EDITOR’S NOTE: We visited the new St. Paul location of Black Coffee and Waffle Bar on Aug. 18, 2016 and were unimpressed by what tasted like industrial-grade waffle toppings and strangely undersweetened and unflavored syrup.
“We wanted to take one thing and get really, really good at it,” says Lisa Ply.
Lisa and her husband, Andrew, picked waffles. Good choice.
The Plys had owned Muddsuckers, a coffee shop in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis, not far from the U of M, for about four years. It was the sort of place that felt stuck in 1994 — a little grungy, by Lisa’s own admission, and hard to distinguish from every other dim little hideaway with thrift store couches and a stack of alt-weeklies by the door. And it wasn’t doing very well financially. “So we decided to remodel and rebrand and give it one more try,” Lisa says.
Fortunately, Lisa had been busy perfecting her waffle recipe. As of late April, the old Muddsuckers became Black Coffee and Waffle Bar. They dropped the standard-issue coffee shop sandwiches and soups from their menu and replaced them with eight waffles. That, along with a handful of pastries from The Baker’s Wife, is the whole of the menu.
Lisa’s waffles are barely sweet at all, with a noticeable buttermilk tang, a nice crisp exterior, and a light, spongy interior. If you’re going to pick one thing and do it well, this is the way to do it.
Just like the waffles, all the toppings are made from scratch in the kitchen, and most of the ingredients come from local sources. Two of our favorites were the cheesecake filling spread on top of the Strawberry Cheesecake Waffle ($7.50) and the cinnamony chopped apples on the Apple Strudel Waffle ($7.50, top picture, bottom right), and we predict that the Naughty Waffle ($8), smothered in fruit and granola (below), is going to fuel a lot of late-night studying. (You can also build your own waffle for $5 plus $0.50–$1 for toppings.)
Most of Lisa’s waffle artistry goes into the toppings, rather than messing with the waffles themselves. (There’s no waffleizing going on here.) But she does put the marshmallows and chocolate chips inside the S’Mores Waffle ($7.50, top picture, top right), and the way they melt, leaving sweet craters behind, is delightful.
Our only complaint is this: At present there’s only one savory waffle on the menu. The One Bad Pig ($8.50, top picture, top left) is topped with a thick slice of ham and melted Swiss cheese. It still comes with a cup of maple syrup, of course, because dipping salty pork products into sweet syrup is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Lisa says it’s the layout of the kitchen itself that limits her savory options (she has no range hood at the moment, so cooking most things on the stovetop is out), but she’s figuring out how to make her own version of baked chicken and waffles. Watch for that, as well as weekend specials, in the coming months.
Waffles, of course, are only half of the Black Coffee and Waffle Bar’s equation. The Plys switched to Dogwood Coffee when they reopened and added an exclusive blend of chai — sweet and spicy, with plenty of nutmeg and anise.
While “Do one thing and do it well” is pretty sound advice, that alone is not a recipe for success. “Do one thing, do it well, do it in the right neighborhood, and make sure it’s something with a little buzz around it right now” — thanks, Parks and Rec — is even better. Black Coffee and Waffle Bar has it covered.
Black Coffee and Waffle Bar
Coffee shop in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis
1500 Como Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
OWNER / CHEF: Lisa and Andrew Ply / Lisa Ply
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: None
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $5–8.50
PARKING: Street parking