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Oct 29, 2007 12:27 PM

st paul breakfast places for book club


as a frequent reader of this board, i appreciate all the great info and have used it to enjoy croissants from truong nam (sp), bahn mi sandwiches from saigon also on university ave,
ordering lamb riblets from firelake rest. in mpls, little szechwan chinese, kopplins cafe on hamline for great coffee, etc.

our book group of 5-7 women is always in search of good places to gather. this isn't completely chowish, but has the earmarks in that we enjoy good food and drink with our book talk. we are now trying some saturday morning breakfast meetings and are looking for likely spots in the st. paul area that have either a private room or a quiet space (that will become loud once we start talking) with good food, coffee and maybe availability of bloody mary. places that occur to me are the downtowner woodfire grill and maybe st. paul hotel m street cafe. any other ideas?

thanks, gang!

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  1. Tough call. There are few places I would feel comfortable lingering around with a party that size on a busy Saturday morning. Maybe if you get there at the crack.

    I'll throw out a few ideas and maybe others can chime in on how crowded they are on Saturday mornings:

    Black Dog Cafe & Wine Bar in Lowertown
    Jay's Cafe
    Bon Vie

    Being on college campus, maybe Coffee News Cafe is a little slower early on a weekend. They're certainly used to people lingering.

    Good luck.

    6 Replies
    1. re: MSPD

      Good list. If you can do sans bloody mary, Trotter's Cafe on Cleveland & Marshall also has really nice breakfast & Peace Coffee. Small tables, but you can put 'em together to seat 5-7.

      1. re: reannd

        Great place, and I definitely thought of it. I would only recommend it if you don't mind feeling like you are taking up half the restaurant, which can be very busy, even early on a weekend. I'm a little hypersensitive and get jittery when I feel like I'm overstaying my welcome at a busy, tiny place. I'm not saying that should apply to everyone, just that I PERSONALLY would never be able to relax and enjoy a book club when there are people standing and waiting for tables. Again, just the way I am.

        As a side note, unfortunately, this kind of wrecks my enjoyment of places sometimes -- the Birchwood Cafe is one of them. I would love to linger there, read the paper, sip my coffee and soak up the vibe, but there is almost always a group of people standing with heavy trays waiting for a table on the weekends. Same goes for Al's Breakfast. I go in knowing it'll be that way, but there's something unpleasant about having people hover, literally, 2 feet behind you as you eat. Although at Al's, if you linger, you'll get kicked out.

      2. re: MSPD

        Ahhhhhhh! Please not Coffee News Cafe. It depends on how early you plan to get there, but I think you'd be a disruption at Coffee News Cafe early on a weekend morning. I'd certainly find your group annoying if I were there trying to enjoy my coffee and newspaper. The vibe there is people quietly reading, chatting, studying, or trying to cure their hangovers. I don't think a loud chatty group of people, women or otherwise, would be welcome by your fellow patrons. Later in the day, when they're busier and it's not so quiet, they don't really like people to linger.

        (P.S. I notice Shish, next to Coffee News Cafe, is open for breakfast. I've never been in there for breakfast, but I'll bet they have fabulous coffee. MMMmmmm.)

        On the other hand, Neighborhood Cafe on Selby just East of Snelling already seems to be a loud, chatty place, so, you might fit in nicely there. They don't have a private room (in summers, they have the patio, which could be fantastic for a small book group), but they could still probably accomodate you. OR

        The coffee shop associated with Davanni's (I know, bummer, it's a chain) on Cleveland Ave in St. Paul called Coffee Bene has a private room you can reserve for free as long as everyone spends $3 in either Davanni's or the Coffee Bene--they have coffee drinks, of course, and also some pastry type items that they bake in house. They have a small parking lot, which is convenient.

        Also, White Rock Coffee, next to Highland Grill, on Cleveland in St. Paul has a small table/privatish (but not enclosed) area groups can reserve. Again, coffee and pastry type items.

        Highland Cafe and Bakery is still pretty un-crowded on weekend mornings and has good breakfasts and great caramel rolls. No private area, as far as I know, but the restaurant is big enough they could probably push a few tables together for you and you'd be fine.

        Al's Breakfast is a definite no-no for groups. Last time I was there, I kid you not, a women butted in line to meet up with her two friends. After chatting about how fab she was--loudly--for 5-6 minutes, she returned to her car to retrieve a scale model of the home she was having custom-built in I'mSoGreatVille. S he actually planned on taking this scale model of her new home into Al's with her to show it to her friends. I thought the line behind her was going to form a mob and rip her limb from limb at that point. Finally, we spoke up and told her that her little model would never fit inside...and even if it did, they'd probably throw her out.

        I don't think the chow is great there, but they certainly can accomodate groups and have a liquor license so could probably whip up bloody marys, but El Patio on West 7th in St. Paul might be a good choice. I don't know about a private room, but the place is huge, so, could probably fit you in no problem.

        And, let me just throw this out there, but have you considered the Loft in Minneapolis? They have a nice little coffee shop and the whole atmosphere is very literary. I don't know if they welcome groups in the coffee shop itself--they actually might nudge to reseve their book club room--which isn't that expensive, really. You can bring your coffee drinks, etc. into the book club room with you. They'd probably even cater it for you.

        Finally, I've never been in there, but what about that coffee shop that's right above Garrison's Keillor's bookstore on Selby there? I don't know a thing about it, except that, again, it seems like it could be very literary... It might be worth a phone call.


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          TDQ, thanks for following up on Coffee News -- exactly what I was hoping for. Since I moved out of Mac Groveland years ago, my visits there have been exclusively in the early evening where there is plenty of background noise and lingering.

