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Nonna Rosa’s

By Lavender March 24, 2011

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You’re Really Family At This Neighborhood Hit

The Olive Garden’s slogan—“When you’re here, you’re family”—always has bothered me. When I’m there, I feel like I’m part of a large corporate machine that muscles out its competition, and keeps prices low by dealing with agricultural conglomerates. If that feels like “family” to you, then you either watched way too much Dynasty, or you’re more screwed up than I am.

For the real family-restaurant experience, look instead to Nonna Rosa’s. Like so many establishments that touch the soul, it’s run by a husband-and-wife team: Chef Francesco Suglia, who grew up in Southeast Italy, was captivated by the region’s ingredients and his family’s traditional cooking; and Manager Tina Suglia’s family was in the restaurant business in the Twin Cities. The two met and fell in love, then shared a vision of opening up a place in a close-knit community—something that would remind him of home.

Risotto Mediterraneo; dining area. Photos by Hubert Bonnet

They selected Robbinsdale, but it almost didn’t happen that way. Another business was vying for their chosen space (formerly Thistles), but the community fought hard to bring Nonna Rosa’s home. The neighborhood’s early devotion took Tina Suglia a bit by surprise, and the relationship between restaurant and community only has grown closer. In fact, one patron recently presented her with a cheery scrapbook featuring page upon page of happy customers enjoying special events there.

You get the feeling it has been a Robbinsdale fixture for 20 years, but in reality, Nonna Rosa’s (full name: La Cucina Di Nonna Rosa’s Ristorante Italiano) opened just 10 months ago.

It’s a small space, and despite the harsh white ceiling, manages to feel cozy and intimate. It’s not fussy, but little details, down to our server’s proper pronunciation of the menu, are not overlooked.

The wine list is broad and suitably Italy-centric, while the signature martinis are playful and festive. A pulpy, refreshing Orange Basil Martini is an early sign of spring. The Good ’n Plenty Martini could be a bit weighty for some, but in mimicking its namesake candy, the hint of licorice helps mitigate its sweetness.

When I’m on my own, I typically wait until a kitchen has earned my trust before I order either calamari (because it is my favorite, and I hate to see good squid ruined) or stuffed mushrooms (because it can be my not-so-favorite, unless handled expertly).

However, our server urged us to order both the Fritto Misto, fried calamari, shrimp, and marinated artichokes with roasted red pepper aioli ($8.99); and the Funghi Ripieni, mushrooms stuffed with a risotto meatball mixture and cheeses, served with toast ($7.99). When I am on the clock, I promise my readers to go boldly forth into the unknown no matter what the consequences. I’m very glad I did here, as both were spectacular. The Fritto Misto was delicate, crisp, flavorful, and not at all greasy. As for the Fungi Ripieni, the addition of risotto did wonders for the dish’s texture, and both meatball and mushroom mingled into a husky, forest-floor bliss.

After a light, palate-cleansing sip of Nona’s Bellini—prosecco, spiked with peach and raspberry—we moved on to the meaty Gnocchi Bolognese ($15.99) and the seaworthy Risotto Mediterraneo ($17.99). The two dishes were mild, and I did miss a little bit of kick. However, I respect the kitchen for keeping its loyal customers happy and comfortable. Tina Suglia assured me the chef would be happy to spice up dishes at the request of his diners. Even in their mild versions, both dishes were inviting. Gnocchi is comfort food at its best. The risotto was liberal with its mussels, shrimp, scallops, calamari, and a bit of a surprise—salmon.

Both the Vitello Piccata—veal medallions with capers and a luscious lemon cream sauce, served with sides of potato and vegetables ($19.99)—and the delectable Maialino Mediterraneo—pork tenderloin with feta cream sauce, wickedly good Kalamata olives, and mushrooms ($15.99)—were definitely more assertive. With them, we enjoyed one of Nonna Rosa’s moderately priced bottles of wine—the food-friendly yet sufficiently-full-bodied Poggio Morino ($30).

Dessert was Canoli, which was fantastic. If you wish, enjoy it with a bittersweet Espresso Martini, or try a traditional Italian digestif: Lemoncello Crème, or Averna—a Sicilian herbal liqueur known for settling the stomach.

Additionally, Italian-themed movie nights, half-price wine bottles Sundays and Mondays, a respectable happy hour, and patio seating make this restaurant easy to love.

It may not have all the frippery of a Downtown food-tainment establishment, but if you’re like me, sometimes, you just want to have a good meal at a reasonable price, and enjoy the company you’re with. That’s Nonna Rosa’s. They’ll welcome you with open arms, stuff you with food and too much wine, and proudly tell you about everything they love. And that feels like family.


Nonna Rosa’s

4168 W. Broadway Ave., Robbinsdale
(763) 537-3700
www.nonnarosaswinebar.com

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