Lyndale Avenue Checklist, Part Five of Five: Coffee, Tea, and Breakfast

Why draw a line around cafes and breakfast spots? They’ve got a different vibe from bars and restaurants, and they’re serving a different part of the day – there’s something about walking the sidewalks and parking lots of Lyndale Avenue under a shining sun that really sets the experience apart from the nightlife portion of this crawl. Even within this category, though, there’s plenty of variety, from old-school American doughnuts to cutting edge coffee to Asian-inspired tea culture. The breadth of choices is, as usual for Lyndale Avenue, simply breathtaking. – James Norton

In this edition, from south to north: Taste of Scandinavia, Sunrise Donuts, Pink Tea, Mandarin Kitchen, Tii Cup, Patrick’s Bakery and Cafe, Our Kitchen, Five Watt Coffee, Third Space Cafe, Bob’s Java Hut, Disco Death, Vegan East, SK Coffee, Caffetto  

ALL FIVE INSTALLMENTS: PART ONE [Bloomington and Richfield] | PART TWO [South of LynLake] | PART THREE [LynLake] | PART FOUR [Northish and Northside] | PART FIVE [Coffee, Tea, and Breakfast]

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Taste of Scandinavia | 401 W. 98th Street, Bloomington | 952.358.7490

Imagine what would happen if a busy Main Street cafe got swallowed by a grocery store in a suburban strip mall. That’s Taste of Scandinavia Bakery & Cafe. In a way, it’s evolution at work. Strip malls are very much the Main Streets of modern America. And the grocery store is a central hub of our family lives. So dropping a family restaurant into a grocery store feels inevitable.

It certainly wasn’t causing any confusion for the throngs of families showing up to fulfill their Sunday morning feeding ritual. And judging by the stuffed cheeks and sticky faces of the kids and adults around us, philosophical ruminations on the fate of the Main Street cafe were the last thing on anyone’s mind.

The space is all calm curves, mellow colors and warm tones. Minimal decor. Few harsh edges. Nothing here will cause your fledgling Instagram influencer cousin to scramble for their selfie-stick. But nothing here will get Auntie Gladys’s undies in a bunch either. It’s nice enough not to be noticed. Bed Bath and Beyond chic.  – M.C. Cronin

With 81 different entree choices plus more than a dozen possible sides, the menu at Taste of Scandinavia is downright bewildering – our order just barely scratched the surface, so take this review with a grain of salt. 

And you may then want to bring that salt with you when you start your meal, because underseasoning was a common thread, felt most dearly in the breakfast hash-like Swedish Pyttipanna ($12). This combination of small chips of roast beef, a sunny side-up egg, and cautiously cooked roasted potatoes could have used a lot more oomph, but it did win over our resident meat-and-potatoes connoisseur with its simplicity and balance.

The restaurant’s Cinnamon Roll ($2.69) was also a split decision – two tasters thought the assertive hit of cardamom was almost astringent in its potency, and two tasters appreciated the savory complexity it brought to the roll.  

The Swedish Lefse Breakfast ($12) united the table in a positive way – this sausage, cheese, and egg scramble wrapped in a burrito-like lefse with sausage gravy and salsa on the side was delicate, balanced, and downright tasty. For $12, it was also a surprisingly generous serving of food, easily splittable between a couple diners with average appetites.

And we were united, too, in our indifference toward the Swedish Sampler ($12), a collection of underflavored cardamom French toast plus a pleasantly chewy Swedish pancake with an assortment of fruit toppings that felt generic in their impact and presentation. The accompanying bacon? Just fine. 

And as much as we appreciated the cross culture synergy of the Swedish Wontons (lefse filled with lingonberry cream cheese and fried, $9), we found them overfried, greasy, and surprisingly flavorless – the filling needed a lot more berry kick, and the whole dish could have been considerably sweeter to properly fill the “novelty dessert” bucket that the menu put them into. – J.N.

Sunrise Donuts | 9032 Lyndale Avenue South, Bloomington | 952.303.4982

Warning: when you roll up to the strip mall that houses Sunrise Donuts, you may not find the store right away. One reason is that Sunrise Donuts is tucked in a breezeway behind most of the other retailers in the mall.  Another reason is you might find yourself distracted by the sign for Great Bear Center. 

With its striking trapezoidal shape, its simple, bold lettering and that imposing neon bear flashing on and off, this is possibly one of the greatest strip center signs in the state. It’s a weathered but still gorgeous relic of the ‘60s Mod era in which Great Bear Center was built. And we sincerely hope there are plans to restore and/or preserve it. 

But we digress. 

