Story by Tracey Ryder
Photos by Carole Topalian
|Café Twenty Eight’s warm and inviting interior|
The word bistro did not enter the French language until 1884 and although its origins are often argued, there is no confusion about its meaning. Everyone agrees that whether it’s a café, a small unpretentious restaurant, or simply a place to enjoy a glass of wine and a simple, yet tasty sandwich, a bistro is a place for good times with friends.
Located in Linden Hills, Café Twenty Eight is just this kind of neighborhood bistro. It’s beautiful to look at with its soft wood tones and earthy greens; it’s cozy, family-friendly, and serves delicious food. Under the guidance of owner, Linda Haug, and the culinary abilities of chef, Nick Cronin, Café Twenty Eight offers a dining experience that represents all that is good about bistro fare-honest flavors that are still connected to the earth they came from, yet raised to a higher level. Bistro food has a sense of generosity. It makes us feel that we are safe and comforted in a fast-paced world and that is what this neighborhood bistro accomplishes.
A Linden Hills resident since 1993, Linda Haug wanted to create a restaurant that served the neighborhood as much as it did visitors. She wanted it to be a place that locals could walk to in the evening and enjoy a casual yet delicious meal. The location, the building, the size-all were critical to her vision, which is why the historic firehouse that houses the restaurant was the perfect choice. Haug took over the lease on January 1, 2002 and launched a remodel that took four months. Since the building had formerly housed the restaurant D’Amico and Sons, many people didn’t realize it had changed hands when Café Twenty Eight opened its doors on April 12, 2002. Haug laughs about it now: “I think ninety-percent of the people who first came through our doors thought it was still D’Amico and Sons. It took a while before they realized it had changed hands.”
Haug brings wide and varied experiences to the restaurant business. One look at the wine list and you will understand part of her past experience as a sales rep for a high-quality distributor. With a strong domestic palette represented in roughly eighteen wines, Haug has created a superb offering that pairs well with the seasonal menu. Earlier in her career, Haug even did stints as a cocktail waitress and prep cook at the famed Rio Grill in Carmel, California, where “fresh, local, and seasonal” are the gold standard. Adding to the sensibilities she developed on her own, Linda’s husband, Todd Haug, a brewer at Rock Bottom Brewery in Minneapolis, brings additional expertise to the equation. In fact, even for someone like me, who greatly favors wine above beer, the selections on the Café Twenty Eight beer menu challenged my opinion greatly, especially with the full-bodied, malty Trappist ales such as Chimay and Orval.
| Café Twenty Eight’s owner,
Things that inform her sensibilities about food include growing up in Northern Wisconsin with a father who understood that the best food in any location was found at the neighborhood places frequented by locals. Haug recalls an experience when traveling with her father to the Bahamas and being in the back of a cab during a hurricane: “All my father would do was ask the driver ‘where do the locals eat?'” This, of course, led to a great meal (regardless of the weather), and her philosophy that food without pretension that is based on local ingredients always provides the best meal.
Rounding out the flavors as well as the family-friendly atmosphere of Café Twenty Eight is chef Nick Cronin, whose wife Briana and son Skyler, add to the mix of creative energy that seems to be overflowing here. Since coming on board in September of 2004, Cronin has added a whole new level of flavor to the seasonal menu with selections such as Fischer Farms Pork in Adobo, a slowly simmered naturally raised pork in a sauce made from three different chiles. Haug says of her chef: “Nick is respectful of the ingredients. He intuitively knows what works and I appreciate his ability to bring the ingredients to their highest potential while staying true to their authentic flavor.”
With more than a nod to local farmers and food artisans, Haug and Cronin are devoted to continuously adding more and more regional ingredients. In fact, the current menu includes organic eggs and chicken from Larry Schultz’s farm in Owatonna, pork from Tim Fischer’s Purebred Hog Farm, and beef sourced by Kristin Tombers and Greg Westergreen, owners of Clancey’s Meats & Fish, the Linden Hills neighborhood shop that sources meats from Minnesota farms. And, speaking of regional specialties, don’t miss the Wisconsin-style fish fry, which takes place every Friday night.
Author’s favorites from Café Twenty Eight: