We used to complain about the 3.5 hour commute between Minneapolis and Fargo. When we moved to North Iowa, we still complained about the two-hour commute to Minneapolis. Now, we live a 9.5 hour drive away and remember how we used to complain. The drive takes most of a day, but is still cheaper than flying (and we can take the dog) so we make the best of it. Podcasts, music, and corn nuts get us through.
Friends and readers still ask me for dining suggestions as they prepare to visit the Twin Cities for various occasions. We’ve lived away for about four years, now. Restaurants have come, gone, and changed. It’s impossible to keep up. On our visits back, we often lean towards our old favorites like Broders and Bangkok Thai Deli. Our time is so limited that we have time for maybe one nice dinner out and it’s really hard to decide where to dine.
During our last visit to the Twin Cities, we had the opportunity to dine at Mucci’s Italian, a new restaurant in St. Paul. It’s a smaller space that seats first come, first serve. We felt very lucky to snag one a table during their first seating that Sunday.
The menu features moderately-priced, beautiful, scratch-made Italian food. It’s creative while still feeling comforting. We would have felt welcome dining here in our favorite hoodies or Sunday best. In addition to Mucci’s, Tim Niver also owns The Strip Club Meat & Fish and Saint Dinette, restaurants about which I continually hear people say positive things.
First thing first, you should probably try the Mucci Juice. The menu describes it as a mixture of red wine and orange Fanta. At $3 a glass, it’s like what the hell. I’m glad I tried it because it tasted refreshing and not too sweet; something I’m totally making at home. The drink menu also allows diners to order many of the wines by half-glass. This is perfect for those who want to try different wines or just want a taste. I found the full glass a generous pour.
Side salads were lightly dressed and tossed with lots of grated Locatelli pecorino romano cheese. I really, really liked the fried, dark meat chicken from the fritti section of the menu. The boneless meat is tender and moist while the batter is crisp and not greasy. The sweet and sour agrodulce sauce and chilies add perfect counterbalances. Now I’m wondering why Italian-style fried chicken isn’t more popular.
Those who ordered fresh pasta dishes were very happy. Jake traded some of his Campanelle (pancetta, fondutta, lemon, broccollini, & bread crumbs) for slices of my Kenzie-Jo pizza. The pasta dishes our table ordered were the perfect size for one person. I’m betting you won’t want to share your pasta dish anyway, once you taste it. The pasta had a nice chew and I liked the brightness from the lemon.
Each pizzas was huge. Mucci creates Montanara pizzas, meaning they deep-fry the dough before adding toppings and baking it in the oven. Honestly, I somehow missed the part about all of Mucci’s pizzas being fried. As I enjoyed the pizza, I noticed that it had a nice crisp bite and chew. It didn’t strike me at all greasy and I was surprised to learn it as fried after the fact.
My Kenzie-Jo pizza’s toppings include chewy, stringy mozzarella, creme fraiche, pears, pecans, chewy bits of rendered pancetta, and a tangy red wine reduction. We also tried a slice of our friend’s Beazy pizza topped with tomato sauce, meatballs and fresh ricotta. The meatballs were perfectly seasoned and juicy
The only thing any of my party regretted about our meal was forgetting to ask if there were any donuts left! Chef Chris Uhrich also creates donuts on the weekends. I’m surrounded by amazing scratch-made donuts here in St. Louis, yet still look forward to seeing his latest varieties like twisted salted caramel knots to pistachio glazed with honey marscapone filling.
Any of Niver’s restaurants and staff are going to serve you great food and treat you well. If you are in the mood for unpretentiously elegant Italian food, visit Mucci’s.
Update 6.17.16 While I was in Minneapolis-St. Paul for TBEX, I returned to Mucci’s for weekend doughnuts. This was like a pilgrimage. I work at a doughnut shop where pastries are made from scratch and not from a doughnut mix where you just add water. Most bakeries seem to use a commercial mix, which is why so many doughnuts (albeit delicious) taste the same. I appreciate the hard work that goes into making scratch-made doughnuts. It’s a lot of work!
At opening (8 a.m.) I walked inside with four others who were waiting in line. The scratch-made doughnuts are larger than what you’ll find at most shops. I bought a variety of six and cut them into quarters to share with my Stillwater bus tour group.
Some of the flavors are delightfully wacky. For example, past toppings have included salami and fried chicken. You can find classic glazed doughnuts, too in both yeast-raised and cake styles. They’re big, not oily, and have a fresh breadiness. I liked the tart blood orange-glazed doughnut the best, followed by the salted caramel pretzel twist.
Mucci’s Italian Restaurant
786 Randolph Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55102