Once you find the storefront and enter Sunrise Donuts, you’ll be immediately familiar with the classic donut shop vibe. The walls are painted in cheerful sunrise yellows and oranges. The aroma of drip coffee and fried dough fills the air. The case is stocked with trays of golden fried, sugar-drenched donuts in all the traditional shapes, sizes and varieties. Oblong, twisted, crinkled, sprinkled, coated, filled and of course, round. 

There are a few tables, too. But judging from the steady stream of cars and people picking up pre-boxed donut orders and bags to go, the emphasis here is on grabbing your goodies and returning home to your bleary-eyed spouse and pajama-clad children as a conquering hero having successfully hunted and gathered the morning’s sustenance. – M.C.

There were two common threads running through our tasting notes for Sunrise Donuts: One, the raised doughnuts tasted very much like the cake doughnuts, and both of them tilted toward the yeasty and bready side of things. As long as you don’t expect the light, chewy, airy goodness of a first-class raised doughnut, you will be satisfied by the workaday product that Sunrise puts in its bakery case. 

The second thread was that their secondary flavors were excellent: the raspberry jam in the jelly doughnut, for example, or the rich maple icing on the maple long john, or the apple flavor in the substantial and beautifully chewy apple fritter. The price is fair: $12.50 for a dozen cake doughnuts, $13.50 for a mix of cake and raised, or $24.50 for a dozen Bismarks. 

Raised glazed doughnuts ($1.55) might have been the most disappointing in the case, as the texture was far breadier than we’d have liked, and this is a simple doughnut that lives or dies on that specific point.

The Apple Fritter ($3.75) was the closest thing we got to a knockout – really bold, clean apple flavor, nice mix of chew and crispy texture, and not too thick or doughy or claggy, as this pastry will sometimes get.

We also thought the Jelly Doughnut ($2.50) was a winner, as the raspberry filling was bright and berry-forward, as opposed to merely being a smear of brightly colored gelatinous sugar, as is so often the case. – J.N.

Pink Tea | 8772 Lyndale Avenue South, Bloomington | 952.406.8335

In a major plot twist, the predominant color palette at Pink Tea is construction-cone orange. No. We’re kidding. It’s pink. Lots and lots of pink.

The walls are painted in alternating pink and white vertical stripes. There’s a mural (doubling as an Instagram backdrop) featuring bright pink flamingos with a pink neon store sign centered above. Pink accessories are scattered everywhere throughout the space: a pink cruiser bicycle, pink throw pillows, larger-than-life faux pink plants.

If you’re imagining some kind of Alice In Wonderland meets Hello, Kitty psilocybin-fueled fever dream, you’re getting close. (Or as close as you can get in a strip mall in Bloomington.) Even some of their concoctions, best exemplified by a thing called the Pink Signature, feel like they were the product of someone’s trip down the rabbit hole. But what else were you expecting from a boba tea and bubble waffle shop called Pink Tea? Subtlety? – M.C.

Complex waffle-based creations anchor the menu at this boba shop, which offers joyfully unhinged interior design to rival that at Luna di Luna. 

It may be easier to explain what the Pink Signature ($7.70) doesn’t have than what it has. This rococo chandelier of a drink … well … waffle? Sundae? Anyhow, this whatever-it-is layers strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, blocky marshmallows, Pocky sticks, and a wafer cookie atop a spherical waffle warm from the iron. It’s surprisingly balanced for something that looks like an underhanded way to cook up business for a dental office – the waffle is barely sweet and therefore a perfect complement for the ice cream and whipped cream. That complementary nature and real visual appeal makes this diverting dessert … thingie … a nice buy for the money.

We thought our Hokkaido Milk Tea with Boba ($5.65) was basic but pleasing, with classic, delicate chewy boba, tea that had some real astringency and flavor, and a sugar level that was tasteful without being excessive.

Boba can often swing too hard in the direction of sweet, which is why most boba shops (including Pink Tea) let customers dial the sugar down to 50% or up to 125% for the serious sweet teeth out there. But the Jasmine Cheese Macchiato ($5.75) perhaps could have used that extra bump – without much sweetness in the bright, light jasmine tea or the creamy but neutrally flavored cheese topping, the two elements were like ships passing in the night. They didn’t really hurt one another, but they didn’t really interact or enhance one another either; sugar could have been a bridge. – J.N.

Mandarin Kitchen | 8766 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis | 952.884.5356

A proper dim sum experience is like some kind of perpetual motion machine designed to deliver delight. There’s this constant flow of  hungry patrons in and out and up and down. There’s the cacophony of clinking of plates and chopsticks and silverware and sauces being moved about at every table.

There are the servers winding through the room pushing wheeled carts and balancing trays loaded with surprises. A visit to the right place at the right time can create an intoxicating buzz that’s completely unique and unparalleled in the culinary world. 

