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Nov 4, 2009 05:13 AM

Victor's 1959 Cafe (MSP) - Is Jfood missing something?

Jfood was on his way downtown for some Latin food at Masa when he hit horrendous traffic. Since he was looking for some vibrant flavors, he remembered Victors 1959 Cafe, so onto the side roads and around Lake Calhoun on over to the east. He enjoyed the back roads and his Garmin did a great job. He arrived and the place was 80% full, the server told him to sit where ever he would like and Jfood started reviewing the menu. It was a very young crowd, maybe a good sign or not.

The server arrived and she was very pleasant, had great suggestions and when they were discussing the spiciness of certain dishes, she said, “Oh yeah my dad gets all wet on his bald spot as well when he has spicy food.” (OK all you Hounds that get upset with a server calling you ma’am, take that one.) Jfood thought it was pretty funny; hey it is what it is.

For his first visit he wanted to try a bunch of different items. So he settled on the “Cubano Mix” for an appetizer that included two Empanadas, two ham croquettes, and two tostones. Jfood chose a beef and a cheese empanada for his two choices. For his entrée Jfood ordered the “Ropa Vieja” that “seen on the Food Network!’. It was more fully described as “Literally means "old clothes". This shredded flank steak is simmered in our own sherry-spiked Spanish red sauce with green & red peppers, garlic, onions and sweet green peas. Served with fried sweet plantains. A walk in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra.” A Cuban Pineapple soda was ordered to get in the mood.

The soda arrived and after a quick taste it was very sweet. Looking at the label would make many giggle, absolutely no mention of the word “pineapple” and both sugar and artificial sweetener were included. OK, sugar and quasi-sugar rush in the making.

When the appetizers arrived there were two tostones, two ham croquettes and the two empanadas Jfood chose. Jfood's first bite was one of the tostone. Let’s say that there was not a lot of flavor in the tostones, so Jfood moved onto the ham croquettes. These were shaped like fish-sticks and about 2” long. They were fried to a nice crispy color. As Jfood ate the first one there was a very deep memory trigger on the flavor, smoky, somewhat fishy and it finally dawned on him that it reminded Jfood of his youth when he would eat Mrs. Paul’s crab cakes. Now Jfood shook his head because these were ham. It was very confusing yet during each bite he had the same memory trigger from 40 years ago. Go figure. As he approached the empanadas his first thought was that these were different than those he has eaten back in CT. These were very thin and much wider versus the less diameter and fatter he was used to at the Venezuelan and Spanish restaurants. His first bite was a cheese and two thoughts came to mind. The dough itself was bland (he is used to sweeter dough) and the cheese was blander. Not to his liking. Next he moved onto the beef and the same dough with maybe a teaspoon of filling. The filling did have some seasoning but it was not something to give anything close to a “wow”. Jfood hoped the entrée would have the vibrant flavors he was expecting.

Literally as he placed his fork down from the appetizers, the entrée arrived, no lapse at all. This would have normally bothered Jfood with company but as a solo it was a “what the heck.” The dish had a mound of rice and black beans in the center surrounded by four fried plantains about half the size of a golf ball, the shredded beef to one side, and a meagerly piece of lettuce on the other. Jfood first tried the rice and black beans. Deep exhale. Almost flavorless. Next one of the plantains, and it was a ditto on flavor (Jfood thought of the comment from Brasa last night when he ordered the plantains there, “we’re sorry but they were not sweet enough this week so we are not offering them.” – that would have been advice worth listening to). The sixth flavor-test of the evening awaited Jfood with the beef. he pulled some apart, slowly raised the fork to his lips and….(insert “blank screen” ending to the Sopranos)

As Jfood drove back to the hotel he thought of Sandra Lee and her “Almost Home” show as he described the beef to Mrs. Jfood back east. Take a can of stewed tomatoes with peppers and onions and add to a pot, shred some flank steak and add. Cook on low-medium for 20 minutes. Serve.

So Jfood asks the MSP Hounds. Was this an off night for Victors or have others had similar experiences?

Victor's 1959 Cafe
3756 Grand Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55409

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  1. That is the experience every time I've eaten there. I don't expect Maimi food but I would have thought it would have better. I know some people rave about Victor's, so I hope they keep going as it is a nice to drive by and think of Cuban food.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ibew292

      I have to agree; I've been going back there for many years hoping the flavors would improve, but to no avail. The last time I went and found it bland, I said "no mas."

      1. re: SmartCookie

        I'm glad to hear that it wasn't just me...We went to Victor's about 6-8 months ago and I was very excited for Cuban food since I had just gotten back from Miami. Although I didn't expect Miami quality I was very disappointed. I didn't want to post anything at the time because I don't know much about Cuban cuisine.

    2. I concur.

      I went for breakfast once as a good friend of mine raved about the dia y noches which seems simple and almost impossible to screw up.

      Although it wasn't terrible, it certainly didn't live up to the expectations it was ballooned up to be.

      It fell flat. I know I'll get thrown to the wolves for this comment, but I just don't expect much out of 'ethnic' food in the twin cities. Sure, there are a lot of options, but few are worthy of mention and I've pretty much tried them all. (Though I do have to mention that Ruam Mit is some of the better thai I've had that wasn't eaten within the boundaries of the country itself)

      2 Replies
      1. re: eburke91

        Alas , jfood, I also have to agree. The place is rather charming looking from the outside,but I haven't found the food to match. Should have gone to Masa.

        1070 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55403

        Victor's 1959 Cafe
        3756 Grand Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55409

        1. re: eburke91

          Have you been to Bangkok Thai Deli...I'd be curious to hear your opinion when you compare that to Ruam Mit.

        2. I ate there a few times and was never really impressed. The nadir may have been when my friend asked for lemon for her water, and the server brought over a little plastic condiment-cup of bottled lemon juice. (I know ReaLemon, or its generic equivalent, when I taste it...)

          Oh wait. The nadir was actually the very last time I was there. My friend and I were lingering over coffee for a few minutes after breakfast. (I know, tiny place, few tables, not nice to hog a table. We were wrapping up the conversation.) This big guy, I don't know his role there, strode over, leaned over our table, and barked "Get out." We thought he was kidding. He most assuredly was not. I've never experienced that kind of jaw-dropping rudeness from restaurant staff before or since.