When Chad and I walked into Café Oliver, a new restaurant and music venue on the corner of Nicollet and Franklin in Minneapolis, I realized I had been in this space before—not when it housed Acadia Café and Bakery, but years ago, when it was A Brother’s Touch Bookstore.
The remodeled venue—the wall between the café and the performing stage has been removed—beckons everyone. Thursday through Sunday, you can listen to the musical talents of local blues and jazz artists.
We were offered a glass of Goue Vallei Classic Blanc from South Africa, which was refreshing, and a great way to begin the evening.
Owner and self-taught Chef Scott (aka “Oliver”) Beck sat down at our table, excited to share his vision and his menu: “First, the staff is incredible. They are new, and have only served a couple of tables, but they have helped me put together the tables—piece by piece; washed the windows about eight times; and cleaned the entire space. I had about 100 people apply for positions, and I’ve created 30 new jobs in the Minneapolis Downtown area.”
Beck emphasizes, “I want Lavender readers to know that Café Oliver is gay-owned and operated. We’re very gay-friendly.”
Actually, the establishment is everyone-friendly. From the moment we walked in, the staff smiled, greeted us, and asked how they could assist us.
Beck excused himself, as he was going to have the kitchen prepare a Panini especially for us.
Paninis on the menu include Caprese Panini, with fresh mozzarella coins slipped between tomato slices and basil leaves, dusted with Italian seasoning, drizzled in olive oil, and grilled on a baguette; Spicy Ham Panini, with rich brown sugar ham spiced up with pepperoncinis and pepper jack cheese, enveloped in warm Italian bread; and the uncomplicated Grilled Cheese Panini, with choice of bread, smothered in three cheeses and pesto, topped with tomato slices.
All sandwiches are priced from $6 to $8, with some weighing up to a half-pound.
Beck brought us an Avocado Ranch Panini, layered with sliced turkey breast, tomato, and bacon, and topped with Avocado Ranch dressing, on thick slices of sourdough bread. I bit into my half, and was thrilled—it was cooked all the way through. I have ordered many Panini, only to be disappointed, as the center was either cool or cold. This one was molten from the center out. It was perfect.
I asked Beck which sandwich was his favorite, and he replied, “The Pot Roast Sandwich. It has a ‘handsome’ hunk of pot roast dressed in Swiss cheese on sourdough bread.”
Other selections: the Chicken Club—slices of chicken attacked by crispy bacon, tomatoes, and lettuce, with a bit of mayonnaise, dusted with salt and pepper; and the Apple Smokey Ham, with honey-cured ham, Granny Smith apples, and Havarti cheese, spiked with lemon juice and honey nut cream cheese spread.
In addition, Beck invites you to Invent Your Own Sandwich from a selection of meats, cheeses, vegetables, spreads, and breads, which is perfect for the carnivore, vegetarian, or in-between.
Beck, who turns 29 on July 29, is a pleasure to visit with. He shares that he has been in the cuisine business for about 15 years.
As Beck relates, “I worked my way up the culinary ladder. I started with my grandmother’s catering company, worked at McDonald’s and Perkin’s, and helped develop a Cuban restaurant in Winona. My favorite things to do are waiting tables and giving dance lessons.”
Beck, who owned Oliver Dance Company, offers freelance dance lessons.
According to Beck, “Our hours are from 6 AM until 1 PM, serving food until midnight. At 6 AM, we serve coffee with light breakfast. At 11 AM, lunch service begins with a classic twist on upscale diner style. Happy hour is from 4 to 6 PM, with wine, beer, and appetizers.”
Café Oliver serves Etica fair trade wine, such as Merlot and Syrah from Chile; Shiraz and Malbec from Argentina; and Merlot and Blanc from the Western Cape of South Africa. Chad enjoyed a glass from each country.
Free WiFi is available while you enjoy pastries, bars, cookies, and cakes; or an Afternoon Delight, such as homemade salsa with the crispiest of chips, or Take A Dip, spinach dip swimming in a soft bread bowl.
Local artist Peter Jadoonath offers his pottery coffee mugs for sale to enjoy Peace Coffee and take home afterward.
Before we left, I told Beck his venue is perfect for before or after the theater. Sometimes, I don’t want a big meal at a Downtown restaurant, so his menu will be my first choice after an evening at the Orpheum, State, or Pantages Theatres.
In view of its eclectic menu, beer, fair trade wines, and Peace Coffee, I sing the praises of Café Oliver: “Food, Glorious Food.”
Café Oliver’s grand opening is July 17-20.
1931 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.