Mandarin Kitchen delivers a proper dim sum experience. 

They open at 9:30 in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays for dim sum and you will want to get there early. By the time we arrived, around 9:45, there was a 30 minute wait and the crowd never stopped building. That said, if you do arrive late, there are bubbling industrial aquariums full of live seafood and a small koi pond in the waiting area to keep your restless family entertained. (Or they’ll text when your table is ready.)

To the uninitiated, dim sum may feel intimidating. But if you’re nervous about how it all works and/or you just don’t know what to take from those mysterious rolling carts, don’t be daunted. You could always go with someone that has done it before. Or better yet, treat it like a social experiment. Open yourself up. Talk to the servers and the excited patrons around you. Most people will be happy to share their knowledge. And sharing is a central tenet of the dim sum experience.

We took our own advice and used our short wait as an opportunity to pry information from our host, who turned out to be the son of the owner. He is convinced that Mandarin Kitchen offers the best Cantonese in the state. With his infectious enthusiasm, and our own experience with the food, we’re inclined to believe him. – M.C.

Writing about the dim sum at Mandarin Kitchen is difficult because so many things hit our table at various points, and all of them were so uniformly good. How many ways are there to say that something’s texture was light and delicate, its flavor bold and pure, its overall balance nearly perfect? I guess you’re about to find out.

But before we dive into specific dishes, a general note: Mandarin Kitchen makes its own soy sauce and its own chili oil, and they’re both great. The soy sauce has an almost citrus-like brightness to it that elevates dishes as it adds salt to the plate, and the chili oil offered as much earthy depth as it did heat. We ended up using both of them a LOT as we ate.

Here is me looking at my notes from this meal: a big, unreadable mess with a few repeated phrases: GOOD. Delicate. Tender. Balanced. When I think back to the meal I can see that lazy susan turning and turning and I can remember wanting to grab everything, without exception, that went around the table.

The Steamed Pork Dumpling ($6.35) might have been the best thing to hit the table, but there’s a lot of competition for that title. Remarkable delicate folds of pastry, a small but punchy filling of finely chopped pork, and a sweet, house-made sauce drizzled on top, tableside, to finish the dish. 

The Steamed Shrimp Dumpling ($7.75) was nearly as good – a little sweeter, a little more delicate, and we missed the punch of seasoned pork, but not that much – this was also a total winner.

Wait… no, the best thing to hit the table was probably the Fried Crab Claws ($10), big, sweet, ethereal puffs of crab meat encrusted in a delicately browned fried exterior. Terrific with the chili oil, terrific by themselves. Just a heavy-hitting winner of a dish.

Our family has been a sucker for Fried Sesame Balls ($4.55) forever, and these were a lovely version of that dish – properly chewy, surprisingly light, with that earthy, chewy hit of umami at the center of each otherwise sweet-leaning pastry. 

The Pineapple Buns ($5.35) – were these the best things we tried? Maybe – outside of Keefer Court we haven’t tasted a lot of Chinese-style baked goods that we’ve loved, but these were rich, delicate, and the perfect accompaniment to the tea that inhabited the pot at the center of our table.

On the other hand, wow, the Shrimp Shumai ($7.75) were just remarkable, and might be the best thing we ate – this dish gets so stodgy and heavy and (overly) chewy at so many spots, but at Mandarin Kitchen it was float-off-the-plate buoyant and delicate, perfectly paired with the housemade soy sauce.

Oh, and the BBQ Pork buns ($6.35), those were pretty amazing, too – cloudlike in texture, with a filling that packed meaty, lightly smokey flavor without being either a sugar or salt bomb.

In conclusion: we dare you to go to Mandarin Kitchen’s dim sum service and have a bad time. It would take a great deal of work, and, honestly, it might not even be possible. This is a serious place. – J.N.

Tii Cup |  760 West 78th Street, Richfield | 612.607.2077

Is there some city ordinance requiring boba tea shops to offer an Instagrammable backdrop for patrons? Tii Cup’s version featured an inviting set of rope swings dangling from the rafters, where you could pose with your friends in front of an LED sign advertising their shop.

The swings were admittedly hard to resist. Probably more so than a sensible adult with decades of life experience should admit. But there you have it. You win Tii Cup. Wheeeeeee! Nicely played.

They’ve done a decent job of elevating the space above the standard strip mall fare. Drop ceilings have been removed creating a sense of openness (and to make room for the swings). The food prep area is surrounded with bright white tile and nestled behind a wood paneled counter. All-in-all the shop is a welcome alternative to another Starbucks in the universe.

Unexpectedly, there was a small selection of “Taiwanese street food” on the menu.  As it happens, we love the unexpected, so we gave it a shot. Proving once again, it often pays to look beyond the obvious. – M.C.

