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Continued: Almost-new 128 Cafe serves up a welcome change

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 12, 2014 - 3:57 PM

In the main dining room, anyway, this year’s punishing winter seems to melt in the retro coziness of its knotty pine surroundings, which lovingly bear the trappings of a basement rec room, circa 1966, minus the Twister mat.

Unfortunately, the restaurant’s personality split remains. Which means that being seated in the second, far more generic dining area — or the Not Knotty Pine Room, as a friend of mine calls it — has all the appeal that the words “garden-level apartment” have in a Craigslist for-rent listing.

Thompson said that he views the restaurant as a work in progress, with plans to rectify the décor’s shortcomings.

He has pledged to upgrade the dessert menu. Right now it reads as a holdover from the previous regime, basically ice creams from nearby Izzy’s and a monster of a brownie, wonderfully crumbly and intensely chocolate-ey.

One bite, and it’s evident that Thompson (or one of his three kitchen staffers, a tiny crew) can bake — further evidence comes in the obscenely buttery, crunchy-on-the-bottom corn muffins, with their sneaky jalapeño bite — but the sweets selection remains disappointingly slim.

But, hey, baby steps, right? Advancing too much change, too soon, might put off the regulars, and the dinner-only 128 is definitely one of those restaurants that deserves its loyal following. Next up: adding an additional 10 or so items to the menu, including a burger and other sandwiches.

Heresy, perhaps, to 128 die-hards. But the strategy could also be interpreted as a smart foray into diversification, at least from the perspective of someone like yours truly, who lives within walking distance of the restaurant and isn’t always in the mood to spontaneously drop $30 on a plate of short ribs.

In other words, good for him.

“We’re trying stuff, I’m putting myself out there,” said Thompson. “We obviously make mistakes sometimes, but this is my baby. I’ve been working almost 15 years to get to here.”

 

Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib







 

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