Appetites: Italian-American cuisine is back, here's where to find it

Brasserie Zentral's spaghetti with speck
Brasserie Zentral's spaghetti with speck
Photo courtesy of Becca Dilley / The Heavy Table

It's one of the hottest emerging new cuisines in Minnesota, but many already consider a classic. Italian-American food. That's according to Appetites regular, James Norton, the editor of The Heavy Table — the online journal of food and drink.

Italian cuisine developed a somewhat deserved bad reputation over the past few decades, Norton said.

"On the mass market, it's often either expensive, sometimes dramatically overpriced fine dining, or the restaurant equivalent of SpaghettiOs," he said.

But that's starting to change, with restaurants focusing on simple, soulful, southern Italian-inspired food, "with good ingredients, careful attention to detail, and scratch-made techniques."

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"I think what's driving it is this push to open serious restaurants out in neighborhoods and suburbs, like Tilia and the Kenwood and Pizzeria Lola have just been crushing it in neighborhoods," Norton said.

People are searching for an eating experience that is both familiar while still having an element of adventure.

So, who's doing old-school Italian-American food right now? Norton says Mucci's in St. Paul is definitely a frontrunner, with great hospitality as well as great food.

"Every pasta dish I've tried there has been terrific, and they make a tiramisu that's scratch-made to the point of baking the ladyfingers in house. It's easily the best I've tried, and I lived in New York and Boston for a number of years," he said.

Italian Eatery in Minneapolis is also doing a great job, he said. They offer polished pasta dishes "and they've got a solid craft cocktail program, too."

As for the suburbs, Red Sauce Rebellion in Excelsior has a great balance to all their dishes, from the salads to the meatball grinder.

Italian food fans should also keep an eye out for Bungalow Club opening in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis this April.

"I heard from Andrew Kraft, the chef/owner there, and he's got a team who are bringing together experiences at some serious restaurants locally, in New York, and in San Francisco," Norton said.