Cafe Agri in East Harriet

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Editor’s Note: Cafe Agri is now closed.

Organic, local, sustainable — you can barely read an article about food these days without running into at least one of these words. Add vegan and gluten-free into the mix, and you’ve got a veritable buzzword booyah. As much as one supports the mission and philosophy behind these foodie movements, it must eventually boil down to a simple question: Do organic / sustainable / fill-in-the-blank ingredients make the food taste better?

If we used the Lake Harriet area restaurant Cafe Agri as a case study, the answer would be eh, not really. Though the menu reveals an often-overlooked sensitivity to those with dietary restrictions, the food generally fails to live up to its promise to “bring innovative, vibrant, and satisfying flavors to your plate and palate.” That’s not to say that you can’t find a serviceable meal among the cafe’s offerings, but those looking to be bowled over by inspiring, tastebud-tingling dishes will be disappointed.

Take the yam crisps, for example. The baked orange tuber is paired with green guacamole as an appetizer, and the color match is quite striking. But the crisps are neither sweet enough to match the stronger flavors of the guacamole nor salty enough to stand on their own. While the starter satisfyingly staves off hunger pangs, it does little to excite the palate for the next course.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Dinner entrees offer glimpses of good concepts, but execution is still spotty. The coconut curry sauce in the curry tofu dish was appealing, but the gummy strips of fried tofu did little to enhance the dish. Similarly, the sauce on the BBQ tempeh panino had a pleasingly sticky-sweet quality, but the accompanying sandwich toppers and side of blue tortilla chips provided no flavor boost. The gluten-free macaroni and cheese had an off-putting sweetness that even a noodle-loving toddler couldn’t overlook.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

The dessert choices don’t make up for the mediocre meal, unfortunately. The cappuccino brownie, also gluten-free, lacked the rich, fudgy denseness brownie lovers crave. Instead, its dry, flaky texture and overwhelming bulk left one dreaming of the flour-filled version. Though not gluten-free, the carrot cake featured a grittiness that its sugary frosting couldn’t mask.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Where Cafe Agri does redeem itself somewhat is brunch. Three versions of farmstead scramblers allow diners to enjoy their morning eggs or tofu with a variety of toppings, ranging from typical (veggies and cheese) to exotic (curry). The slightly oily eggs in the Gobi Rising Scrambler were saved by the savory curried vegetables, though the out-of-season tomato seemed an odd choice for restaurant offering seasonal fare. The sweet potato home fries buoyed the dish, though rice and beans are an alternative side. The gluten-free French-toasted banana bread made a dense, filling meal, and other gluten-free options (pancakes, egg sandwiches) fill out the menu.

The wine list also merits a shout-out. You’d be hard-pressed to find another local restaurant offering these biodynamic / organic / sustainable varieties for $5/glass or $20/bottle. Gluten-free beers feature prominently on the bar menu as well, and the cafe also pours sangria and blood orange mimosas at brunch.

So when does a trip to Cafe Agri make sense? Perhaps if your sister with a gluten sensitivity visits town or you’re looking for a restaurant with organic Italian wines on the menu. But if you’re aiming to increase your intake of local food, your best bet is to visit a local farmers market or subscribe to a community-supported agriculture program.

Cafe Agri

Rating: ★☆☆☆ (Notable)
Cafe in East Harriet
4300 Bryant Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55409
612.822.3101
CHEF: Derek Deker
HOURS: Mon-Fri 4:30-10pm
Sat-Sun 8am-10pm
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / for weekend dinner
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $8-16 for dinner, $7-10 for brunch

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Jill Lewis

The great-granddaughter of an Eastern European Jewish baker, Jill Lewis cannot escape her genetic predisposition to carbs. Her love of baked goods, wine, cheese and chocolate may not come in handy for her day job as a Twin Cities PR professional, but it proves infinitely helpful for her gigs as a contributing writer for The Heavy Table and the co-author of the Cheese and Champagne blog. A former resident of Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin and suburban Washington, D.C., Jill now lives with her husband, two young sons and cat in St. Louis Park.

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9 Comments

  1. I had more or less the same reaction when I went to Agri. Great beer and wine list, but I had high hopes for well executed local food and it ended up being a mishmash of dishes whose principal virtue was being vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free, rather than tasting awesome on its own. Since I have the luxury of not caring about any of that stuff I was rather underwhelmed. Maybe I should go back for brunch. But, then again, there are a lot of brunches to try.

  2. My experience mirrors that of the reporter and Tom’s. I really wanted to enjoy the food at Cafe Agri but came away unimpressed. The food was not bad, in my opinion, just boring.

  3. esael.nan 05/13/2009 Reply

    the carrot cake IS gluten free, hence the grainy texture that rice flours seem to have. i think the best bet for deserts is the chocolate cake, it seems to have the least off-putting texture of the gluten free deserts. but i think that the gluten free french toasted banana bread is my favorite.

  4. frank spastis 05/13/2009 Reply

    i think cafe Agri is a great restaurant
    food is excellent fresh….
    yes maybe too “east village“ for minneapolis

  5. I took my wife there for a special date, b/c she really enjoys this world and I thought it would be a great suprise. The atmosphere was quaint and inviting, but the food tasted like rubber. I had the Polenta and I just wanted to make it stop. I kept eating out of obligation, but it was tough to stomach. I know the food reaches a niche market, but I hope the food becomes a little tastier in the future.

    I did like the Carrot Cake to wash away the entree.

  6. kassie 05/13/2009 Reply

    I love they say the food is local then they have coconut, curry, bananas, avocados, and the like in all their dishes. There is barely a dish that could even possibly be from within 500 miles. Blah, what’s the point?

  7. Molly P. 05/14/2009 Reply

    I had probably the worst dining experience of my life at Cafe Agri. It took 1.5 hours to get the entree. The risotto was crunchy and starchy. The server knew NOTHING about the menu. And the owner? He sat around with his buddies, talking loudly about offensive things, while Rome burned around him. Super disappointing. There was nothing about the experience that said “sustainable” and “community-supporting.” It was quite the opposite. I felt totally hoodwinked.

  8. What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious familiarity concerning unpredicted feelings.

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