The Copper Dome Restaurant in St. Paul

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Does the Copper Dome Restaurant (established 1960) offer the “best breakfast in town” as claimed by its website? No; Al’s Breakfast or Hell’s Kitchen or the Craftsman or The Original Pancake House would probably lay claim to that honor, presuming we’re using the term “town” in the expansive “Twin Cities” sense of the word. Even if we knocked it back to St. Paul, brunch at Muffuletta or Caribe would probably take top honors in the category of best morning meal.

But what the Copper Dome does offer is a surprisingly light, tasty, and widely varied menu, plus turkey bacon that is likely the best in the state, if not the world (more on that in a moment). Although the menu at this old neighborhood spot resembles that of any unreconstructed pancake place in the Upper Midwest with its sprawling assortment of pancakes and omelets, the food itself is quite different than the typical diner or dive. It’s… lighter. Less buttery. Less greasy. Less prone to setting up into a dense-as-lead ball in one’s stomach. The menu states that “all our cooking and frying is done with pure vegetable oil and no animal fats” and that commitment comes through on the plate — hash browns, for example, are thin and light and crispy and mashed potato-y in the center, but don’t leave a greasy streak on the plate and don’t immediately fill up your stomach. We noticed the food’s light touch before seeing the note on the menu — you’ll be surprised (and potentially pleased) by how different it tastes from the regular American breakfast fare.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

There’s very little pretense to the place, either. Upon receiving a compliment for the restaurant’s little smokies sausages (which have a tender texture, nice depth of flavor and are well complemented by the accompanying applesauce) the waitress acknowledged the kind words and passed the credit along to Sam’s Club, the sausages’ original point of origin. Whatever points are lost for vanished mystique and re-gained for frank talk, and the important thing is that the sausages are tasty as the dickens.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Pancakes are available by the full or half order, and are up to snuff. They’re not the chewy, amazing wonders served up at Al’s, but they’re a nice fluffy / chewy compromise in terms of texture, and they taste homemade. The half order of pecan pancakes we tried ($3.10 for two) was only lightly sweet, which made them a pleasure to eat with the accompanying pancake syrup.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A vegetable and cheese omelet with hashbrowns ($8.15) was light and simple, and unremarkable but for its delicacy and overall elegance, and for the prominence of its simple green pepper flavor. It’s not an omelet worthy of the breakfast buffet in heaven (a French woman once made that for me at an otherwise unremarkable and now shuttered bed and breakfast in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) but it’s also not a depressing, artery clogging mess, as so many American diner omelets are.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Copper Dome’s turkey bacon ($3.15) is a minor wonder of breakfast wizardry — it’s crunchy and crisp with a bit of chew and a deep, smokey flavor. While light, it’s not insubstantial, and it’s a far cry better tasting than many slices of regular old pork bacon floating around out there.

A waffle combo ($7.10) was a steal when you consider that it includes a light, crispy waffle, an egg, and either bacon, pork links, or the aforementioned little smokies and applesauce.

interior of the Copper Dome

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Although the restaurant has moved a number of times since 1960, the room itself is instantly charming in vintage rustic way, thanks to old flour bags and vintage correspondence framed and hung on the wall. And the Copper Dome shoots to the top of the list of breakfast places that would accommodate friends and relatives of all ages and dietary outlooks.

While it doesn’t provide the lush, profoundly fattening experience that Sunday brunch has become, Copper Dome has charms all its own: an astronomical number of pancake and omelet options, light and (relatively) health-conscious food, and, oh, that turkey bacon. For a pleasing low-key way to start any given weekday, this old warhorse of a restaurant may, in fact, be the best breakfast in town.

The Copper Dome Restaurant
Diner breakfast in Highland Park, St. Paul
1333 Randolph Ave
St Paul, MN 55105
651.690.0993
HOURS:
Tue-Fri: 6:30am–2pm
Sun-Sat: 7am–2pm
Mon: CLOSED
BAR: None
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Ask
ENTREE RANGE: $5-8

interior stained glass detail from the Copper Dome

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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13 Comments

  1. I’ve never been more disappointed in a brunch place than we were when we went to The Copper Dome last year. The place had so much promise with classic decor, but the food was really bad.

  2. Allison 12/09/2011 Reply

    Copper Dome has, for a very very very long time, been one of my favorite comfort food spots. I go there when I want a classic breakfast, with EVERYTHING, and for cheap. Seriously, this place gives you a ton of food for not a lot of money. And the waitresses are adorable. Its exactly what I want when I’ve slept in after a long night and all I want is classic comfort food breakfast, and a thermos of coffee! Highly recommended.

  3. Ugh! Any restaurant where you have to ask for real butter is just not a winner in my book. Some might find the default scoop-o-whipped-margarine on the plate and the corn syrup-laden “pancake syrup” to be charming throwbacks to the golden age of pancake houses, but I’m not one of them. The smokies being from Sam’s Club makes me less endeared to the place, not more.

    I believe there are better breakfast options than a pancake house if you’re looking for a “light” breakfast. If pancake house fare tastes “light”, you can bet they are substituting real ingredients with artificial ones (like the aforementioned margarine). That approach to dining was common in the 80s and 90s, and I wish we were over it.

    It’s safe to say that I’m probably not in Copper Dome’s target demographic. And I’m okay with that.

  4. Pretty sure nothing beats breakfast at Cheap Charlie’s in Rochester after a night of bad decisions. But I return to Minneapolis by way of the friendly neighbor across the river, I’ll give The Copper Dome a try.

  5. I should add that I was disappointed because I typically LOVE comfort food for breakfast.

  6. I was just at the Copper Dome on Wednesday morning and will continue to go back because everything on the menu is good and it is what you expect from an old tyme restaurant. I never feel weighed down after I eat there even though you get a good amount of food..Heavy Table isn’t trying to start a who is better than who contest..people will always have their favorites and Copper Dome is one of mine.. great article!

  7. I’ll take The Copper Dome over Key’s ALL DAY! Not at all put off by margarine or Sam’s Club Little Smokies. It’s breakfast food people not Picolo. Get over yourselves.

  8. I second the ugh. This restaurant is a throwback in that they still use margarine and the little cups of non-dairy creamer. Plus everything has a strange taste, like it’s been cooked in margarine or something. It’s not difficult to make a simple decent breakfast – just start with decent ingredients. I don’t think real butter is too much to ask. I’d like to add that I LOVE the decor and charm of this place.

  9. Catherine 12/11/2011 Reply

    if they have the best breakfast in town, i think i’ll stick to lunch and dinner.

  10. nicole 12/11/2011 Reply

    I don’t know if it has changed since I went there about 36 months ago, but I think it is worth mentioning they do not take credit cards.

    I also think the OJ was Sunny Delight or Tang.

  11. Another Lisa 12/12/2011 Reply

    Worst breakfast ever. When there once and regretted it. I ordered the blueberry pancakes. They were topped with canned (!) blueberry pie topping…

  12. Nicole – I agree the OJ was terrible. Certainly Sunny Delight or similar.

    Besides that issue, I did like my breakfast at the Copper Dome. Great pancakes and very light on the wallet.

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