Pink Tea had a lone eccentric sort of feel to it; Tii Cup, a small Minnesota chain, felt considerably more polished, including a sophisticated touchscreen-based ordering system that shoots your receipt back to you as a text. 

We felt like we couldn’t pass up a chance to try Hello Taro ($6), a shaved ice meets ube (taro root) meets boba pearls meets condensed milk meets red beans sort of biing-style chilled dessert. It’s good. Really earthy, a little funky, cool, refreshing, immersive, and decidedly out-of-the-local-norm for a frozen dessert, as it straddled the sweet/savory line almost evenly.

After trying a neighboring table’s tasty Spicy Popcorn Chicken ($7) we were concerned our Spicy Tofu Squares ($5.25) were going to fall flat, but the worry was misplaced – these are elegantly fried and tastily spiced pieces of tender tofu, dressed in a thin, even, delicate jacket of breading before their trip through the fryer. A dipping sauce would’ve been nice, but the tofu squares  also stood proudly on their own.

Tii Cup touts its Green Thai Tea ($4.45) as one of its most popular items, and it’s easy to understand why – it cuts the usual sweetness of a Thai iced tea with some welcome earthy spices and flavors (cloves, matcha green tea) creating a drink that’s got more complexity without losing its basic charm. 

I loved the restaurant’s Brown Sugar Milk Tea ($5.25) but, listen – it’s the beverage equivalent of just eating brown sugar out of the bag (which I’m into.) Zero points for subtlety, but lots of points for doing what it promises. – J.N.

Patrick’s Bakery | 6010 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis | 612.861.9277

Is there anything more frustrating than untapped potential?

In Minnesota we have such long stretches of cold, dark days that a balmy, sun-drenched space is a cherished resource. The vast indoor patio under the greenhouse roof of Bachman’s Garden Center provides Patrick’s such a rare, glorious opportunity. Yet inexplicably, they waste it.

To be fair, the space delivers on warmth and sunlight. But when you have one of Minnesota’s premier garden centers in your backyard, isn’t it reasonable to expect more than a barren space surrounded by beige plastic fencing with little in the way of greenery?

Perhaps there are enough people just desperate enough to spend time bathed in balmy daylight, that Patrick’s has become a bit lazy. Perhaps they feel they don’t really need to put in the effort to be successful. But that would be such a cynical approach to business. 

Where’s the vision? Imagine a lush space designed to bring the outside in. Picture a courtyard brimming with water features, vine covered arbors, exotic plants, colorful blooms, ornamental trees, shrub borders. That’s all possible if Patrick’s and Bachman’s decided to put their mind to it. Then again, they may want to start by addressing the food. – M.C.

Ah, Patrick’s. Once one of the few really respectable, faithfully European-inspired bakeries in town, it has in recent years become a shadow of its former self. We dined here hoping that maybe they’d gotten their mojo back, but they remain stranded in a gray, quiet place a long way from Paris.

Take the Ham and Cheese Croissant Sandwich ($10): enrobed in chain pizzeria-grade cheese and filled with a brick of indifferent quality, thick-cut pieces of deli ham, these croissants are deflated, stodgy, greasy chunks of sadness best suited to a revolving hot case in a suburban gas station.

Or take one of the seasonal choices, the Pumpkin Tart ($6): the crust was so without character that it might as well have been mass-manufactured pita bread, and the pumpkin filling so off-the-rack that it might have come from a can. It looked good in the case, but those looks were deceptive.

The other two bits of pastry we tried were equally bad: a Chocolate Chip Cookie ($3) that tasted underbaked and underseasoned, and a Chocolate Macaron ($6) caked with a thick schmear of plaster-consistency filling that overwhelmed the delicacy of the pastry that surrounded it.

The best thing we tried was the Quiche Lorraine ($12), which was an almost exact taste-alike to the breakfast pizza at Casey’s gas stations. This sounds like a knock, but with all sincerity it’s not – that breakfast pizza is balanced, hearty, and a delightful way to start the day, and the same can be said for this pastry at Patrick’s.

We also ordered a cappuccino ($4), but it never arrived at our table. Ah well! – J.N.

Our Kitchen | 813 W. 36th Street | 612.825.3718

In a world that so often feels like it’s burning to the ground, we need more diners. Cozy, sunny places where constant clank and clatter and sizzle from a flattop can temporarily drown out hullaballoo outside. Where strangers can sit elbow to elbow at the counter and all agree on one thing: Breakfast is the happiest place on Earth.

