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Feb 11, 2009 06:17 PM

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:

      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!