On the corner of Lake St. and Irving Avenue is a low, white building with a tiled roof. The broad plate-glass windows give passers-by a peek into Cafe Barbette, a restaurant and bar open from morning until late at night. Barbette has the best french fries in Minneapolis
and is perfect for late-night dining as well as for brunch or dinner. The menu changes seasonally and features local and organic foods when they’re available. Barbette takes reservations, but they don’t accept same-day reservations after 5 pm, and nearly half the restaurant is dedicated to walk-ins, so you can usually get a table.
Barbette opened in 2001 in the space formerly occupied by Cafe Wyrd. I was sad to see Wyrd go, as it was the first “gay” establishment I ever visted, but Barbette was worth it. It is unique among Uptown Minneapolis restaurants in that it offers a chef-driven menu, acts as a gallery for local artists, and sponsors a yearly free block party in honor of Bastile Day. The space itself is warm and inviting, with exposed brick along the east wall and open, red ceilings. The bar includes both a low and a high top, so it is accessible to all, and was hand-crafted. Behind the bar, large mirrors act as cocktail menus, and a big chalkboard displays the specials of the day. Votives glimmer in jewel-toned glasses on narrow shelves, and warm light spills down from low-hanging lamps and small chandeliers.
Cafe Barbette features an extensive wine list and has a pleasant offering of wines by the glass as well as an impressive number of well-chosen bottles. They are deicated to providing the most naturally produced wines without sacrificing taste. Between 3 and 6 pm, Monday through Friday, featured wines are $5 a glass, and there is a happy hour menu availble with smaller portions of olives, fruit and cheese, french fries, and mussels.
Though the menu changes often, a few items have remained constant since Barbette opened. The Salad Nicoise is an artful plate of fresh baby greens, seared ahi tuna, tiny, emerald-green haricots verts, delicate egg, and other seasonal accompaniments. The buckwheat crepes are crisp as starched lace at the edges, with a gentle, nutty flavor, and they are stuffed with fresh, organic fillings, including strawberries with brie, egg, and fines herbs, chicken and mushrooms with gruyere, and spinach with roasted tomatoes and garlic. The soups and quiches are always an affordable and delectable option.
And then there are the french fries. Did I mention the fries? The full portion of pommes frites is enough for a table of six, and a half order will leave two diners unable to finish the rest of their meal. The thin-cut, Belgian style potatoes are never overly greasy and are served with fresh saffron aioli, though ketchup, malt vinegar, and mayonaise are all available. I cannot eat just one; I cannot eat just ten. Barbette’s frites are perfect for a late-night snack (they’re open til 1 am during the week and til 2 on weekends), perhaps with a glass of Sangiovese, or for brunch with a side of organic scrambled eggs and a fresh-squeezed mimosa.
In the warmer months of the year, Barbette offers seating on its sidewalk patio. The seating is along the Irving side of the building, making it shady and quiet, and the tables are painted in bright, cheerful stripes.
A full dinner menu is offered until ten, and after that, you can still get the frites, as well as many other “amusements” or appetizers, sandwiches, and desserts. Please try the molten chocolate cake; it’s the best I’ve had anywhere. The banana nutella crepe is served with vanilla bean ice cream, and the hot sweet fruit, rich chocolate, and smooth, cold ice cream are a perfect mix of flavor and texture. The coffee and espresso are as good as was offered when it was Cafe Wyrd.
In its early days, Barbette attracted much of the same clientele as it had as Cafe Wyrd, but word has gotten out about this nouveau-French gem. As the hours pass, the crowd changes from business lunchers and shoppers, to afternoon coffee-drinkers and students, to a motley crew of suburban families, first-date couples, birthday parties, and stalwart regulars at dinner, to after-theater cultured dessert-seekers, and at last, to the hip, arty, well-dressed late night folk who close the cafe each night.
Cafe Barbette is a worthwhile destination restaurant for visitors to Minneapolis, as well as a comfortable neighborhood bistro for those who live nearby. Owner Kim Bartmann has created a jewel of a cafe, welcoming to all.