Cafe Zentral, located on the skyway level at Fifth Street and Marquette Avenue in the Historic Soo Line Building, is the newest addition to the Zentral empire that's rapidly overtaking the block. After Labor Day, Foreign Legion, the company's upcoming wine bar, will join Cafe Zentral and Brasserie Zentral to form a winning triumvirate for all your drinking and dining needs.
Cafe Zentral is a small fast-casual spot geared toward serving breakfast and lunch to the weekday working crowd. If you're looking for a full-service sit-down spot, you're better off dining at Brasserie Zentral downstairs. But if you want a midday meal on the go, you're unlikely to find better food for the price and the time it takes to prepare.
"This is for people in the skyway who want a quick breakfast and lunch, who want something a little bit different -- something that's a little bit more homemade. Everything we do, we try to do in-house, even down to the whole wheat buns and the pretzel buns we use for our München dog," chef Jason Engelhart says.
The Cafe focuses on standard cafe fare like paninis, salads, and pastries, but the München dog sets it apart from the rest. According to Engelhart, they were inspired by owner Russell Klein's trip to Austria and Germany, where he first encountered brats served in the middle of hollowed-out buns.
Customers have three meat options -- including bratwurst, frankfurter, and smoked Slovakian -- and a variety of sauces to choose from. The pretzel bun, baked fresh in Zentral's baking space downstairs, is shoved onto a spike, toasted from the inside, and filled with sauces and meat. The result? A delicious, mess-free blend of quality meat, toppings, and bread. If you only have space to sample one menu item, go with the München dog.
We, however, had room for much more. We worked our way through a smoked mushroom and Gruyere panini, lemongrass tomato soup, a blueberry muffin, a macaroon, a breakfast sandwich, and a mocha and emerged from our food-induced coma without a single complaint.
It's a bold claim, but the blueberry muffin may be the best we've encountered to date. The cafe is fully aware of this muffin's power -- its menu even warns customers to come in early if they're hankering for one, as they sell out fast. Think big chunks of fresh blueberries, a crisp muffin top dotted with granulated sugar, and a delicate, cake-like interior.
Cafe Zentral's macaroon is like marzipan's vastly superior brother. The tiny creation is browned on top, dipped in chocolate, and dense throughout. According to the manager on duty, the Star Tribune's Rick Nelson bought six of the sweet gems on a recent visit.
The breakfast sandwich was wrapped in a delicately folded tortilla and filled with generous helpings of cheese, egg, kielbasa, and veggies. We were lucky to snag the last of the day.
The smoked mushroom and Gruyere panini is simple but flavorful. The mushrooms, which essentially function as a spread, pack an earthy punch, amplified by a light helping of melted Gruyere cheese. Don't expect any superfluous add-ons here -- Cafe Zentral keeps things straightforward.
Overall, Cafe Zentral is affordable, fast, and delicious. Downtown Minneapolis, you've found your new best friend.
Cafe Zentral is open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Cafe Zentral 105 Fifth St., skyway level Minneapolis 612-520-7686
Send your story tips to Hot Dish.