpy's or wherefuckingever.

 

Alirox
Alirox

The drinks were fine, curioso.

 

The plates - as hinted by  Emily W. - were mediocre in quality and way too pricey.

 

I saw ZERO young people when I was there - and it was fairly crowded.

 

 

 
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