Few places are as fascinating a snapshot of Minnesota’s changing cultural tide as Som Taste.
The homestyle Somali restaurant recently opened in a long-vacant Bridgeman's scoop shop on a somewhat difficult-to-find stretch of Hiawatha Avenue.
The bones of the boxy, industrial-lit room are all still in tact, including the swivel-stool lined soda fountain and an empty ice cream case. Charmingly, the new owners have bedecked the walls with a zebra-stripe motif, lending a decidedly safari-esque timbre to the throwback royal blue vinyl booths. Cheerful silk flowers in vases are the only other aesthetic touch, aside from the lone but welcoming server.
Water arrives in a frosty glass pitcher along with plastic red Solo cups. While there is a concise paper menu, our server (also owner and sometime-chef Jama Abdikani) acted as our menu, offering what was available that night. It’s a brief but delicious list, SomTaste being essentially like dining at someone’s home and graciously receiving whatever they’re serving that night.
What they’re serving, generally, are East African favorites. Simple braised meats and curries come with yellow rice, a few simple uncomplicated vegetables, and if you wish, spaghetti. (Remember that Somalia was colonized by Italy for decades, resulting in a retention of some of the boot’s culinary traditions.)
Braised goat was intensely flavored and tender, and so was the curry chicken, both telling the tale of low, slow braises that restaurants don’t always get right. Time, of course, is the scarcest commodity for most busy pro kitchens.
On the side, a simple green salad, a dollop of potatoes, peas, and carrots napped in fragrant coconut-curry sauce, and a couple of slices of pita. If you work anywhere along the somewhat industrial strip of Hiawatha, meet your new lunch break savior.
But remember that this place is not really a typical restaurant. At least not in these early days.
In other cultures, perhaps most notably Cuba, they’ve got what are called “paladares,” essentially private restaurants in someone’s home, existing outside the purview of government oversights. And in Mexico, I love seeking out “cocinas,” which are just the smallest, simplest restaurants, the stoves usually under the auspices of just one woman, who is often putting out the most delicious, soul-satisfying cooking.
We don’t really have comparable places around here. Or do we?
With ambiance that feels like mom's house and service to match, plus homestyle cooking for maximum comfort, SomTaste is just that kind of place.
Do not miss the delicious sambusas, plump with heavily seasoned ground beef, served with a thimble of near-combustible green hot sauce and a confetti of tomato, onion, and chile. And if Abdikani suggests one per person, call his bluff and request at least twice that. At about a buck apiece how could you go wrong?
And finally, Longfellow residents should know that this brand of comfort food perhaps tastes best out of a takeout box by the glow of Netflix, or picnic-style at nearby Minnehaha Falls.This is way more flavorful than cheese and crackers. They might even throw in a couple of red Solo cups, gratis.