In this regard, Our Kitchen has us covered. It’s tiny. About 18 people fit inside. (If you need more space, or you’re just not feeling the happy humanity vibes, you can sit at one of the tables outside.) The decor is…well, it’s a diner. You got your Formica counter, chrome trimmed stools, art-deco lighting—you know the drill. It’s bright and cheerful and buzzing with character. (And characters.)

Our Kitchen is a neighborhood institution. They’ve been flipping flapjacks here for 70 some odd years. And it operates the way these places have since the dawn of time. The servers call you “Sweetie” and “Hon” in that all-business, grandmotherly way that says, “I’m gonna take care of you, but don’t cross me.” There’s a single cook slinging every order of hash in the joint.

Related to this, a sign out front suggests, in a not-subtle way, that if you’re in a hurry, you may want to look elsewhere for your morning fix.  But why would you be in a hurry to get out and face the world? Just stay here, soak up the sun and some greasy “World’s Best Hash Browns,” and for an hour or so, pretend all is right with the world. – M.C. 

The rule of the house at Our Kitchen is: “Let the customer salt their own food.” Everything we tried that might regularly be seasoned (or overseasoned) – French fries, hash browns, a breakfast sandwich – was presented practically naked in terms of salt. With that important caveat, every food we tried, once salted, ranged from good to delicious, and it’s easy enough to shake that shaker when the time comes.

Sure, our California Burger and French Fries ($7.75) was an odd choice for breakfast, but it turned out to be really delicious. The fries reminded us of those at Five Guys (some of our favorites) – a lot of creamy potato flavor inside a crispy, textured exterior. Just add salt for a perfect bite! The burger itself was as basic as they come, but the American cheese added a perfect level of seasoning, the tomatoes were fresh and flavorful, the mayo was thick without being oppressive, and the whole package was unpretentious, nourishing and delicious. 

The restaurant’s Pancakes ($11 for three) could not be more basic – fluffy, robust, voluminous, mild and retiring in flavor, and a terrific, absorbant vehicle for the ersatz maple syrup that comes standard at every table. I tend to like pancakes with a little more backstory and a troubled past, but these were big-hearted and trusting, and absolutely perfect for kids.

The restaurant’s Denver Breakfast Sandwich ($8 for an English muffin or toast with cheese, ham, onions, and green peppers) was satisfying in a classic American diner way – a good balance of meat, veg, dairy, and bread, with enough substance to launch and sustain you through a busy morning. Add salt.

And the Hashbrowns ($7 fully loaded with cheese, onion, tomatoes, green peppers, and jalapenos or mushrooms) were similarly substantial, with the added appeal of being truly crispy brown on the outside while retaining some internal creaminess. – J.N.

Five Watt Coffee |  3350 Lyndale Avenue South | 612.540.7011 

Five Watt knows their brand and doesn’t shy away from it. According to their origin story (which you can read on large, printed signs attached to the wall), the place is named for a recording studio that one of the shop’s founders once owned and is an homage to the five-watt amps guitar players use. All of this is to say, they have an aesthetic. Their brand is “electric,” and they know how to own it. 

Take for instance, the large lightning bolt protruding from the building above the entrance. It’s an apt icon for any coffee shop (come in and get charged up on some caffeinated beverages), but it’s particularly apt for Five Watt. 

The shop occupies a space in a classic Minneapolis brick commercial building on the corner of 34th and Lyndale. Benches and tables run along one side of the room and the coffee bar runs along the other. Down the middle is a curated display of various coffee accoutrements and branded Five Watt merch for sale. (All featuring an iconic electrical bolt in some fashion or another.) And of course, there’s a bright red wall toward the back of the space with a large Five Watt logo popping off it.

It’s a big, open room with plenty of space to spread out and get charged up for the day. Just as advertised. – M.C.

Menu editing is a big deal in restaurants – you want to put enough on the plate to make something compelling and balanced, and then stop. It’s an art – too little, and you risk boring people with your minimalism, too much and you’ll overwhelm them and create muddy dishes. It’s the same with building a coffee drink or a cocktail, and one quick look at Five Watt’s menu tells you that these guys mean business – their drinks are complex but not ridiculous, and they feel coherent and intentional.

The novelty drink that we ordered (the Busy Beaver, $7) packed a full complement of flavor including maple syrup, blackstrap bitters, espresso, milk, cinnamon, molasses and black pepper. But nothing was out of balance, and the molasses and black pepper anchored what otherwise might have been a sweet or insubstantial drink, giving it a real earthy depth. This is a drink we could have every morning for a week without losing interest.

If a cafe can make an Americano that leaves you buzzed and buzzing, you know they’re serious about their business, and Five Watt did exactly that. We thought our Americano ($4.50) was impressively rich and full-flavored without tipping into bitterness or acidity, and we enjoyed it black. – J.N.

