It started as a very melancholy day: middle of February, city clouded over, everything hued in shades of gray. I arrived early at the Coffee News Café in St. Paul to set up my laptop, and catch up on work. I also was starving.
So, after finding a table, I stepped up to the counter, and ordered my favorite hot sandwich: The Tuna Melt ($7.25). It’s the best in the Twin Cities. I order one every time I visit. It’s the special blend of tuna, celery, onion, ginger, garlic, and mayo that does it. You get to choose the type of cheese, and sourdough or wheat bread. This amazing sandwich is served with hand-cut garlic French fries. I cannot recommend this sandwich enough.
My good friend and part-time assistant, Mike Rosenow, texted me that he would join me in a few minutes. We have entertaining conversations, and enjoy hanging out. This would be our first time doing so at Coffee News Café.
Along with my sandwich, I ordered a glass of Fairhills Fair Trade-Certified Shiraz ($7.25/glass; $36/bottle). It’s the world’s best-known Fair Trade brand from South Africa. By purchasing Fairhills, you support several South African community projects. It’s also a delicious wine.
Coffee News Café has an extensive selection of bottled beers and wines. Wednesday night, enjoy half-priced bottles of wine from 5-10 PM.
Stephen Schweckendieck, manager of Coffee News Café for its 11 years at its present location, joined me to gab.
According to Schweckendieck, “The original location was in Downtown Minneapolis on Nicollet Mall until the Target Store took over the block. In 1998, we opened our current location. We became popular with the students and residents of the Macalester/Groveland neighborhood. I call us the best-kept secret in the Twin Cities. I believe we are good for Grand Avenue.”
While we were talking, Mike arrived—at the same time as the Grilled Ahi Tuna Sandwich ($8.95), a colorful and unbelievable hot sandwich on a baguette, with grilled pineapple, lettuce, tomato, onion, and aioli. I was amazed at its size. The tuna pieces were large and perfectly grilled.
Schweckendieck commented, “Liberal portions for liberal minds.”
That brought to mind the cold sandwich called Club of Death ($8.50)—a triple-decker with ham, turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese, sprouts, lettuce, tomato, Dijon mustard, and mayo. It’s mind-blowing.
The café’s atmosphere is truly European, as are the attitudes of owner Peter Kelly and his employees. They’re an independent and mixed set. I always feel comfortable here. No pretentiousness.
“Our goal for each customer is to give them something they will not be able to find any other place,” Schweckendieck added.
Mike and I were trying to finish off my Tuna Melt, but the portions were considerable. He almost had finished the hand-cut garlic fries when a gorgeous Brie Salad— full of Romaine lettuce with Brie, apples, and roasted sliced almonds—appeared. Of course, it only could be topped by raspberry vinaigrette. Everyone I’ve talked to who visits Coffee News Café describes the Brie Salad as marvelous. Now, it was before us.
Along with appetizers, salads, panini, hot sandwiches, and cold sandwiches, the café offers fantastic breakfasts. Remarkable combinations include house specialties such as Basil Scramble ($7.75); Tofu Scramble ($7.75); and Green Eggs and Ham Panini ($7.75), with pesto, scrambled eggs, ham, Swiss cheese, and tomatoes.
Mike shared with me that the Grilled Veggie Burger ($6.95) is great. It comes with tomato, lettuce, onion, and sprouts.
All hot sandwiches are served with hand-cut garlic French fries, the finest in the Twin Cites. I crave them every couple weeks, and need a fix.
On top of all this magnificent food is an excellent assortment of coffee drinks. Coffee News Café roasts all its own coffee. I believe it’s the only café in the Twin Cities that does.
Along with tea and assorted juice, this is a great stop to get refreshed. It’s also a terrific place to satisfy your sweet tooth with large, glorious pieces of cakes, cheesecakes, and confections. Try the carrot cake.
Despite this eclectic atmosphere, superb food, brilliant conversations, and the camaraderie of Mike, it still was tricky to shake off the melancholy of February.
However, Mike and I begin discussing the café’s great outdoor seating in the warmer months. I can’t wait to ride my bike over around Noon to spend a couple hours just sitting and enjoying what I get pleasure from in Italy: café life—Coffee News Café life.
Coffee News Café, 1662 Grand Ave., St. Paul.
(651) 698-3324. www.CoffeeNewsCafe.Blogspot.com
John Michael Lerma is a local chef, author, and Food Network personality. His company Garden County Cooking offers cookbooks, cooking classes, consulting, private events, and culinary vacations to Italy and the Caribbean. Visit www.GardenCountyCooking.com. Check out his “Word of Mouth” Blog under Extras at LavenderMagazine.com.