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Cheeky Monkey [MSP] now open!

I noted on the earlier thread that Cheeky Monkey, the new deli next to Solo Vino on Selby Avenue, was set to open today.

They did!

Posters had all kinds of speculation about whether they’d be able to fill a deli niche better (or differently) than Jimmy John’s and D’Amico Brothers over on Grand Avenue.

They can!

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  1. The menu is divided into items that are available whenever they’re open, and those that can be ordered after 3:00pm. All-day items are $5-$7 and include sandwiches (presumably cold), hot sandwiches, pressed sandwiches and salads. Accompaniments include a soup of the day ($3.50/$5.00) and accompanying sides ($1.25-$3.50). Dinner-only items include hot pots & plates ($8), cheese and meat boards ($10), and various sides ($3). There is a dessert case, bottled & tap beers, wines by the glass or bottle, and coffee or tea.

    The good thing about having my own schedule is that I can try new places on a whim. The down side is that I can only try so many things. Tonight’s choices were the cumin pork shoulder with lime & cilantro, the soft grits with bacon & cheddar, and the roasted vegetables with Moroccan spice. I ordered at the counter, scooped up my Farm Saison tap beer and some silverware & napkins, and found a table within view of the fireplace.

    You read that right – the fireplace. The Cheeky Monkey has a bit of a British vibe. In addition to a couple of half-booths and more conventional seating, the main dining area features some deep leather sofas and armchairs. Some provide a conversation area around a large low table, and the rest gather in front of a cheery fireplace. They look like they’d be nice for catching up over a bottle of wine.

    About that warming meal: pretty darn good. The pork was served in a cast iron Staub dish. It had been prepared low & slow, tender but not mushy. A squeeze of the lime chunk offset the cumin flavors and the sweet, long-cooked onions. The single bread slice wasn’t quite enough to soak up the broth, which was quite tasty. The grits were truly truly cheesy, with a nubby texture and generous pieces of bacon piled on top. The vegetables were zucchini, asparagus, red peppers, onions & more. During or after the roasting, they were tossed in oil with a heavy spice mix. The mix was more vibrant spicy than fiery-chili hot. I could perhaps have had a little less of that – grind enough spices together and they’ll lend a gritty texture after a while – but the flavor was a good contrast to the other dishes.

    Dessert had to be taken home for later. While one of them is ostensibly breakfast, it’s worth admitting that individual ricotta cheesecakes at Cheeky Monkey are nothing like the dense poundage of other cheesecake formulations. They’re lighter – creamy but still toothsome – and the crust does not overwhelm. They can be served with whipped cream and/or lemon curd. I chose a bright sauce of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.

    On those nights when I just don’t have what it takes for a home-cooked meal, I’d go for a scone pot pie or a shrimp salad with chickpeas & cucumbers. A bottle of wine from the delightful & opinionated folks next door, and that’d be that.

    Friendly, attentive staff are admittedly still working out the kinks in the routine, but it so far it looks like they're getting it right.

    2 Replies
    1. re: KTFoley

      I'll be curious on future trips to see if customers are comfortable sitting and reading or bringing their computers (a la Coffee News), or if the feel of the place remains closer to a dining experience.

      In all, I think this is an exciting addition to St. Paul. I'm eager to return and try some of the hot food choices and sides.

      1. re: sftomn

        I apologize to all; I wrote a much longer and more detailed review last night, that I somehow managed to lose between completion and posting.

        Here's what I remember -

        I had a mixed experience with the food last night. I got a cold sandwich with turkey, herbed mayo, asiago, avocado, and bacon on flaxseed bread. I ordered it without bacon, which may have been a mistake. The resulting sandwich was somewhat disappointing, tasting overwhelmingly of turkey and little else. The herbed mayo added a touch of texture, and I tasted the avocado in two or three bites, but neither was present enough to add much to the sandwich's flavor.

        I also had a cup of turkey lentil soup, one of the soups of the day, which I very much enjoyed. The soup was simple and hearty - a nice texture, with a very rich taste, balanced nicely with tasted like a dose of olive oil.

        My fellow guest had a nutella and a banana sandwich (really!) which was grilled and appropriately rich.

        On future trips, I think I'd very much like to explore the hot sandwiches, as they seem to include more flavorful components than the cold ones.

