Wilde on Hennepin

Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of themed restaurants and coffee shops, since they have a distinct tendency to emphasize their chosen motif to the detriment of the food (see Newsroom, The). But I’m prepared to make a big exception for the beautiful new Wilde Roast Cafe, which I can’t believe I only just visited for the first time.

Wilde Roast, which is located where Central Avenue meets East Hennepin north of the river, is billed as a neighborhood coffee shop serving the Old St. Anthony/Near Northeast area, and its name is a tribute to Oscar Wilde, of all random ideas. And yes, the menu is packed with cutely named dishes taken from the author’s books, plays, and notorious personal life. But the Victorian influence never overwhelms the place, and the overall atmosphere reminds me of a more laid-back version of St. Paul’s Cafe Latte. According to the Wilde Roast web site, it aims to be “a comfortable place you can come alone or with friends to enjoy a latte or glass of wine by our 1900’s fireplace on a Chesterfield couch.” It is exactly that, and the moment I walked in, my first thought was that it will be even better in winter, as a warm and cozy respite from the freezing cold and howling Minneapolis winds.

And before I forget – the food is simple, original, and excellent. The barbecued pork sandwich is surprisingly light, with apples and champagne-soaked raisins subtly mixed in. The portions are coffeehouse-sized (meaning significantly smaller than the insanely overflowing plates you get at most restaurants) yet plenty big to fill you up. Most sandwiches on the menu come not with the usual choice of fries or chips, but with a small pile of Gardetto’s-style snack mix, which would seem tacky at another restaurant, but only adds to the charm here. Oh, and the coffee drinks are expertly made (meaning that your mocha will not arrive with a wad of chocolate settled on the bottom of the glass, or with a mountain of canned whipped topping attempting to compensate for the lack of barista skill) and delicious. Basically, the whole place manages to be exactly what it sets out to be: relaxed but efficient, elegant yet casual, and possessed of a distinctive neighborhood feel. I believe I have a new favorite haunt.

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