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Taking a seat at one of the Ideal Diner’s 14 stools is an instant reminder of the hardworking, tough-talking side of Minneapolis that seems to be evaporating before our very eyes. The surrounding neighborhood’s industrial past may be leaping into its creative-class future at breakneck speed, but time seems to move a little slower at this 65-year-old Central Avenue institution.
Thank goodness. The restaurant’s long life is embodied in its pink laminate countertop, faded through eons of elbow and forearm wear. The food is similarly timeless. The place oozes history, reminding the post-McDonald’s generation that fast food used to be defined by short-order patty melts, BLTs and pork tenderloin sandwiches. The daily lunch special could be a rib-sticking plate of goulash, or church basement-esque tuna-noodle casserole.
Nothing against the burgers — they’re exactly what a greasy spoon’s should be, and that’s a compliment — but breakfast is my Ideal meal of choice. The pancakes — thin, tender and golden — are terrific, and the ultra-eggy French toast is finished with a dash of cinnamon.
The bacon is smoky and chewy, hash browns are taken to a pleasant crispiness, there’s an omelet for every appetite and the hearty corned beef hash will jump-start the weariest of mornings.
Another reason for admiration: Not a single price ventures north of $9, and most land significantly lower. A person can fill themselves on cooked-to-order eggs and toast for $3.25, and Friday’s crowd-pleasing fried cod-fries-slaw dinner, served from 4 to 8 p.m., chimes in at $7.95.
Whenever I’m overcome by the misguided urge to throw a large dinner party, I return to my senses by observing Ideal cook Dave Cegla as he unflappably goes through his paces, a breathless blur of activity that, by comparison, never fails to underline my inherently lazy nature.
Then there’s newish owner Kim Robinson. She bought the place a year ago, and her daily routine of topping off coffee cups, taking orders and tallying tabs is generously peppered with grace and good humor. Spend a quick breakfast or a noon hour in her company, and she’ll make Minneapolis — its northeast quadrant, anyway — feel like the small town that I suspect it once was.
1314 Central Av. NE., Mpls., 612-789-7630, www.idealdiner.com. Open 6 a.m.- 4 p.m. Sat.-Thu., 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri. No reservations.
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