Maeve's is perfect drop-in spot for any meal
"Drinking coffee on Friday night at dinnertime makes me feel like we are either way younger or much, much older than we actually are," my dining companion observed, sipping a frothy latte in lieu of her usual glass of red. Sure, kids playing checkers and sipping mugs of cocoa, with a little dog under their table, seemed positively Rockwellian, but it's not exactly our usual Friday-night scene. Maeve's Café is hoping to get a charter liquor license (customers must order food with drink) and should be able to serve wine and beer by January, but this waiting period didn't seem to deter curious Northeast neighbors from checking out the place.
And why should it? With so many beers on tap at the 331 Club and a slew of specialty martinis available at Erte's Peacock Lounge, both just steps away, the steady stream of customers at Maeve's register have plenty of places to grab a drink. The parents with younger children, late-night studiers, and chatty ladies were obviously seeking a different experience.
Frequenters of the Northeast Arts District will remember the old Maeve's storefront as a florist's shop. Now the decor inside is made up of old church pews, a slick black-and-white checkered floor, semi-open kitchen, and one particularly spooky painting. These quirky touches keep Maeve's from feeling stuffy or prefabricated. Instead, they help foster the feeling that you're just lingering over some refined snacks in your coolest aunt's kitchen.
The menu at Maeve's is fairly small, featuring hot and cold sandwiches, salads, a soup du jour, carefully composed small plates, and a few simple desserts. Breakfast is served all day, which scores big points in my book. Maeve's serves muffins, scones, and breads, of course, but its signature breakfast item is the sausage and cheddar strata, a dense square made of layers of eggy, custard-soaked bread, topped with sliced links of savory breakfast sausage, bubbly cheddar cheese, and chopped chives. Served with fresh melon, grapes, and strawberries, the dish is certainly filling, but with all the good, indulgent stuff relegated to the surface layer, you still end up with a few bites of plain egg. It's tasty as is, but lacing the strata with the cheese and meat so that it's distributed throughout would be a welcome improvement. The baked eggs with spinach and Gruyere sounded like they would be different from the signature strata (I pictured something like the French dish oeufs en cocott, eggs cracked into ramekins and baked in a water bath until runny-done), but this dish was essentially the meat-free version.
Maeve's has its roots in coffee, with Mary Colon, formerly of Audubon Coffee, at the helm. Baristas serve all types of bold coffee drinks, including affogato and admirably thick espresso with a heavy layer of crema, just another reason to add this place to your short list of new casual brunch destinations.
On to the small plates. The smoked trout spread with flaked, briny trout, cream cheese, sharp green onion, and lots of faintly anise-y dill was a standout. Spread on crispy toasts, it had so much rich, bright flavor it was the one thing on the table we couldn't stop eating until it was completely demolished. Another nice indoor-picnic-like option was the meat plate with paper-thin prosciutto, snappy rounds of andouille, and fatty slices of sopressatta, which had a strangely woodsy aftertaste. The small plate of roasted zucchini with lemon and Parmesan is more of a DIY crostini than the platter of caramelized ribbons of squash I was expecting. It was well seasoned, but even for a small plate the amount of vegetable was pretty paltry.
At lunch, the ham and Gruyere baguette is notable for the quality of ingredients. Imagine something much closer to the Parisian takeaway version of a ham sandwich, rather than the pre-made, sodden, skimpy subs you would normally see in a coffee-shop display case. The hot sandwiches proved more substantial in flavor. The panini with oven-roasted tomato, cheddar, Gruyere, and chèvre is a grown-up grilled cheese that shows attention to details, like coaxing the sweetness out of an otherwise forlorn winter tomato. The roasted vegetable panini with brie, mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers is moderately sized and perfectly encased in toasty pressed bread. A simple tossed salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes, and a mustardy house vinaigrette is a nice accompaniment to the sandwiches, but even the stiff, peppery arugula couldn't stand up to the heavy dose of dressing.
That issue remained in some of the entrée salads. The spinach salad came with crumbly blue cheese and grilled apples, but the perfectly parallel, though not at all charred, marks on the apple slices suggested they had taken a turn in the panini press rather than been licked by actual flames. The house vinaigrette that dressed the greens was on the acidic side, offsetting the salt and pungency of the blue cheese, but again it was a bit excessive. Beet salad on a cafe menu has become as ubiquitous as Katherine Heigl in a terrible romantic comedy, so we almost made the mistake of bypassing Maeve's version, the Prince. Spiked with dried cherries and walnuts atop a pile of spinach, dressed lightly this time with peppercorn dressing, this isn't a salad that has to load up on unhealthy ingredients to make it enjoyable. I thought the sweetness of the beets would compete too much with the sweetness of the cherries, but the fruit added a complementary sour note.
The soup of the moment was a cream of potato with bacon and cheddar that was velvety, not gluey, and interspersed with soft chunks of potatoes and very generous bits of pleasantly chewy bacon. If this soup sampling is a foretaste of the batches to come, be sure to get a cup alongside your sandwich.
With its cheery atmosphere and casual counter service, Maeve's is more than just an overflow room for its ever-popular next-door neighbor, the Anchor Fish & Chips. The simple fare is suitable for any meal of the day, and you won't feel weird parking your laptop and working at the small bar in the front window.
At weekend breakfast, the person who had helped us at the counter a few days before was hanging out and playing Scrabble with a friend on her day off. Mary Colon greeted the table to the left of us en Español, exchanging quick hugs on her way back to frothing milk and running food. It's obvious that Maeve's staff is loyal, and I believe its customers will be too.
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