Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

Over the past several weeks, Uptown Minneapolis beheld the establishment of yet another imposing commercial monolith on the intersection of W Lake St and Hennepin Ave. Now shimmering against the blaze of summer, with its facade given a sense of urgency by the army of LA Fitness treadmillers in the upstairs windows, is the Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group, the newest outpost of the Edina-based Parasole Restaurant Holdings empire.

According to the Parasole press release, the Uptown Cafeteria is supposed to be a restaurant without a concept, making it an oddity among the company’s archetype-dominated portfolio. A quote attributed to Parasole CEO Phil Roberts sums up their approach: “There was one requirement for a place on our menu: Is the food delicious? … The only logic that ties [the menu] together is your appetite.”

The Uptown Cafeteria’s design is just as conglomerated as its menu. It’s a tripartite establishment: the “Cafeteria” is the restaurant proper; “Support Group” refers to the bar; and the rooftop patio is called the “Sky Bar.” Its decor ranges from retro carpeted wall panels and off-salmon-colored tabletops to Modernist plastic lounge furniture to clean, corporate lighting. On the night we dined here, the magazines available at the bar included Esquire, Seventeen (!!!), and Baltimore.

Roberts absolves the restaurant of the obligations of coherency, letting that burden fall on the shoulders of the patron. Consequently, its extensive menu traverses time and space in its quest to satisfy the vagaries of the Everyman’s gut instinct. Kansas City Bao Buns share menu space with Seared Ahi Tuna, sliders, Chinese Shrimp Fried Rice, and Hot Italian Beef sandwiches. The tables are overloaded with “just in case” condiments, including Mrs. Butterworth, Sriracha hot sauce, green chili salsa, and La Choy soy sauce.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

To begin our meal, we ordered cocktails and items from the happy hour menu, which actually seems to be available for approximately 55 hours a week. The food items are comprised of a well-seasoned Mini Bacon Burger; a tepid, overly garlic-salted Fried Egg Sandwich; and Disco Fries (all $3). As it turns out, “disco” isn’t just a genre of dance music — it’s also a mixture of gravy and melted cream cheese! The fries were both addictive and an object of shame for the members of our dining party, who couldn’t help but sneak reluctant bites of them until the plate was taken away from the table. As one of our number commented, “It’s like 1975 in my mouth.” Regarding the other two items, a neighboring diner put it best: “Well, it’s cheap.”

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

The cocktails we tried were the Redrum ($10), the Whiskey Business ($9), and the Oh Yeah!! ($10). The Oh Yeah!! was served in a grape Pixy Stix-laced martini glass with the word “CAFETERIA” printed on its sides; so when you drink the martini, you’re constantly reminded of where you are (in case you forgot).

One diner noted that the Whiskey Business, a mixture of Southern Comfort, ginger beer, and lime juice, tasted very much like “floor cleaner.” We also ordered three shots of Happiness, which were small shooters of juice mixed with vodka. They were polished off quickly and didn’t make much of an impression. However, the Redrum, which comes off as a tamer version of Red Dragon’s Wondrous Punch, was actually quite refreshing and tasty.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

Choosing among the Cafeteria’s schizophrenic menu items was a little overwhelming, but we finally decided to surrender to Roberts’ vision and order a diverse spread. We began with the bao buns ($7) and the Walleye and Sweet Corn Fritters ($9). The fritters were bland and mushy in the middle, though the presentation was devastatingly cute. (Or maybe I just have a soft spot for tiny metal buckets.)

On the other end, the meat in the buns, Kansas City-style pulled barbeque beef, was really well-sauced. If Cafeteria tweaks the dough to make it sweeter and less clunky, the dish could be a great one. The accompanying garnish, a light napa cabbage slaw, was so good that we wished it had more prominence in the dish.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

The Big Hippie Salad ($13) was lightly dressed with a hemp seed vinaigrette and featured romaine lettuce, blanched asparagus, roasted beets, quinoa, red and green peppers, a heap of alfalfa sprouts, red onion, cucumber, and avocado. It was a great infusion of vegetation in a mostly meat-and-potatoes menu, but it definitely needs further tweaking. A few frustrating missteps were undercooked quinoa, nearly raw beets, and a too-small serving bowl, which made eating the salad rather complicated.

