If there ever was a restaurant opened just for fun, Mini's Retro Cafe is it.
This new downtown eatery is an expansion of the menu at the popular Mini's Cupcakes shop.
(Besides the downtown location, there's a second Mini's Cupcake in Sugar House.)
The shops seem to be doing just fine, winning local awards and attracting a steady stream of cupcake-loving clients.
So why expand the downtown shop, taking over an adjacent space to provide more dining area? Well, if it's not just for fun, they could've fooled me, since this is one of the most fun places I've eaten in a long while.
Mini's is painted pink, white, turquoise and gold, with decor that exults in retro kitsch: mismatched but equally ornate chandeliers provide lighting; tables are topped with Melamine and edged with chrome; metal chairs are painted white and pink and feature Naugahyde cushions.
There are old magazine ads and Audrey Hepburn portraits on the walls, Seventeen magazine from the '60s ("Be a Party-smarty!") for reading, long couches with nubby upholstery and "The Jetsons" on the white flat-screen TV. Even the dishes are retro, china with a sea-foam green and pink pattern.
While you wait for your lunch, you can browse through the eclectic collection of items for sale: rubber cleaning gloves with ruffles attached; traditional-style aprons; cupcake-shaped candles; reproduction metal lunch boxes featuring Hostess cupcakes and Sugar Babies.
Lunch at Mini's is designed to groove right into the retro vibe of the rest of the shop, with a menu heavy on comfort foods of the past: Spam on Club crackers, Jell-O with fruit and cream, deviled eggs, mac and cheese, even Fluffernutter sandwiches with peanut butter, bananas and marshmallow creme.
But perhaps "heavy" wasn't the right word to use there, because Mini's has taken these comfort foods, which can be a little cloying, and kicked them up a notch in quality and appeal.
I had the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich, part of a menu in which customers pick out a three-course lunch (starter, main dish, dessert) for about $8. But instead of Campbell's and American cheese, I got a complex, sweet-and-tangy soup with a velvety texture and a perfectly grilled sandwich of thick-cut bread and real cheese that had oozed out the sides and cooked crispy and golden-brown over the bread.
My husband had the salad and turkey sandwich, a standard but good-quality presentation of fresh greens with nuts, feta cheese, cranberries and house-made honey dijon dressing; plus a sandwich on sweet and nutty wheat bread with sliced turkey, cheese, greens and cranberry sauce.
Our son started out with the pigs in a blanket, three small but superlative sausages, coarse-textured and bursting with beautifully seasoned juices, baked in pastry. He ate one and then demanded part of my cheese sandwich, which I was happy to trade in exchange for my own little piggy.
For dessert, you can have "pudding in a cloud," which takes me right back to childhood, but we all chose cupcakes this time. This, the seat of Mini's success, was a fabulous end to the meal. Our little boy had the coconut cupcake, fresh and light with creamy, coconut-laced icing; I had the s'more cupcake, an inspired concoction of rich dark chocolate cupcake and fluffy, delicious royal icing that had been browned just a bit, with a little graham cracker on top.
As good as that one was, I envied my husband his cupcake, a darkly delicious gem of chocolate cupcake (and these cupcakes really straddle the line between cake and brownie, in a very good way), dark-chocolate peppermint ganache and crushed candy-cane sprinkles.