In theory, coffeehouses are quaint, quiet, and cozy — a place to unwind with a warm drink and a good book. In reality, however, they often feature a parade of patrons rushing in and out to grab a latte on the run, the screech of the espresso machine, and more branded merchandise than mochas for sale. So what a relief it is that the new Sparrow Cafe, open since the beginning of the year across the street from Broders’ Pasta Bar, lives up to the ideal, a tiny corner of zen in the middle of South Minneapolis.
“How zen?” you may ask. Well, I visited there with my 2-year-old and felt more relaxed than I have in months.
Kudos are due to owners Jasper and Sheila Rajendren, who have curated a soothing space by inviting local artists Broken Crow to create a striking mural on the cafe’s back wall. The rich brown and earth shades of a dreamy woodland are punctuated with bursts of blue flowers and — naturally — birds. The scene is captivating yet so natural that it doesn’t jolt the senses, but rather beckons you to sink into a chair or couch and breathe. When is the last time a Starbucks had that effect on you?
Luckily, Sparrow Cafe offers another leg up on the big coffeehouse chains — its coffee drinks are smooth, not brazenly bitter or burnt. And when such an idyllic setting entices you to stay to savor your cup rather than rush out the door, you can actually appreciate the delicate foam artistry floating atop your latte in its tranquil turquoise mug.
Though the selection of drinks and pastries is modest, quality definitely trumps quantity in this bakery case. Featuring croissants and European-style treats from Chez Arnaud and doughnuts from Angel Food Bakery, the slate of sweets satisfies regardless if you’re a traditionalist (cinnamon-dusted raised doughnut or croissant) or someone who truly needs pork on everything (maple long john). The Rajendrens aim to expand the savory side of the menu for lunch in the near future, but for now, you’ll find a single soup as the clock nears noon.
Peace and quiet and coffee — Sparrow Cafe offers them all. Here’s hoping the coffeehouse remains that way as more and more people discover its almost sacred space.
Chez Arnaud bakery, the brainchild of pastry chef and owner Arnaud de Rambures, has only been on the scene since 2010. In that short time, it has grown from its original Maple Grove location to three spots in total (it has satellite locations in White Bear Lake and St. Paul) and created palpable buzz. If I may condense what I’ve heard, it boils down to this: “The owner’s French, and he really knows his pastry.” That’s enough to compel a visit. (We did a quick review of Chez Arnaud and Solomon’s Bakery last month.)
Walking into Chez Arnaud’s newly opened shop on Grand Avenue, you get that joyful, giddy, anticipatory sugar high that can only be inspired by phalanxes of neatly arrayed, carefully crafted little edible jewels. If you frequent Patisserie 46 or Patrick’s, you know what I’m talking about.
In short: Welcome to Europe, by way of baked goods.
All of the pastries at Chez Arnaud look good enough to eat on the spot, but a select few have a visual impact factor so high that you have to fight an urge to press your nose on the glass of the display case in order to get a better look.
The shop’s “Paris Minneapolis” confection ($5) is one of those guys. It’s a joyfully striking, almond-studded wreath of pâte à choux cut in half and filled with a praline cream. It succeeds on a number of distinct levels, but two jump to mind:
Restraint: Editing is everything when it comes to food, and the Paris Minneapolis gets points for being sweet (but not overly so) and an enjoyable but fully manageable collection of textures and flavors.
Conviction: This thing is nutty. Crazy nutty. Its point of view is clear, distinct, and maintained with ferocity, and if you generally like the effect that it’s going for, you’ll really love what you taste.
The rest of the bakery’s goods (excellent eclairs, decent croissants, and a host of tempting breads and confections) may beckon to you when you visit, and you’re advised to sample around and enjoy the fruits of Arnaud’s labor. But whatever you do, don’t forget to grab a Paris Minneapolis for the road.
(Chez Arnaud; 13332 Bass Lake Rd, Maple Grove, 763.568.7756; 4735 U.S. 61, White Bear Lake, 651.653.5658; 1085 Grand Ave, St. Paul, 651.330.4453)
To experience the full and mystifying range of possibilities when you mix together flour, water, yeast, and salt (and, okay, plenty of butter and sugar), all you have to do is walk through the doors of two very, very different new bakeries.
Neither is, technically speaking, brand-new. Both opened toward the end of last year and each is the newest location of another existing store. But both Solomon’s Bakery and Chez Arnaud are edging closer to the heart of their respective desired demographics.
Solomon’s Bakery opened in an Uptown storefront on Hennepin that in recent years has cycled through tenants like it’s cursed. (Let’s hope it’s not. Editor’s note: apparently so; Solomon’s has closed and moved to 1085 Grand Ave. in St. Paul.) You might know Solomon’s bread and savory filled pastries from Mill City Market, or maybe from their bakery on Central in Northeast. Now their all-organic baked goods are in the orbit of The Wedge and available to every food-conscious condo dweller switching buses at the Uptown Transit Station.
There are croissants and pains au chocolate and they are very good. But what Solomon’s does so much better than anyone else are those earthy, Old World, fill-you-up-until-lunchtime breads and pastries. There are palmiers and raisin rolls as big as a toddler’s face — and anything but delicate. And a whole array of rich, thick-crusted turnovers. Not-too-sweet raisin buns and rosemary-scented potato buns. (These last are great if you get a cup of whatever peasanty soup is available today.)
