Happy hour always sounds like a good idea. A few drinks. A few nibbles. Unwind a little after work. But then comes the wave of regret that tastes distinctly of cheap beer and fryer grease. Your ears are ringing with bad bar music, you board the bus tipsy, and you’ve ruined your dinner.
Maybe it’s a matter of expectations. Maybe “happy” is just too much to shoot for. Maybe we should aim for a few moments of leisure instead? And you know who has the leisure formula down pat? Cafe Maude at Loring Park. The downtown sister of the Southwest Minneapolis favorite (of the same name) serves up one of our very favorite happy — or, rather, “leisure” — hours.
Inside Cafe Maude, the booths and bar are rich and comfortably luxe (the sort of place that makes you want to say “lezh-yoor” instead of the pedestrian “lee-zher”). But, if you sit outside you get the full Loring Park experience, even if you are staring at the trees and the footbridge past the parking lot and a bored valet.
The menu is ideal for a light meal at the end of the day — a few tiny bites to keep the drinks flowing, like spiced popcorn and hummus, along with enough heartier choices to keep you lingering at the table.
Speaking of hearty, the cheese curds — the Faribault Dairy Caveman Curds ($6) — stopped us in our tracks. It was one of those moments when your companion casually takes a bite of food, then stops dead still, lets her eyes grow wide, and motions urgently that you must. try. this. now. — even before she finishes chewing. The crust was tempura-light and perfectly crispy, even when the curds cooled (and how on Earth did we even let them cool?), flecked with paprika and a hint of the North African spices that set Cafe Maude’s global comfort food apart. Dipped in the sweet and complex tomato coulis, they were perfect. Perfect.
Alongside those high-brow / low-brow curds, we had a distinctly high-brow Smoked Fish Plate ($7). There’s nothing more leisurely than holding a triangle of buttery toast between two fingers and topping it with creme fraiche; smoky, tender, slow-cooked salmon; and salmon caviar — the kind that’s salty and sweet and pops just right in your mouth. The languid assembly slows down the moment and stretches out the conversation.
Those are the absolute high points at Cafe Maude’s leisure hour, the ones that keep us coming back. We also highly recommend the slightly spicy lamb slider ($3), served with the same tomato coulis, and the thin-crust deep-dish pizza ($6.50). What makes the contradiction work is a papadum-like crackly crust cradling a spoonable layer of tomato sauce and gooey fresh mozzarella.
And the icing on our classic Loring Park cake? Just after our food arrived, Scott Seekins strolled past, a canvas under his arm. The artist, known for practically taking up residence in the Loring Cafe when that boho-luxe hangout was the place to be, seems to have found Cafe Maude to be a worthy successor. He paused a beat, surveyed the bounty on our table, and looked as if he might, in fact, invite himself to take a seat and share a moment of leisure with us. Regrettably, he strolled on.
We enjoyed our leisure without him. And, yes, we did ruin our dinner. And we didn’t regret it one bit.
Cafe Maude at Loring Park
Bar and restaurant in Loring Park
1612 Harmon Place
Minneapolis, MN 55401
OWNER / CHEF: Kevin Sheehy / Matt Kempf
HOURS: Leisure hour Tue-Fri 4-6pm, Sat-Sun 2-6pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Not for Leisure Hour
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $3–$7