DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
This article is about good health, mental health—and breakfast. Obviously, these things are quite interconnected. We had a very fun Sunday morning breakfast at Hot Plate, a diner on Bloomington Avenue and 52nd Street. Hot Plate has been around for over a decade, having been started by Sam Beberg and Carrie Lewis in the 2000s, but bought by the present owner, Carmen Santana, about two years ago. Santana kept what was most popular—most of the kitschy decor, the diner prices, the breakfast signature dishes—and then expanded the space and adjusted the hours. Hot Plate no longer serves lunch, and closes at 1 p.m. on weekdays (still open to 2 p.m. on weekends, and opens at 8 a.m. every day) and has flirted with a Taco Night. The new dining room in the back almost doubles the space. Be warned that waiting periods to get a seat can approach 45 minutes on weekend peak times. In the spring through fall, there is a charming and restful covered patio with lots of seating where you can wait, and they won’t even mind if you bring an “outside” coffee drink to while away your wait time. Hot Plate also delivers, using GrubHub.
The breakfast offerings are in two broad categories—Minnesota-themed Americana diner favorites, such as the Grand Marais scramble with smoked trout and asparagus, buckwheat-pumpkin waffles, or a caramel pecan roll, and Mexican-Minnesota-style items like chilaquiles or breakfast burritos. It’s hard to say which is better, or more popular. The former category will come with home-fries, which are nicely not greasy or over-seasoned. The latter come with hot sauce and sour cream. A hard choice.
Hot Plate, unlike pretty much every other small local business we have covered here, does not appear to have a Facebook page. Brave move! They do have a barebones website and plenty of Yelp reviews, all good.
There’s a nice little upscale strip mall across the road from Hot Plate and its neighbors (two massage studios and a lawyer) wherein is found Cake (a plus-size, gently-worn fashion store) and a vintage furnishings store and the Music Lab (5159 Bloomington Ave. S.). The Music Lab is primarily a music school for both kids and adults, but it includes several other things related to music, including an occasional performance venue. As it says on their super well-organized website, “Our instructors are all performing musicians, and we try to pass our love of performance on to our students by offering optional opportunities to play in front of an audience, in our own performance space or in local venues.” Their latest offering, which just started in July, is “Music for Minis,” group lessons for ages 2 to 4. They also have summer camps (just wrapped up for this year) and a unique class called Rock Lab for youth, described as “an awesome group-musical-situation where three or more students are paired up with different Music Lab Instructors and learn how to play in a band together. We will teach you songs to play that you may already know, a few that you don’t know and, best of all, we will teach you how to improvise and create your own original music together.” That does sound awesome. Music competencies taught in private lessons include voice, songwriting and piano, bowed string instruments such as violin and cello, woodwinds and brass, guitar, banjo, mandolin, and other string folk instruments, including electric guitar, drums and percussion, and miscellaneous such as accordion and harmonica. The Music Lab also rents out their spaces when not in use for rehearsals, performances, meetings and gatherings.
As exciting as these spots in the shopping strip are, there is a new one opening soon that has got us even more excited. As you may have gathered from previous pieces, I get really excited about books. Irreverent Bookworm, which is “softly” opened at limited times now (Mondays and Tuesdays, 5 to 9 p.m. plus occasional sneak preview Saturdays—there was one last Saturday) and will open for real in September, is like my ultimate dream of a neighborhood bookstore. Clean, well-lit, well-curated, a mix of mostly used but some new books, comfy chairs, a cat, and a homey vibe all are inviting me to love this place. It’s also a family and woman-owned store. They have a sign in the window explaining why they opened a bookstore—“Do you see any other bookstores around here? And no, the book section of Target does NOT count.” LOL. As I arrived at Hot Plate about 12:50 that Sunday morning, I thought the bookstore was open, because I saw people going in and out, but then when I checked at about 1:50 p.m., it wasn’t. The internet explained everything. There had been a celebration of the one-year anniversary of the Feminist Reading Group hosted there. That’s a good sign too. The store has an excellent website at https://irrevbooks.com/, where you can sign up for news and maybe get there for the grand opening; also a Facebook page and a really beautiful Instagram account. In addition to books, the store also sells literary swag, and, through a service called libro.fm, a huge selection of audiobooks.
One thing that was not special (OK but unremarkable) about breakfast at Hot Plate was the coffee. (They also have espresso drinks but we didn’t sample them.) If you’re more of a coffee enthusiast and insist at a minimum knowing the roaster, you could do a lot worse than to breakfast at May Day Cafe at the corner of 35th and Bloomington. In addition to the coffee (which is always served at the perfect temperature), there are two things they have that are integral to a sublime breakfast experience and getting rarer every day: fresh-squeezed orange juice and almond croissants. Fresh-squeezed orange juice is a whole ‘nother level compared to even the best pre-packaged stuff. And it’s being displaced in the foodie world by such things as kombucha, smoothies, switchel and kvass. All of which have their place but are not my choice for the tender fasting stomach. As for May Day Cafe’s almond croissant, it’s the best in the world. I can say that, because I have compared it to those from London, Vienna, and Paris. [!!!!]
However, if you have dietary or allergy considerations, while May Day does cater to these to some extent, you might want more selection. Sift Gluten-free at the corner of 46th and Bloomington (former Sisters’ Sludge space) has recently expanded their scones, pastries, muffins and cookies to include a large choice of products free of gluten as well as dairy, eggs and soy. And both of these cafes offer excellent coffee from popular roasters. Just around the corner from Sift you’ll find Green Bee Juicery at 1526 E. 46th St. I remember seeing them in the food business incubator at Chicago and 37th before they made the big time. Green Bee is closed Monday but opens at 8 a.m. other days. They cold-press the juice from fresh local produce to maintain peak enzyme activity to ensure that the juice is as nutritious as possible. They also produce nutmilk, which, like the juice, is completely raw, never heated. Green Bee Juicery also cares about sustainability, sourcing most of their stuff from local farms. You can also buy Green Bee products online at https://www.greenbeejuicery.com/order-1.
All this talk about health has maybe made you wonder if you’re getting the best care you can from your current doctor or clinic. Or maybe you’re in need of a good but reasonably priced dentist, or a psychotherapist. Have you considered checking out CUHCC, pronounced “kook” but stands for Community University Health Care Center? This clinic can be found at the northernmost end of Bloomington Avenue, where it starts from Franklin Avenue. You will know it by its distinctive mural (pictured). I very gratefully turned to CUHCC for health care after returning from a 13-year sojourn in the U.K. It appears that if you haven’t been “in the system” for a while, at least back before the ACA, you literally could not get health insurance at any cost, because they didn’t know how to rate your health. When a freak accident caused me to bloody and bruise my nose, a friend took me to CUHCC, where I explained my uninsured and unwaged status to them. They not only gave me great health care, but they shepherded me through the process of applying for Medical Assistance or MN Care so I could get back into the insurers’ all-powerful databases and get basic care in the interim. CUHCC is part of the University of Minnesota medical network, including dentistry and psychotherapy. They also have a strong social component of legal advice, health care navigation and case management. They also provide victim advocacy and can provide interpreters in Spanish, Somali, Hmong, Lao and Vietnamese. I still use CUHCC for my dentistry needs because they are as good as any private dentists and always reasonable, no matter what your income. CUHCC has a great website, but you still have to call them to make an appointment. You can, however, donate money to them online.