Visited on Friday, February 22nd
Ben gets into the details of the experience in his review, below, so I will mostly talk about the food. At pretty much every breakfast place that has it available, I order Eggs Benedict. Al's was no exception. I liked that I could order one egg instead of the traditional two, and I did like that there was the option to have no side dish, as for most, the Eggs Benedict would be enough. I would have liked this more if one egg wasn't $5.20... that seems to be a rip off to me, because at most places $8 will get you 2 Eggs and hash browns.
Al's Eggs Benedict was very good - not the best I have had (which in my opinion can be found at the Egg & I) but very well made. The egg was perfectly poached - I hate it when the egg is either not poached at all and done over easy instead, or when the poached egg is over done. That will ruin a good Eggs Benedict for me. The English Muffin was toasted perfectly, and the ham was thinly sliced which is my preference. Now comes the real test - the hollandaise sauce. Al's hollandaise sauce was clearly homemade and not from a can, which is a good sign. It had more of a lemony flavor than I am used to, so it was a little tart for my taste. I did order a side of hash browns, and they were nice and crispy. I could have used a little more hollandaise sauce to have with my hash browns but that is probably because I only ordered 1 egg instead of 2. They did give me the extra half of the english muffin which I had with the jam that was in a jar in front of every seat - it was very tasty.
The coffee was very good and the staff was great about refilling cups. The sugar dispenser was a little annoying to me because I like a LOT of sugar in my coffee and it came out of the little hole in the side very slowly.
I must admit that I felt a little uncomfortable at Al's because we aren't regulars... I think that was all in my head though. Waiting in line was fine because I expected it, but in winter it gets really crowded because of all the coats on the back wall.
We headed out the door with quarters for the meter around 9:45 on the morning of the 22nd. We got to Al's a few minutes later and the line was about 8 people deep. We purposely went on a Friday morning hoping that it would be a little less busy than on a weekend.
We had to wait about a half hour to get one of the ~15 spots at the counter, we were situated right in the middle. During our wait we checked out the menu, so we already knew what we wanted. Even though I'm not a big breakfast eater, I went for the Dinkytown omelet which consisted of two eggs, ham, onions, and cheddar cheese.
The food arrived hot off the griddle, since it had only 10 feet to travel from Doug the cook to our seats. My omelet was a little salty (due to the ham, I think) but delicious nonetheless and I finished nearly all of it, and it came with a side of toast.
The coffee was also good, the coffee pots said 'Asplund' on the sides, so I suspect that's the brand they serve, I remember serving the same coffee when I waiting tables at Byerlys.
One of the primary reasons to visit Al's is the environment. The restaurant is squeezed in the alley between two other buildings, so its incredibly narrow. When you are waiting in line you simply stand behind the people eating at the counter. Because of its smallness you can also see the cook making your food, and watch and listen as he interacts with the other employees, andthats part of the fun. Some quotes:
"Do you have those eggs for me, wench?!"
"Doug, is the maple syrup in the fridge?"
"Well, it either is, or it ISN'T!"
We ended up seated next to Timberwolves TV announcer and former Gopher basketball player Jim Petersen, who got a big kiss on the cheek from Doug the cook when he discovered it was his birthday, just to top off the eccentricity of the meal.
On to the ratings:
Service: The servers were excellent, it helps when they have nowhere to hide.
Food: The food was hot and fresh, and except for the saltiness of the omelet I thought everything tasted great.
Drinks: Coffee, kind of hard to screw it up.
Ambiance: I liked the banter between the cook, servers, and back cooks, it made for good entertainment.
Price: The food was a little overpriced. My omelet was reasonable, right around $5 for the omelet and toast, but Erin's eggs benedict was $5 for a single egg, with no side dish.
Convenience: Al's is not very convenient, but I think thats part of the allure. It can be a novelty experience to stand in cramped quarters waiting for a seat, but its not something I'd want to do on a regular basis, especially if the lines goes out the door in the wintertime.
413 14th Ave SE
Price: $20 (incl. tip) for Eggs Benedict + hash browns, Dinkytown omelet, and 2 coffees
Recommended for breakfast (but only with one other person at most)