          The Al's story is hilarious. I once couldn't even shimmy into my winter coat there (had to take it outside) much less bring in a scale model of a house. Unreal.

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            thanks so much, tdq and others for your suggestions. i have to agree with both of you who discussed how crummy it is as a patron to have to put up with a somewhat loud group when you're there to welcome the day with coffee and the paper! having been on both sides of that, i am sensitive to that aspect. that's why a private room or corner where we could hear and not be too greatly heard is also what we're looking for - pretty tricky. you all made some good suggestions that we will check out.
            if i had my druthers, we would convene at maria's on franklin and i would dive into those yummy corn pancakes with cheese. it's such a convivial place, but the noise factor pretty much rules it out. i'm afraid this is as much about space and noise as chow.
            our group has mostly had late afternoon/early eve meetings. last one was in the private room at common roots cafe on lyndale. nice room, great vibe and delicious, mostly locally sourced food. that rosemary toasted bread with roast beef, blue cheese and carmelized onion sandwich was a hit, as was my surly beer with a somewhat chocolately aroma. normally not a roast beef lover, but this sandwich really came together.
            -funny, i freak out a bit when i see a large group of smart talking people at a table most anyplace i go and will go to lengths to avoid sitting near them, and yet like pogo, i see the enemy and he is me. because being part of that group can be great fun when the talk and company is good. uhoh, a bit off subject here.
            -i like nina's coffee shop, right about gk's common good book store. may look at it again for space configuration. sometimes they have cardamom cookies with white icing that are oh so delicious. thanks for reminding me of the place.
            -interesting that you bring up the loft coffee shop - we had our formative meeting there almost 4 years ago.
            -will check out el patio, sounds interesting.
            -i promise not to even think of al's or coffee news cafe.
            thanks are such a fount of info and this chowhound group is a definite part of exploring the delights of this tc area.

            1. re: carolita

              Maria's has 3 rooms - if you're there early enough or call ahead, you could ask to be put in the back room. I wouldn't think you'd be TOO loud, but I haven't seen the group...

        2. Does Caffe con Amore on Grand and Milton still have the private room? That would be a nice option.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chompchomp

            Yes. You have to reserve it (or take your chances on not being able to get it) and it costs $5 per 1/2 hour. You'll get a pot of coffee for the rental fee. It's a great room, and would be ideally suited for the book club as long as there aren't more than ...oh...maybe 10 max.

            1. re: chompchomp

              They do. I think you can reserve it. Good tea (my preference is the Sharbidar - Earl Gray, steamed milk and honey). They've got munchies, too, but I've only gotten scones.

            2. maybe also check out the black dog in lowertown per MSPD's suggestion. they have some okay-decent breakfast options and it's a big enough space that you could probably grab a corner table and the paper-readers could avoid the party if they wanted. i think it would be too big of a group for weensy little jay's cafe, though. given your group's requirements, i'd tend to say to look for a neighborhood bar that opens for breakfast. maybe the froth on the coffee drink might not be stellar, but they'd probably be open to a gabby group which wants to linger over their food & drink.

              2 Replies
              1. re: soupkitten

                I love Black Dog Cafe, though I confess I haven't been there as often as I should go, so can't really speak to how suitable it would be space and atmosphere-wise. If they have space for a group, it, too, would have that artsy/intellectual vibe that I think would be fun for a book club.


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Black Dog might work. It has the right ambiance, and if I'm remembering correctly, several long tables. Although parking on weekends during Market hours can be a bit tough. Another excellent option: Black Sheep Coffee in South St. Paul. It's on Southview, very easy and fast to get to off the highway. Great atmosphere and food (, lots of room for groups, and some of the best espresso in the Cities.

              2. Ah ha! How about the coffee shop in the pavilion at Lake Como? It's run by the same folks that used to run the Black Bear Coffee Shop on Como, the one that was alongside the railroad tracks. They have an entire room upstairs with lots of long tables. I sometimes join a knitting group there that's been meeting every Saturday morning for a few years; seems to me that sometimes the group has been as big as 15-20 people and it still wasn't at all intrusive. Breakfast, coffee, and pastries available. Not great, but there. Don't think there'd be much in the way of Bloody Marys, but I don't think you'll have much luck finding a place to suit all your needs. Anyway, flasks can be charming additions to a book club gathering, don't you think?

                3 Replies
                1. re: clepro

                  I thought about that, too, but the room is so ugly and the food so barely average. (Click on the "community" rooms to see the photos of the rooms.) I think they'd be better off at Coffee Bene. At least it's a nice setting and the food is decent.


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    No, not the community rooms. Upstairs. The room with all the windows.

                    1. re: clepro

                      Ah, I get it, upstairs--serves me right for reading too hurriedly.

                      On a different angle, I think both Jun Bo and Mai Village have full bars and might be able to accomodate the blody mary requirement. Both are pretty large and might be able to set aside a separate room for you for your group---if not a separate room, at least off by yourselves a bit. And they are certainly both set up to handle large groups. Draw backs are that I think ordering from the dim sum cart throughout the meal would be very disruptive, so, you'd have to order in advance, maybe even when you made your reservation. Also, I don't know how "early" you want to get started, but I don't think either Jun Bo or MV opens before 10am for dim sum on weekends.

                      Still, could be fun and different.


                2. You might try to reserve a table in the back room at Louisiana Cafe on Selby and Dale. They get busy about 9am, but it might not be so bad in the back room. I've seen bridal/baby shower and birthday parties go back there on weekend mornings.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tart1

                    That's a great option - but I think you'd have to sneak your bloody mary in there in a travel mug.

                    Plus they have sweet potato fries!