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Vera’s Café

By Lavender October 23, 2008

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I’ll admit it—I thought of Vera’s Café as simply a place to grab coffee. Not being big on joe, I hadn’t ventured inside for several years. But I was intrigued after speaking with owner Wayne Butzer, who regaled me with the details of how his coffee shop, which lacks most traditional restaurant equipment, manages to put forth such a spread.

Ribolitta (Italian tomato soup with white beans, tons of veggies, and basil pesto). Oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle, and chocolate chip cookies. White Zombie with flavor choice. Photos by Hubert Bonnet

Just one such phenomenon is the selection of egg breakfast entrées.

“We steam the eggs on our espresso machine,” Butzer explains with glee. “They’re big scrambled eggs—really awesome. We have six different ways to serve that. And it adds no fat to the cooking process.”

As I chatted with Butzer, I instantly was reminded of one of my favorite family Thanksgiving stories. My mother had purchased a new convection oven, and was lucky enough to find a buyer for her old one. The new oven was scheduled to arrive well in advance of the holiday, so when the old unit was hauled away, she was perfectly contented to dream up an extravagant menu. Unfortunately, delay after delay meant that when the big day came, she had no oven. The entire family pitched in with ideas and recipe modifications, so with the aid of our humble toaster oven and microwave, we soon had a traditional feast…of sorts. The pumpkin pie was shaped unusually—it was baked in a bread loaf pan to accommodate the small toaster oven—but it was quite delicious.

Like that unforgettable meal, the scrambled-egg dishes at Vera’s are a marvel: light, moist, and fluffy. Bene-Eggspress on an English muffin ($7.95) is a decadent delight, and Croi-Egg-Wich with Canadian bacon ($6.95) makes one eager for a return trip.

The cuisine here is not fussy—Butzer aptly describes it as “Minnesotan comfort food”—but one also can find treasures like the curry chicken, which is nicely balanced without being overpowering.

Food Manager Rachel Edwards rotates the menu somewhat seasonally, adding Hamburger Hotdish and Four-Bean Vegan Chili for the winter.

Vegans and vegetarians certainly are not left wanting at Vera’s, as Butzer points out: “We try to have a vegetarian selection on the soup, and also a meat one. We also have vegetarian salads and burritos.”

Butzer specifically mentions Spinach Nut and Honey Wrap or Spicy Lentil Dal Wrap, which both look tempting.

My dining partner and I were happy to sample a cup of Ribolitta Soup (a traditional tomato-based Tuscan soup with chunky vegetables) and kicky Chicken Chipotle, both of which are just $5 with bread; a bowl is $7.

After becoming sated with our breakfasts and soup, my dining partner and I were nonetheless curious to try the lasagna, which was made entirely in the microwave. I am almost hesitant to mention this cooking method, because one wouldn’t guess it, and with a lovely pepperoni topping, one should simply enjoy the dish for what it is. A generous portion is served with garlic bread for $10.95.

Vera’s now offers wine and beer. We were all too happy to try the eloquently named “Bitch” Grenache ($7.95/glass, $30/bottle)—the Grenache grape, traditionally used to fill out other reds, is a “bitch” to process as a sole ingredient. It was a pleasure to try something new, but perhaps because I was suffering from a head cold, my palate was more in tune with the crisp Lagaria Pinot Grigio ($6.50/glass, $25/bottle).

Though I’m not a coffee drinker per se, Butzer tempted me into trying a Magical White Zombie ($4.75).

As Butzer relates, “It is flash-roasted espresso, so it’s blond—it’s the color of chopped peanuts—and it pours out a very high octane shot of espresso. And we put white chocolate and whatever flavor shot you want, and whip it up with cream or milk. That will wake you up with your eggs in the morning!”

The rich, frothy wonder-drink is enough to convert the most fanatical of tea enthusiasts.

Recognizing my stomach’s limitations, Butzer sent me and my friend home with doggie bags and two cookies, which are brought in from Blondie’s. I was lucky enough to make out with delicately iced Lemon Molasses Ginger Jumbo ($2.50). All the cookies are sizable enough for one to enjoy bit by bit—and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing ever since.

The atmosphere at Vera’s has transformed since it opened in 1999. Butzer added live music five nights a week. He ousted the antiques, updating the place with sleek, modular leather furniture.

In essence, Vera’s retains the best of what it always was—a relaxing neighborhood coffee shop—with a few surprises for those whose eyes wander from the coffee menu.

Vera’s Café
2901 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 822-3871
www.verascafe.com

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