We have been waiting for quite some time for the Ole Cafe to reopen under new ownership in Northfield, especially after chatting with the new owners of the James Gang Coffeehouse. Earlier this week Josh let me know that they were indeed open and that we should head down and check it out.
I checked out their website ahead of time and lingered for a bit on their daily specials which today included Split Pea, Chicken Corn Chowder, Bean Chili, and Chicken Tortilla soups as well as Oriental Green Bean with Chicken and Provencal Potato salads. Ole Cafe serves everything cafeteria style and offers a build it yourself pasta (during dinner hours only) or pizza bar, sandwiches, panninis, etc. They also have a coffee shop and bakery which offers such treats as cheesecake, breakfast pastries, cupcakes, etc.
We arrived at the restaurant around 7:15 or so and found plenty of people parked on the street because the small parking lot was nearly full. Someone was backing out as we pulled in so we took their spot. I believe there was only one other spot open. As we walked up to the front we noticed that there were plenty of people inside sitting at tables and it looked like everyone was having a nice dinner.
As you enter the main doors you walk into their coffeehouse/bakery side. It’s a very large and open space with some comfortable seating. There were several people there chatting over coffee but there weren’t many tables for food. Kim and Laura went right to the dessert cases and started looking over their offerings inside. I headed into the middle section and looked over the cafeteria style line and peeked my head into the “bar” area. As with the bakery side, there weren’t that many tables and Laura later remarked that she appreciated the fact that she didn’t feel crowded. The decor is really nice and comfortable and reminded me of a coffeehouse more than a cafeteria style restaurant. The only complaint I had about it was the fact that it was echoing the conversations of everyone in the place and the background noise made it a little hard on the ears.
The cafeteria line starts with salads, moves to pasta salads, and then to the pasta bar and soups. I went straight for the pasta and ordered up their Manicotti for $6.95 while Laura and Kim were tying up the salad bar station. After ordering that I went back and grabbed a small Apple Balsamic salad for $3.95. Kim and Laura moved on to their sandwich station after Josh finished up there. Kim nabbed a Chicken Gorgonzola panini for $6.95 and Laura chose a Roasted Vegetable panini for $5.95. Both of them also picked a small house salad for $2.95. Kim also picked up a chocolate cupcake with blue icing right before we moved to the cashier to pay up. Our total bill was just under $24 and while they had a tip jar for cash offerings, the credit card receipt did not have a space for tips. If you feel like you should tip for their work in the cafeteria line, bring cash — I felt bad that we weren’t able to give the staff anything for their work because we don’t normally carry cash.
Kim chose a table for four in the next section over (half bar, half restaurant I suppose you could say) and Josh and I went to the bar and ordered bottled beer (they also have several wine offerings for $25 to $40/bottle). I got a Landshark (it reminds me of summer, what can I say?) and Josh got a Red Hook Blonde Ale. I later also tried the Blonde Ale but they had your typical domestics, a girly Mojito “malt beverage” and some other not-so-usual domestic owned beers that I didn’t even remember. The owner’s brother told us later that the Redhook Blonde Ale was a very recent addition so perhaps they will continue to add to their beer list.
After I did the whole photo thing we dug in. I started with my salad and thought it was a nice size for the price but the gorgonzola on top just wasn’t sharp enough for me. I think it could have used a bit more flavor but it was a nice warm up before the Manicotti. My Manicotti was overcooked and the pasta was a bit crunchy. The cheese and sauce weren’t very flavorful and while it was edible, eh, it was just all right. Kim’s Chicken Gorgonzola looked a little messy and didn’t seem like any panini that I had ever seen aside from the toasted bread. I took a taste and found it a little on the dry side and definitely wouldn’t order it in the future. Kim thought that it was overpowered by a strong mustard flavor and she was disappointed that her cheese wasn’t melted. Other than the mustard taste I didn’t believe it had any taste at all. Neither of us would order it again. Kim said her cupcake wasn’t all that great and while she thought that the icing was definitely homemade, it was entirely too sweet and not creamy enough. Laura’s ordered a roasted vegetable panini and while they were making it I became quite jealous because it looked pretty damn awesome with roasted red peppers, roasted tomatoes, cheese, etc. Laura enjoyed it but also wished the cheese was melted. She said shed definitely order it again. While I didn’t get a taste I thought it looked pretty damn good.
While I went up to the bar to order two more beers, I watched them make their pizzas (they have two small ovens on the wall of the “bar”) and they looked small. The ingredients look awesome but they are a bit on the expensive side for the size. Perhaps Aaron should come down and check it out for a better review. I saw a finished product on a table as we left and it looked pretty good but the crust was on the thin side for me but at least it was cut correctly ;)
We were told by the owner’s brother that the sister runs the place, the mother does the baking and they keep long hours. They’re looking to stay open to 10 on Fridays and Saturdays and aside from this weekend (it’s graduation) they will be closed on Sundays. We had a great time tonight and the service and staff were excellent. We’ll definitely be back to try it again but I do hope that they improve on the cheese melting, the pasta cooking and the mustard smearing.
1011 St Olaf Ave
Northfield, MN 55057
Monday – Thursday 5:30am – 9:00pm
Friday 5:30am – 10:00pm
Saturday 7:00am – 10:00pm
See all the pictures from tonight on Flickr here (camera).