2990 W. River Pkwy., Minneapolis, 612-721-2711
Review published May 2005
THESE DAYS, THE CHARM of the greasy spoon is getting a little too slippery to swallow. As much as we love the worn counter stools at the Ideal Diner and the tabletop jukeboxes at Mickey’s, the hamburgers come pre-pattied and the cheese is the waxy American stuff. In contrast, the owners of the Highland and Edina grills—and their latest addition in Longfellow—have updated the diner concept, providing a familiar ambiance, reasonable prices, fresh food, and slick décor.
The Longfellow Grill is housed in the ground level of the new West River Commons apartments, where East Lake Street meets the Mississippi. Its eclectic menu, glittery vinyl booths, and brightly painted walls echo those of its sister restaurants. While the Edina location picks up on the 50th and France vernacular (yellow stucco, patinaed copper, and a glass garage door window), Longfellow’s aesthetic feels more like St. Louis Park’s Excelsior & Grand—right down to the requisite piece of generic public art that makes the development look as plastically pretty as a Botox-addicted actress.
Ever since the first patrons found the door (it’s trickier than you’d think), Longfellow Grill has been bustling with a diverse clientele ranging from couples on dates to extended families passing around babies and baggies of Goldfish crackers. Servers are friendly and efficient, wearing timesaving phrases on the backs of their T-shirts—yes, the utensils are in the malt cup, no we don’t serve malts—as they eagerly take orders and bus tables. The tableware is a little funky: “Merry Christmas” or “Minnesota House of Representatives” mugs (acquired by an Iowa relative who’s an enthusiastic garage saler) and thick, oversized napkins. The mugs are amusing, but the napkins’ resemblance to bath towels seems to imply a lack of finesse on the part of the diner.
While the menu isn’t overly messy, portions are substantial and offerings aim to please. Diners may choose to eat breakfast foods for dinner or maple chicken salad at 7 in the morning. Many dishes are diner favorites with a twist, such as the BLT with poblano peanut pesto aioli; others, including the beer-battered green beans, are new notions entirely. Covered with a snakeskin-thin tempura and served with a gooey plum sauce, they’re as guilty a pleasure as Chinese American takeout—and a fun way to increase your veggie intake.
A number of dishes were good, with caveats: the pear and walnut rigatoni could have used another element to cut the richness of the sauce; the crisp, sage-flavored risotto cakes were tasty except for the accompanying too-sweet relish; and an open-face crab sandwich on sourdough bread was a pleasant alternative to a tuna melt save for its Miracle Whip–ish tang. Worthy of the most delicious praise were Andrew’s Killer Banana Waffles, topped with molten fruit and a cinnamon caramel that was sugary enough to make you reach for the Ritalin.
With its full bar, outdoor patio, and riverfront view, Longfellow Grill should become a popular neighborhood gathering place—worthy of being dubbed the new “urban diner.”