The Katherine Dunn novel Geek Love tells the story of two carnival performers who expose their children to radiation while in utero to guarantee they will be born freaks. The freakier the better, since true freaks guaranteed a large paying audience at the carnival every night. And before she was creating her own version of the X-Men, the mother of the freaks was a geek.
Historically, a geek was a carnival performer who would bite the head off of a chicken or snake. And we don’t mean in books: Here’s Wikipedia’s entry about geek shows. Before Ozzy Osbourne, there was the geek.
Geek Love is also the name of a cafe nestled away in the back of Moon Palace Books. At Geek Love, you can savage honey habanero-drizzled, brick oven-baked chicken wings by the dozen while an inflated unicorn peers at you from up near the rafters. Do you know if you’ve had roast chicken thigh on pizza? You probably have, but you don’t often see it specified on a menu the way it is at Geek Love.
A trip to Moon Palace Books was the Haatajas’ most recent date night. Hey: it doesn’t matter if one of us was involved in a car accident over the weekend (which happened), or if one of us was locked in a five-day hyperloop of shoveling the back porch and snowblowing the driveway (which also happened), we will happily drag ourselves to the bookstore if it’s offering tallboys and pizza. Moon Palace Books does this, and more.
Even before you make your way to the back and see pizzas being slowly spun in a warmer for by-the-slice sales, or you see the row of empty bottles indicating the drink selection, Moon Palace leaves no doubt about who they welcome into their shop: everyone. The spirit of inclusiveness is laid plain from the signs in the front windows to special sections for black literature.
And if you look a little bit harder, you’ll find a machine filled with poetry.
Inside of a dispenser that would usually sell candy or small toys are plastic eggs filled with yarn-wrapped scrolls. Each scroll contains a poem written by an inmate at Stillwater Prison as part of the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. Proceeds from the poem sales go to support the Workshop. A sign on the front of the machine says it is “a small bridge between the thriving literary communities that exist inside and outside of prison in Minnesota.”
We passed one of the poems between each other, across the center square of a communal table. Geek Love Cafe seats, at a guess, 30 people. That center square was the last available seating. There was an older couple playing cribbage. There were four young people stabbing madly at their phone screens with their fingers, as if playing some inter-phone game. A group of three to our immediate left are planning trips overseas, and loudly.
But then the pizza showed up: 16-inch radius (if you get a large), sourdough crust, balanced on a wire frame stand that vaguely resembled a tackle box hitch. We got a large Savage Detective: whole cloves of garlic; turkey sausage, in this case; onions and parsley. The pizza crust folds like a burrito shell, it’s so soft. We ate once slice too many per person. They have pizza-sized to-go boxes, though, so it’s cool.
The chicken thigh pizza is the Bodice Ripper. With the chicken thigh come garlic sauce, olives, pickled peppers, feta, and red onions. There’s a pizza with roasted beets, mozzarella, habanero honey and goat cheese on it; there’s another with pickled peppers, pickled spicy pineapple, and ham. They’ve got a pizza with tomato, pesto, and mozzarella called Travis McGee. Pizzas range in price from $14-23 for a small (12-inch), $19-31 for a large.
That bottle of Pizza Hot Sauce you see at your table, is it hot? Sadly, not in the slightest.
If meat isn’t your thing, organic cauliflower wings are available and most pizzas can be made vegan. Salads and breakfasts are available, too. You can see the full menu here. Beer is marked up pretty high, probably to prevent excessive consumption.
The idea to sell food in the back of Moon Palace Books was keyed by owners Angela and Jamie Schwesnedl about 11 months back. The bookstore itself dates back to 2012, and is the defending City Pages best bookstore (new books). And if you’re wondering, an article on the American Booksellers Association website has the 1989 Paul Auster novel Moon Palace as the inspiration behind the name.
And since we’re here, some early remarks on our book purchases:
My wife sprung for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new book Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You. She’d had her eyes on it since reading Miranda’s “Good morning” and “Good night” tweets prior to the book’s release. She says the tweets are written as if he’s speaking to you, but Miranda says in the introduction of the book that his tweets are actually what he himself needed to hear at the time.
I finally bought the 1990 Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman collaboration, Good Omens. The characters list of Good Omens had more word-pounds of entertainment than the last few books I’d tried reading. This is the first book in a very long time I’ve been this excited about, and I think about this book often when I’m not reading it.
More information about Moon Palace Books can be found at moonpalacebooks.com.
In case you missed it last year, we embarked on a two-state, 179-mile, six-bookstore adventure that began in Stillwater, Minn. and ended at Driftless Books in Viroqua, Wisc. You can find links to all five posts in that series here.