This is long overdue since I was in Minneapolis in early March, but I’m going to play the better late than never card. I’ve also made two trips since then and I’ve decided I’m not allowed to post about them until posted about this one.
It’s 9:02 on Sunday morning.
I waddle up the street, in layers of coat, sweater, leggings, and more to protect my week southern constitution against the Minnesota winter, the added layers and my yet-to-be-broken-in Dr. Martens accentuating my penguin like physique and gate. I’m trying to walk quickly and failing. After arguing with myself on the merits of a giant breakfast vs my warm bed followed by two wrong turns the less than one mile walk from the hotel, I am late. They opened at 9:00.
The skinny store front of Al’s Breakfast occupies a former ally between two much larger buildings, one also serving breakfast. Despite being open a mere two minutes, all 14 stools running longways through the center of the scant 10 feet wide storefront appear to be taken and a line of 15 more is waiting along the wall behind the diners. After following Butch Walker around the country and spending as much as 12 hours in line in a single day, I am a pro at waiting in line and I am ready to do my time as I take in my surroundings.
Inside Al’s is various shades of brown and exposed wood, all with a hearty patina of age. Along the wall between the kitchen in the back and grill in the front is an assortment of old foreign currency, knick-knacks, and what I would later learn are meal books for pre-paying that date back to the 50’s and railroad worker regulars who were paid once a month. Coffee, maple syrup, powdered sugar, grease, and the distinctive aroma of a short order grill perfume the toasty space.
Holding court behind the bar is the imposing figure of the beardiful host/server/ring master. He’s charming children, taking orders, making sure the door stays shut, and keeping track of who is next in line for seats.
“How many?” He asks the front of the line, working his way back in his booming baritone. “4. 7. 3. 2. And you?”
“One,” I reply, also indicating the number with my finger, because I am awkward and we have established that he is beardiful and charming.
“Well then, sit right down,” he grins and points to the lone empty stool by the door and the cold creeping through the cracks around the door.
If this was a movie or I was the type of person to have such fabulous things happen in my life, this would be our meet cute. Instead I took my seat on the vinyl stool, keeping on my coat and scarf, as I sit back to watch the floor show of the grill cook as she turns out pancakes, bacon, sausage, along with acerbic comments to her coworkers to get the aging stereo on the top shelf adjusted so she can hear The Verve Pipe’s “Freshman”. I chat with a few other diners and Mr. Beardiful about the Minnesota United soccer game that afternoon, their first MLS home game and the reason I’m in town.
“Oh, so you’re a good person to know I guess.”
“Maybe.” I smile.
I place my order and sip a perfect cup of coffee as the beardiful ringmaster slides plates to anxious customers, takes orders, has a very important conversation with a little girl about Minnie Mouse, and take payments.
This does have the air of a “cash only” type of joint. I start looking around. No credit card swipe or credit card stickers on sight.
My heart sinks and I panic.
Normally I’m a compulsive planner for trips, spending arguably more time on the planning than the trip itself. This trip is different. I’m in Minneapolis for work and have barely done any research. There were so many question marks for the trip I honestly didn’t know if I would have any time to spare for myself and was delighted I had managed to make it to Electric Fetus for some record shopping. I opted to not stress the research rather than get my hopes up for adventuring only to have to work, and now I have completely missed that Al’s is cash only and don’t have a single dollar in cash. I am starving and I have already ordered up two enormous plates of food.
I waive over Mr. Beardiful Ring Master, ready to cement that this is most definitely not a meet cute.
“Um… this is a dumb question that I really should have figured out sooner, but are you cash only? And follow up question, where is the nearest ATM?”
“Yea, we are. But you know, your food is almost ready and it’s better hot so just eat and you can run get cash after you’re done.”
“Oh! Thank you, so much. That’s awesome!”
My logical and cynical brain knows he was making his life easier by not having me occupy a coveted seat any longer than necessary, but in that moment I’m so hungry I swear he is Prince Charming. I’m imagining sparkles and happy woodland creatures on his shoulders just as he spins around with my bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, and blackberry pancakes. I’m sure that would have sent the happy chipmunk flying on to the grill, but I digress.
The breakfast is everything I could possibly want to prepare myself for my day at what I would later learn is the coldest MLS game in history. 20 degrees and enough snow accumulation that they have to have the field cleared. Everything is massive, including the blackberries dotting the pancakes, and it’s impossible to finish it all.
Just as I’m cramming a final bite of pancakes into my mouth Mr. Beardiful appears again.
“So how was everything?”
“Um… perfect. Now about that ATM?”
He lists off a few options nearby while I try to rush through the bite so that I might be able to speak like an actual adult.
“Awesome. I’ll be right back, then.”
After a quick detour back into the cold for cash, I slip back in door of Al’s and it’s just as warm and welcoming as it felt when I walked in the first time.
Making eye contact with him, I reach over the bar and other diners to slide a $20 into his hand. “Thank you, again. Everything was excellent. Keep the change.”
“Thanks, darlin’. Enjoy the game. See you next time.”