        I very much like the concept of the menu and service structure - somewhere between Cafe Latte and Coffee News. Sandwiches are served as just that - sandwiches in a basket - unless you specifically choose to add a side (I didn't). This keeps the price point low (no sandwich is over $7, nothing on the menu over $10), and the number of potential meal combinations very high.

        I was slightly taken aback the decor/ambiance of the place. For a restaurant featuring such traditionally comfort food, the feel of the seating area seems a touch too stark and modern. This was accented by the rather overwhelming techno that was playing last night, which must've sounded odd to the couple relaxing on leather couches in front of the fireplace.

        I'll be curious to see what kind of clientele the Cheeky Monkey attracts in the future - whether it will be a destination for a full meal, or the kind of place where you might go with a book or a laptop to enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack. The menu suggests the latter, but the ambiance suggests the former.

        I'll be returning for lunch today, and will post more thoughts then!

    2. Drat. Places link is below, but I can't edit the entry with my version of Internet Explorer so here are the details:

      www.cheekymonkeydeli.com
      651-224-6066

      Monday-Thursday, 11am-9pm
      Friday-Saturda 11am-11pm

      -----
      Cheeky Monkey Deli
      525 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN 55102

      1. I went with some co-workers for lunch. Everyone enjoyed their meals. Mostly hot sandwiches and chips. I believe the chips are hand made, they have containers behind full of chips. They were quite good and crisp but I prefer my chips to be a bit thicker.

        My sandwich was roast beef, bacon cheddar and giardiniera. I enjoyed it but probably wouldn't get it again. There were many items on the menu that looked interesting.

        1 Reply
        1. re: babaoriley7

          So excited to read the good reviews! I live in the neighborhood and will check this place out very soon.

        2. Yum - sounds like a great addition to the area. Can't wait to check it out!

          1. Went there for lunch today. Had the hot pot roast sandwich. YUM!! Great atmosphere...spectacular food! I can't wait to go back and try some more!

            1. Hey gang. Long time lurker, first time poster. Saw this thread and thought I'd chime in on my visit to the Cheeky Monkey Deli Saturday afternoon.

              The atmosphere inside the Cheeky Monkey was killer. I loved the layout, the fireplace, the knowledgeable and accommodating staff, the music, the quick service. Very impressive for such a fresh eatery.

              I had a cup of the lentil turkey soup which was extremely flavorful and had a really nice texture. The bread that came with it was pretty "meh". Next I had the Cubano sandwich...which was an enormous mallet on the flavor palette. The sandwich was piping hot, well layered and very generous with the cumin pork shoulder and ham...and pickles...gotta love pickles.

              On a dessert note, their chocolate chip cookie is pretty much a full on mouthgasm. Perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy and melted chocolate on the inside. I'm already planning my attack for my venture back to Cheeky Monkey later today.

              2 Replies
              1. re: NugarifiK

                I had a fantastic experience at Cheeky Monkey on Friday night, and when I walked past on Saturday afternoon, I smiled to see that it was packed full of people. I wrote a full review with pictures at my blog: www.ediblecities.com. I think it will be a well-loved addition to the neighborhood.

                Also, given that the deli has free Wi-Fi, I think it will grow to be a versatile spot, kind of like Gigi's in Minneapolis. Laptoppers will probably feel comfortable hanging out, especially during the day over lunch, and at night, it can easily transform into a great dinner spot, even atmospheric enough for a date. But then the question becomes, do they serve good coffee for those people who come to get some work done? I didn't look into that one. In any case, kudos to these folks. I'm thrilled to have a unique destination for casual food. It warms my little indie heart.

                1. re: carrieobry

                  Talking to the owners on Wednesday, they acknowledged that there was wi-fi and also that they did not want to make a big deal of it. I get the sense that they have mixed feelings about the plop-down-at-a-table-for-the-day behavior that is so prevalent at places like Nina's.

                  I see password access as a distinct possibility.

              2. Picked up dinner from Cheeky Monkey tonight and it was delicious! I had the vegan potato and kale soup and the shrimp, chickpea, mixed greens salad with a citrus cilantro vinaigrette (the fresh tarragon was the perfect touch). My husband had the hot pot roast sandwich - I tried a couple bites and it was fantastic. I'm already plotting our return back!

