More than 350 doctors and medical office staff see close to 500 patients a day at the Edina offices of Twin Cities Orthopedics (TCO), an orthopedic urgent care, same-day surgery and physical therapy facility on West 65th Street in Edina. When the building’s café closed in spring 2015, a lot of busy, hungry people were left looking for good food in a hurry. Food truck owner Michael Salvatore, known to everyone as “Sal,” saw an opportunity. “I knew a few of the doctors here,” he says, “and one of the secretaries goes to my church.” Salvatore had been operating a food truck called Sal’s Place at Edina special events for several years, and his truck soon became a familiar presence on the street outside TCO. “At the end of that summer, I gave the doctors a proposal to take over the vacated café space,” says Salvatore. He got the lease, and Sal’s Café opened on the first floor of TCO on September 8, 2015.
While waiting to speak with Salvatore in his small, cheerful and very clean café (he had apparently forgotten he told me he’d be right out, seeming to be happiest behind the counter), I chatted with TCO switchboard operator Colleen Murphy, who was eating a late lunch. She reports that several times a year, and much to everyone’s delight, the physicians in the building buy a Sal’s Café lunch for all of their employees. Featured this day is lasagna, ordered by Murphy and several other diners. Murphy particularly appreciates Salvatore’s monthly menus, which he prints out for employees’ planning. Her favorite item? “Any dinner with mashed potatoes,” she says.
Salvatore joins me in the café. “We cook everything with a little bit of Italian flair,” he says, although the menu varies widely. “We have a scratch-made kitchen,” he adds. People come by for both lunch and a daily hot breakfast; the café’s hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., five days a week. Customers include staff, patients “and the construction workers across the street,” Salvatore says. All hot specials (usually with a side dish included) are $7, and a half-sandwich and chips is offered for $3.21. “I try to make it affordable,” he says.
This frugality may be in honor of his grandparents, who were immigrants from Italy in the late 1800s. One grandmother arrived with only the money she had from selling lemons on board the ship. Although they were meant to ease her morning sickness, the lemons also prevented scurvy, and she decided a little profit trumped a little nausea.
Salvatore was born in Miami, and, until 1992, operated a restaurant there. When the restaurant was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew, work in construction followed, including a transfer to Minnesota in 2000. Even though the construction company he worked for was later bought out, Salvatore and his wife liked it here and decided to stay.
While Sal’s Café in the TCO building represents his return to owning a restaurant after a 23-year hiatus, Salvatore has been a cook all his life. “I cooked with my mom,” he says. “I would babysit my four brothers and make cookies.” There is a family connection to the inventor of Alfredo sauce, which he explains to me over a cherished photo. Salvatore still uses many of his mother’s and grandmother’s recipes, hand-written in a vintage recipe book he’s happy to share. “I still make their hot milk sponge cake,” he says, using it for weddings, which he and his wife also cater.
There’s no sign advertising Sal’s Café on the outside of the TCO building (“We’re working on that,” Salvatore says) but the public is welcome. Don’t forget to ask for a Sal’s frequent diner card and a copy of the current month’s menus.