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Common Roots Café

30 Jan

Common Roots Café
Visited Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

common roots

Ryan

I’m getting worse and worse of thinking of places to eat in the Twin Cities. When Lauren presented me the opportunity to essentially pick any restaurant to eat at and she’d foot the bill, I choked–I couldn’t think of anywhere I wanted to go! After I basically gave up and turned the duties back over to Lauren, she considered the walkable Common Roots just down the street. You know how I feel about local natural type restaurants. They’re typically overpriced and disproportionately small and not outrageously as delicious as led to believe. But, I have a good history with Common Roots. They once gave us a free dessert and they have reasonable happy hour specials with a small but respectable beer list, with an exceptionally inviting patio area in the summer. We like to get bagels from them for breakfast once in a great while and they’re tasty. But I’d never had a full meal there and agreed to give it a shot.

Common Roots has a positive atmosphere; many small two- and four-seat tables conducive to laptop users and casual coffee sippers. There are no waiters serving the tables; instead, you stand in line and order straight from the counter and then take your number and find a table. For a Saturday night, we were happy to have several available seating options.

I ordered the Chicken Cassoulet, described as “cannellini cassoulet with free-range chicken confit, fresh herbs, topped with breadcrumbs.” I didn’t really know what cannellini, cassoulet, or confit were, and quite honestly still don’t, but it sounded good to me! I also ordered a glass of a pilsener beer recommended by the clerk. My meal ended up being a small platter of a stew-like concoction, with the chicken displayed in the middle with a decorative potato slice. Points for presentation, I suppose. I dug right in and found it very agreeable with the pallet, especially for a night with below-zero temps. It was hearty but light. In fact, I really liked my meal and wished I had more of it.

And there it is… you knew it was coming. As I fully expected, the serving size was quite small and although delicious and healthy, left me wanting more… much more. I wouldn’t think it to be an over-exaggeration to say I could have literally eaten four times the amount I was served. While we enjoyed our meals and the inviting surroundings, we ended up going across the street to the Bulldog to get some tator tots to finish filling us up. That, to me, is such a big thing with restaurants. Would I rather have a tiny portion of a delicious meal, or a gigantic portion of a so-so meal? Easy, I’ll take the big portion almost every time. I leave a restaurant happy when I am full, not when I enjoyed the taste of a small portion of food. Nevertheless, I would consider Common Roots for dinner again.

Lauren

It was partially my fault. I decided sometime in the morning that I was pretty sure I wanted to go to the Strip Club but I wanted Ryan to feel like it was his idea, so I proposed that we go out for a nice little dinner that night. We waffled back and forth about where to go, so when 5 pm rolled around and we finally made a decision, our first through fourth choices failed to see our charms, and it was looking like we’d be either staying in for the night or eating dinner at 9:45.

I was perusing our list of restaurants to try at 5:25 when I popped open Common Roots’ dinner menu, realized that their happy hour was still on and within minutes we were smarted up and out the door to walk the few blocks to CRC in time to grab a Fulton Sweet Child of Vine and Brau Brothers Pilz at happy hour prices. Man, does Common Roots have an amazing beer list. Small, only seven or so taps, but are they ever well-chosen.

We had been to Common Roots a dozen times before, but never gotten meal service – only bagels in the morning and beers at night. It’s the same exact set-up though, where you order and pay at the counter and a staff member brings your food to your table. It’s a little odd to order dinner at a counter, but not a big deal.

CRC’s menu changes monthly, and it seemed to me that the theme for January was comfort food. I ordered the brisket, which came with blue polenta, fava beans, pearl onions and kale with a fruity barbecue sauce (just checked the menu, it was cherry barbecue sauce).

image

It’s almost impossible to see in that photo because of how dark it was, but there were three or four slices of brisket. The meat was good, there were some fatty bits that I didn’t care for (of course) and given how dark it was in the restaurant it was hard for me to see enough to trim my meat how I like to. The polenta was AMAZING. I don’t think that I have ever had polenta that had been cooled and sliced, I’ve only had it warm and creamy. Consider me a convert because I loved it! I could have eaten just a plate of polenta and kale for dinner and been a very happy girl. The kale, usually not my favorite thing, was good and there were a few bites that had a crispy nugget of fried garlic. I was also surprised by the fava beans, which I had never had before. They are huge! It was disturbing how much I kept thinking about that line from Silence of the Lambs, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” I myself did not eat anyone’s liver, and I drank beer rather than wine, and the fava beans were pretty good, as far as beans go.

All in all I know we will return time and again to Common Roots for bagels and beers, and I would certainly return for lunch or dinner as well.

Ambiance – Very chill. We were eating pretty early so there was a funny mix of people on laptops or reading, just hanging out and people eating dinner. CRC seems like it would be a fun place to study! We were sitting in the front of the restaurant which I think is darker than the back, due to being by the huge windows.
Service – There’s not much to speak of, since you order at the counter and they bring your food out to you. The guy at the counter was really nice and helped me pick out a beer to drink. Every time I’ve been there the staff is always friendly.
Food – Unlike Ryan, I didn’t have too much of a complaint about my portion size (and he shouldn’t complain so much because I gave him quite a bit of my food!). My brisket was a really nice combination of textures and flavors and I l-o-v-e-d the blue polenta.
Overall experience – Very good! It would have been better if we had ordered a starter as well because Ryan was pretty cranky about still being hungry. Thanks to some quick decision making, Common Roots gave us a lovely and unexpected night out.

