For a while now, people who live in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of St. Paul have been watching the old Zander Café space and arguing about what they want most to occupy it. A coffee shop? A fine-dining restaurant? A takeout counter? A gastropub? Remarkably, the new restaurant that just filled the space, the Cheeky Monkey, is a little bit of each.
Want coffee? Cheeky Monkey’s got it, along with delicious homemade pound cake, darling ricotta cheesecakes, and perfectly creamy coconut-cream pie. Want fine dining? Show up after 3 p.m. and you can get a wonderfully tender pot roast and cumin pork shoulder along with a simple glass of wine. Want a gastropub? Get a tap of Summit beer, set it next to a lick-the-plate-clean sandwich of thick, house-cured bacon, a fried egg, arugula, and mayo on toast, and call it a simple feast. Takeout aficionados will love the sturdy sandwiches, like a muffuletta based on house-smoked ham.
There’s more: Parents will love that there are changing tables in the bathrooms and kids’ meals that include a juice box. People who have caught a chill will love the crackling fireplace, and people who brought a novel will love sinking into one of the big cozy club chairs.
What doesn’t Cheeky Monkey have? Servers. It’s counter-service and bus-your-own-tables all day and all night. That’s surprising given how chic the place looks, from its sleek subway tiles near the kitchen to the designer light fixtures and interior palette of black and brick. Call it the latest salvo in the chef/server wars. Owner Matt McArthur was a former cook at Goodfellows in Minneapolis, and his vision of a perfect restaurant certainly saves you money on tips. Maybe they could have wandering masseuses and contractors who renovate your bathroom for free while you dine? Just because a restaurant gives you everything doesn’t mean that some people won’t still want more.