Mosaic: More than the sum of its parts

Mosaic's daily Nosh Plate includes house-made spreads, olives, veggies, cheeses, and baguette slices. Take the tour...
Mosaic's daily Nosh Plate includes house-made spreads, olives, veggies, cheeses, and baguette slices. Take the tour...
Emily Utne

It's considered poor form to openly take advantage of your neighbors, but if that neighbor happens to be a dynamite little brewery, well, exceptions should be made. So I'm recommending we all look the other way and allow Mosaic Cafe, a new family-friendly restaurant in Longfellow, to keep taking advantage of nearby Harriet Brewing Company with a decent beer selection and clever use of brew in their food. Mosaic moved into the old Glacier Cafe space, conveniently situated right across the street from Harriet, whose taproom is viewable from Mosaic's comfortable, cute-as-a-button patio. Mosaic is keeping some of Glacier's old traditions alive, like the frozen custard and full coffee bar, but is upping the ante with a handful of Thousand Hills grass-fed beef burgers, a few solid vegetarian selections, almost undetectably vegan bakery treats, and really, truly fabulous French fries.

Like any normal, fallible human person, I will eat pretty much any form of fried potato you put in front of me, whether it's tot, pancake, or hash brown, but when it comes to French fries there's a clear distinction between the pale, mealy, still-a-little-frozen-in-the-middle cafeteria crinkle cuts and gorgeous skin-on, fluffy-in-the-middle, hand-cut fries that need only a sprinkling of salt to enhance their perfection. That divide is great and obvious. A subtler difference, and one that's harder to make, is between those good hand-cut fries and fries that can no longer be considered just a side order — fries so good they can blatantly, unapologetically upstage their burger companion. So what is it about Mosaic's fries that get me all misty-eyed? For starters, they're tossed in finely chopped rosemary and garlic, which is not a revolutionary idea, but it's a superb one. But the real difference at Mosaic is the cooking method. Instead of bathing the potatoes in hot oil, the restaurant uses a special turbo oven that produces wonderfully burnished skins and tender centers. No burnt ends, just fully crisped surfaces, great flavor, and not a hint of grease. A better-tasting and healthier fry? It's a small, tasty miracle.

We had nice little piles of these fries alongside several sandwiches: a creamy but light salmon salad sandwich, decorated with little jewels of briny capers and red onion on a substantial multigrain bun; a nicely juicy turkey burger with a sweet and mellow mix of caramelized onions that had a jam-like effect; a so-so Mexican-inspired chicken sandwich with too-mild guacamole and flavorless black bean spread that called itself a torta but really shouldn't have; and a brilliant East-meets-Midwest creation called the Bahn Mi'tloaf sandwich, in which a pork-heavy, garlicky slab of classic meatloaf gets a thin layer of spicy Hoisin, made spicier with sliced jalapeños, plus most of the other standard Vietnamese bahn mi dressings, except for the pate. If you're a bahn mi purist, this may not satiate your craving, but the strong mix of flavors lingered long after dessert and left an overall good impression.

Mosaic manager Bill Ruff, often dissatisfied with the vegan and vegetarian options at restaurants with mixed, not-fully-vegetarian menus (like Mosaic's), worked with veteran Twin Cities restaurant consultant Pat Weber to make sure their vegetarian/vegan offerings were varied and substantial, both on the main menu and in the bakery case. Of the two veggie burgers, the walnut-lentil burger was more structurally successful, whereas the Moonburger, made of a mix of roasted vegetables, brown rice, and black beans, had bigger, better toppings like chili-lime crema and pico de gallo. Swapping one patty for the other would solve that issue. In the bakery arena, pastry chef Kristy Gigerich has done a terrific job with simple, take-home desserts (but save room for custard if you can) like a chewy vegan oatmeal cookie, a luscious individual glazed lemon shortcake, and a thoroughly enjoyable whoopie pie with maple filling.

Mosaic also offers a few predictable salads: a classic Caesar, a Green Goddess Cobb, and a farmers market salad with chevre and maple-glazed pecans, all with optional salmon or grilled chicken. When I did opt for added protein, the chicken was way overcooked, way over-salted, and cold, so it didn't do much for an otherwise good and very reasonably priced take on Waldorf salad. The salads I much preferred, though, were the deli-style ones that are offered as an alternative to fries on the side. Mosaic has a daily-changing grain-based salad, a zesty Tuscan-style cannellini bean version, and a slightly complex, toasty slaw with cilantro, cabbage, and cumin that would be a perfect complement to the tempeh Sloppy Joe. But, really, you should get the fries at least once.

There's a charming triangular patio out back, with comfy rattan furniture and big umbrellas, where Mosaic occasionally hosts live music. Grateful parents let their kids roam freely, licking up scoops of quickly melting frozen custard, while the adults kicked back with a can of Nordeast. Mosaic stays open until 9 or 10 p.m. most nights, which is great if you just want to go for post-dinner coffee and custard or stop by after a long bike ride. We witnessed one champ who came in in full cycling spandex, ordered a pint, and slammed it at the counter while the server punched in the rest of his order. In his defense, it was a very hot day. This sticky weather also lends itself to Mosaic's selection of frozen custard, which you can get in the form of a single scoop, shake, float, flight (a great idea for trying all the flavors), or sundae. If you go with the last option, the Jungle Monkey is can't-miss, with its sweet and salty blend of charred pineapple, clusters of pretzel and maple pecans, salted caramel sauce, and a sprinkling of toasted coconut, all atop several scoops of vanilla custard. I came home to a sad-funny text message from my dining companion after devouring that sundae, which just read: "My thighs appear to have grown a little closer together. Worth it." I'd say that's a pretty ringing endorsement.

Miracle spuds: They're baked, not fried
Emily Utne
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Mosaic Cafe

3019 Minnehaha Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55406


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