Category Archives: travel

Al’s Breakfast of Minneapolis, Minnesota: prosaic American breakfast as an art form (blissful altar of breakfast post #2)

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!

...not much wider than a bicycle is long

(post #2 in a series about BREAKFAST!)

Al’s Breakfast
413 14th Ave. S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55414
  • first photo showing much of the restaurant above appears by kind permission of m.papaya;
  • second photo by Megan Mayer of; and
  • the third photo appears by kind permission of sidesalad.

“jamón serrano/iberico” // Year of the Boar post #3

Once upon a time when I was a younger lass I visited Spain, staying in the home of friends in the bosom of Madrid. Not only did I enjoy the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Royal Botanical Garden – my hosts introduced me to jamón.

How to describe it? It is a salt-cured ham. No, no, far beyond the fabulousness of prosciutto. Just imagine eating a thin slice of chewy, profound savoriness, striated with smooth fat and you might begin to understand the experience.

Until recently, smuggling was the only way to enjoy them in the United States, due to USDA strictures (farcical as they might seem). Many otherwise law-abiding Americans have attempted to circumvent the law in their quest to enjoy these heavenly hams. If you ever have a chance to taste these hams, you will understand why. Leftbanker‘s story should give you some idea of the desperation level for this product – comparing jamón to cocaine is quite popular:

I have decided that an easy way to get rich is to start an international smuggling cartel. I tried to start my jamón traficante business last week by smuggling a ham into the country disguised as a pregnant nun. By the time I got to Kennedy Airport in New York all I had was bone. I shared with everyone around me on the flight so at least I made some new friends. If you are an importer of illegal goods, never use your own product. I think I saw that in a movie once. I don’t like drugs very much so if I were a cocaine dealer this wouldn’t be a problem, but Spanish ham is just so good.

See, her attempt was foiled by her own desires for the jamón. There is now one company currently selling these hams directly to the U.S. market: La Tienda (they are selling various packages online). I promise you, I am not shilling for La Tienda but, if I had the extra dough, I might have been one of the desperate souls putting down $200.00 for a ham future – that’s right, we are talking about potential ham!!!

All this now-historical drama aside, you only need to know this: a bit of jamón with a decent piece of bread makes for a heavenly meal. It also happens to be a perfect travel food requiring no refrigeration. Excellent for those hours and hours of museum-browsing or trekking hither and yon. If you ever get a chance, try jamón. It is rightfully a national treasure of Spain.