A queue of people curls around the block. Are they waiting to get into some exclusive new club? No, they’re lined up to dine at Al’s Breakfast: the Minneapolis haunt that’s served the Dinkytown neighborhood for over six decades. To dine at Al’s is to experience life within the belly of a living, breathing legend. But to earn a seat here, you’ll probably have to wait.
At eleven feet wide, occupying what was formerly an alleyway between two buildings, Al’s is the smallest restaurant in the Twin Cities. When patrons outnumber the 14 available seats (which they often do), a line forms at the back of the cramped space. Diners patiently inch their ways from the back of the restaurant to the front of the line, waiting up to an hour or longer for a place to park their heinies. In line, there is much to do: people-watching, scanning the various bric-a-brac lining the shelves opposite the yellow linoleum counter. There is chatting amongst one another, or listening to the melodious clink of silverware against ceramic plates as patrons devour their meals after the long wait. Pancakes, omelettes, coffee, and hash browns are made to order right before your eyes at the tiny short-order kitchen space jammed between the front entrance and the restaurant’s only window. (A second kitchen sits out of view at the back of the restaurant.)
So what’s all the fuss about – is it the food? Maybe. In 2011, Esquire voted Al’s pancakes “Best in America.” When I visited two years later, I eschewed the pancakes in lieu of a two-egg omelet with smoked cheddar, green peppers, and toasted rye bread. People in line behind me were practically drooling at the site of my food. With a cup of green tea on the side, my order, after tax and before tip, came to $8.73. Cheap and delicious!
The service is hit-or-miss. Word has it that if you’re good to the servers, they’ll be good to you. At Al’s, there are rules to be followed. The place is dingy but lively, with short-order cooks barking orders and hushed murmurs of patrons in queue for a treasured spot at the counter. On busy mornings, lines form out the door. The place has a cult following, and had one even before receiving press and accolades up the wazoo, such as . . .
* 2004 – James Beard Award for America’s Classics
* 2007 and 2010 – featured on Food Network’s Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives
* 2012 – Local television network, KARE 11, ran a story about the tiny dive
* 2013 – Burgeoning poet Gina Marie wrote the following haiku:
Long lines out the door.
This place, an institution,
and well worth the wait.
Need I say more?