“Come on in, the water’s warm!”
We were nervously huddled in the small, secluded waiting area of Al’s Breakfast, the narrowest restaurant in Minneapolis and also one of the buisiest. After ten minutes of awkward vascilating as we tried to figure out how to proceed, they beckoned us into the darkened interior.
We scooched past diners seated to our right and jackets and bags hung at the wall at our left, as they reaaranged eating diners mid-bite to make two consecutive stools available for us. We perched on the wobbly red stools and nervously tried to figure out what to do now. If there’s one thing we both despise, it is public awkwardness- we go so far to avoid it that we won’t correct mistaken orders, nor protest about poorly cooked food.
But soon enough we’d been poured hot coffee, corrected as to how to add sugar (hint: don’t take the cork out of the top of the container, it works like a salt shaker), and had the laminated menus in our hands. The staff were straightforward and entertaining, briskly dealing with orders and payment, and reorganizing the seated diners as needed. The gruff masculine atmosphere was punctuated by the gravelly shout of orders between the kitchen and the grill set up in the front of the diner. Usually the voice in question was one of the owners Doug Grina, working the grill at the front like a champion. He pestered the faceless voice in the back kitchen to hurry up, which was met by frequent exclamations of, “give me a break man!” It was incredibly entertaining and we are both partially in love with him.
“I don’t eat here” Owner/cook Doug Grina deadpanned when we asked him what his favourite menu item was. The menu reads like classic diner fare and then staff favourites are the short blues (buttermilk blueberry pancakes), and the Jose (hashbrowns, two poached eggs, salsa, covered with cheddar cheese). We were so enthralled by watching the staff brusquely interact with the customers, and the owner yelling over everyone, that we were distracted enough to not mind the food, save the fact that Belle’s strawberries weren’t fully thawed. If you are looking for a wholesome breakfast, this is not the place for you. It is a greasy diner at its finest. But there will always be a place for $3 pancakes, or someone to slide a well oiled plate of hashbrowns in front of you.
Dining at Al’s is an experience. We won’t pretend it is a fascinating culinary one, but it is one that we valued nonetheless. So if you find yourself in Minneapolis, poke your head in. Take in the unsteady stools and the twinkly lights, the gravelly voices and the steaming grill, the hodgepodge decorations and the intimidating yet charming staff. Order a plate of food if you care and dare. That is breakfast at Al’s.