Appetites: Inside the newly expanded Cossetta's

Fruit-topped desserts
The display counter is filled with fruit-topped desserts Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at the new Pasticceria at Cossetta's in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Cossetta's has long been one of the biggest names in Italian food in the Twin Cities, and it has just gotten a lot bigger. They've undergone a major expansion and renovation.

James Norton, who edits the HeavyTable.com, is back on Appetites. He has been to the new Pasticceria Cossetta where he met with the owner Dave Cossetta and Chef Ryan Caulfield.

Tom Crann: What is a Pasticceria?

James Norton: In a word: pastry shop. Baked goods, coffee, gelato, and so on.

Crann: What's the new Cossetta's look like and feel like?

Norton: It's big, bordering on grandiose, with themed music, a lot of thoughtfully done wood trim and family portraits hung just about everywhere. If you haven't been, go, just to walk around and gawk. They're saying 40,000 square feet, which I believe, which puts it within 10,000 square feet of Mario Batali's world-famous Eataly complex in New York City.

There's the big Cossetta's pizzeria and casual eatery, the more formal sitdown Louis and its bar, the massively expanded Italian Market and finally the new Pasticceria or pastry shop, which also sells coffee and gelato. The Pasticceria feels like the crown jewel of its all, with its Italian marble and chandeliers, and it really reminded me of places like Cafe Vittoria in Boston's North End.

Crann: And the basement is somehow the powerhouse of the new building?

Norton: Yep, in addition to expanding out, they expanded down, building a basement bakery that helps power the Pasticceria in particular, and aspects of everything else on site in general. The expansion wasn't built without controversy — Cossetta's ruffled some feathers in terms of city of St. Paul financial support for the project and the waiving of some living wage requirements that came attached to that support.

While we were down in the basement, we ran into Biagio Settepani, the "cannoli king of New York" (who won a cannoli Throwdown against Bobby Flay.) Settepani has been acting as the pastry consultant for Cossetta's and the quality of his work shows in the baked goods.

Crann: What were some of the best bites you had while you were at the Pasticceria?

Norton: The gelato has some great flavor with a lot of integrity — the chocolate tastes like real, rich chocolate, the mint tastes of really mint, and the zuppa inglese — while not like English soup, definitely a pound cake meets custard cakey richness that is a pleasant taste sensation.

The Italian butter cookies at Cossetta's are $16 a pound, and I've gone back to get more — twice. They're really killer — not oversweet, richly buttery in taste and texture, and a few of them are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea. Before this, the only place in town I could get credible butter cookies was at Broder's in southwest Minneapolis, and those were imported from New Jersey, which I never totally understood.

Finally, there's the rum-soaked Baba Savarin, a pastry-cream stuffed piece of spongecake that is pretty much what you'd get if God made a Twinkie. Incredibly rich and pleasant.

Crann: Where else can you go around here for a good Italian market experience, if not a Pasticceria per se?

Norton: Nothing really compares to Cossetta's in terms of size, but there are a few other places I'd recommend people check out.

Broder's. You probably already know Broder's and if you don't, you should — a great restaurant, and a great little Italian deli across the street. It can't compete with Cossetta's in terms of size, but there's a lot of quality flavor packed into both the restaurant and deli's small locations.

Brianno's. This Eagan Italian market is not super well known, and it's definitely a working-class take on an Italian deli, which is actually pretty charming and a little more affordable than some of the hoity-ier interpretations. It has one of the best "Hot Italiano" sausage and marinara sandwiches in town — you may know them by a different name that is more offensive to people of Italian heritage, but we'll keep it clean here.

Roman Market. The Pilrain brothers out toward Stillwater run this place that is really a great combination deli/restaurant, emphasis on the restaurant side. Terrific pizza, terrific sandwiches, and it's one of my favorite little-known gems.

Crann: Before we go, you and your team at Heavy Table are embarking on a new project involving Kickstarter. Can you tell us about it?

Norton: Sure — the Heavy Table team is working with a cartographer, a designer, and some talented illustrators to put together a book called The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food.

It should be a blast — a whimsical, carefully written, delightfully illustrated guide to a lot of hitherto off-the-map or otherwise undercelebrated places to eat and drink.

We're on Kickstarter, trying to raise funds to publish it, so if you're curious about it, check us out there.

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