A stylish new restaurant, one so hip that the name alone sends you tapping for your urban dictionary, has made its splash into the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Cheeky Monkey Deli, with its oxblood red walls and framed 70’s album covers ironically adorning the walls is where the beautiful people dine: model-thin blondes wearing impractical shoes and clutching bridal magazines; ladies who lunch talking in hushed tones about cheese shops in Edina; well-groomed men glad-handing and greeting each other “How about that team?”. That such an establishment set up shop in the Twin Cities is not a surprise, no. That such a place set up in Saint Paul and in Saint Paul first is the surprise, especially in this tight economy where it’s surely safer to set up a No. Two — Brasa or Barrio — or even a No. Three — Bulldog — in Saint Paul, but only after first proving the concept in Minneapolis.
Don’t get the wrong impression, though. Cheeky Monkey Deli is not only about style: they cure and smoke their own meats, bake their own breads, and make their own mayonnaise and mustard. The lunch menu features mostly sandwiches — cold, hot or pressed — and sides such as chips or coleslaw, and a couple of soups and salads. After 3pm, they also offer “hot pots and plates” of the homestyle variety, such as pot roast or meatloaf, meat and cheese boards, and several more sides (including griddle potatoes, $3, that come with a surprisingly spicy and addictive aioli). Everything on the menu is $8 or less, except for the meat and cheese boards, which are each $10.
The pressed Cuban sandwich, which I ordered for take out, was packed with a meaty and rich hunk of cumin pork, smoked ham, swiss cheese (“Emmi”, I was told, “from Switzerland,” when I pressed for more), pickles, tangy mustard, and mayo. The ciabatta bread bore perfectly criss-crossed grill marks and had a wonderfully firm, yet not impossibly hard, crust. The salt and pepper chips that are available for order on the side were thick, golden and plentiful. The sandwich will set you back $7, the chips, another $1.25.
I found both the side of coleslaw, $2, and the main salad of shrimp, chickpea, and mixed greens, $8, fresh and crisp, but boring. I wanted them to either be lighter, or more decadent, rather than disappointingly in the middle.
Cheeky Monkey puts out a terrific brownie, $2, not the heavy, dense kind, but one that is light and brittle, yet chewy, and packs a cocoa punch.
It’s nice to see establishments like Cheeky Monkey and The Blue Door Pub take their chances with Saint Paul. Maybe Minneapolis will someday have Cheeky Monkey II and Blue Door Pub II to look forward to.