Editor’s Note: Cafe Agri is now closed.
Organic, local, sustainable — you can barely read an article about food these days without running into at least one of these words. Add vegan and gluten-free into the mix, and you’ve got a veritable buzzword booyah. As much as one supports the mission and philosophy behind these foodie movements, it must eventually boil down to a simple question: Do organic / sustainable / fill-in-the-blank ingredients make the food taste better?
If we used the Lake Harriet area restaurant Cafe Agri as a case study, the answer would be eh, not really. Though the menu reveals an often-overlooked sensitivity to those with dietary restrictions, the food generally fails to live up to its promise to “bring innovative, vibrant, and satisfying flavors to your plate and palate.” That’s not to say that you can’t find a serviceable meal among the cafe’s offerings, but those looking to be bowled over by inspiring, tastebud-tingling dishes will be disappointed.
Take the yam crisps, for example. The baked orange tuber is paired with green guacamole as an appetizer, and the color match is quite striking. But the crisps are neither sweet enough to match the stronger flavors of the guacamole nor salty enough to stand on their own. While the starter satisfyingly staves off hunger pangs, it does little to excite the palate for the next course.
Dinner entrees offer glimpses of good concepts, but execution is still spotty. The coconut curry sauce in the curry tofu dish was appealing, but the gummy strips of fried tofu did little to enhance the dish. Similarly, the sauce on the BBQ tempeh panino had a pleasingly sticky-sweet quality, but the accompanying sandwich toppers and side of blue tortilla chips provided no flavor boost. The gluten-free macaroni and cheese had an off-putting sweetness that even a noodle-loving toddler couldn’t overlook.
The dessert choices don’t make up for the mediocre meal, unfortunately. The cappuccino brownie, also gluten-free, lacked the rich, fudgy denseness brownie lovers crave. Instead, its dry, flaky texture and overwhelming bulk left one dreaming of the flour-filled version. Though not gluten-free, the carrot cake featured a grittiness that its sugary frosting couldn’t mask.
Where Cafe Agri does redeem itself somewhat is brunch. Three versions of farmstead scramblers allow diners to enjoy their morning eggs or tofu with a variety of toppings, ranging from typical (veggies and cheese) to exotic (curry). The slightly oily eggs in the Gobi Rising Scrambler were saved by the savory curried vegetables, though the out-of-season tomato seemed an odd choice for restaurant offering seasonal fare. The sweet potato home fries buoyed the dish, though rice and beans are an alternative side. The gluten-free French-toasted banana bread made a dense, filling meal, and other gluten-free options (pancakes, egg sandwiches) fill out the menu.
The wine list also merits a shout-out. You’d be hard-pressed to find another local restaurant offering these biodynamic / organic / sustainable varieties for $5/glass or $20/bottle. Gluten-free beers feature prominently on the bar menu as well, and the cafe also pours sangria and blood orange mimosas at brunch.
So when does a trip to Cafe Agri make sense? Perhaps if your sister with a gluten sensitivity visits town or you’re looking for a restaurant with organic Italian wines on the menu. But if you’re aiming to increase your intake of local food, your best bet is to visit a local farmers market or subscribe to a community-supported agriculture program.
Cafe in East Harriet
4300 Bryant Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55409
CHEF: Derek Deker
HOURS: Mon-Fri 4:30-10pm
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / for weekend dinner
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $8-16 for dinner, $7-10 for brunch