With its trendy décor, unassuming backyard oasis replete with fish pond and garden, Santropol wins for ambience. Add to the formula an extensive and original menu and you get the “quintessential-lunch-on-the-Plateau-experience.” Moreover, my visit to Café Santropol was not only an enjoyable dining experience, but has renewed my sense of creativity surrounding planning my children’s school lunches.
The service was good although I am tempted to say staff was aloof. I felt very aware that I was playing tourist in my own city and suspect that those dining around me were cool regulars used to the menu, asking few questions and ready to order in under thirty seconds. I can see how this would be a regular trendy fun lunch place to frequent if you live in the area. I once lived a mere few blocks from there myself, but never visited. Just driving there was shocking! Fourty years in this city and I never realized that Duluth can be accessed from the East side of Park avenue!
This is definitely a place worth spending lunch with people you like, especially in the summer as you linger in the garden, near the fish pond, or in the adjacent “greenhouse” fitted with skylight. A very bright spot, with very bright ingredients that bring your sandwiches to life.
A small room out front by the entrance, outfitted with bookshelves can be a cozy place to hold a lunch/ book club meeting. The kitchen and prep area is an open space where one can observe the bustling assembly and gastronomic activities.
We were two adults and two children and started with “the B & B”, Bagel chips and bread and butter accompanied by 1 Santropol spread. We chose the Hungarian spread because I wanted to test its authenticity, and it was different than the way my momma makes it. You can also select sundried tomato cream cheese, creamy blue cheese, pesto, and vegie pâté. This alone was very filling and on a cold day with a soup, would probably be adequate.
All sandwiches are made on traditional Santropol bread, a sweet brown bread that has a hint of molasses to the flavour. By only having this choice, the gluten free clients are restricted to soups and sandwiches, but I assume this speeds the service by eliminating the choices of “white, whole wheat, on a bagel or a croissant”. Their dessert menu seems to have some gluten free choices including a variety of raw and certified organic cakes such as “lime and coconut” and the “caramel sensation.”
The restaurant was packed for lunch. I didn’t get a chance to query the staff as to the unusual names bestowed to the sandwiches. “The 6.5” (and I am going to hazard a guess that it is named so for the height of the sandwich in inches) is served with cream cheese, bananas, honey and blackcurrant jam, with a token slice of lettuce for crunch. This sandwich is sweet as one might expect, and sticky, and I would consider having it for breakfast.
“The Chaucer” is marinated roasted tofu with red pepper aïoli and you can add tomatoes and cucumbers, but that makes the sandwich even bigger (we’re talking about 8 inches high) It comes served with a very colorful green garden salad. Extremely filling but the tofu lacked punch.
I would just love for my kids to request that I pack them a “Killer Tomato” for school one day. For $9.57 this tasty lunch comes served with cream cheese, sundried tomatoes, basil and garlic spread, topped with fresh tomato slices. For $1.50 more you can add ham or chicken salad.
The soda drinks are pricy. For $3.91 you can have soda water, and choice of syrup (mint, green apple, lime, almond, black current to name a few) with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My friend ordered the Diabolo which is just soda water and a flavour and it will still cost you under $4 minus the ice cream.
We opted for the half sandwich and a small soup and it still comes with a decent side salad. We were a bit disappointed with the soups. The Thai lentil was not that spicy and the gazpacho was flat.
I am convinced beyond a doubt that if more people dined at Santropol, inspiration would ooze and fewer parents would struggle with creativity for packed lunches. Even if you are not a fan of slapping various ingredients between two slices of bread, you may just be persuaded. Though they offer a myriad of choices, replicating them at home might prove to be a challenge The slices of homemade specialty bread beat any Texas sliced bread in taste and texture and I for one don’t own a sandwich container that tall or wide.
Café Santropol is located at 3990 St. Urbain (entrance on Duluth). The café is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. You can reach Esther with your suggestions, comments, and food insights at Fourtyandfamished@gmail.com