I was deceived by the restaurants exterior, which resembles a diner the kind one might find attached to a rest stop on the way to South Dakota. The green canopy overhang, outdoor patio and neon Bud Light sign in the window all add to this initial impression. After dining at the Byzantine Village Cafe, however, it was apparent that the restaurant is anything but a Perkins knockoff.
Named after the Byzantine Empire that lasted 1,250 years and encompassed many of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the Byzantine, owned by Afghanistan native A. K. Kayoum, has enjoyed a long history of its own. The original Byzantine Cafe was located on Water Street and served as a popular gathering place for local college students and those with a taste for international cuisine. The establishment enjoyed a successful nine-year run at that location until the summer of 2002, when the highway department informed the owner that the building would be razed to make way for an incoming road.
This lead to its relocation to the former home of the Happy Chef off of Highway 3.
With the move came some menu changes. Traditional fare, like hamburgers, shakes and chili, were added to the cafes repertoire in order to please former customers of the Happy Chef. This change has resulted in a selection that borders on the overwhelming, with choices ranging from the Hawaiian Chicken Salad ($7.50) and the Dunk Burger ($6.49) to Spanakopita ($6.65) and Peppercorn Salmon ($13.50).
Vegetarians will have no trouble finding a great meal since a third of the entrées on the dinner menu are vegetarian.
The service I received on my visit was friendly and very quick. I began with a hot fudge milkshake. Smooth and delicious, it convinced me that the Byzantine can definitely pull off traditional staples. The Greek salad was nicely presented, but fairly run-of-the-mill. The main entrée, however, Chicken Biryani ($8.95), was exquisite and took my taste buds for a ride. The dish consisted of chicken, nuts, stir-fried rice and raisins, seasoned with sweet ginger and cinnamon. Dessert was a light, cream-colored firne somewhat similar to pistachio pudding. It made for a good palate cleanser. All of the portions were generous and filling.
If you are weary of corporate chain restaurants and are looking for a place with a little more class, mosey on over to the Byzantine Village Café.
I recommend staying away from the typical diner food and trying the more unusual platters that are the cafes forté. The prices are a bit steep for the average college student at $7-$13 a plate, but careful choices can cut down on cost.
And if you feel you dont get enough time with your professors in the classroom, around 30 retired St. Olaf professors meet at the cafe for breakfast at 9:00 a.m. every Tuesday morning.
Byzantine Village Cafe 701 W. Woodley St. 507-664-9183 Sun. through Thurs. 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fri. and Sat. 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.