Third Space Cafe | 2930 Lyndale Avenue South | 612.353.5667 

From the outside, Third Space is deceivingly small. Just a couple of tables make up the patio in front of the place. The signage is modest: a light-blue vinyl banner above the front windows, a small sign jutting out over the door and a sandwich board on the sidewalk. From all outward appearances it looks to be a typical, quiet, neighborhood coffee shop. Then we walked in and realized there’s more going on here. A lot more, actually. 

It’s a vast, warehouse-sized space. Open and raw with minimal pretense. Exposed wood rafters fly 30-feet overhead. Wood floors creak under your feet. Unpainted, gray cinderblock walls with burlap coffee bean sacks line one side of the room. A basic, white wall on the other side of the room provides a clean backdrop for the simple chalkboard menu and a little “take a cutting, leave a cutting” plant exchange area.

With the name Third Space and the aesthetic of their logo design, they give off somewhat new-age bohemian vibes. And to some degree that’s true. According to their website, the name speaks more to a philosophy of honoring the role a “third space” away from our homes and our offices plays in our lives. But looking beyond the packaging, as one always should, Third Space is something simpler: a throwback to a basic coffee shop concept. It’s just a clean, comfortable spot for people to gather with a few added modern twists—like coffee flights and a surprisingly robust breakfast/lunch menu. – M.C.

From a menu perspective, Third Space Cafe has a surprising amount going on – coffee, yes, but also breakfast, and lunch, and a number of interesting random add-ons (coffee flights, panini, overnight oats).

Somehow Third Space didn’t get the memo about avocado toast being passe, and that’s just fine with us – the restaurant’s Grilled Avo Toast ($11.50) was one of the best versions of this dish we’ve tried to date. The avocado was plentiful, rich, and ripe, the toast pleasantly crunchy, and while the sprout salad that rode atop the dish was bordering on overwhelming, it was properly dressed with a rich, compelling sriracha aioli that added a ton of interest. We’d go back for this.

The Adult Grilled Cheese ($11) was also pretty excellent, despite being paired with a tremendously forgettable side salad. The sandwich’s Swiss cheese was evenly melted and had some really compelling bite to its flavor, melted brie added richness and interest, and a garlic aioli completed the dish, giving it some funk and depth. It’s easy to mess up a fancy grilled cheese and come up with something less than the sum of its expensive parts, but this sandwich comes correct.

The cafe’s Cappuccino ($4) was just fine – balanced body, neither coffee nor milk overwhelming the other, and cute latte art on top. There was nothing particularly delicious or compelling about the drink, but it wasn’t badly composed, either, and at $4 it was a solid value.

By contrast, the Coffee Flight ($15) at Third Space Cafe is a triumph of marketing let down by a collapse of quality control. The concept is great: $15 gets you four small but substantial pours of iced lattes presented on an adorable hand-illustrated sample board, including a Spumoni, a Strawberry Shortcake Crunch, a Choco Taco, and a Creamsicle Mocha. But each and every one of these drinks was watered down to the level of pointlessness. Coffee flavor was missing in action, and the novelty flavors plus the water made them taste, at best, like cereal milk, minus any real dairy richness. Beauty, in this case, is skim deep. – J.N.

Bob’s Java Hut | 2651 Lyndale Ave South | 612.871.4485

Bob’s Java Hut has been servicing the daily caffeine requirements of motorcycle enthusiasts on this corner of Lyndale for nearly 30 years. That’s long enough to call them an institution. There was a time not long ago that on a weekend morning, the curbs outside of Bob’s would be thrumming with bikes and bleary-eyed, leather-clad riders steeling themselves for a day leaning into the twisting highways along the St. Croix-Mississippi River valley. 

The Saturday we visited, there were only a couple of motorcycles. To be fair, our 11am arrival might’ve been a bit too late to catch the pre-ride buzz. But have no fear, even without the bike show out front, the motorcycle theme at Bob’s still comes through loud and clear.

Bare, industrial, Edison-bulb pendants dangle from the ceiling. There’s a corrugated metal-sheathed coffee bar. A garage door that opens the space up to the outside. Posters and signage celebrate cafe racer culture. Even the coffee menu follows through on the theme: you can order a “Crankshaft,” ask for an “Octane Boost” or even get an “Oil Change.”

Disappointingly, they still haven’t found a way to serve drip coffee directly from the retro gas pump they have in the shop, but if you decide you want to go all in on the biker lifestyle, you can stop upstairs and get some ink at Uptown Tattoo. Convenient, right? – M.C.

