Does the Copper Dome Restaurant (established 1960) offer the “best breakfast in town” as claimed by its website? No; Al’s Breakfast or Hell’s Kitchen or the Craftsman or The Original Pancake House would probably lay claim to that honor, presuming we’re using the term “town” in the expansive “Twin Cities” sense of the word. Even if we knocked it back to St. Paul, brunch at Muffuletta or Caribe would probably take top honors in the category of best morning meal.
But what the Copper Dome does offer is a surprisingly light, tasty, and widely varied menu, plus turkey bacon that is likely the best in the state, if not the world (more on that in a moment). Although the menu at this old neighborhood spot resembles that of any unreconstructed pancake place in the Upper Midwest with its sprawling assortment of pancakes and omelets, the food itself is quite different than the typical diner or dive. It’s… lighter. Less buttery. Less greasy. Less prone to setting up into a dense-as-lead ball in one’s stomach. The menu states that “all our cooking and frying is done with pure vegetable oil and no animal fats” and that commitment comes through on the plate — hash browns, for example, are thin and light and crispy and mashed potato-y in the center, but don’t leave a greasy streak on the plate and don’t immediately fill up your stomach. We noticed the food’s light touch before seeing the note on the menu — you’ll be surprised (and potentially pleased) by how different it tastes from the regular American breakfast fare.
There’s very little pretense to the place, either. Upon receiving a compliment for the restaurant’s little smokies sausages (which have a tender texture, nice depth of flavor and are well complemented by the accompanying applesauce) the waitress acknowledged the kind words and passed the credit along to Sam’s Club, the sausages’ original point of origin. Whatever points are lost for vanished mystique and re-gained for frank talk, and the important thing is that the sausages are tasty as the dickens.
Pancakes are available by the full or half order, and are up to snuff. They’re not the chewy, amazing wonders served up at Al’s, but they’re a nice fluffy / chewy compromise in terms of texture, and they taste homemade. The half order of pecan pancakes we tried ($3.10 for two) was only lightly sweet, which made them a pleasure to eat with the accompanying pancake syrup.
A vegetable and cheese omelet with hashbrowns ($8.15) was light and simple, and unremarkable but for its delicacy and overall elegance, and for the prominence of its simple green pepper flavor. It’s not an omelet worthy of the breakfast buffet in heaven (a French woman once made that for me at an otherwise unremarkable and now shuttered bed and breakfast in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) but it’s also not a depressing, artery clogging mess, as so many American diner omelets are.
The Copper Dome’s turkey bacon ($3.15) is a minor wonder of breakfast wizardry — it’s crunchy and crisp with a bit of chew and a deep, smokey flavor. While light, it’s not insubstantial, and it’s a far cry better tasting than many slices of regular old pork bacon floating around out there.
A waffle combo ($7.10) was a steal when you consider that it includes a light, crispy waffle, an egg, and either bacon, pork links, or the aforementioned little smokies and applesauce.
Although the restaurant has moved a number of times since 1960, the room itself is instantly charming in vintage rustic way, thanks to old flour bags and vintage correspondence framed and hung on the wall. And the Copper Dome shoots to the top of the list of breakfast places that would accommodate friends and relatives of all ages and dietary outlooks.
While it doesn’t provide the lush, profoundly fattening experience that Sunday brunch has become, Copper Dome has charms all its own: an astronomical number of pancake and omelet options, light and (relatively) health-conscious food, and, oh, that turkey bacon. For a pleasing low-key way to start any given weekday, this old warhorse of a restaurant may, in fact, be the best breakfast in town.
The Copper Dome Restaurant
Diner breakfast in Highland Park, St. Paul
1333 Randolph Ave
St Paul, MN 55105
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Ask
ENTREE RANGE: $5-8