Sunday, October 4, 2009

Maria's Café

So many things going on this week, it's dizzying. My wife, who, by the way, is a superhero, ran the Twin Cities 10-mile this morning. I am immensely proud of her. I would not, of course, be writing about restaurants at all if it weren't for the lovely Miss J on the other side of the table. The Rose Ensemble is releasing their new CD, "Il Poverello," this weekend, so there are concerts aplenty to celebrate that. And we have Italian guests in town, and of course we have to do our best to show them why we think this is a marvelous place. For breakfast, that meant taking them directly to Maria's.

When the band was in Spain a while back, we were in the wine region known as Rioja. That was just fine, of course. The place was beautiful, the food was good, and the wine was wonderful, but you really had to like Rioja, because that was what you were going to get. Even in the stores, there weren't many options beyond that. Here, my accomplice Carrie and I were able to pack two Italians off to a Colombian restaurant to have Venezuelan corn pancakes. How cool is that?

By the way, I'm sure you've heard all sorts of people espouse this or that as a universal language. They're all wrong. It's pancakes.

Maria's is located in a group of shops and offices known as The Ancient Traders Market, on Franklin just west of 11th Ave. You can have your breakfast, then run across the parking lot for great deals on baking supplies at the Aldi. Parking is off-street and plentiful, always a plus in my book. It also doesn't hurt that they're kitty-corner from the Franklin Street Bakery, a wonderful place to stop while you're in the neighborhood.

The menu is not huge, but there's something for everyone here. If you want your basic eggs and toast, that's not a problem. If, on the other hand, you're after a plantain pancake, then you can do that, too. The coffee is good, and the array of exotic fruit juices will keep you entertained for weeks. I've never had anything here that wasn't wonderful. The salsa is to die for, the refried are excellent (vegetarians, don't say you weren't warned), the build-it-yourself plates are yummy AND fun, it's all just great, and almost beside the point. Because the reason you go to Maria's is the same reason everyone else goes to Maria's– the pancakes. Specifically the corn pancakes, or Cachapas Venezolanas. I really don't have words to describe these beauties. They're plate-sized, full of corn, sweet, salty, tangy, buttery, crisp on the edges, soft on the inside, and incapacitatingly wonderful. You can have them plain with butter, with syrup (not sure why, but it's an option), or (the way to go) with crumbly cotija cheese. The cheese is enough to share, so only one of you needs to order it. It sounds strange, I know, but be brave. You'll enjoy it. The only thing to be careful of is their deceptive size. They don't look dangerous, but trust me, you'll want to start with one. Once or twice a year, I'll convince myself that I'm hungry enough for two of them. I have never once been right about this. One, with a side of eggs or breakfast meat, is a perfect meal. Maybe not energy food, but certainly happiness food, and isn't that just as important?

The downside of Maria's is that everyone loves it, and once you go, you keep on going. Which means that, on the weekends, the place is packed, and I do mean packed. If you must go Saturday or Sunday, go early, or be prepared to wait. The mass of humanity is only one side of the problem. The building is not enormous, and neither is the kitchen. Being staffed with regular old humans, they sometimes have trouble keeping up. If you want to experience Maria's at its best, go for breakfast during the week. It's still busy, but it's much more relaxed, and the food will likely be that much closer to heaven.

Prices are reasonable. If you don't go crazy, two of you can do breakfast for under $20, and still leave stuffed. Isacco and Stefano did. Stuffed, and very very happy.

No comments:

Post a Comment