Order an Arnie Palmer ($4.25) at Bob’s and you are treated to the sight of your barista dumping a bunch of grocery store lemonade into a glass of iced tea. Not to be a cranky old bastard, but is it too much to ask that a cafe make lemonade (ingredients: lemon juice, water, sugar) to give this sort of a drink more body and more citric kick? The Arnie Palmer was fine – watery, refreshing, forgettable – but it could’ve easily been a lot more.

The restaurant’s Crankshaft ($5.25) was a mix of cold press coffee, vanilla syrup, and half and half, on ice. It tasted a lot like … ice. These drinks can easily become too dairy-forward or too sweet, but every element other than the water and ice really lost out, and while it wasn’t a disaster, it left a lot of potential flavor on the table.

After the first two disappointing drinks, we were ready for our Mexican Mocha ($4.75) to be equally underwhelming. It wasn’t. In fact, it was one of the tastiest coffee drinks we’ve tried in ages. It had a warmly spiced, creamy, marshmallow sweet character that made it feel like a long sincere hug on a cold December day – and if it tastes this good in August, it’s well worth a return trip when the temperature dips below freezing. – J.N.

Disco Death Records | 721 W. 26th St. | 612.354.3533

Part record store, part coffee shop, part photo lab, part pagan cult, Disco Death Records knows what it is doing even if you don’t. 

It would be easy to think they’re cashing in on the resurgence of vinyl records and old-school film cameras and, just for good measure, adding in a taste of designer coffee—but there’s more going on here. 

You don’t just, on a whim, bring in a full photo developing lab and equipment and offer professional processing services. 

The record store isn’t the bargain bin at Cheapo either. Disco Death presents a premium, curated collection of vinyl with prices to match. You probably won’t stumble upon a scratched-to-hell copy of Fleetwood Mac “Rumors” for $3 bucks, but you might find that super rare pressing of Aura’s “Jungle Juice,” and you will pay what it’s worth ($650 smackers to be exact).  

The night we visited, our drinks came served with a slight tinge of that hipper-than-thou attitude you sometimes get when people who are super precious about their niche pursuits are forced to deal with us common folk, but that’s a rant for another time. 

All said, if you want to hang out in a stylish space and listen to some sweet sounds through a vintage hi-fi while sipping a specialty coffee drink as you peruse your archival quality photo prints, Disco Death has you covered.  – M.C.

The menu at Disco Death is curated with as much joy and wit as the shop’s records, which is to say quite a lot: most of the beverages are inspired by Lucifer and his unholy works, and all of them are thoughtfully composed and balanced.

Our iced Hayl Satan ($6.66) nominally brought together maple, horchata, and Earl Gray tea, but the horchata really triumphed in the competition for our attention. There’s nothing wrong with that, however – it was a delicious housemade horchata sporting a layered depth, and few things are as tasty on a hot, sticky night.

The ($7) brought together matcha tea, coconut, and milk, with the latter two ingredients embracing and cradling the tea, sanding off its rough edges and making for a really complex and tasty hot-weather beverage. I should note here that matcha is one of the few flavors I really despise (it has a funky intensity that usually strikes me as garbage-like) but it works in this drink. The coconut’s cheerful creamy depth helps mellow out the tea and transform it from “bilge water” to “intriguing.” – J.N.

Vegan East | 2409 Lyndale Avenue South | 612.449.4249 

Vegan East occupies part of a nondescript South Minneapolis fourplex that’s set back off the street and partially camouflaged by the old-growth trees, homes and apartment buildings surrounding it. So, the clear signage on the awning and in the windows were very much appreciated. 

Still, while standing in the foyer of the building and creaking open the front door of the place, we partly wondered if we weren’t accidentally walking into someone’s apartment. A small part of us feared we might catch some unsuspecting occupant going about their morning routine, downing a bowl of Lucky Charms on their couch, still in their PJ’s.

All this is to say, entering Vegan East feels like walking into an old South Minneapolis apartment. The original word work and creaking wood floors all feel familiar, warm and comforting. The order counter lives on the original built-in buffet in what used to be the dining room. The kitchen, while updated, is very likely in the same spot it’s been for 100 years. There are a few tables and bench seats scattered around what used to be the front living room.

Repurposing original, old spaces like this for a restaurant gives it a character that’s difficult to replicate in a new buildout. As a patron, you just have to be open to a few quirks and creative choices and be willing to go with the flow. – M.C.

Vegan East has a sidewalk sign touting its “Just Like Grandma Used to Make … Well, Not Really” Cinnamon Rolls ($6), so those seemed like a must-do. And in some ways, they really work – they’re sweet without being sickening, and the warm intensity of cinnamon really comes through. The problem is that the dairy-free body of the confection squashes into an almost Play-Doh like consistency that lacks any of the crispy layers or spongy chewiness that defines a really great cinnamon roll. If you’re a flavor person, these will absolutely work for you – if you’re a texture person, abandon all hope.

The bakery’s gluten- and dairy-free cupcakes ($4) suffer from a similar problem, but not as intensely.

Our Lemon-Blueberry Cupcake had a real kick of lemon flavor and a well-balanced level of sweetness, and though its crumb was gluey and dense, the flavor saved the day. Its icing was bland but not unpleasant, and not cloyingly sweet.

The bakery’s Sloppy Joe ($10) split our table. I grew up eating extremely ketchup sweet Sloppy Joes, so I was impressed at how closely this vegan rendition came in texture and flavor alike to the sandwiches of my youth; the fact that the bun held together under the moist faux meaty onslaught was an added benefit. But other tasters at the table found the sugar to be too intense. – J.N.

SK Coffee | 2401 Lyndale Avenue South | 612.870.6114

With its straightforward name and the generic sign outside, it would be easy to think SK Coffee is just another standard coffee joint. But their Dala horse logo with its simple geometric patterns and bright colors hints at their intention. 

Yes, there is a Swedish influence here with a focus on simplicity that belies the complex flavors profiles of their coffee. This is not your typical Swedish egg “church basement coffee.” Instead, the simplicity comes from a dedication to sourcing and roasting single-origin, micro-lots of beans. 

Modern Swedish simplicity also carries through in the design of the space. Stark white walls, plain wood tables, simple Swedish designed chairs, and furnishings. There are pops of bright colors along with a plant wall and cozy nook surrounded by greenery as well. All proof that simple doesn’t have to mean boring. – M.C.

We’ve been to SK Coffee’s St. Paul location before (and, in fact, we ran a long feature on its founder), and we were impressed by its dedication to sourcing, roasting, and drink-making. 

The Lyndale Avenue location is carrying that same torch with pride – our Flat White ($5) was a straight-down-the-middle version that brought a lot of rich, substantial, nutty coffee flavor in balance with the steamed milk.

Even better was a 3Leches Coffee Kombucha ($7), a coffee-fed, lightly carbonated kombucha that managed to evoke iced tea, a nutty brown ale, and the mildly sour bite of yogurt, all in one shockingly refreshing and compelling drink. This thing was, functionally, an N/A cocktail – the sort of beverage you can sip and enjoy and talk about with your friends.  – J.N.

Caffetto Coffee House | 708 W. 22nd Street | 612.872.0911

Caffetto is the dive bar of coffee joints. It has an old English pub vibe with walls the color of tobacco-stained teeth and paintings of sailing ships on choppy seas scattered about. It’s open until 1 a.m. And many of the patrons we encountered were a collection of true characters, many of whom look like they’d either had—or are heading for—a long night of living life on the edge. 

To say, the space is scruffy would be an understatement. It’s a hodgepodge of old mismatched chairs, wobbly tables, floor lamps, knickknacks, houseplants, and torn-to-shreds vinyl booths. If you told us this place was created by recovering alcoholics to remind them of—and provide a respite from—their former lives, we’d believe you in an instant.

Have we mentioned the pinball dungeon? Oh, there’s a pinball dungeon. 

Just follow the creaky stairs down to the dark basement and you’ll find yourself in a room surrounded by stone walls and flickering arcade machines. Every inch of every surface, including the change machine, is covered in graffiti. It’s beautiful and just a tad Blair Witchy. 

Now, based on our description, you might think we didn’t thoroughly appreciate Caffetto. But you’d be dead wrong. Caffetto, in all its roughhewn glory, offers something truly authentic (they’ve been around since 1991) and legitimately different to the coffee scene. And for that, we absolutely love it. – M.C. 

As much as we were sold on the ambiance at Caffetto – and we were sold, really sold, truly sold on this weird, dilapidated, distressed, graffitied, beautifully gloomy assortment of bric-a-brac, nautical art, and pinball machines – the coffee left a lot to be desired.

We assumed that The Flaming Mocha ($4.30 for 12 oz.) would have a touch of heat accompanying a robust coffee base and a fair bit of supporting, warming spices. What it was: a blowtorch applied directly to the tongue. Lots and lots of heat, pepper heat, capsaicin heat, the kind of lingering heat that takes no prisoners. The coffee was so overpowered that it was a complete afterthought, and I couldn’t tell you for love or money if it was balanced or roasty or bitter or acidic or what. In defense of The Flaming Mocha, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to drink it, bug your eyes out, and then make your friends try it.

Less entertaining was the Americano ($3.75 for a double shot), which was watery and bitter, with little body or depth of flavor. Put this stuff on ice, and you’d have the coffee flight at Third Space all over again. – J.N.