Playing it safe, we also went with a grilled chicken and brie sandwich ($10), which served its function well. The chicken was cooked perfectly, so props to the kitchen for that. The Hungarian beef goulash ($17) was also nondescript in taste, with its generic presentation making it seem more like a Wikipedia article of the dish rather than something genuine.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

The Cafeteria’s menu also includes a “Slider” subcategory, with meatloaf, Elvis, and veggie options served on tall dinner rolls ($8-$9). (Surprisingly, the restaurant only offers one burger — “The Burger” — which comes in either “Pink” or “Not Pink,” in the Burger Jones style.) We went with the Southwest Veggie, a black bean burger that became a little cumin bomb in our mouths. Can we please issue a moratorium on cumin? I think we need to step back and take a little break for a second here.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

Our final dish was Inga Svensson’s Rice Pudding ($3), which was served in an ice cream sundae glass with a dollop of lingonberry sauce and a tiny Swedish flag on top. When questioned, our poor server admitted that she had no idea who Inga Svensson was. In pursuit of the truth, we Googled the name and found nothing conclusive. It would have been a nice touch to have a real Swedish matron’s rice pudding on the menu, and perhaps our eagerness to seek out her identity spoke to our need to find something sincere. Regardless, the rice was crunchy and the pudding was unpalatably thick.

Overall, our server worked gallantly, weathering our hail of questions and recommendation requests well. The awesomely friendly bussers are also a bright spot.

What can one make of this restaurant, this Cafeteria that’s not actually a cafeteria? Its design is defiantly postmodern, and it operates without a definite center. Many of the menu items seem to be poor photocopies of the foods that lurk at the corners of the average twenty- or thirty-something Minnesotan’s frame of reference: “ethnic” takeout, Kobe beef, sugary cereal, and Nordic classics. On top of that, reading the cocktail menu is like wading through a thick pop culture miasma.

Though the Cafeteria’s philosophy of simply serving everything “delicious” seems straightforward, it seems as though the restaurant was experiencing a lot of difficulty with that one criterion. Without good food to back it up, the Cafeteria is just Applebee’s with a crasser sense of humor.

Parasole restaurants can be great, or at least competent — Muffuletta and Manny’s Steakhouse are good examples of that. The bottom line is this: Generally speaking, the Cafeteria does not serve reliably good, or even competent, food, and that aspect of the restaurant overshadows everything else it tries to bring to the table.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

One last observation: The uniforms for the front-of-house staff were black T-shirts with a lunch tray logo on their fronts. Each logo featured a single verb in large print: WORK, SERVE, or POUR. As we found out, the words corresponded to the functions of each person; while the latter two were obvious, we figured out that the WORKers were the ones bussing tables. Call me crazy, but seeing working class people symbolically distilled into functions is kind of unnerving.

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group

½☆☆☆ (Flawed)

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

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

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23 Comments

  1. parasole creeps me out

  2. I brought a group of friends to the “sky deck” for happy hour last night, and we endured one of the worst experiences of our restaurant going lives. For one, we discovered they didn’t do happy hour on the deck. Our server was almost completely incompetent, not knowing what kind of beers were available, or who ordered what. Five minutes after we ordered food, the lights on the roof went up, and the music down. I asked our server if they were closing the deck, and she did not know the answer (this was at midnight). Food items were delivered with chips instead of fries, with the explanation that “they ran out of fries” being offered post-delivery. Three of our friends who showed up at this time were told they could order drinks, which they did; 10 minutes later the server returned to explain that they couldn’t have their drinks after all. A “manager” type with an earpiece began pacing, exhorting us to finish our drinks; he then forcibly took them from our hands. We ate quickly (the food was not good: burnt fried chicken, the aforementioned chips, a tepid burger), tried to settle up (the server had serious problems handling the combo of cash and cards, explaining that their computer system “was really weird”), and tried to exit. Heading to a stairwell with a clearly marked exit sign, the “manager” guy blocked our way and said they’re only to be used if there’s a fire (and he said it in a jerk-ass tone). So to get out of the place, we waited in a line of a couple dozen people to take turns riding the tiny elevator in small groups. Terrible, terrible night. We laughed about it for a while, until it got so bad that we were all just really pissed. Avoid this place like the plague.

