Signature Café (Minneapolis, MN)
By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
We all have a favorite neighborhood restaurant on that good corner or the busy street, that little café or bistro we can probably walk to even if we drive most of the time. After all, drive-by traffic keeps neighborhood places in business at least as much as word-of-mouth.
Now imagine a neighborhood restaurant with no drive-by traffic at all. Imagine a charming little dining room, with good art for sale on the wall, a pretty patio, all snuggled into a residential neighborhood. It's so hidden that you're sure you're lost when trying to find it and think of it as a zoning mistake once you're there. Oh, then you discover the food is delicious.
Signature Café in Prospect Park -- near the border between Minneapolis and St. Paul -- is a family affair. Natalie Johnson cooks and occasionally serves the food. Her husband runs the front of the house, and their son works there, too.
The menu has a Mediterranean feel. Start with a couple of their appetizers to share. The baked artichoke gruyere gratin and the goat cheese cassoulet -- which is not a cassoulet at all, but a ramekin of baked goat cheese -- both come with warm flatbread, and are nice ways to start dinner. They also serve grilled calamari, and a crostini that changes daily.
Then, add some soup or salad. Both of Signature's salads are fresh and hearty, with a very nice vinaigrette. The soup changes daily, too. We had a tomato bisque that was rich and delicious. The simplest things will make or break a restaurant for us, and we always appreciate when a kitchen gets these basics right.
We didn't find a single clunker in the entrees, either. The pan-seared scallops smell delicious when the plate is put in front of you. They're served with a lemon-basil orzo with pine nuts, summer squash, and fried polenta: a plateful of flavors that blend together very well.
The portabella mushroom dish featured creamy polenta, as well as spring greens sautéed in lemon garlic, pine nuts, and a balsamic sauce that pulled everything together. It's filling enough as it is, but you can also order it with chicken sausage.
The duck leg confit was tasty, if a bit dry, and served with sautéed greens on a fried potato cake. Grandma Larson's pot roast was just as tender and succulent as you dream about. The mashed potatoes were fluffy, not gluey, and the roasted carrots were ideally tender.
The pot roast was little too salty, though. This is our one complaint with the restaurant: everything was noticeably salted. We're not averse to salt. Far from it: we'll pinch up a little salt for everything from salad on through at our house. But this menu was surprisingly salty.
Signature has a nice and inexpensive wine list, with everything available by the glass. Ask for recommendations if you don't know what will go with your food; Natalie will know.
And save room for dessert. Natalie is known for her desserts, and she won't disappoint. The bread pudding was comfort food fantastic, not at all the dense lump that weighs down your dinner. And the crème caramel was a perfect smooth custard with English butterscotch.
It's a great meal, and the prices reflect that. Figure $55 per person, for appetizers, salad, entrée, dessert, and a glass of wine. Well worth it, we think, even if you get lost finding the place.
130 SE Warwick St., Minneapolis
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