First Look: 612 Cafe

A catering crew opens its doors for lunch

Recently opened Midtown lunch spot 612’s name is the first indication of an allegiance to all things Minnesota, from  the use of local beer as an ingredient to a menu filled with Midwestern favorites (tater tots, hot dish, wild rice salad). Owner Danica Liebelt, who began by catering custom-made menus for weddings with 612 Catering, explains that the unique results of the café’s menu were a team effort. She and her sister set out to make food that was “fun, different, and unique,” with tastebud testing from the rest of the family to determine which experiments made the cut.

With its jazzed-up take on local lunchtime favorites, the café does seem to hold more promise than its nearby contenders (the Golden Arches, Subway, and Asian buffets edge the scene). Take the Chili Fury — this classic cold-weather dish gets an extra kick from Surly Brewing Co.’s ferociously hoppy Furious IPA. The same goes for the catering company’s house salads, dressed with a Surly Cynic and cherry-flavored vinaigrette (made in house, of course) to reinvigorate the mélange of local farm-fresh greens.

These options help the health-conscious eater justify gorging on the true highlights of the 612, which the café sent over for tasting. By far the most surprising dish was the Skyline, a pair of soft taco shells stuffed with beer-battered and deep-fried Avocado strips, a tangy salsa spread, and hints of beer barbecue sauce (homemade using another local brew). When read aloud, combining salsa with barbecue sauce didn’t quite add up in my head—but that was before I tasted the surprisingly delicious blend of flavors all tucked beneath a melted layer of Asiago cheese. The Viking club, a 612 signature, is a carnivore’s paradise of prosciutto, turkey, and salami packed between savory house-made cheddar bacon buns.

Had it opened up in the skyway, 612 Café might not pull apart from the busy lunchtime pack. But where the café could raise its flag is with a fresh twist that keeps unique to its surroundings.

311 E. Lake St., 612-353-5175,