  3. Inga Swenson is a television actress, most notably from “Benson.”

  4. Something feels familiar here, like…….the Burger Jones opening…where the jokey , quirky concept was given much much more attention than the food,service, or anything else that is necessary for a restaurant. And opening with a staff that is not ready. I did go in yesterday to check out the place and went up to the ‘sky bar’–it was a gorgeous day and it looked like a nice suntanning spot. I did ask some people leaving how the food was and they said ‘excellent’…but some other people were muttering about having to wait 55 minutes for a drink at the skybar. Great view up there. A weird thing, they have one of those old school revolving dessert display cases, but a lot of the food looks fake.

  5. Her name is Inga Swenson, not “Svensson.”

  6. Jason Walker06/22/2010Reply

    Rule of dining: If you have to have a shtick for a restaurant, it probably sucks. And even if it doesn’t, shticks piss me off.
    You guys did a thorough job on this place and gave it many opportunities to do right, and it failed. Thanks for a great review.

  7. @Lindsay and Inga,
    Thanks for the clarification! In this case, I was replicating the spelling from their menu, so there’s the source of our misunderstanding.

  8. Karlissimo06/22/2010Reply

    The number of months it takes for this place to close will be directly related to the status of Minneapolis as a food town.

    Burger Heroine Addict. A restaurant referencing whores. Supersized bistros. Jeesh, and now this…… Stronger coffee at the next brainstorming session maybe?

  9. Fool me once(Burger Jones), shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me (Cafeteria). I vow never to be duped by Parasole again. If the concept was pack people in with a schtick but serve sub-par food at an over-par price, Parasole has suceeded. Bottom line: Good place for drinks but skip the chow.

  10. Spencer Smith06/23/2010Reply

    Soleil Ho, Thank you so much for taking the time to visit Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group. I am so sorry that your experience was not as “wow-ing” as we had hoped it would be. We are a brand new restaurant with new staff, new menu and new space, therefore we understand that opening week there might be tweeks still needed to be made. That being said, we strive for excellence in the complete experience, space, food, customer service. We take your feedback very seriously. Please come back and visit us next month. We would love the opportunity to make it better.

    Pete, I am so very sorry at that your experience at Uptown Cafeteria was so poor. We truly appreciate customer feedback and take your comments seriously. We would love to make it better. Please call of email me.

    Spencer Smith
    GM Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group
    Email: ssmith@parasole.com
    Phone: 612-418-9728

  11. Spencer-

    Being the first week in operation is certainly something to take into account for many restaurants: ma and pa start ups would be a good example of that. Parasole is a big name for restaurants in this town, which I am sure you have all worked very hard to achieve. I’m sure that you have extensive training measures in place in all areas, including the kitchen. Nearly raw beets are equally unacceptable the first day a restaurant is open as 3 months down the road: it tells me that no one tasted them before the meal that day, or that your kitchen staff doesn’t know what a roasted beets texture SHOULD be. Cutting into a crunchy beet by a knowledgeable individual would be evidence enough that it wasn’t cooked through. The same goes for the rice in the rice pudding, quinoa and catfish fritters: everything was underdone. That’s four ingredients/menu items in one afternoon (at 4pm, by the way, far before the dinner rush), all but one of which was made well ahead of time. I expect that my cocktail would still taste like floor cleaner in three months as well, and that the garlic powder and butter that adorned the fried egg sandwich won’t be undergoing major recipe changes any time soon.

    If you’re going to be the biggest name in restaurants in MSP, I would expect your opening to be impressive and polished, not underwhelming, and quite literally, raw.

    On a personal note, the amount of air-conditioning being released into the great outdoors is enough for me to not want to consider giving you a second chance. Just like BP, I boycott companies that don’t hold themselves to be environmentally responsible.

  12. Even with a great photographer…this food looks disgusting to me. Plastic Image…Plastic food.

  13. Kip Clayton06/24/2010Reply

    Hi Kate;
    We apologize for your experience during the opening of Cafeteria. All the careful planning, preparation, and training can all be for naught if the execution is not present. Execution is something we can always strive to improve.

    I am interested in hearing more about your experience. We would love to make our customer experience the best it can be. Please feel free to contact me.

    Ashley;
    We invite you to come visit us at Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group and try for yourself, the food we love to eat.

