Oh Dear Lord, Three Things I Pray

Day By Day Café
477 West 7th Street
St Paul

A truthful review of the Day By Day Café is a dangerous one. My husband, John, would prefer I keep the name and identity of our new favorite place a secret so it doesn't become too popular. He fears we might find it difficult to find a table. On the other hand, this is supposed to be a nonfiction piece. So, do I preserve marital harmony or professional integrity?

The Day By Day Café, at 477 West 7th street in St. Paul, is terrific. Sorry honey.

There are a number of dining areas housed inside the oft-expanded restaurant, each welcoming, comfortable, and clean. One room has homey booths, generous tables, counter seating, and a multitude of unexpected items mounted on the wall for amusement. Another spacious dining area features comfortable tables, packed bookshelves, and picture windows that overlook the enchanting patio, garden, and pond. Around yet another corner is the traditional diner look, full of linoleum and fun.

On a sunny midweek day, we sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the uncrowded, relaxed atmosphere. It was a lovely place to enjoy a meal with my family, and nothing could have made it better. We felt transported to northern California, and kept looking around for the redwoods among the blooming flowers and bird feeders.

Tables and chairs, very sturdy and lending themselves nicely to toddler unsteadiness, are well spaced so maneuvering isn't treacherous and diaper bags aren't forever bonking other patrons on the shoulder. (That's one of those amenities I didn't care about before I had children. Now, I look for restaurants that are especially roomy. Constantly hissing "watch out!" to my offspring on the way to a table detracts from the event for all of us.) There is no minimum order and no time limit; service is thorough, prompt without being rushed, and very family friendly. They know about filling sippy cups first and putting pots of coffee out of reach of small hands. While there is no dedicated children's menu, they do offer children's portions and reasonably priced a la carte items.

Our toddler's apple pancakes were tender but firm, shaped like Mickey Mouse with eyes and a smile fashioned from fresh fruit, and were delivered by a waiter who knows how to engage small children. The Breakfast Burrito was made with a fresh tortilla and my first avocado in ages; generous slices, ripe, and decadent. It was wonderful. John is one of those people for whom eating breakfast out is a spiritual experience. He often reminisces about the steak and eggs in Texarkana sixteen years ago, or an indigestible biscuit at a little place in Jacksonville when we were newlyweds. He has certain standards regarding breakfast, and Day by Day's Red Earth may soon join the gastronomical hall of fame. Crammed with eggs, crispy hash browns, cheese, and salsa, the entree pleased him very much.

Menus--decorated by patrons of all ages--offer breakfast all day long, sandwiches, salads, soups, and burgers which are solid, french fries yummy without being too greasy.

Lunch and dinner specials, including steak, chicken burritos, pork chops, and steamed vegetables on brown rice, run $4.95 - $6.95. Salads are also reasonable and include the Grilled Chicken for $6.25 and the Vegetarian for $4.95. Muffin and soup specials change daily.

Ours is not a new discovery. The Day by Day Café has been around for over twenty years, and is deservedly an institution. Founded by Greg Ekblom in 1975, the restaurant was called a "clubhouse for the recovering community" by Newsweek magazine when they examined the rehabilitation opportunities in Minnesota some years ago. While not all the employees are members of Alcoholics Anonymous, all are sensitive to the needs of the recovering community. Some patrons come in for the day only to sip coffee and be around others in a low-stress atmosphere.

The bulletin board is crammed with advertisements and announcements reflecting a vibrant and interesting community. The truth is I wish it was my neighborhood, and that the Day By Day Café was around the corner from us. It's a place you don't have to plan for, but one you can depend on. The kind of place where a waitress will lend you a pen and never let your drink go half full before offering a refill. The sort of place to bring children when you just can't face the puny offerings of the refrigerator another night.

On one mom-burnout afternoon, I found the following words on my menu: "Friends are Angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly." Day by Day Café is a restaurant of friends.

Sally Roach is a frequent contributor to Minnesota Parent.

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