The most important new restaurant to open this year in the Twin Cities might just be All Square, the grilled cheese sandwich house in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood.
All Square officially opened to the public September 9 on the corner of 41st Street and Minnehaha Ave. Tempted as I am to start right in singing the praises of my jalapeno popper grilled cheese, or of the way our basil pesto grilled cheese played in tomato soup, there’s a mission at work here that deserves our attention first.
All Square is a restaurant, yes, but it’s also a professional development institute for previously-incarcerated individuals. It was first imagined by Emily Hunt Turner, a former attorney who worked for nearly five years with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). During her time with HUD, Turner saw the struggles of previously-incarcerated individuals trying to re-enter their communities and wanted to create a solution. All Square is that solution.
The institute offers 12-month curricula in entrepreneurship and law. The hope of All Square is that, by providing employment and education to those previously incarcerated, recidivism rates will drop locally. As All Square’s website explains, the name itself is part of the message: those who’ve paid their debts to society are all square and free to move forward with a clean slate.
An article on the Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine website says Turner would like to make this a statewide – and someday nationwide – movement. For now, Turner and her team are off to a heck of a start on 41st and Minnehaha.
Whether or not the community would have the team’s back was answered long ago. Over $60,000 raised during Turner’s Kickstarter campaign, per the MSP Mag story, and grants from organizations like Seward Redesign and the Minneapolis Foundation pushed the total funding toward $140,000. Oh, and a vintage shop relocated their business to the next door down to allow All Square to operate in their current space.
About that space. Look at the inside shots Architectural Digest got of it. You’ll notice it in pieces during your meal. White walls, rugged, but clean; a menu scrawled on the back of a door at the front entrance; square frames here and there, dividers but not really so; and neon tube lights that set the restaurant aglow in soft neon shades. My wife thought of the trappings of an old 50s diner when she saw them; I thought of the blacklights we hung in our bedrooms during the anarchistic teen years. It’s nice having her brain around for times like this, when mine malfunctions.
Anyway, now that they’re open, All Square is realizing again just how strongly the community supports their mission. During our first visit, the ordering counter always had a line in front of it; in the dining room, there was always at least one group of people waiting for seats. Nobody said “Screw it” and left, though, probably because they knew what they were in for. And I believe my food-praising song voice is all good and warmed up now.
If you’re reading this right now, I’ll assume you’re over the age of five and you don’t need the basics of a good grilled cheese sandwich explained to you. The basil pesto is good for the basics. A green-coated mixture of mozzy and fontina ooze out from between slices of toast, and the right cheese pull could make a vine that stretches the length of your arm. You’ll gather that loose cheese up, stuff it into your mouth, and then – if you know like I know – you’ll get right down to the business of dunking that sandwich into the tomato soup you got on the side.
Your jalapeno popper grilled cheese will be dressed to kill in a jalapeno popper’s best jewels. I’m talking about the excessive cream cheese, chaotic bacon bits, and kicky pepper, of course (kicky, but not really hot). This sandwich wears them impeccably. Meanwhile, a bite into your charcuterie grilled cheese will detonate a savory bomb: brie cheese, prosciutto, crushed almonds, and onion jam. Very satisfying little ‘splosion, that.
The sandwiches were written up by Sarah Master, a local chef and former contestant on The Taste. Other options include a Hawaiian make with provolone and white American cheeses, Korean BBQ sauce, pineapple jam(!) and SPAM(!!). There’s a Punch ‘n Crunch with chili cheese Fritos, sriracha ranch, cheddar, and jalapenos. Or how about the jerk chicken: guava jam, chicken, jerk sauce, Swiss, and provolone. You can see the whole menu here. The French fries will be good if you’re in the mood for them, but you really should get the tomato soup.
There are a lot of smiles in there. They’re smiling in the kitchen, and they’re smiling in the dining room. The music was boppy and upbeat, perfect background tunes for a good movie ending. There’s a white metal plant box at the end of the counter that cramps the person sitting down there, and I hope they get rid of that. Keep the succulents in the little white pots, though.
Oh, and one last thing: according to Fox9, All Square offers lifetime memberships for $1,000 that include – and you might want to sit down for this – free grilled cheese for life.
The restaurant is closed Monday, but open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. More information can be found on the All Square website.
EVEN MORE GRILLED CHEESE:
- Gator’s Grilled Cheese Emporium in Ely, and the day I conquered their challenge.
- Mousehouse Cheesehaus in Windsor, Wisc., home of Igor’s Grilled Cheese (and enough curds to fill a Hyundai trunk).