In the first month they opened a commercial kitchen for their catering business, Lance Hamlin and Laura Martinek had no idea they’d soon be providing a haven for Waconia residents pining for comforting, made-from-scratch breakfast, lunch and now dinner dishes. Earlier this year, Pangea Cafe began serving dinner.
“The previous owner was looking for someone to take over,” Martinek says of the deli on West First Street, which proved to be an ideal location. “We thought, it’s now or never. We made the transition, and by June 2014 it was ours.” The couple was excited to have a kitchen to create orders for its L&L Catering business, but within the first month, the couple kept hearing from locals—“We need a breakfast place; why don’t you just try opening a restaurant?”
So the pair transformed the former deli into Pangea Cafe, offering hearty breakfasts and lunches and serving up coffee, mimosas and sake bloody Marys. Pangea, a reference to the continents being one land mass, is a fitting name for a place Hamlin and Martinek envisioned for “bringing good food and people together.”
The couple lights up when speaking about its menu collaboration. The array of choices include breakfast entrées like biscuits and gravy (made with sausage and pancetta), or Smaug’s Inferno, a Benedict that brings the heat with ghost pepper cheese and jalapeno-stuffed chorizo in a fiery sriracha hollandaise and the Two Towers benedict, stacked high with sausage patties, crispy hash browns, sautéed bell peppers, onions and poached eggs and buttery hollandaise sauce.
“We’re nerds,” says Martinek of the restaurant’s concept. Though they both agree creating a unique establishment reflecting their personalities is a great fit for them. “Laura and I both worked in corporate before,” Hamlin says. “And it just wasn’t us.”
The community has warmly embraced its presence. Each day, the small, family-like staff makes the Pangea world go round by serving popular dishes from the modest, hard-working kitchen, turning out made-with-love items that patrons order time and again.
Pancakes, waffles and French toast variations offer plenty of mouthwatering options, finished with powdered sugar and a healthy dollop of whipped cream. For the bananas foster French toast, “We make our own caramel sauce and sauté some bananas with toasted walnuts over the top,” Hamlin says. “You don’t even need syrup,” Martinek adds.
The equally tempting lunch menu boasts items like smoked turkey pesto on focaccia, prime rib hoagie served with au jus and a slow-roasted corned beef Reuben (which regularly sells out).
“Our Korean braised short rib tacos is definitely one of my favorites,” Hamlin says of the many taco varieties also offered for lunch. “[It’s made with] actual short rib meat slow roasted for about four hours in sake and Blue Moon.”
Where does the chef get his inspirations? “It’s usually just finding things that are already out there and finding a new way to do it,” Hamlin says. Like the breakfast skillet, pairing beef-braised short ribs with gnocchi—“I like gnocchi; I like short ribs,” Hamlin shrugs. “I bet they would work good together with eggs on top.”
Another aspect the Pangea owners are proud of is the quality of the ingredients. “We go with local purveyors from Minnesota when we can,” Martinek says. “We get fresh bakery from Mackenthun’s, some of our cheeses are locally sourced, and we’ll be working with a local farmer to do some of our fresh produce. Our coffee is fair-trade organic, too. It’s what people care about now. They want to know where their food comes from.”