Sometimes you want something unique, something cutting-edge, the newest form of gastronomy that’s just about to become big in the food world.
Other times, you just want a really good greasy-spoon breakfast.
If you’re in the latter mood, it might be time for you to take a drive out on Highway 13 to Savage and pop into a rather sad-sack-looking building that’s been there forever: the Windmill Cafe. It’s not much to look at on the outside — just a boxy mass made out of cinderblock with an old metal garden windmill for decoration. But before you write it off, take a look at the number of cars in the parking lot — including the number of local police and state trooper vehicles, as well as semitrailers — and think again.
The Windmill is open daily for breakfast and lunch (with the former served all day). Inside, the decor is old-time cafe: cinder block walls, leatherette booths, and a counter with low stools facing a pass-through to the kitchen. In between breakfast and lunch rushes, you might get to see the cook (no chef’s jacket or toque for this guy — a T-shirt and apron will do) come out with his self-prepared breakfast and plop down on a stool at the end of the counter, getting his break while he can.
Because before long, he’s going to be back at the griddle, frying frantically. This is not the place to go if you’re worried about the condition of your arteries, but if you can overlook that for one meal, here’s some advice: Chicken-fried steak ($8.50, above). You’ll find it listed on the “Southern Breakfast” part of the menu (along with Biscuits & Sausage Gravy, $6, below), which is appropriate, given the dish’s provenance in the southern part of the United States. But it was part of this writer’s Northern Minnesota upbringing, too, and finding it on the menu here was a treat. It’s not something you see on many menus around the metro.
The cube steak is coated in a zippy, peppery breading and fried until crisp. Yet the meat was tender enough to cut with a fork. It came drenched in a thick, sage-y sausage gravy (remember: arteries), in a portion sized for multiple people (or one hungry truck driver). The steak arrived hot off the griddle, with no time spent under a heat lamp, and was accompanied by two perfect eggs-over-easy and a heaping pile of hash browns, which could have used a little more time on the griddle to gain that decadent crunchiness that makes hash browns so wonderful.
Another diner went with the Eggs Benedict ($8), which might not seem like a good greasy-spoon choice, but the Windmill puts out a respectable version. The English muffin was toasted thoroughly, making it a sturdy underpinning for the runny eggs and tangy Hollandaise sauce, which was a tad thicker than necessary. A slab of ham was fried until crisp, and the plate also came with a heap of hash browns.
The only disappointment was the cafe’s coffee, which was pretty much hot water with a bare amount of coffee thrown in. Ratchet up the strength of the coffee, and this would be the place to go for the breakfast of champions.
Roadside cafe in savage
5367 Highway 13, Savage, MN 55378
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes/No
Mon-Fri 5:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sat-Sun 6 a.m.-2 p.m.