Should You Find Yourself in Robbinsdale, MN

Jason Walker / Heavy Table

Just across the Minneapolis border and a short bike ride from Theodore Wirth Park, downtown Robbinsdale has somehow maintained its small-town feel. It’s not a street lined with century-old brick buildings, and with a McDonald’s and Walgreens it’s not as picturesque as, say, Taylors Falls or Hastings.

But considering you’re 10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and a short drive from Highway 100, it’s pretty damn quaint all the same. Robbinsdale (pop. 14,000) celebrates Whiz Bang Days every July, counts many retirees among its residents, and includes many modest houses, manicured lawns and American flags, and State Fair goddess Marjorie Johnson. People here love their hometown and are damn proud of it.

With two new restaurants opening this summer, Robbinsdale has two more reasons to boast about its downtown. Travail, opened in July by star chefs from the already popular Victory 44 in North Minneapolis, has a chalkboard-simple menu of small bites, entrees like butter burger, fish and chips, steak and potatoes, and “chicken and egg,” and a small but enthusiastic wine and beer list. It’s a likely slam dunk in this city that would never be called “hoity-toity.”

Jason Walker / Heavy Table

James Winberg, Travail co-owner, said the building drew his interest, but Robbinsdale sealed the deal.

“It was more of the space than the town, but then once we got here, and we started meeting everybody, it was just like icing on top,” Winberg said. “Everybody down at City Hall was extremely helpful.

“A lot of restaurants when they do a remodel, they paper over the windows. But we wanted to leave it open, so people could watch the progress and stop in and ask us questions, shoot the shit, whatever. That was what happened; we got to know all our neighbors.”

Lunch on its second day of operation (Travail opened July 27) was exquisite — the beet salad was as delicious as it was jaw-droppingly beautiful, and the aforementioned chicken and egg — a breaded and fried poached egg, with runny yolk, paired with layered dark meat chicken with mushrooms and a brothy gravy — was as succulent as it sounds. A lone complaint was the lack of bread with which to mop up the gravy.

Winberg said he thought Travail would fit into the laid-back downtown.

“We’ve been trying to explain to people what we’re doing — it’s a really casual pub serving good food, and it’s just like we landed a home,” Winberg said. “Like back in your hometown.

“All we wanted to do was put in a good pub and eatery, and we got lucky more than anything. We got an awesome town and we got an awesome space; turns out the town is better than the space.”

Travail
4154 W Broadway Ave
763.535.1131

La Cucina di Nonna Rosa’s Ristorante Italiano

The other new addition to downtown, La Cucina di Nonna Rosa’s, is next door in the former Thistles space. Nonna Rosa’s is shooting for a classic Italian restaurant and wine bar. With its large patio and expansive bar selection, it’s also hitting a niche that’s probably been missed and, with Travail, gives the block a nice one-two punch of hip and slightly elegant.

La Cucina di Nonna Rosa’s Ristorante Italiano
4168 W Broadway Ave
763.537.3700

Jason Walker / Heavy Table

Rubylicious Caribbean Cafe

Elegant in its own right is Rubylicious Caribbean Cafe down the block. With a vast menu of Caribbean, Cajun and soul food, burgers, gyros, and even breakfast and Sunday brunch, owner Ruby Billingsley is enjoying more space since moving from downtown Minneapolis. A recent brunch included three types of stewed chicken — jerk, curry, and jambalaya, all perfectly presented. Alongside the chicken were greens, cabbage, rice, mac and cheese, cheesecake, and candied sweet potatoes that can only be called heavenly — delicate orange wedges coated in a light, just-sweet-enough glaze.

Jason Walker / Heavy Table

Rubylicious Caribbean Cafe
4135 W Broadway Ave
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
763.535.9401

Jason Walker / Heavy Table

Wuollet Bakery

Another plus is venerable Wuollet Bakery and its cookie-and-pastry riches. Like others in the chain, this version also has a small lunch menu with sandwiches, soup, and lasagna. Coffee is solid — robust and fresh.

Wuollet Bakery
4139 W Broadway Ave
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
763.746.2495
Coffee on Broadway

The lone misstep I encountered in Robbinsdale was Coffee on Broadway, a shop built into a house that should be avoided due to its weak, character-less coffee, dull baked goods, high prices, and lack of wi-fi. It’s a charming setting in a cute house that deserves better.

Coffee on Broadway
3965 W Broadway Ave
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
763.533.4443

Jason Walker / Heavy Table

Hackenmueller Meats

A good butcher shop can make a good downtown a great one, and Hackenmueller’s meat market fills that bill with aplomb in Robbinsdale. Owner Gordy Lindenfelser’s taut 125-plus-year-old shop claims to sell over 600 pounds of bacon a week, and its sausages are homemade, huge, and packed with flavor. His staff is ultra-knowledgeable and experienced, and here’s guessing they know half the regulars by name.

