Patti Soskin's bustling St. Louis Park cafe/bakery/coffee-wine bar satisfies both dine-in and take-out demands. The price is right, too.
The chicken soup's healing powers began to work their magic the moment the wide white bowl was placed before me. For a split second I seriously considered tenting my napkin over my head and allowing the potent chicken-garlic-pepper-perfumed steam to sooth my flu-addled nose and throat.
After making quick work of what appeared to be several pounds of egg noodles and the tender meat of half a chicken, I was facing some small carrot dices, a few pieces of onion and a shallow pool of broth, its surface coated with little floating chicken fat globules, each a tiny flavor firecracker waiting to burst in my mouth. I inhaled every drop, and for the first time in several sneeze-filled days, I was beginning to feel like myself.
I was so caught up in my Jewish penicillin ritual that I failed to notice the hubbub that had engulfed me. It was high noon at Yum! Kitchen and Bakery and I counted my blessings: not only was I feeling better, but I was lucky enough to have secured a coveted seat; my car's spot in the parking lot bordered on the miraculous.
Yeah, Patti Soskin's dine-in/take-out venture has been shoehorning 'em in since Day 1, with good reason. The three-month-old enterprise hasn't Changed Dining As We Know It, but through smart packaging and an obvious attention to detail, Soskin has forged a concept that feels perfectly calibrated to our casual, time-pressed times and comfort-seeking tastes.
It's a straightforward setup: Order at one counter, pay at another and wait for a red-capped staffer to deliver the food. The menu, which changes twice a month, has a similar ease: nothing fancy, just fresh ingredients, clean flavors and uncomplicated preparations. Nearly everything, down to the potato chips, is made on site, and the effort shows.
The full-bodied soups are especially good, the quality of the carefully made stocks shining through in every spoonful. Sandwiches (roasted vegetable-pesto, beef brisket-caramelized onion, Philly cheese steak) are also first-rate. If there's a better tuna salad or egg salad in town, I'm hard-pressed to name it. Whole roast chickens, plump and meaty, have a lovely herb touch.
Side dishes might include a decadent square of russet-asiago au gratins or a maximum-comfort mac-and-cheese. And don't miss whatever Soskin and executive chef Mike Grossmann are wrapping in parchment paper. Both a fiery kung pao beef over rice and a delicious tamari-soy-marinated salmon paired with asparagus and jasmine rice definitely elevated heat-and-serve out of Lean Cuisineland.
When it comes to the finger-food-esque appetizers, some work brilliantly, others flop.
Diminutive tuna "burgers," tiny two-bite buns filled with a small piece of seared tuna and a sour cream-wasabi-sesame oil garnish, were a blast. Ditto the beef empanadas, with their naughty slow-burn bite, and the savory duck potstickers. But a fresh take on the corn dog must have sounded better on paper, and thin-sliced ribs were glazed in a winning sweet-hot sauce, but the meat was grisly and tough.
Sweets are lovingly retro: fudgy brownies, tart lemon bars, cute cupcakes, gooey cinnamon pull-aparts and a bar that comes perilously close to replicating the Nut Goodie, dire news for dieters everywhere. I'm wild about the layer cakes, including coconut drenched in seven-minute icing and chocolate slathered in vanilla buttercream icing. They have an endearing, grandmotherly goodness -- no distracting decorations, no unwelcome fillings -- which truly cannot be improved upon; let's just say I know the instruments with which I am celebrating my next birthday. A dozen bag-your-own breads are featured daily, and the refrigerator and freezer cases are stocked with well-prepared grab-and-go items ranging from Roquefort dressing to chocolate sauce.
What's really refreshing -- apart from the inviting setting and all-smiles service -- is the affordability of nearly everything (OK, $12.59 for 32 ounces of frozen chicken chili is a stretch). Not that a towering slice of coconut cake wouldn't be a steal at any price.
That's feed a cold, right?
YUM! KITCHEN AND BAKERY ***
Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Atmosphere: Crisply contemporary, with sparkling white subway tiles and gleaming stainless steel set against dark woods and big windows.
Sound level: Pleasant.
Recommended dishes: Chicken soup, parchment-wrapped dinners, roasted vegetable panini (shown at left), tuna burgers, iced tea, layer cake.