Al’s is an institution. A good one. Of course, I didn’t know that the first time I moseyed there. It is not much bigger than a postage stamp. The Wikipedia entry says it seats fourteen people. Apparently its diminutive nature didn’t stop it from winning a James Beard award.
People wait in line for seats to open up. It’s worth it. Just try to avoid going between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. – or just be very very patient.
You can get a fancy flourish or two. Yeah, a little tomato, basil, or this or that might show up. But Al’s treats honest, prosaic American breakfast as an art form. In my last visit, I ordered some toast, eggs, and sausage. The manager gave me two lovely eggs the cook fried gently in butter to a perfect “over medium.” Eggs can get too dry. Or burnt. Or whatever. Or just boring, which is probably the worst outcome. With Al’s eggs, I could enjoy everything: the sweetness of the butter playing against the yolk and white; the tenderness of the “medium” I’d requested; and happily pairing the egg with toast or sausage in alternating bites. Oh, and the pancakes. Maybe that was a different visit. The blueberry pancakes were spectacular. The tartness of the berries accentuated the tender texture of the pancakes. A little butter and syrup heightened the superb pancake experience into true love. Al’s is to the breakfast grill what Rudy Galindo is to the ice rink: a world-class champion. Work it, Al’s!
Sure, you could certainly visit it for its quirky ambience. It’s stuck in a converted alleyway in the middle of Dinkytown, shouting distance from the University of Minnesota. You could be sitting next to some New Yorkers experiencing Al’s for the first time, or a ex-Minneapolite carrying a torch for Al’s all the way from who knows where. Listening to the staff communicate with each other and the customers makes for great people-watching. But make no mistake, this place has got the absolute chops DOWN. Al’s got its reputation the old-fashioned way: by earning it!
(post #2 in a series about BREAKFAST!)