In an era where entrepreneurs turn to Kickstarter to fund everything from major motion pictures to stuffed goats that give birth, the local food scene is no stranger to this crowd-sourced concept. Cases in point: Heavy Table’s own Secret Atlas of North Coast Food and Eat Street’s newest venture, The Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen. Headed by the husband and wife team of Chris and Danielle Bjorling, the rustic, farmhouse-style bakery and cafe got off the ground at the beginning of the month after months of preparation and nearly $12,000 raised from supporters. And while off to a solid start — particularly in that bakery case — the Copper Hen will need some polishing to be a destination to crow about.
Many bakery / cafes start off cautiously, focusing on baked goods, breakfast, and lunch, but the Bjorlings ambitiously began dinner service from day one. Wisely, they kept the menu, which is the same for lunch and dinner, relatively modest, with a daily soup, a few salads and starters, a couple of pizzas, four sandwiches, and three entrees. The breakfast menu is much more compact, offering a small selection of scones, rolls, hand pies, the signature bacon blueberry breakfast “cupcake,” and a weekly chef’s choice brunch special.
The bread basket ($6) is the obvious choice for a starter in a bakery, especially when served with a housemade strawberry rhubarb jam that would make a steel-toed boot taste divine. The baguette boasts a gentle flavor and tender crumb but could use a crispier crust to match the excellence of Rustica Bakery’s loaf. Though it’s supposed to be a sampler, our basket only had one variety of the five served daily. The smashed potato fries ($3.50 for a half-order / $6 for a full) are a bit misleading; though soft, buttery, and comforting, the sauteed taters don’t come close to the definition most of use for fries. Not that it will stop you from downing the pillowy potatoes, but leave your traditional interpretation of fries at the door.
The milkmaid cheeseboard (market price; $10 for the board pictured above) provides another platform for that strawberry rhubarb jam, along with a sweet, sticky fig mostarda and downright addicting curried cauliflower. All three pair well with the three cheeses recently in rotation. Unfortunately, the cheeses themselves remain a mystery, as the server couldn’t name them or make a point of inquiring with the kitchen. If a restaurant is going to wave the “farm-to-table” flag, it better know its ingredients and their origins backward and forward, so there’s no excuse for playing ignorant for a standard question among those inclined to order cheeseboards.
There’s no quibble with the arugula salad, though ($5 half / $8 whole). Generous dollops of sheep’s-milk ricotta temper the peppery bite of the greens, and the fried shallots and hemp seeds add a contrasting crunch. Two could easily share a cheeseboard and the salad and have a very satisfying meal (with room for dessert). Ordering the BLT ($11) likely won’t leave much extra space in your stomach, however, with its thick cuts of bacon layered atop slabs of cheddar, tomato, and butter lettuce. This isn’t a sandwich for thin, crispy bacon lovers — the bacon could be mistaken for slices of ham — but the hearty country bread contains all the fixings faultlessly.
Kids will clamor for the 10-inch classic pizza ($9), which features wide rounds of house-pulled mozzarella and fresh basil. While the crust doesn’t compare to the area’s gold standard, Pizzeria Lola, the naturally leavened dough offers a pleasant tang that distinguishes it from your typical pie. But for a dish you’re unlikely to encounter elsewhere, go for the chicken pot pie ($15). Meaty chunks of chicken combine with toothsome root vegetables and peas in a creamy sauce, but what (literally) seals the deal is the buttery, flaky pastry covering the crock-baked filling. Shatter the crust with your fork and watch the steam rise before you dig in. And offer a few forkfuls to your dining companion, who ordered the baked macaroni and cheese ($14) because, sadly, that meal isn’t close to the same caliber. The four cheeses seize and clump among the large, hollow noodles, and without sufficient sauce to coat the pasta, the mac falls flat.
Luckily, you can’t choose poorly among the bakery case. The large, chunky chocolate chip cookie ($2) lures browned butter fans with its rich, nutty aroma, and the flavor shines through each bite. After five years of cupcake mania in this town, it’s a pleasure to see cupcakes ($2.50) perfectly portioned and featuring a reasonable cake-to-frosting ratio. The delicately flavored cake is appropriately dense — it has substance but won’t sit like a rock in your stomach — and the frosting provides a sweet, creamy lusciousness without sending you into a diabetic coma. Vanilla, chocolate, red velvet — all are solid choices. Only the bacon blueberry breakfast cupcake ($3.75) tastes more like a scone than cupcake and needs a tad more sugar if you are craving a more sweet than savory treat. Depending on the day, you’ll also find a few varieties of mason jar cakes, fruit-filled hand pies, and full-sized cakes beckoning with colorful sprinkles. You won’t find doughnuts, however — a smart decision when Glam Doll Donuts is just down the street.
The light, airy space will bring many passers-by into the Copper Hen. Scraps of blue printed wallpaper liven up the white-washed brick walls, and the dark cherry tables and counter make an elegant presentation. The Bjorlings have spaced the tables well, with plenty of room to maneuver, making it an ideal destination for families (in case the cupcakes themselves weren’t enough of a draw). As would be expected for a new venture, service could use more time to get into a groove. Our starters arrived with the rest of our meal on one visit, for example, and payment can take several minutes as the team learns the point-of-sale system.
Minneapolis doesn’t lack for good bakeries, but there’s always room for one more. As the Copper Hen crew settles into its space, it will be exciting to see how the kitchen evolves — and whether its Kickstarter funders made a good investment.
The Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen
Bakery and cafe in Minneapolis
2515 Nicollet Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55404
OWNERS / CHEFS: Danielle and Chris Bjorling
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE PRICE: $8-17