THE WEEKEND TOURIST // A legendary breakfast spot in Dinkytown

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August 1, 2011
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky
Al’s Breakfast and Dinkytown

You might think it’s only for college students, but Dinkytown is a full-service commercial district with lots of history, fun stores and plenty of culinary opportunities.

Wandering its streets is a mini vacation for any Minneapolitan. My 13-year-old niece was visiting from California and we decided to rent the ever-present bright green Nice Ride bikes for our weekend adventure.

First stop — Al’s Breakfast. This 1950 institution has a reputation and following much bigger than its square footage. Wedged between two buildings in what used to be an alley, Al’s is worth the wait. And wait, you will. We waited about an hour. A woman walked past us on the sidewalk and asked if we were enduring the wait because the food was so good. I told her the food was good, but the experience was great.

From the front door to the back of the restaurant are 14 closely spaced swivel stools perched at a long counter. The customer line starts on the sidewalk then heads inside against the wall just barely behind the stools. One of the many servers and cooks tells people to tighten up the line, hollers out where to sit, moves a customer down a stool or two to accommodate a new group, then eventually takes your order. After being seated we devoured over-easy eggs, a pile of hashbrowns, crisp bacon, and a stack of truly divine blueberry pancakes. People waiting behind us were so close we could hear their stomachs growl.

Though space is at a premium, Christmas lights, a print of “The Last Breakfast,” customer doodles, eggshells decorated with feathers and sequins, and a pile of way more coffee cups than they have stools, crowd every surface. Reading witty signage helps pass the waiting time: “Beware of Attack Waitress,” “Tipping is not a city in Russia.” We left a big tip. Breakfast is cheap, but the entertainment is priceless. Bring cash and go early!

We waddled out the door and headed for the shops. Greeting cards, beads, jewelry and posters from Minneapolis artist Adam Turman fill the packed Sara Cura gift store. Gold Country sells U of M clothing and gifts — we couldn’t resist a cute little gopher-shaped golf tee. There’s something for everyone at the Book House, a 30-year-old used book store. From whimsical bike bells to expensive racing frames, there’s plenty of gear at side-by-side bike stores Varsity and Erik’s. Fast Eddie’s Shoe Repair, Blue Surge Tailors, a copyshop and Dinkytown Post Office branch prove this is a thriving and handy neighborhood.

Plenty of famous scientists, inventors, Noble Peace prize winners, politicians and two U.S. vice presidents attended the University of Minnesota. Walking these streets is an homage to them. But the most legendary student to grace the streets of Dinkytown was Bob Dylan. In 1959, after graduating from Hibbing highschool, Robert Zimmerman moved to Minneapolis and lived above a drugstore overlooking the alley (now Loring Pasta Bar). It was here he was exposed to folk music, read Woody Guthrie’s biography “Bound for Glory,” learned to play the harmonica, traded his electric for an acoustic, and changed his name. His first known recording, the Minnesota Party Tapes, were recorded in Dinkytown and were recently given to the Minnesota Historical Society. The Podium, an acoustic guitar and sheet music store, was known to have given the struggling musician guitar strings — and you can buy your own there today! So enjoy the company on your visit to Dinkytown and bring home a piece of history and a couple good stories.

Send your Dinkytown stories to WeekendTourist@mnpubs.com. First three win a prize!

COFFEE BREAK

 Iced lattes are served on a large outdoor patio at the Purple Onion Café, 1301 University Ave SE, named after a St. Paul coffee shop where Bob Dylan once played.