Monthly Archives: February 2009

Next Stop, Cheeky Monkey

How well I remember what the reassuring subway voice says about the “gap” in the underground tube in DSC01637London, the potentially dangerous area between the subway car and the platform. MIND THE GAP. The voice was warm and motherly, as if to safely welcome you to the royal city and hope that you have a most gracious stay.

I did mind both the gap and London itself when I was there, wandering around Regent’s Park and stopping to see Cezanne’s apples, Blake’s sinewy muscles, and Rothko’s moody landscapes again and again at the Tate, eating not much but soup and bread from the Europa around the corner from where I stayed and falafel sandwiches from that little place with the yellow walls near the Camden market.

Tonight I was reminded of all of these details about Londontown at the brand-new, eagerly anticipated Cheeky Monkey Deli in St. Paul (on Selby near Western). The tube sign logo is accompanied by a leisurely, self-assured monkey shooting you a playful wink, as if it knows just how hungry you are and just how good the food is inside. This little guy asks you to stop in, relax, and enjoy yourself before continuing to your next destination.

And guess what, guys? The monkey is right. From food to service to decor, Cheeky Monkey is a wonderful, much-needed addition to the neighborhood. I expect it will be extremely well-received.

The comfortable interior is sort of a mock stately atmosphere reminiscent of Palms in Milwaukee or even Sardi’s in New York City. It brings to mind the Sardi’s spoof in The Muppets Take Manhattan where Kermit dines against a backdrop of frog luminaries framed on the wall rather than famous actors. In this case, the chic black and red decor is offset with cheeky album covers, bold portraits, and beautiful rectangular subway tiles in the kitchen and the bathroom.

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The servers are all perfectly attentive and the kitchen is open and well staffed.

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The wine list (at least this early in the game) consists of two reds and two whites, but impressing us with grapes does not seem to be part of the business plan. Wine lovers are encouraged to stop by Solo Vino adjacent to the deli to pick up a bottle before going to the deli if they choose. Reports say there is a 5-dollar corkage fee.

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The menu is a thorough mix of roughly 15 sandwiches, complete with turkey, ham, roast beef, shrimp, pot roast, meatloaf, and four vegetarian options, including a Nutella and banana sandwich on toast. There is a handful of salads, daily soup, and a nicely balanced list of fetching cold and hot sides.

I ate roasted tomato and red pepper soup. It is served on a wood board with a bit of toasted bread and a shot of olive oil. (And come to think of it, the cup I ordered actually looks like it was served generously in a bowl.) The soup was totally satisfying, with a deep tomato flavor and and sharp boost of roasted pepper in the every bite.

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I also ate soft grits, which were creamy, fulfilling, and laced with pieces of bacon.

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It was hard to choose just one sandwich, but I ordered one with pot roast, horseradish cream, arugula, and pickled red onion on ciabatta bread. The white bread was perfectly soft and toasted, the meat effortless to eat, the arugula spicy and slightly limp, and the pickled onions nicely acidic and spread throughout. My only request would be a bit more of the horseradish cream, but I’m a fan of big flavors and most people would probably think this sandwich is perfect as is.

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As I ate, I couldn’t help but balk at the idea of choosing a chain restaurant over something as authentic and enjoyable as this. It is places like Cheeky Monkey that validate and enhance any urban living experience. Over the pipes was playing Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Radiohead, and later on (brace yourself) Axel F. And since I am such a geek, I also used my iPhone to check if the deli offers wireless Internet. Yes, they do. It’s the best kind of Wi-Fi, too — unadvertised and free, which makes Cheeky Monkey an even more enjoyable and civilized stop, no matter what route you are on.

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It Was the Best Meal I Never Had

Oh, my. Where in the world have I been? I took a trip to Gotham, it’s true, but I didn’t mean for it make me as mute3229336914_40f8602678_b for nearly three weeks. Add on the mounds of work I faced when I got back and the nasty cold I acquired just as I was getting on top of things, and you can see why I had to hit the pause button and go underground for awhile. I’m better now and doing a little dance, not only because it’s Friday, but also because Edible Cities just creaked over the 5,000 viewer mark. Who are all of you interesting people? Are you all in love with food too, or are you just looking for Cafe Boy as much as the next girl and guy are?

It’s with a satisfied sigh that I report about my trip to New York City. One of my authors was invited to be on the Today Show, of all things, and since her travel partner couldn’t make it, I tagged along as both paparazzi and porter. This is Ronelle Coburn, a master hand analyst who uses the unique markings on your hands to peer deeper into your soul than your mother, grandmother, or best friend can. It’s true. She peered into mine and now she knows more about me than I do.

Truth be told, I didn’t expect to be all that involved with the Today Show experience. I was looking forward to updating my facebook status while eating a free bagel in the green room, and that’s about it.

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I was surprised when the page invited me to join them in prep, but off I went to see what there was to see. The hair and makeup stylists converged on Ronelle and spruced her up for TV in what seemed like a few minutes.

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I waited in the wings, taking pictures whenever it seemed appropriate.

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Next, I was invited by Danielle, the producer, to hang out on the set while the segment went live. The whole thing was surprisingly fun and casual. Ronelle was mic’ed and built up a bit of a rapport with Lester Holt before they went on air…

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…while I nosed around the kitchen-set…

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…discovering what cook books the Today Show people deem worthy enough to keep in the kitchen.3229104454_3c03019da4_b

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Someone yelled, waved, or grunted, I’m not sure which, and suddenly the cameramen snapped into formation, the segment was taped, and we were quickly congratulating Ronelle on handling her first national TV spot with such grace and skill. Way to go, my friend, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of such an important experience.3228471673_46a68ec909_b

During the rest of the trip, I also reconnected with three of my closest friends, saw Jamie’s new apartment in Park Slope, danced to some top-shelf music way too late with Shawn on a Sunday night, and smoked a hookah loaded with Double Apple hash.

I stumbled into a literary reverie in the West Village and got lost in world class art at MoMA and the Met. I walked for hours at a time without a subway map, doing my flaneurian thing, capturing moments as I love to do.

I ate oysters for the first time at Angel’s Share with Earl-Grey-infused grape vodka to wash it down.

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I walked 20 minutes out of my way for a killer cup of coffee at 9th Street Espresso.

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I ate a cheese puff (or two) from Murray’s.

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I ate a cheeseburger at Market Table.

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I ate a long-awaited tagine at Le Souk with Shawn. This place was so fantastic I can’t even get into it here.

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I ate a 17-dollar architectural appetizer at Brassiere 8 1/2.

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I ate a mushroom fritter at the Met.

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I ate a mezze plate at Kashkaval with Kallie.

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There’s more, of course, but you probably understand what I’m saying. I was anxious to see the somber face of Manhattan again, which always makes me feel a rush of exhilaration. The stories that led me there ten years ago welcome me back to the place where my mind feels free.