                1. Tried it for lunch today and had a mostly positive experience. I had the Cuban hot sandwich and liked it quite a lot. My wife had the Pot Roast Sandwich (she wanted the Pot Roast Pot but couldn't get it because it was 2:45 and they don't serve it 'til 3. Odd that all the ingredients for the sandwich, sans bread, are in the hot pot...

                  We also split a bowl of the lentil/turkey soup and definitely would not do that again. Bland, flat, tasteless, pasty. The garlic parmesan bread was a real nice value at $2.50 and made a nice side where the soup didn't.

                  I, too, don't get the layout, but that's no big deal. The techno reported earlier was nowhere to be heard today, thank God. Everyone there was friendly and helpful and sporting their Cordon Bleu jackets. ;->

                  I'll go back to try more things eventually. Nothing made me want to change my plans for Monday though.

                  A side note... they're already changing their prices so watch your ticket carefully. The Cuban sandwich, advertised at $6 on the chalk board is being rung up at $7 with the proviso "we just haven't changed the menu yet." Pickle Pots are $.75 and very tasty, but for the three teeny tiny pieces you get, they could probably be comp'd, ala Crossroads and other delis with provide a small portion gratis.

                  A nice place with decent food that will probably do well in the neighborhood.

                  cheers,

                  HuaGung

                  1. Went back to Cheeky Monkey on Sunday afternoon to try another soup and sandwich combination. Despite reading that it was bland in an earlier review I ordered the panini'd chicken breast sandwich with avocado, mayo, a cheese...I'm having trouble even remembering what was in it...needless to say I probably won't have it again.

                    Oh yes! It had bacon on it as well..unfortunately all the bacon was fatty and not in realm of crispy. Ended up taking it off the sandwich, could not taste the avocado and the mayo needs some sort strong seasoning to bring some flavor to the sandwich.

                    On the bright side ot the meal. The tomato & roasted red pepper soup was amazing. This fantastic soup has two distinct stages and flavors. As soon as the soup hits your tongue you taste a fresh, delicious tomato soup and as the soup moves to the back of the mouth the red pepper and spice bursts like a million flavor crystals. I think I may go back once again tomorrow to try their grilled cheese paired with this soup (if available).

                    Cliffnotes: - Second visit to Cheeky
                    - Ordered chicken, bacon, avocado, mayo, something panini & tomato and roasted red pepper soup
                    - Sandwich is lacking flavor. Couldn't taste avocado, bacon was fatty and not crispy
                    - Soup was outstanding. A combo of grilled cheese and this soup could make anyone's day.
                    - <3 the Cheeky Monkey

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: NugarifiK

                      I live about a block from the place so had anxiously been awaiting their opening to try it- I like the general layout, didn't notice anything disturbing about the music. I spent quite a
                      while chatting with a couple of people behind the counter, asking details about the menu.
                      I was hoping they would be using local/free-range type stuff- they said they would be but that since they had just opened they hadn't had a chance to establish those relationships yet with farmers etc.

                      I had the griddled potatoes side and the coleslaw and the cheesecake. The potatoes
                      were very good but a very small portion, maybe 3-4 slices. They came with a nice curry
                      mustard aioli- I was told they make all their mayonnaise and sauces. The coleslaw was
                      quite good, included some fennel, creamy but not overly so, nice balance of sweet and sour. Good coleslaw is hard to find imho, often too sweet or salty for me.

                      The cheesecake was good- I had it with the berry topping AND a little whipped cream.
                      I really like ricotta cheesecake- these were not very obvious in the ricotta- more like a
                      part creamcheese, part ricotta thing, so they seemed pretty similar to normal cheesecake, a good one though. The berry topping was great. The whipped cream, although they told me they made it there and showed me the device that whips it, ended
                      up tasting exactly like cheap canned rediwhip, kind of bland and watery...go figure.

                      I like the creativity in the menu- this place deserves some business, and quite possibly
                      the food will become more consistent once they have been open for a while. Oh , I did
                      get a sample of that turkey/lentil soup mentioned above, and it seemed too salty to me,
                      and not very interesting-the turkey is smoked, and the soup basically tasted a lot like split pea with ham. To his credit, the chef added more water to the soup pot after I told him the soup was too salty....Very friendly people there..........

                      1. re: faith

                        Between the four or so people on here who have tried the turkey lentil (including myself) seem to have all had different flavored pots, very interesting. I may have to go on another day to see if my great first experience with the soup matches up with a second cup.

                      2. re: NugarifiK

                        I too was disappointed by the chicken sandwich I had Saturday. The bacon was soggy and fatty; I took it off. Even so, I felt like the sandwich was overwhelmed by the chicken seasoning and crying out for some acid. If I had stayed to eat, I would have probably asked for a lime, but I was eating in the car, so no such luck...

                        It's too bad, everything else I have had there has been wonderful. I'll definitely go back, just steer clear of the chicken sandwich.

                        1. re: normativestructures

                          Huh. The friend I went there with last week says that's her favorite sandwich. But I have noticed that she doesn't appreciate contrasting flavors in single dishes.

                          That night I had the cumin pork roast, served with a couple of wedges of lime and a few sprigs of cilantro in one of those little cast iron pots, along with a small slice of bread. I did squeeze both lime wedges to jazz things up and then It was exactly what I'd hoped it would be--tasty, succulent, mostly lean with just a little fattiness for flavor. Not overpowered by the cumin.

                          I also had a share of my friend's pickles (there were many more than the 3 reported earlier there), and my own basic but good sidedish of fresh, lightly sauteed kale, sprinkled with a few sesame seeds.

                      3. I made it to Cheeky Monkey on Friday...got the Cuban with chips.

                        Really good meal overall. All the flavors in the sandwich worked great together, great bread too. I agree with babaoreilly about the chips. They are quite good, but a bit on the thin side. And yes, they are all hand cut.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: BigE

                          Been there twice so far, once to eat and once for takeout. Very friendly staff ,and overall a positive experience. Vegan potato kale soup was great, even my 12 mo old ate the kale! Also had a good Cuban and pot roast sandwich, and the braised pork plate which was just the pork in a cast iron staub pan. Cheddar grits were nice, and served with bacon on top, too! Love the vibe and am very happy its in the neighborhood.

                          1. re: dahlsk

                            Their website's not functional yet: besides the soups, which appear to be hit or miss, what is there for someone who doesn't eat wheat?

                            1. re: Enso

                              the chalk (but seemingly not regularly re-written) menu suggests that all sandwiches can be made into salads. there are also several salads on the menu, and cheese and meat plates which, while they seem rather self explanatory, are not described in further detail (and we didnt ask since we were getting sandwiches).

                              a separate board listed the cheese and meat options, many of the meat options were house cured/smoked.

                        2. I have tried the pot roast sandwich, the Cuban sandwich, the shrimp roll, the coleslaw and the pickles.

                          The pickles are delicious, highly recommended.

                          The pot roast sandwich was delicious but definitely needed at least double the horseradish sauce, couldn't taste it really.

                          The Cuban was just ok.

                          The Shrimp Roll was delicious and my favorite so far.

                          The coleslaw desperately needed salt... probably wouldn't order it again for $2.50.

                          I saw them making the chips and would like to try them.

                          Great beer selection, ok wine selection, and soda is only $1.25. I love the complimentary cucumber water (lemon water also available).

                          Love the decor and the service. I'll be back often!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: LizzieB_MSP

                            I recently tried the homemade chips (along with another shrimp roll) and the chips were just ok. I don't eat a lot of potato chips but I think I like thick cut kettle chips a little better.

                            Next I will try the hummus-- the table next to me had it, and it looked great.

                            Friends raved about the Carrot and Ginger soup, but they were not offering it the last time I visited.

                          2. Since i just noticed the newer input on the chicken salad, i thought i would add that i didnt really think the shrimp roll was bad, but it wasnt great either. when it comes to a cold seafood sandwich, the quality of the protein is really really important, and while these werent totally flavorless rubbery shrimp as one might expect at a crappy salad bar, they werent really ready to star.

                            I think ill be sticking to the pork sandwich or pot roast from now on - though the turkey with bacon and avocado is really good also (they inexplicably toasted the bread once on a to go order and it was less than ideal as cold toast isnt a taste i love.

                            1. I have been a few different times and each time I haved tried something new. My favorites so far are the Meatloaf Sandwich,Roast Beef/Blue Cheese (And I'm not even a big fan of blue cheese), and the Egg/Bacon sandwich. The Meatloaf had great flavor and spice with the chilies and the spicy mustard.
                              For sides I enjoy the grits with bacon and mascarpone cheese or the chips... which I do enjoy being thinly sliced.

                              1. I went a couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday. The entryway was clogged with people waiting for to-go orders, which made examining the menu and ordering stressful, even though there wasn't a line.

                                I found the decor to be utterly bizarre. Upscale contemporary meets design on a dime (esp. magazine covers in faux-frames. A merlot interior for a sandwich shop? Again, bizarre.

                                I had the pot roast sandwich, and the wife had the Muffuletta. The meat was great on both sandwiches, and my wife loved hers all around. Mine was lacking in balance. The ciabatta was a bit overwhelming, and the pickled onions and spread didn't add enough kick. I would have preferred a softer bread.

                                The chips were good, especially with a dash of tabasco. I wanted to try the grits, but they weren't available until 3p, which is a bit curious on a weekend.

                                1. Put me in the not impressed camp. My wife and I went the CM on a Friday night. Our first stop was Blue Door Pub (ridiculoulsy jam-packed and I'm no longer 20-something, so standing around drinking beer while waiting held little appeal). So we went to the opposite end of Selby to Cheeky Monkey.

                                  I ordered the cumin pork entree and a side of roasted vegetables. My wife got the meatloaf sandwich. The pork was lacking in flavor. No discernable cumin, no discernable lime. Served in a small crock that had about 1/3 cup of liquid in the bottom. Needed better seasoning overall, and not just cumin and lime. Someone posted above receiving two lime wedges to squeeze. I got one lime disc that had no juice in it. The dish also came with two slivers of baguette (and I do mean slivers).

                                  Roasted veggies consisted of onions, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, and red peppers. All cut too small, swimming in olive oil, and not seasoned well (if at all).

                                  My wife's meatloaf sandwhich was victim of a careless, sloppy assembly, and was overpowered by horseradish.

                                  Loved the setting and the seating. I really wanted a better experience. Not much business going on on a Friday evening. I'll give it another chance, maybe for lunch.

                                  1. This spot is much better than one would expect from a "Deli". The space itself is beautiful with a fireplace and bistro type tables. Large front windows let in a lot of light.
                                    The menu (decorative chalkboard) has sandwiches, Panini, soup salads and some other larger meals.
                                    We ordered at the counter and then sat at a table to talk and enjoy the fire on a recent fall day. I had a cup (actually more bowl sized) of lentil soup that was one of the best I have eaten. A nice touch was a sprinkling of cilantro, onion and toasted coconut on top. My friend liked the chili and we thought the cubano we split was great. There are many dessert choices. We split a giant macaroon. I am going back today.

                                    -----
                                    Cheeky Monkey Deli
                                    525 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN 55102

                                    1. Recent update: Cheeky Monkey now switches over to table service for dinner. It's still counter service at lunch/brunch.

                                      1. We went to Cheeky Monkey for the first time last night. I love the space. Very inviting and great for a foursome sharing a meal. I too liked the beer selection. Our server though knew almost nothing about the beer and wine offerings. Very nice and cheery though. My chicken pressed sandwich was ok. It was supposed to have the bacon (house cured I believe) but I did not detect much. I had asked for the herb mayo not the spice mayo but think I got the latter.

                                        One of my companions had the muffaletta and the meats in them were very good. Two kinds of house cured hams and salami and other things. The meats were excellent.

                                        I will go back and try other things.

                                        1. Cheeky Monkey has been a staple since it opened as I'm a few blocks away - however I have to say I'm not a fan of the switch to a full service operation at dinner time.

                                          It lost a bit of it's charm with that. I still go often enough for lunch but I loved just popping in for a quick dinner bite and having it feel like a cafe as opposed to a regular restaurant.

                                          1. Back again for lunch today at the suggestion of a friend. Meh.

                                            I think I like the idea of Cheeky Monkey more than the execution. I ordered the mushroom and brie pressed sandwich. I did see an herb leaf in there, but it was pretty bland. A little red pepper, even black pepper, more herbs, anything to give it some depth and complexity of flavor would be welcome. If I'm in the area for lunch again, I think I'll walk across the street to Bon Vie.

                                            -----
                                            Bon Vie
                                            518 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Brad Ballinger

                                              I actually really like the simplicity of the mushroom and brie toasted sandwich. Just a hint of thyme, not overly salty, not overly greasy (usually). It's my favorite thing on the menu, and maybe even my favorite sandwich in the area.