Traipsing Around Town: Home Cooking and a Small Town Vibe at Key's 'Original' Cafe

By Taylor Uggla

When I stepped into Key’s ‘Original’ Café a few days ago, I felt like I’d been transported to another place and time. The walls are bright yellow, something I’d normally deem hideous, but along with the endless rows of photos that parade across them, they give the restaurant a distinctly comfortable feel. Booths and tables fight for room next to a classic diner counter, and the hum of customers’ voices can always be heard. Our waitress, who was very motherly, greeted us with a cheerful good morning and called me honey, and most of the customers seemed to be regulars. Eating there is almost like going back a few decades, as well as traveling to a very small town.This atmosphere reflects the history of Key’s Café. Barbara Hunn established the restaurant in 1973, and it has been a family business ever since. Six other locations around the Twin Cities now exist, a fact I initially found disappointing, but her sons and daughters manage all of them. The Hunns have managed to keep their chain non-corporate, and the original location, still run by Barbara herself, has the most history and charm. It’s been around for thirty-five years, and you can tell the Hunns grew up there just by looking around. In addition to the array of photos, handwritten quotes on yellowed paper have been taped to the front counter.

The cooking at Key’s is home-style and everything is made from scratch. I recommend the breakfast menu, which includes standard items as well as a few that are a bit more creative. You can order pancakes, waffles, French toast, or eggs with classic combinations, all for reasonable prices. I had the Key’s Complete Veggie Scrambler, which was a bit more expensive ($10.50 as opposed to a $4.00-$8.00 range), but I was served such a large portion that it didn’t matter. My eyes actually widened when the waitress sat the plate down-a mountain of eggs and crispy hash browns mixed with mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, and onions lay before me. When I was done eating (a considerable amount I might add), it looked like I hadn’t even started yet. I ate this meal for breakfast and lunch, and I was also pleased with the homemade strawberry jam that was served with my toast. You definitely won’t go hungry here, and from what I observed, all menu items are quite sizeable.

Out of the more innovative options, the Loon Omelette stood out to me. Wild rice, mushrooms, onion, tomato, Swiss cheese, and turkey are all wrapped up in two eggs, hot mushroom sauce poured over the top. If you decide on the Spinach Omelette, you can enjoy spinach, bacon, tomato, onion, mushrooms, and sunflower seeds. There are also blueberry and raspberry brancakes, and if you’re not feeling ravenous, you can always get a bagel or oatmeal. The beverage list is quite long, and lattes and mochas are readily available, served in cute ceramic mugs. Breakfast is served all day.

As for lunch or supper, expect an equal amount of heartiness. Meat loaf, roast beef, and turkey suppers rule the menu, and all are served with homemade bread, mashed potatoes, gravy, and a vegetable. Key’s offers a wide selection of burgers and sandwiches, and each day has a different special. Tomatoes stuffed with tuna and garnished with cottage cheese and Key’s coleslaw are quite popular, and you can order several types of salads, from the Chef to the Taco. There’s truly something for everyone, and quality cannot be overlooked. Check out all the awards the Hunns have collected if you don’t believe me.

Walk on over the next time you get a chance. The restaurant is only open from six to three on weekdays and eight-thirty to two on weekends, but it’s an experience you won’t want to miss. Linger over your coffee and giant meal with a friend, and forget all your modern-day worries. Your body and mind will thank you, and you’ll certainly have enough to take home.

Key’s Cafe
767 Raymond Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55114
651-646-5756