The Monte Cristo and a Second Look at Uptown Cafeteria

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

I will never again order the Monte Cristo sandwich at the Uptown Cafeteria. This is not a knock on the sandwich, which was in fact compelling if not outright excellent. It is a commentary on the fact that this is a sweet, powdered sugar-dusted, batter-fried ham, turkey, cheese, and more cheese sandwich that is meant to be dipped into raspberry jam. Having heard about the Monte Cristo several times while plowing through American food lore (it has roots, if not origins, in Disneyland), I was tempted to see if the Cafeteria version ($12) lived up to the heart-stopping, gut-pounding, flavor-pulsing hype. Yes, yes, yes. This thing should be a once-a-year treat, but oh, man, what a treat. The crispy, mildly sweet batter complemented the melted, cheesy, savory interior; jelly tipped the balance back toward dessert, and all ingredients involved cooperated very nicely. This is an outrageous sandwich, and one that we should all strive to avoid eating. (That said, I’ve already re-thought my opening line; it should probably be “I will never again in 2010 order the Monte Cristo sandwich at the Uptown Cafeteria.” Save me a table for Jan. 2.)

When we first reviewed Uptown Cafeteria, we were not kind to it (sample quote: “Without good food to back it up, the Cafeteria is just Applebee’s with a crasser sense of humor.”) A recent revisit, however, shows that there is in fact some gastronomic magic at work at this place, and from a shaky start, a new Uptown mainstay may be emerging.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

It’s an open question whether the magic justifies the cost — five small crab rangoon appetizers cost $10. That’s two bucks a pop, folks. Still: What price deliciousness? These are some of the best crab rangoons in the city and therefore the state and possibly the region, starkly different than the soggy, sad, sack-of-crap cream cheese wontons that typically pass for rangoons in these parts. They’ve got a moderate and nicely balanced jalapeno kick, the taste of crab is fresh and clear without being overwhelming, and the ratio of creamy filling to light, delicate, crispy exterior is spot on.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

An order of chilaquiles ($11) at the Cafeteria was also up to snuff. These spicy salsa-soaked chips are served with eggs, avocado, sour cream, and black beans, and perform equally well as a hangover brunch or an entree at dinner. I was first introduced to these at a brunch by Chef Noah Barton (Chino Latino) and it seems likely he had some part in bringing these to fruition, because they were reminiscent of his version: a great balance of textures, not overly salted, with an assertive but not overwhelming sense of spiciness.

At this remedial meal, only dessert fell short — and that gets classified as one of those noble failures that provoke thought even as they short-circuit desire. A duo of whoopie pies (sandwiches made of chocolate cake filled with orange cream or salted caramel marshmallow layers, $7) was disappointing — the cake was Gobi dry, and the frosting one-dimensional and merely sweet. An accompanying RC Cola / vanilla ice cream shake was terrific, and charmingly small — a little milkshake goes a long way. The RC both lightened and aerated the ice cream while imparting some cola flavor, and as a wingman to the whoopie pies, it really did its level best.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Add prompt, pleasant service and a bright, neo-diner interior to this mix, and Uptown Cafeteria has moved from a looming disappointment to a new hope for creative-yet-casual Americana on a plate.

BEST BET: The versatile, delicious, and not-entirely-bad-for-you chilaquiles.

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group

3001 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55408
612.877.7263
OWNER / CHEF: Parasole Restaurant Holdings / Jeff Anderson
HOURS:
Mon-Thu 11:30am-1am
Fri 11:30am-2am
Sat 8am-2am
Sun 8am-1am
BAR: Beer, Wine, & Liquor
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes for Weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Scarcely
ENTREE RANGE: $8-30

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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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9 Comments

  1. I was hoping the Monte Cristo was up to snuff. You just don’t see it on menus anywhere. I had very little desire to try Cafeteria until I saw that on the menu – thanks for the confirmation. It takes a brave person to take on that sandwich.

  2. Jason Walker 09/24/2010 Reply

    I’ve had a Monte Cristo at Bennigans, but that’s the only place I’ve ever seen one on a menu, and that was in Wichita in probably 1992.

  3. Perkins had Monte Cristos years ago, then it started dropping off the menu. Last time I saw one there was oh, back in the late ’80s, somewhere between here and Duluth. I’m sure they’d be easy to make, but somehow I’ve never tried. Guess now I don’t need to.

  4. marina 09/24/2010 Reply

    I suggest getting your whoopie pies at Common Roots from now on.

  5. I went to a lot of diners in the late ’90s and early ’00s, and they almost always had Cristos on the menu. Grew up in northern Illinois, so maybe that explains it.

    Not sure I could handle more than half of this sandwich, though.

  6. Key’s Cafe also has a Monte Cristo on their menu. The sandwich itself is good, they brought out jelly packets for dipping, which was sort of slap in the face considering the outright deliciousity of the sandwich.

  7. Bobannon 09/27/2010 Reply

    You can get a Monte Cristo at Lucky’s in Bloomington.

    http://www.luckys13pub.com

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  2. […] Norton at Heavy Table recommended to me the Chilaquiles at Uptown Cafeteria a long time ago.  Just had them last weekend, and I’m now angry I waited so long.  […]

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