Hackenmueller Meats
4159 W Broadway Ave
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
763.537.4811

Jason Walker / Heavy Table

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About the Author

Jason Walker

Jason Walker was born and raised in Kansas, where he grew up loving his grandmother’s homemade noodles and weekly fried fish. A summer internship in Milwaukee turned Jason and his wife, Leita, into die-hard fans of the Northwoods culture, and they moved to Minneapolis in 2006. Immediately the quality of food and drink in the Twin Cities was impressive – that even the most unassuming bar usually had a decent menu – and Jason knew he was home. Now living in the Fulton neighborhood with two kids, Jason grows tomatoes, cans voraciously, and badgers his neighbors with conversations about restaurants.

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14 Comments

  1. Thanks for covering Robbinsdale! We have been residents there for a year and a half and are excited about our new restaurants! We love Travail.
    And we agree with you on the disappointment of Coffee on Broadway. We moved to Robbinsdale from Uptown and are STILL waiting for an adequate coffee shop to open in the area.

  2. Sean 08/18/2010

    I love Travail! SO glad those guys moved in my neighborhood. And just a side note, Nonna Rosa’s is more Northern Italian, with dinners less focused on pasta and more on protein. Lots of Greek influences in the cooking. A really great spot as well.

  3. You forgot another wonder in Robbinsdale – Athens Cafe. Great food (except the lamb gyro, which is your standard frozen gyro) and CHEAP. Their hummus is far and away the best in the area. For an entree, try the chicken gyro or the kofta.

  4. Also, you forgot the absolutely amazing scene at St. Petersburg restaurant. There’s the bar with a fantastic selection of vodkas. And the restaurant, where the local Russian community dances to a cover band on Saturdays.

    Below that is the American Legion post where Diablo Cody wrote Juno.

    There’s a lot happening in our little town.

  5. Lloyd Llewellyn 08/25/2010

    You’re kidding about the St. Petersburg, right? That place is beyond horrible. I come to expect the crappy service, being that it’s european, but the food is just plain awful and overpriced. I gave that place several chances, but sheesh. Between being ignored by the surly, inattentive staff and being lucky if you get your food at all….If you want excellent authentic russian food, try Moscow on the hill instead. At least there, they appreciate customers. And the restaurant doesn’t look like a bombed out WW2 gulag.

  6. Paul 10/04/2010

    I thought Coffee on Broadway was much better than described here. I’m not a big coffee drinker, and the thing I usually get there is the quiche, which is very good, and costs something like $7 or $8. The interior is very attractive, and it’s a friendly place.

    Rubylicious is very uneven, including cleanliness/hygiene. I WANT to love this place, and I’ve had some good meals, but after a case or two of the trots, or a dish that’s almost inedible because of weird over-spicing, it’s hard to love this place. Sometimes the meal is perfectly fine, but one the beans in the beans-and-rice dish were spoiled and tasted horrible. (How can they screw up the beans that way????) The greens are almost always very good. They come with cornbread, which is thin and cooked on a greased griddle, and to me the grease adds some unwelcome flavor. My recommendation for soul food nearby – go to the Sunday brunch at Sunnyside at 1825 Glenwood. (That’s the only day they have soul food. On Saturday, they have a breakfasty brunch, and the rest of the week they do catering only, if I remember right.)

    I agree that the Athens Cafe is very very good. I’ve never had a problem there with anything, though I like some things better than others from personal taste. Unless you’re very hungry, the vegetarian combo is good for two people. My only warning – there’s something on the menu listed as having lamb, but it uses gyro meat.

    I think Wuollet is overpriced and I don’t understand why it has a good reputation. It just seems like various versions of expensive white bread geared to tastes of two generations ago.

    Nobody’s mentioned Broadway Pizza yet. I heard that this location is the one where they use the original recipe. It’s probably the best of what I call “Minnesota pizza,” as opposed to East Coast or Chicago style pizza.

    At Nonna Rosa, I recommend trying the fixed-price pastas for lunch. Low cost, and you can add stuff (at extra cost) if you want something fancier.

  7. Nicole 01/08/2011

    I’m a new-ish resident to Robbinsdale (15 months) and I was sooo stoked with new new restaurants opening! When we first moved in I could appreciate the effort of a small town feel, but it seemed like “downtown Robbinsdale” was dying… until these new restaurants came in; they have breathed live into our little town in a big city.

    I’m super excited about Travail and Nonna Rossa.

    I also highly agree that Athens is good take out (but I’d never eat there as its like a kitchen lunchroom feel). Yes, the do have AMAZING hummus.

    St. Petersburg has given me horrible food more than once (once the chicken kiev was raw about 85%, I just about gagged). BUT the bartender at the bar and the vodka is always good. Food NO WAY, a drink on the way home, YES.

    I agree that Woulette is very overly-acclaimed for being nothing special. It’s a little better than the gas station donuts and it’s close by, but way over priced.

    Further, I agree we are lacking on a good coffee house around here! PLEASE, someone come save us :) as well as Brodway pizza is a good, easy pizza option.

  8. Mark Hochhauser 01/14/2012

    Rubylicious is out of business.