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Review Roundup: Pastries, Neighborhood Cafes and Salt Cellar's Redemption

This week the critics fan out all over the metro area and find much to love.

Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune has found love in baked goods at Mon Petit Cheri Bakery and Kitchen and L'Etoile du Nord. Mecca Bos of City Pages is cozying up to new neighborhood eateries Cold Front, Firefox BBQ and Pilgrimage Cafe. Meanwhile, Jess Fleming says that those who judged harshly, judged too soon at Cathedral Hill's Salt Cellar.

Mon Petit Cheri Bakery and Kitchen is the cafe incarnation that grew out of a Minneapolis Farmers Market stand. Nelson was enamoured with the brioche dough breakfast rolls. They're also serving modest breakfast and lunches with counter service that he describes as, "Wal Mart greeter friendly."

L'Etoile du Nord Cafe is located in Bayport and Nelson emphatically states was "worth the wait." Proper Belgian waffles were perfected on owner Olivier Vrambout's former food truck the Waffle Van. They achieve the unlikely combination of being, "firm and chewy and substantial yet surprisingly light." They cafe is also serving pizzas out of a wood- and gas-fired oven. There are a handful of sandwiches for lunch and ingredients are locally sourced, being delivered directly from nearby farms. The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch.

In other local cafes, Mecca Bos of City Pages enjoyed the Standish neighborhood's Pilgrimage Cafe that sports a menu inspired by flavors from all over the world. Remarkably, she said all the dishes with different global inspiration worked from the chimichurri to the fried banh mi. Plus the staff, "knows the meaning of service."

Firebox BBQ in the Camden neighborhood had a bit of a wait for food and the vibe was sometimes frenetic, they are doing a tidy bit of business. Bos' favorite dish were the fall-off-the-bone tender rib tips. Pulled pork was on the dry side, but remedies with a "triumphant" sauce.

Cold Front has replaced Lynden's Soda Fountain in Highland Park on Hamline Avenue. The old-fashioned ice cream soda fountain drinks remain,but they've added all-you-can-drink coffee.

Meanwhile, Jess Fleming decided to hold off on writing up Salt Cellar until they had a chance to get their sea legs. When the first review rolled in after a month of doing business, they were ravaged by the critic. Fleming knows that opening a restaurant is hard enough, but add in the holidays and a chef who has never run his own kitchen and things can easily slip off the rails.

She acknowledges that early on there were seasoning issues, that have since mostly been corrected. Servers have been better educated about the menus, if still not quite at the "polished" level of service. Of the chef she said, "As Bergo grows into his role, we have no doubt that even more exciting things will come from him."

What continues to be awkward is the confusion of what to do as a diner while the tableside Cesar salad preparation takes place. Sit and watch? Ignore? Crane your neck for a better view? Like crowding in at a family style table, it's just something we Minnesotans don't easily embrace. Meanwhile the other tableside dish, the bananas foster came together much more quickly and resulted in a tastier dish.

Fleming also discovered our trick for bar eating at Salt Cellar, get the beef fat fries with a side of the addictive sauce choron. That tomatoey, creamy sauce goes well with everything.

The Salt Cellar

173 Western Ave N, Saint Paul, MN 55102 (651) 219-4013