Colossal Cafe expands to St. Paul
If you happen to wake up at that awkward in-between hour on a Sunday—too early to be really famished but too late for the productive jump-start the first meal of the day is supposed to provide—you'll undoubtedly face the age-old dilemma of dining out on the weekend: breakfast or lunch? That's especially frustrating if your favorite spot has a cut-off time for eggs (can we get a moratorium on this?). But if on one of these late-to-rise Sundays you find yourself in the impossibly quaint St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, make your way to the second location of Colossal Cafe and you won't have to settle. The expanded kitchen and seating area means Colossal can now serve burgers, biscuits and gravy, and a full kids' menu along with its signature flappers. The original Colossal in Minneapolis is famous for its tiny space, but while the bigger and better-equipped Colossal No. 2 allows it to offer creative specials and off-site catering, the backbone of the place is still the same: breakfast and breads.
Colossal has plenty of competition when it comes to bread and baking in this miniature shopping district on Como Avenue. Just a few blocks away, for example, the Finnish Bistro has set the gold standard for snickerdoodles and Swedish limpa bread. But Colossal's co-owner John Tinucci sees what he and his team do as a complement to the other area restaurants. "That's the response we're getting from people in the neighborhood too," he says. "It's nice to have choices, and that's what we're offering. We chose this place because with Luther Seminary on the one side and the U of M on the other, it was absolutely the right location for us." They didn't toy with expanding the Minneapolis location, Tinucci says, citing the old "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" adage.
But it certainly wasn't the allure of an easy renovation that drew Tinucci, his wife Carrie, and his daughter Elizabeth (who has years of experience working in her family's restaurant, Tinucci's in Newport, and at Broders' Pasta Bar and St. Paul Cheese Shop) to the small storefront. "The place was a doctor's office for years, so it took a lot of effort to get it to work as a restaurant." But the payoff is great. Behind the six-stool bar is a massive stone arch that lets you see right into the belly of the beast, where at any given time bacon, cream cheese, and scallion omelets are being flipped, and flapper batter is getting all lacy-edged on the flattop grill.
A flapper, for those who may not know, is the can't-miss item on Colossal's menu, though judging from the disclaimer we got from our server, not everyone in St. Paul knows quite what to make of them. "They aren't like a regular pancake," she tells us. "They're really big. But not like just a really big regular pancake. They're big and they're yeasty." Sure, the yeast base makes them different from a standard flapjack, but it's also what makes them such a fabulous textural experience. In fact, flavor-wise, the yeast is far from jarring. It's toasty, mellow, and further subdued by a glug of gorgeously amber Three Rivers maple syrup. Flappers are more puffy than fluffy, with a heavier grilled bottom that requires a knife to get through. You can order a single, a stack, or get one wrapped around sausage and egg as a breakfast sandwich, but the flapper is given its most deservedly decadent treatment when Colossal tops a few with butter, brown sugar, syrup (yes, both), walnuts, tart green apples, and slices of just-melting brie. Other breakfast standouts include the roasted vegetable and feta omelet; a buttery prosciutto, egg, and sweet sun-dried tomato sandwich; a bready cinnamon roll with thick, sugary icing; and any of the breakfast sandwiches that come on Colossal's buttermilk biscuits, which are just as tender and lightly browned as they were when Bess Giannakakis, former owner of Colossal in Minneapolis, was making them. Though possibly a little smaller, and not as leavened as the originals, the biscuits are certainly the savior in the newly offered biscuits and gravy. Colossal's sausage gravy uses Fischer Farms pork and bison from Gehl's, a buffalo ranch near River Falls. It's rich, and the addition of two any-style eggs to the dish is perhaps overkill, but since the bison is so lean it needs a creamier sauce to cradle it and keep everything from drying out. Unfortunately, Colossal's, even with runny-yolk eggs, doesn't quite pass muster and became the first example of my one reccurring gripe here: dry meat.
The burger, ordered medium, was under-seasoned and overcooked (the bun was still divine), a pity because I loved that they were using freshly ground meat from the butcher counter at Tim & Tom's Speedy Market, their across-the-street neighbor. Same deal with the meatloaf sandwich, though this time the seasoning was there. Time on the griddle did yield a nice crust on the slices of meatloaf but dried them out a lot, making the tasty, tangy, homemade cranberry compote a necessity. The marinated pork sandwich, one of the items featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives when Guy Fieri visited the Minneapolis location, was packed with the sharp taste of Dijon, white wine, and rosemary and nestled into a soft-topped homemade baguette, but disappointingly, it had all the briny juices cooked right out of it. The sides that came with the sandwiches commanded more attention, particularly the soups, which change daily. The tomato and artichoke soup was sunny and light in its mingling of sparkly acids, but the slow-cooked taste of mirepoix and other veggies made it appropriately cold-weather resistant. The beef stew didn't skimp on the fall-apart tender meat and led off with heady bay leaf and the sweet, clean taste of carrot.
Colossal opens early—weekdays at 6 a.m. and weekends at 7 a.m.—and closes by 3 p.m., but die-hards know that with a little planning you can get dinner from Colossal's kitchen too. The restaurant offers heat-and-eat trays of tamale pie, lasagna, or its best-selling chicken potpie. Tinucci says dinner will be to-go only until they secure a license to serve wine and beer, a process they are entering into with some trepidation. "I'm sure you know what happened with Cupcake on Grand Avenue," he says, referring to the bakery getting pushback from the Summit Hill Neighborhood Association over parking. "We may run into a similar issue with parking here, but in my conversations with the district council, land-use committee, and most importantly, the people that live here, I don't think we'll have problems getting clearance." If all goes well, you could be enjoying a glass of chardonnay with a Colossal potpie by summer.
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