Monday, April 25, 2011

128 Cafe

Visited on Thursday, April 21st

Outside Cafe 128

Ben's Review
Around 3pm last Thursday my mom offered to take Annie for the night and have my dad take her to their house on his way home from work. We jumped at the chance to use a gift card they gave me awhile ago to 128 Cafe for an impromptu date night.

I quickly checked the menu online, but since they change it so often there aren’t many details to be found. I did see that they have a weekday special for $25 per person that includes an entree, soup/salad, and a dessert, which sounded promising. We arrived around 7pm with plenty of tables available. 128 Cafe is in the basement of an apartment building on Cleveland Ave., across from St. Thomas. You could drive by the nondescript entrance daily and not notice that it even exists. The inside is as simple as the exterior, with simple but elegant decorations.

The $25 special that night was a fettuccine in a white wine sauce. That wasn’t floating my boat that night, so I passed on the special and opted for the braised pork with polenta and kale. I tried to convince Erin to split a bottle of wine, but as usual she persuaded me that a glass was all she wanted. I got an unpronounceable red wine that was supposed to have a medium body, which it did.

Ben's wine

Soon after ordering we got our wine and a plate of bread, which was awesome. I could easily fill up on warm bread and butter and wine at these places, they should offer that as an option. I would totally pay $3-$4 :)


All the components of my dish were fantastic, the pork mixed with polenta well and I’m a big fan of kale to begin with and with the butter in this dish you couldn’t go wrong. I just got sidetracked writing this review to go look up how to braise pork (it looks easy) and I will be trying this out soon. The portion was actually reasonably sized as well, I didn’t feel disgustingly full as I sometime do at restaurants, even after the bread.

Braised pork with polenta and kale

Because Erin got the $25 special, she got a preset dessert of Izzy’s vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, but since she really wanted the lemon pound cake, she ordered that and I got to eat her ice cream. I don’t believe I’ve ever had Izzy’s before, but it was damn good, I’m going to try to remember to stop over there this summer sometime.

Izzy's ice cream

I had a great time at 128 Cafe on our unplanned night out, thanks Mom and Dad!

Service: Great service, everyone was knowledgeable and professional.
Food: The food is excellent, everything we had was delicious.
Drinks: They have beer and wine, no booze. I recall the beer list being just so-so.
Ambiance: Being in a basement is interesting, but they do a good job of making you forget that. The surroundings make it difficult to be totally isolated from your neighbors, but I’ve certainly been to worse places as far as that goes.
Convenience: Plenty of street parking in the neighborhoods and they have valet available.

Erin's Review
We are definitely very lucky to have both sets of grandparents nearby, and even luckier when they send a text that they want to take Annie overnight! After we set up the details of the transfer of the child, Ben and I consulted our ever growing list of gift cards and coupons. We chose 128 Cafe since it was going on a whole year since Ben got it for his birthday last June.

128 Cafe is one of those places that we've passed time and time again (although, unlike Ben, I always notice it - it's a huge awning sticking out from an apartment building - how could you NOT notice it??!) and always said we should go there, but never got around to it. There are a lot more flashy options if you're looking to have a nice evening out, but I would call 128 Cafe a quiet underdog among the mid-range but not necessarily top tier restaurants in the Twin Cities.

The one area where this restaurant is lacking is in ambiance. Admittedly, they don't have a ton to work with, and at least they do have a few windows, but it could certainly stand to have a makeover. Even a bit less stark of a paint choice could make a huge difference. Different lighting would be nice, although they are working with slightly lower ceilings. Anyway, the physical look of 128 Cafe leaves a bit to be desired. There are 2 rooms, the smaller front room, and slightly larger back room, where we were seated.

Inside Cafe 128

At first, I thought their $25 special meant you had a few choices of salads, entrees, and desserts, but it's only one entree and one dessert choice, and likely is vegetarian most of the time. I decided to go with it because the entree sounded pretty good to me - a house made fettucini with portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, and asparagus in a white wine sauce. I picked the ceasar salad, since the other option had goat cheese, of which I am not a fan. I also ordered a glass of the Malbec, which was perfect. I know, not the best pairing with a light pasta, but it worked for me.


The ceasar salad was one of the best I've had - the dressing was clearly homemade, and it was topped with an anchovy and lots of parmesan. I could definitely taste the hints of anchovy in the dressing, and the croutons were delicious and crunchy.

Ceasar salad

I loved the pasta - it wasn't too heavy, but just rich enough with a delicious white wine sauce, and again, topped with lots of parmesan. Although I usually don't like mushrooms, these were very thinly sliced and weren't too mushy. It was a pretty big portion, and I actually had the half I got boxed up for lunch today and it made great leftovers.

House made fettucini with white wine sauce, portobello mushrooms, asparagus and parmesan

As soon as I looked at the dessert menu, I knew I wanted the lemon pound cake - I am a huge fan of lemon desserts! It was a pretty large piece with fresh whipped cream, a few blackberries, and a raspberry puree on the plate. The cake itself was just a bit on the dry side, but still quite tasty. I liked that the whipped cream wasn't overly sweet, it was a good contrast to the sweet cake and flavored well with the berry puree. I also had a bite of the ice cream I had turned up my nose at, and it was quite good, but I'm still glad I went for the cake.

Lemon pound cake with whipped cream and raspberry coulis

I wasn't sure what to expect with 128 Cafe, but I was very pleased with the experience. The food was excellent and the service was perfect - not obtrusive at all, but very friendly and prompt. Thanks to my in-laws for the $63.50 gift card :) If you are looking for a quiet and lovely evening, 128 Cafe is definitely a perfect option!

128 Cleveland Ave N
St. Paul