There are cookies, too, but if you see a tray full of molasses pigs, look right past the mundane round cookies and grab a fat piggy. He’s crunchy and chewy and tart with molasses.
In the bread cases are dense, sour pumpernickels, fluffy potato breads, and soft, sandwich-worthy whole wheats.
Solomon’s isn’t fancy — in fact, it already looks a little worn around the edges — but that’s part of its charm.
As hearty and earthy as Solomon’s is, that’s how very refined everything — down to the chic takeout boxes — is at Chez Arnaud. (Editor’s note: Chez Arnaud wassold to the owners of Solomon’s.) Already established in Maple Grove and White Bear Lake since 2010, Arnaud has brought his award-winning baguettes and his impeccable croissants and pains au chocolat to St. Paul’s Grand Avenue.
Everything is arrayed in sleek display cases designed to elicit, “Ooh!” and, “Pretty!” In the French tradition, you very much eat with your eyes before your mouth at Chez Arnaud. Every exquisite fan-shaped apricot pastry is perfectly shaped and a delicious shade of golden yellow. And they are just as good — buttery, delicate — when you bite into them. (These are hands down our favorites at Chez Arnaud.)
There are better éclairs and macarons in the Twin Cities, but that says more about our good fortune in bakeries here than it does about Chez Arnaud, because these are very good — the perfect-sized treats for when you just need to set down the shopping bags for a moment and enjoy a chic little treat.
Solomon’s Bakery Organic baked goods in Uptown and Northeast Minneapolis
1085 Grand Ave (formerly Chez Arnaud)
St. Paul, MN
The Tap loves restaurant tips from readers, so we’re awarding a Heavy Table pint glass to the best tipster each month. The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor Jason Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org. July’s winner: Ashley Skogen of St. Paul
Chez Arnaud has been thriving in Maple Grove, so owner Arnaud de Rambures is expanding to another side of the metro: White Bear Lake. The new outpost is set to open in early September.
De Rambures operates a classic French bakery with both pastry and breads, and he will continue to sell the whole array at both locations.
“I chose White Bear Lake because a lot of bakeries are in South Minneapolis and Uptown,” he said. “So the idea was to go to the other side of the Twin Cities, the east side, so it’s positioned like the Maple Grove spot.”
De Rambures said his current location was too small to allow desired production, so he will bake pastry in Maple Grove and bread in White Bear Lake, with a daily truck delivery between each.
“So it will still be made very fresh every day, but just focusing on bread and pastries at each location,” he said. “This should help us expand into catering, so we can do hotels and businesses with lunch boxes. This is where we’re trying to move.”
The new bakery will have a slightly expanded menu: sandwiches, quiche, and salads, like the Maple Grove version, but de Rambures said he’ll add soups and small plates like bruschetta.
“We’re trying to upgrade the quality of what we’re doing, better design, better process, so it’s creating a better image of Chez Arnaud,” he said.
Helping the image department: Last month, Chez Arnaud won the Best French Baguette of the Twin Cities award at a competition put on by the Alliance Francaise at the Saint Paul University Club. Arnaud beat out Lucia’s, Rustica, Breadsmith, the Bikery, and New French Bakery.
“Since we got this award, our demand has increased as well, so we have to keep our customers happy,” de Rambures said.
The Grand Hotel in downtown Minneapolis has revamped its bar and restaurant, rebranding the cocktail lounge as the Six15 Room and shifting the restaurant to Rare Steak & Sushi.
Owned by the CEO of Life Time Fitness, which has a gym in the hotel, Rare replaces Zahtar, originally helmed by David Fhima. Rare’s chef is Feliciano “Chano” Bustamante, who previously has worked at Nami, Origami, Fujiya, Cafe Della Vita, Martini Blu, and Zahtar.
The menu is varied, from a plethora of sushi (21 different rolls) and sashimi to several steak and seafood entrees, soups, salads, and small plates like ceviche, potstickers, and beef tataki. There’s even a Jucy Lucy-ish cheese-stuffed burger called the Cheesy Chano.
Prices top out at $28 for the 20-ounce ribeye, but the menu is pretty diverse price-wise, especially the happy hour menu (3-6:30 M-F) with several sushi rolls and small plates for $5.
“Rare Steak & Sushi allows Life Time Fitness to help the public and its guests continue their healthy way of life with an emphasis on grass-fed and sustainably harvested proteins,” spokesperson Allison Dent said.
Rodizio Grill, 12197 Elm Creek Blvd N, Maple Grove. Opens this fall. | rodiziogrill.com
The Tap is The Heavy Table’s guide to area restaurant openings, closings, and other major events. The Tap is compiled by Heavy Table writer Jason Walker, and will be published biweekly. If you already subscribe to our newsletter, look for an emailed version of The Tap every other week — otherwise, you can find it on the website on alternating Tuesdays. If you’ve got tips for The Tap, please email Jason Walker at email@example.com. The Tap’s Twitter feed has moved to @heavytable.