When the lights went dark in the Standish neighborhood's beloved Citizen Cafe, we received emails fraught with despair. The "cafe for the people" was one of those places that makes a neighborhood worth living in -- intimate little dining room, staff who know your name, hot coffee, and a house-ground burger.
Well, people of Standish, you may breathe a little easier now. Chef Craig Ball has swooped in to take over the space: Citizen is now Pilgrimage, and it seems to be no less a place for the people.
Ball is a former Cargill exec who traveled the country with the pursuit of selling commodity food products. For 13 years he dreamed of a little place of his own. As soon as he got the chance, he dropped the gig, enrolled in culinary school, and snatched up the cafe when he saw it listed with a broker.
He's not only a traveling salesman, but a traveling man in general: He studied abroad in Mexico, spent time in the Peace Corps in Latin America, and even walked the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain, a month-long journey that many pilgrims seek as a path to spiritual growth -- hence the cafe's name. His cooking is informed by his travels.
"I have a lot of fun with other cultures and I want to explore our own connection to those cultures," he says. "I want people to learn other people's comfort foods and how we can combine those with our own."
So an eggs Benny becomes a turkey-mole Benedict with Paraguayan corn souflee and lime hollandaise. Ravioli gets stuffed with black beans and blanketed with avocado cream sauce and carnitas.
But don't think this is some kind of half-baked fusion experiment. Ball says his time with Cargill taught him food science and development, things like the chemistry of starch and how it behaves in cooking, for instance. He also left the company armed with a serious business sense.
Just because he's got a wanderlust doesn't mean his heart isn't firmly anchored in the Twin Cities, either. The dining room prominently features artwork by Tricia Schweitzer depicting the iconic Minneapolis landscape.
"I'm from Bismarck, North Dakota, but this is absolutely my home now."
When friends and family pumped him with the inevitable, "Why, why, why would you want to open up a restaurant?! It's so much work!" He said, "I just want this to be an extension of my home, where people can come in and try something they've never had to eat before. They can come in their pajamas for all I care."
No guests were spotted in pjs, but he did say the last weekend was supposed to be a soft opening for friends and family, and neighborhood folks just started streaming in, so it's official: They're open.
The restaurant is still waiting on a beer and wine license, due around December 20, so they will not open for dinner until then. Breakfast and lunch only for now, served 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day except Monday.
Pilgrimage Cafe 2403 E. 24th St., Mpls., 612-729-0034 pilgrimagecafe.com
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