    Sincerely,

    Kip Clayton
    VP of Business Developement Parasole Restaurant Holdings, Inc.
    Email: kclayton@parasole.com

  14. Great review! I’ve been there 2x, here’s my take on their happy hour. Space/Decor: awesome. Vibe: Lively, fun, great! Drinks on happy hour: Great deals. Food on happy hour: Terrible choices. Food on regular menu: Everything very good, but highly overpriced (as Parasole keeps thinking they can get away with). Service: Very good, except I was talked into an additional chicken breast on my mac&cheese by telling me it was $2 extra but when the bill came it was $5. Making my small bowl of noodles $13.95 (tasty, but not at that price). Also Bartender told us that while HH goes til 7 right now, they’re changing it to 6. If they do we won’t go back. That’s too early for those of us who work til 5. I have so many other choices in Uptown alone for HHs that go til 7. I’ll chose one of those. Especially if they don’t add some more food choices to the hh menu.
    Oh and don’t get attached to anything spinning in the dessert carousel, most of it’s not on the menu.
    PS…Kate, you’re totally right about the AC. It was blasting and I was still sweating at the bar, so what’s the point?

  15. I am a fan of Parasole in general, The Good Earth is my favorite restaurant in the city. Totally reliable, tasty food that never disappoints. I spend about $3000-$4000 per year there.
    As a vegetarian who had to give up on Burger Jones when they dumped the truly amazing “Birkenstock” burger for the godawful “southwestern” burger (supposedly because the cooks could not figure out how to flip the birkenstock burger without breaking it? Note to Parasole: it’s the same recipie as the Planet Burger at the Good Earth, if they can do it, so can the cooks at Burger Jones) I was really hoping that Cafeteria would be one of my new favorites.
    The interior is cute and fun, and the dessert case is awesome! The menu is tough for a vegetarian. I was sad to see the veggie option was a slider version of the sad Southwest veggie burger that made me give up on Burger Jones. Come on, guys? Really? You can do better than that!
    I decided to bite the bullet and try the walley fritters. Wow, those were salty and bad. I ordered the mac and cheese. Sorry to say, it was much to runny and sweet for my taste. It’s hard for me to dislike a mac and cheese dish, but this one was just bad.
    My husband liked his burger, but it was basically just like being at Burger Jones.
    I have to say, the fries kicked ass! I ended up pushing my mac and cheese to the side after a few bites to finish my husbands fries.
    I think this could be a great place, but the food needs help. I don’t mind the gimmicky-ness, I actually like it, but you have to have the food to back it up. Hopefully they can rely less on the Burger Jones ideas and come up with something new.

  16. Disco Fries = a washed out poutine. Way to be ‘creative,’ Parasole….

  17. wow! what a review! I have only been to the Cafeteria once, and actually stumbled upon it by accident. My friend and I were planning on meeting somewhere else, but the lights and glassless windows drew us right in! I loved the decor and theme of the restaurant, and although did not make it to the sky bar, I was very satisfied with my experience; satisfied enough that I plan to bring friends back this weekend! We sat at the bar for happy hour, ordered drinks that were served very fast, and got our food quickly too. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of the Kansas bao buns, I really appreciated the attentive bar staff and quirky menu. I loved the atmosphere, and especially enjoyed the area with board games and bench seating. I would definitely return for some drinks and socializing- the throwback theme and energy is positively nostalgic for me, and I love it! My favorite features are the open air setting, bright lights and funky colors, and what seemed to me like a menu that mom would put together at home (if we used menus around the dining table!). For the different restaurants and bars I have been to, this is a perfect combination between the Prime Time Cafe at the MGM Studios in Walt Disney World, and the 3-walled bars on the port in Barcelona- true tribute to the fantastic weather and comfort food…all sitting in the middle of Uptown. Maybe next time I’ll brave the menu…

  18. Visit the website of Chelsea/NYC Cafeteria and compare menus, decor, etc. Restaurants regardless of size need time to iron out kinks… so the review is a bit premature. Curious – is NYC Cafeteria getting paid for franchisement of concept?

  19. Sandra-

    I’ve eaten at Cafeteria in Manhattan and compared to the Uptown Cafeteria, they are two very different places.

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