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BEST NEIGHBORHOOD CAFÉ--ST. PAUL Minneapolis 2001 -

This peculiarly monikered gem on a quiet residential stretch of Randolph Avenue fits all moods and occasions. On Saturday mornings you can perch yourself on a stool at the counter with coffee and flip lazily through the Pioneer Press. You'll feel as comfortable as you would at Mickey's Diner or the local coffee joint, but with the added allure of topnotch breakfast fare: scallion-spiked scrambled eggs with apple-smoked bacon, supple waffles graced with raspberry, blueberry, or strawberry sauce, eggs Benedict piled high with ham, spinach, and hollandaise sauce. But the nifty trick that Mildred Pierce somehow pulls off is that you'd be equally comfortable bringing a date here on Saturday night. Pick a table as far from the open-air kitchen as possible. Relax over a moderately priced bottle of wine in the Spartan black-and-white setting. The dinner menu changes with the seasons, but there's always a fabulous fish special and the hanger steak is impeccable. Owner Shelagh Connolly further enhances the neighborhood vibe by holding poetry readings on the third Sunday of each month.

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