Living up to its name

Macaroni & cheese is available as a side dish at the new Cafe Alma. Submitted image

“Alma” means nourishing, according to my Latin dictionary, and Chef/patron Alex Roberts, proprietor of James Beard Award-winning Restaurant Alma, continues to earn his truth-in-advertising cred at his new Café Alma, adjoining its always-busy older sib.

While one “dines” under the auspices of the original kitchen, here — for three meals a day — one simply “eats.” And happily.

Not the night for the three-course prix fixe? Wander next door instead (as had half of Minneapolis on the night of our visit).

Take a seat (if you can elbow your way in) at the sleek bar hemming the stoves or at one of the tables and booths flanking its perimeter, cozied by exposed bricks and HVAC trappings, soft light and soft music (the Journal’s readers bless you), enhancing a Nordic palette and easygoing menu.

Hard to go wrong here. We started with two of the “small plates” (small only to Babe the Blue Ox). First, a winning toss of cauliflower florets, spikes of haricots and sweet carrot gratings in what a Japanese kitchen would term a tempura batter, filmy as a cobweb, kissed with a subtle aioli. They’re also enhanced by a beguilingly sweet and gently heated jalapeno-ginger dressing.

Order two plates while you’re at it, or you’ll wish you had.

Second, and even more generous in dimension, an easygoing winter salad, whose ample greens are mined with squares of roasted squash and mozzarella, all moistened with a (too) lightly flavored mint pesto. Or choose the roast beets; tomato-bread soup; or a simple basket of house-baked bread, among the options ($5–$16).

Next, the menu’s homage to get-you-through-the-winter carbs ($12–$18): spaghetti alla vongole; rigatoni in pork ragu; a smoked whitefish tartine. And our (excellent, I’m just sayin’) selections: a pair of slender, robustly-textured hominy corn cakes loaded with tasty, oh-so-tender braised lamb, then spangled with sweet pickled onions and a splash of crema and served with a side of pasilla sauce to alert your taste buds.

Next, a couple of slices of bruschetta, smeared with earthy duck-liver pate, then showered with bits of bacon to add savor and apricots for sweetness, plus sage and wine, just because.

Finally a quintet of actual entrees ($20–$28): your basic sirloin, chicken, fish and not so basic quail with onion rings, which we ordered. Then cancelled, because sharing the four preceding plates had already burst our belts. And I’m not even talking about the optional sides: mac & cheese, grits, kale and more.

Okay, one final ascension to the cause. Dessert: four choices ($6–$8) plus a smart cheese plate. We shared the superb coffee panna cotta — velvety and true-flavored beneath its skim of gently whipped cream and accompanied by a pair of chocolate-dipped biscotti.

The list of wines BTG is lean but fine for the job; five tap beers and inventive cocktails (including those listed as low-alcohol), too. The café takes no reservations, and I have none to add to that. Viva Alma.


528 University Ave. SE