The decor—wooden tables, a rotating exhibition, solid painted walls—was understated, but clean. The wall-sized glass windows with wraparound bench seating would have made for a great sun-filled brunch or late afternoon happy hour. Accompanied by an open space reserved in the center, the restaurant is ensured a steady volume level and airiness, though perhaps at the expense of the more tightly packed tables, a little too close for standard spacious Minnesota comfort. Nevertheless, whatever was left to be desired from the atmosphere was recompensed for in the food.
There for dinner, I tried to cover my ground by tasting a dish from the tapas, entrée and food truck sections of the menu. The bowl of caldo ($4), a Colombian vegetable soup, to start was definitely a highlight of the meal. Light, textured, with chunks of cooked potato, a piece of corn on the cob and a side of homemade chips, the caldo was fresh, balanced and spicy, leading me to mistakenly assume an exhilarating tongue-burning and nostril-dripping dinner.
Much to my surprise (and disappointment) the spice did not carry out through the entrées to follow: the Colombian Tamale ($15) and Braised Pulled Pork Arepa ($10). The tamale was filled with chicken, pork, vegetables and a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in a plantain leaf forming an unusual array of flavors and bestowing a warm and hearty fullness. The outside wrapping was soft, dense and sweet, the side of plantains even sweeter and the yuca frita, salty and crunchy. If anything was missing in this dish, it was the spice. The salsa draping over the tamale tasted fresh but lacked sufficient flavor in order to counterbalance the sweetness of the tamale dough and highlight the filling inside.
The arepa, on the other hand, while not particularly spicy, amped up the flavor a couple of notches. The braised pork was juicy and fatty, the aioli tangy, the onions pickled and sour, the potato flakes salty and the arepa doughy with a sweet honey-crisped outside. For a higher infused flavor palette at a lower price, the Braised Pulled Pork Arepa was definitely a winner. All three dishes were artistic masterpieces boasting bright colors, delicate garnishes and exciting compositions. If you enjoy feeding your eyes as well as your stomach and are willing to venture out of Mac-Groveland, Café Racer Kitchen is definitely worth the hike.
Café Racer Kitchen is located at 2929 East 25th St. Minneapolis, MN 55406