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Jul 26, 2009 04:59 PM

(MSP) The Front Cafe

I wanted to post this review, because this NE place has not gotten much attention. I am also interested in others who have eaten there, and what theirexperience has been. Here is my review from my food blog.

My guest, Mr. H and I wandered around wondering where to eat on an early Tuesday evening. I am a longtime NE girl, and was bored with having been everywhere, and did not want to drop $20 on one entree alone. Suddenly, we remembered The Front, having walked past it a few time. We decided to go in.

The first glimpse of the place is the pretty front patio - decorated heavily with geraniums. Stepping inside, you are met with a spacious area, where you can sit either in the open,. hidden in the booths around the corner, or upstairs on their lovely half-moon couch, which faces out a large window. The ambience is dark, with red lamps over-seeing the length of the bar, and a fantastic red-lamp chandelier. I am quite picky about my atmospheric vibe in restaurants. The Front has something for everyone - sit at a table, in a booth, be hidden away, upstairs and upscale, or outside on the patio. I was pleased. I was not pleased, however, to see the place completely empty. It does not look good for the restaurant, but we forged ahead anyways.

The menu is versatile. You can anything from a burger, to a ceviche. It's main flavor/theme is food from Costa Rica. We are unfamiliar with Costa Rican food. I admit - plantains are not something that immediately appeal to me. I am not your average Applebee's person - I am between a chicken sandwich girl and aspiring foodie. So we decided to try it out.

We ordered the stuffed plantain for the appetizer. It is stuffed with feta cheese, and served with a cabbage salad and tomato, onion and cilantro. Let me tell you - it was FANTASTIC. We were surprised at how good it was. The sweet of the plantain, the salty of the feta, and the crunch and tart of the cabbage salad and it's accompanying sauce...lizano sauce, which we were told is a native Costa Rican sauce. Oh MY. Oh - did I mention the cilantro? It is front and center in the cabbage salad. I want to just order a bowl of that stuff next time I go there. YUM.

For the entree's, my boyfriend ordered the shrimp/rice dish. I do not remember the name, and it is not on the website menu - but it basically consists of-shrimp, yellow rice, stock (i think ham or chicken?) diced ham, tomato's, onion and that awesome cabbage salad again. For me, I decided on the Chicken Americano sandwich - with cheddar, bacon and herbed mayo.

The shrimp and rice: The rice was nicely spiced, with a hint of lemon? The shrimps are tail on, and not with that iodine taste you usually find on shrimp at many places. The cubed ham was appropriately salty, and the cabbage salad will forever be a winner in my book. Overall, I found it to be very tasty, and very well balanced.

My chicken sandwich was very good. The bread is grilled - and i think it was ciabatta? One thing I adored was the bits of the char in the inside of the bread mingling in with the chicken, reminding me of a well done breast off the grill. The breast of chicken inside was plump, juicy and flavorful - not thin, dry or tasteless at all. The bacon was almost prosciutto-like, which makes me wonder if it was not meant to be cooked to crispy, or was either very thinly sliced? The herb mayo - there was too much of it on there. It was good flavorwise, tangy and creamy. But it was literally dripping out. Overall, the sandwich was excellent. I DID eat it all. My only complaint was it was a bit salty and too much mayo. The french fries are standard - thin cut and potato-ey. Nothing special, good for what they are supposed to be. Keep in mind, I'm a tough fry-crowd. :-)

To top it all off - the chef (Rolando) came out and talked with us. This ALWAYS impresses me. If you don't care about customer service - go to Nick and Eddie's!

I was sad to see the place empty. I hope they get a lot more business and don't have to leave NE Mpls one day. We need more little gems such as this, Gardens Of Salonica, Emily's Lebanese Deli, Pizza Nea e.t.c.

PLEASE go and try the food here! I beg of you. Let's go together. Go alone. With a friend. JUST GO. I am not easy to impress, but I promise you this place is off the hook food and atmosphere-wise

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  1. Green- thanks for the very enthusiastic review---it made my day!

    1. Yes, thanks for the review. I will give them a try sometime soon. I can't believe they've been there since 1994 and I have never heard of them.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Doghouse Reilly

        They were just a bar for years. They just started the restaurant end of it about 7 months ago. Please let me know how you liked it! I'm very interested in people's feedback about this place.

      2. Wow - I've never heard of this place, but will try to add it to my list...

        Here's a places link:

        The Front Cafe
        15 4th St NE, Minneapolis, MN

        1. Thanks for the info! The Front Cafe is tops on my TRY SOON list - it sounds great. Has anyone tried the arroz con pollo? If it's good, it'll save me a trip to Milwaukee.


          1. Almost 30 years ago jfood married the most gorgeous and smartest lady he ever met. And today she still allows jfood to call her sweetie. She has a few rules in life and one is never eat in an empty restaurant. Jfood violated that rule and once again mrs jfood was correct. When he walked into The Front Cafe it was empty, not a few people but absolutely, positively noone on the first floor, zippo. But he sat anyway. And this was 8PM on a Tuesday night while the Burger Bar next door was packed.

            The decor is as described so nicely in the OP. Jfood was given a menu and a glass of water. He ordered the The Latin Lover: Shredded beef taquitos, empanadas, chicken quesadilla and patacones served with our homemade cabbage salad, refried beans, salsa and sour cream for an appetizer and the Arroz con Pollo: A Costa Rican specialty - A delicious combination of homemade chicken stock with chicken, rice, onions, cilantro, garlic, red bell pepper, sweet corn, celery, lima beans and salsa lizano, as well as Plantain Chips and Onion Strings for an entrée.

