We’re creeping up on the two-year anniversary of the Triple Rock closing.
The cherished West Bank bar and venue closed in November 2017 partly due to thinning crowds wooed away by “the rise of craft beer pubs and foodie culture.” But in the wake of its closure, many folks found themselves floundering in attempts to fill the T-Rock-sized hole once occupied by dishes (and, let’s be honest, some amazing and very stiff drinks) only they could provide.
Your author is one of these people, and Saturday afternoons have a way of inspiring these pangs more acutely than most. After years of dedicated "brunching" (well after the noon hour) in the old bar, I still ache for bottomless coffee in a grab-bag mug, a Mother Trucker (or maybe that challah french toast), and one of Megatron’s deadly potent bloodies, as Desmond Decker transitions with a jolt into AC/DC on the jukebox…
This quest for a lost feeling is how I ended up spending one of the last glorious afternoons of autumn venturing back into that same brick box that had eaten so many afternoons and nights of my young life, curious to see what became of the Triple Rock.
Maybe about a year ago, a photo made the rounds on Twitter of the converted bar’s interior. An accompanying note mentioned it had been reinvented as a cafe. All I knew in advance of my recent visit was that photo, and that they serve food. Full stop.
Soma Grill and Deli’s menu isn’t listed online, but a gallery of items shows everything from platters of quesadillas and fries to gyros, wings, and falafel.
Nowhere do they brace nostalgic visitors for the fact that the former Triple Rock now sells ice cream in four flavors. And smoothies.
When it came to ordering, the warm and friendly man running the joint fetched the white cook to play translator for us. Then, the main guy conjured a cheaper price for me than the menu suggested, before informing me drinks from any of the three juice fountains (those kind that never stop recirculating inside clear bins) were free with my food. When I gestured to purple (always purple, never yellow or red), he grinned and said, “Fanta!”
No, it wasn’t Fanta, but much to my delight it may have been my favorite flavor-color of Kool-aid!
During lunch, the room ebbed and flowed with 30 or so exclusively Somali friends and families enjoying a late lunch consisting of food that was not at all pictured on the menu written on the wall. Like any reputable Chinese restaurant with its secret menu, you’ve gotta appreciate it, even when only witnessing it from a distance.
I sat at a plush striped booth for two installed where those old pew-style monsters had been, and the cook delivered my lamb gyro while the first gentleman attended to other tables. Seizing my chance, I asked him what literally everyone else was eating from bowls, as protocol seemed to be: walk in, sit down, and food simply arrived before them.
“Somali food,” was his answer.
“But what’s in the bowls?”
“A kind of chicken soup. Would you like to try?”
“Sure, thank you!”
He returned with a mini-cup and a smile. In it floated a thick lime wedge, lots of ground pepper and savory spices, corn kernels, and celery. When asked the soup’s name, he shrugged.
As I slurped very good, unnameable soup and housed my gyro (wrapped in fluffy pita, packed with thick slices of tender meat that hadn’t been dried out or fried, and dressed with exactly the right balance of onions, tomato, lettuce, and tzatziki) while abandoning most of my cookie-cutter fries, CNN’s live coverage of the impeachment proceedings played on one of two large televisions, with the sound on. The other played college football, also with sound.
I left with both my curiosity and appetite satisfied, even if that punk-and-brunch-shaped hole left by the Triple Rock remains (eternally). In its own right, Soma hosts a unique, wholly enjoyable cacophony befitting the West Bank—without needing a raucous jukebox.
And let the record show that Soma’s show-runners managed to fix the women’s restroom so it finally doesn’t smell like stink-lines and sewage, a feat previously thought impossible. If that's not a sign of change for the better, I'm not sure what is.
Soma Cafe & Deli
629 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis