Editor’s Note: Mosaic Cafe is now closed.
Watch out Longfellow — Glaciers Cafe of frozen custard fame has gotten a facelift. On June 27 it reopened as the orange-tinted Mosaic Cafe. In addition to a bigger, brighter dining room, the menu has been completely transformed by new chef and general manager Bill Ruff.
The made-over restaurant now features a burger-and-sandwich based menu that emphasizes bold vegetarian options and homemade touches. The cafe proudly states its commitment to scratch cooking, sustainable coffee from Roastery 7, and local ingredients like chickens from Kadejan and grass-fed beef from 1000 Hills Cattle Company. But don’t worry, the custard remains.
Ruff hails from the Kieran Folliard fold of the restaurant industry, and for the past year, he’s been cutting his culinary teeth with Smack Shack’s lobster roll king Josh Thoma, and prolific restaurant consultant and Art Institute instructor Pat Weber. Weber played a large part in the creation of Mosaic’s new feel. “Pat taught me most of what I know about cooking,” says Ruff. “It’s been really fun to put [the Mosaic] menu together with him.”
Ruff’s menu features three major vegetarian sandwiches: a tempeh sloppy joe, a bean burger, and a walnut and lentil burger. “All of our veggie plates are all really hearty. When I do go out and I’m in search of vegetarian options, they often don’t fill me up,” says Ruff.
Which leads us to the Moonburger ($9), a soft patty of spicy, earthy beans that plays well with a cool guacamole, pico de gallo, and fiery sliced jalapenos. The burger’s structure could use a lot of work, though — on one occasion the patty totally disintegrated at first touch. But if the kitchen works out the kinks, this would be a real sizzler of a sandwich to eat on the patio.
The cafe’s take on a banh mi ($8.50) had similar execution issues. While the pork element takes the winning form of two ultra juicy patties packed with herbs and smothered in a punchy Hoisin glaze, the accompanying bunch of whole cilantro stalks was off-putting. On another day, the glaze got a little heavy. We appreciate the generous amounts of crunchy pickled carrots and cucumbers, but this sandwich would shine if it weren’t filled with so much chewy cilantro foliage and dripping with sauce.
Mosaic’s Reuben ($10) is uncomplicatedly great. The full, peppery flavor of the pastrami really soars, and is merely moistened by that often-cloying Thousand Island dressing. The meat is cut thick and stacked high. The only drawbacks are the wide veins of fat that run throughout. While tasty, they make taking a bite look a little National Geographic.
The side salads (for $2 you can substitute one for the chips that accompany each entree) we tried were dull. Both the coleslaw and white bean salad in general lacked brightness and seasoning. The rosemary garlic fries, on the other hand, are spectacular. According to Ruff, the secret to their levity and crispness is a special turbo oven, which burnishes the slender fries in just six minutes without a drop of oil. Call ‘em healthy or whatever, they’re truly worth the extra $3 to add them to your plate.
And the custard! It might just be better than ever. Mosaic hired pastry chef Kristy Gigerich to jazz up their frozen base with lots of wacky business. “We’ve been trying to stay as fresh and clean as possible and let her go crazy with the desserts,” says Ruff. His favorite is a Fruity Pebble flecked version, but topping combinations are endless.
We particularly liked the charred pineapple, which was a perfect combination of zesty and carbon-kissed flavor that played beautifully with vanilla custard. Check out the flight of three flavors with your choice of two toppings for a remarkable $5.25. Gigerich is also developing some pretty solid baked goods. The Nutter Butter sandwich cookie is dangerously good, with a silky buttercream that’s more toasty than super sweet.
Overall, Mosaic is quite a bright little spot. With a little polish to certain menu items, and a little more education for the friendly staff (one of our servers couldn’t recite the custard toppings when prompted), it could settle in as a neighborhood staple for solid lunches, snacks, beer, and inventive summer treats.
BEST BET: The frozen custard sampler is a killer dessert at a great price, and the Reuben is a winner.
American bistro fare in South Minneapolis
3019 Minnehaha Ave S
Minneapolis MN 55406
OWNER / CHEF: Ben Smith / Bill Ruff
BAR: Beer and wine
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $6-11.25