            The server came back from the kitchen and told jfood that the onion strings were not available because the chef did not have any buttermilk. Not great but no biggie, either. jfood thought that God was telling him he ordered too much food anyways.

            Fifteen minutes later the appetizer plate arrived. There were two empanadas, which jfood really liked. The pastry was delicate, moist and the filling had a nice flavor as well as a slight kick. The chicken quesadilla was the hit of the plate with flavor. It was filled with cheese, corn, tomatoes a small amount of chicken and fried in butter. Jfood really liked this dish. Now the beginning of the bad news. The Shredded three beef taquitos were not to jfood's liking. They were hard outside and the filling had no seasoning whatsover. Jfood ate 3/4 of one of them Likewise the patacones were overcooked and bordering on cool. Jfood ate one of the five. The black beans in the dish had spent too much time under the heat lamp and developed that "skin" you find when you make pudding at home. The salsa was good but it did not have that fresh flavor, almost like it was made the day before.

            Now the really bad, and unacceptable news. Jfood was about 20% into the appetizer when the server brought the entree to his table. Now remember there was noone when jfood arrived and only three people arrived since he sat, so the kitchen was not being slammed. Jfood told the server that he just received the appetizer. The server said "Do you want me to take it and place it under the heat lamps?" Jfood responded "No, but I do not want you to leave it here either." He walked away.

            Jfood finished the appetizers he could eat and then moved the chicken over. His first bite and it was cold. Nope not happening.

            The server finally came back for the first time to check in with, "So how is everything?" Jfood took the high road and said. "The chicken is cold so please give me a bill for the appetizers and we'll call it a night."

            Jfood paid and left and did the appropriate thing. He walked across the street and had an great pizza at Nea. Always gotta grab victory from the jaws of defeat.

            So Front Cafe immediately moves to the top of the DNR list. Sorry Tex.s.toast, but even jfood cannot give this place a second chance. The empanada and the quesadilla were good but the attitude, the service, the lack of professionalism and the lack of care in delivery was completely unacceptable.

            7 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              That is disappointing. My experience was very opposite. Our food was hot, flavorful and the service was very good. Sorry you didn't have the experience I did, jfood!

              1. re: greenidentity

                not to worry, jfood had a great pizza and chatted with the owner of Nea for 45 minutes while eating at the bar. only wished he could have eaten 2 of them

                1. re: jfood

                  That's just as good! Pizza Nea is yummy and I need to go there again soon! What pizza did you get, jfood?

              2. re: jfood

                I love that i've become the champion of second chances, but am saddened you had a bad meal (i hear that it happens from time to time :) )

                I can picture (taste, even - well almost) the awkwardness in these interactions, and completely understand your decision. I honestly was waiting for the part where you fought with the server about being charged for the cold arroz con pollo you didnt eat. at least it could have been worse ?!?

                1. re: tex.s.toast

                  JFood. Not to criticize your wife, but if we all took the road most travelled, life would be pretty sterile and boring. Two places, side by side, one bustling, the other dead. Most would probably end up at the bustling venue. I commend you for following through with your plans, although I feel by reading your post that you wanted to validate your beliefs by not liking this restaurant. I don't doubt your synopsis, but you certainly didn't cut them any slack.
                  I ate at the Singapore several months ago, mostly based on positive reviews from this and other boards. Over the course of the evening, there was not one other soul that came in or called. The owner (I assume) waited on us, cooked our food, everything. It was great food and given the circumstances decent service!!! If she would have had one or two other tables, she would have been dead in the water, and I'd probably be panning the place because it would have taken 4 hours to get in and out of there. My point is this, cut the restaurants some slack. It's a crummy business, where nobody makes much, but we need them to feed bums like us.

                  1. re: DiningDog

                    Why should we cut any restaurant any slack? It is a business. If they can't get it right with one person utilizing their service, how can anyone expect them to handle it if they actual get busy. And forget the presumptions...for all you know if Singapore got busy, perhaps they would have performed admirably...assuming they wouldn't is worse than cutting them slack.

                    1. re: DiningDog

                      Double D

                      Jfood used the stellar wisdom of mrs jfood as a point of reference, not a pacing item. And he is never going to subject himself to a bad meal to prove a point while dining alone, what's the point of that especially in the NE section on Minneapolis which is chuck full of GREAT places to eat. Life is too short for that nonsense. He would have walked up the block to Brasa for a great meal.

                      Likewise, if you have read most of jfood's posts he receives criticism for siding on the side of the restaurant much too often. A few weeks ago he stayed to eat at Pak Zum Zum (noone there), he stayed to eat here and he has stayed to eat at many places. And if you read jfood's post on this place you will see that he was well on his way to enjoying the food (see comments on empanadas and quesadilla) before the wheels fell off the train, and not by anything he did. So jfood has to say that your conclusions are without merit.

                      Which part of this deserves "slack", maybe each individually, but c'mon DD, this was a trainwreck.

                      Running out of buttermilk...silliness, but jfood did not see this as any biggie.
                      Leaving stuff under the heat lamp too long...wrong
                      Delivering food that did not taste fresh...wrong (but subjective)
                      Delivering hard food...wrong
                      Delivering tasteless food...wrong
                      Delivering Entree a few minutes after appetizers...Totally wrong
                      Ignoring a request by walking away...wrong
                      Leaving food on the table and walking away...wrong
                      Not checking in on the appetizers...wrong

                      Sorry that you may disagree, which is fine, but this was a train wreck a quarter of the way through apps.