Back when I lived in Minneapolis, every day on the walk to work I’d walk past this little tiny storefront between Simms Hardware and Espresso Royale in the Dinkytown neighborhood. So tiny, that it looks like a roofed-over alley, which is exactly what it is. I also quickly noticed that quite a large number of people passed in and out of that door, enough that it was like a circus act. So it wasn’t long after moving there that I tried out Al’s. And not long after that I became a regular, going at least every Thursday (and, now that I no longer live there, I make it a point to go at least once every time I’m in town).
Why do I always go there? In a word, perfection. While I’m known for being incredibly picky about my pancakes, Al’s is still the gold standard for pancakes, especially their Walley Blues (Buttermilk with blueberries and walnuts). Perfect texture. Perfect taste. Perfectly crisped on the grill. Same with their hashbrowns. And their own corned beef hash. And the Jose (poached eggs and cheese on hashbrowns, with Jose’s Salsa). And they even have some extreme items, like the Bacon Waffle (waffle with four strips of bacon embedded in it). All that in a roofed over alley with 14 stools.
1. The food. From the pancakes, to the omelettes, to the hash browns, the food here is excellent, and reliably so.
2. The atmosphere. Between the surly staff, the narrow confines, the frequent re-shuffling of seats to accomodate groups, and the people hovering over you while you eat, it’s definitely a unique dining experience.
3. The staff. Doug Grina and Jim Brandes have run the grill the entire time I’ve eaten there, and both have their particular mannerisms. Doug commands the grill like a swearing sea captain (“I need a Leonard on a round!”). Jim is quieter, but commands the grill equally well. And, despite the fact that I now often go years between visits, Jim still refers to me by name, and wonders when I’ll spend that last $4 in my book below the counter.
1. This isn’t a place for the claustrophobic or those that need personal space. This place is all tight quarters and elbow jabs, and you’ll smell like Al’s the rest of the day.
2. Similarly, this isn’t a place to have a relaxing and drawn out breakfast most of the time. With 14 stools, it’s more about efficiency. You probably will have to shift your seat to help them let a group of four sit together. You’ll probably have to get your last cup of coffee in a to go cup. And you’ll have to accept that standing behind the 14 seats are at least another 14 people waiting for those same seats.
Enjoy your food, but don’t dawdle.
3. For a variety of reasons (mostly that onions crud up the grill), you can’t get hash browns with onions. I’ll forgive that.
Seriously, this place has always been worth going way out of my way for, and is still consistently at the top of my best breakfast list.