The Necessities
Common Roots Café
2558 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55405
612.871.2360

Birchwood Cafe

29 Aug

Visited Saturday, August 14th with Sarah and CM

Ryan
On a recent Sunday morning, Lauren and I met up with friends Walsh and Sarah to take in the Birchwood Cafe. This really hit home for Sarah as her sister Rachel is a waitress there!

My first impression—it reminded me a lot of French Meadow in Uptown, a trendy natural/organic restaurant that would likely serve healthy but overpriced, under-portioned local items… not my cup of tea. In fact I feel downright out of place and uncomfortable in a restaurant like that. The fact that a restaurant serves local items just doesn’t do anything for me. But I didn’t want to judge too quickly!

At Birchwood, just like French Meadow, you walk in and order from the counter, then go sit down and wait for your food. The four of us must have stood there for five minutes studying the menu before ordering. The breakfast menu consisted of about ten options, plus the lunch menu was about to begin. I eventually opted for the $9 savory waffle special which came highly recommended by Rachel, and also ordered some of their homemade lemonade.

We found a booth and sat down moments before the big rush. Good timing! Things like condiments, silverware, napkins, water, etc. were not to be found at each individual table, but were available near the counter. Our food was relatively quick to arrive, and I was very surprised at what was set before me.

The wildly imaginative waffle I ordered.

The wildly imaginative waffle I ordered.

This waffle was unlike any I’ve ever ordered or seen before. When I think waffle, I think a plain circle waffle with butter and syrup. This concoction basically used the waffle as a plate for more traditional breakfast items. In one quarter there was an over-easy egg. On top of that were pieces of bacon. On another quarter was some sort of mango-based salsa Lauren note: Ryan’s fruit salsa was muskmelon based — very exotic! — not mango. Another quarter featured tomato-basil butter and walnuts. And lastly there was a cup of natural maple syrup. I was pretty intrigued!

The waffle itself was one of the best waffles I’ve ever had—way fluffier and delicate than most tough waffles. I enjoyed sampling each bite with a different combination of toppings. The thick-cut free range bacon was really tasty. Lauren and I shared an order of wild rice pork sausage as well. Astoundingly, between the single waffle shown above and that one sausage patty, I was nearly full! I had held out almost zero hope that this breakfast/brunch would leave me fulfilled, and maybe it was just a one-time fluky thing, but it left me only slightly hungry after consumption.

Birchwood's house-made Pork Wild Rice Sausage

Obviously our waitress was very attentive and helpful. Despite all the rave reviews I’ve heard of this place, there was amazingly no line to get in on a weekend at 11am. Between the $9 waffle, the $3 lemonade, and the $2 for my portion of the sausage, I thought perhaps things were a little overpriced, but one must know what they’re getting themselves into when they go into a place that serves local natural ingredients. Not a bad experience at all, but I must say I’m still not sold on paying extra for local/natural items. I’ll go back with Lauren if she wants to.

Food: 8
Portions: 5
Value: 6
Atmosphere: 8
Staff: 10
Experience: 7

Lauren:
I always draw a blank on breakfast places. On a recent Saturday morning, I even pulled up this blog on the computer, scoured it and told Sarah, who was on the phone, “Uh, I don’t think we have any breakfast places on the list. Where do you wanna go? French Meadow?” Duh! Birchwood Cafe has been on our list since the very beginning! Luckily Sarah’s older sister works there, so she thought that it would be fun to visit her, and I agreed (plus, Ryan and CM both hate French Meadow and most of the other Uptown-y breakfast joints).

We met up with Sarah and CM and attempted to decipher the menu. I was a little bit overwhelmed by all of the choices, as it was getting towards lunch time, maybe I would like to have a nice turkey sandwich? Instead I went for the “Saturday Scramble” which had eggs, cheese, onions, and fennel (and maybe some other bits and bobs that I can’t quite recall; their menu changes very frequently). Sarah ordered a side of the pork-wild rice sausage and that sounded delish and came recommended by Rachel, so Ryan and I ordered a side of that as well. I got a tasty cold press coffee to sip on.

The "Saturday Scramble"

My dish came with a side of whole grain toast (very tasty) and rosemary roasted potatoes (sounded good, execution not so great) and a bit of fruit.

The scramble was quite tasty, I very much enjoyed the fennel and caramelized onions but as I told Rachel, I found it far too salty, but that perhaps it was just too much cheese? She said this was a frequent comment and that she agreed that a lot of their savory dishes came out salted with a heavy hand. (why hasn’t the kitchen staff been told to chill out with the sodium then?! I am perfectly able to add salt at the table if I feel it’s necessary, but I am not able to remove it.)

All in all, I thought Birchwood was good but not great. I give it points for local sourcing, fair trade et cetera but I cannot forgive a kitchen staff that abuses the salt for no good reason. It’s worth another try, perhaps to pick up a pastry or two (we did grab a German chocolate brownie for the road, more for Ryan than for myself although I did try a nibble and it was pleasingly fudgy).

Ambience – 4/5. It wasn’t too busy when we were there, so we were not crowded, but I could see it getting cramped on a busy weekend morning.
Service – 5/5. Thanks Rachel D! Although, I have to say that I am confused by restaurants that have “self serve” water and condiments as they never seem to have enough little dishes for jam or what-not. Should I just bring my whole plate over? Just my toast? Or try to manoeuvre a knife-full of jam back to the table? But really, I think that’s just my personal issue to work through… 🙂
Food – 3/5. My eggs were intensely salty. Loved the bread and the house-made sausage patties; rosemary potatoes were OK. Ryan was pleasantly surprised by his savoury waffle.
Overall experience – 3.5/5. Good! I would try other breakfast places before returning to Birchwood (that is, if I can remember them in a pre-coffee haze of decision making) but it would be a place I’d like to visit again.