From its humble origins as a soda fountain in 1930s Saint Paul, Green Mill Restaurant and Bar has grown into a franchise with more than 28 locations all over Minnesota and the Midwest. As TV screens blast sports news in the background, patrons at each eatery dine on a menu of classic American and pizzeria fare. Thick, hand-pressed burgers form bunned towers with hefty toppings such as smoked bacon, haystack onions, and chipotle mayo. Families looking to bond can practice fractions on regular, deep-dish, or thin and crispy pizzas or group juggling acts with samplers of 27 juicy wings. In addition to pastas and salads, each location's bar carries a varied drink menu that includes draft beers such as Blue Moon and Samuel Adams alongside wine, martinis, and margaritas.
At Frankie's, chefs coat fresh pizza dough in red, alfredo, or barbecue sauce before sprinkling it with a fine blend of italian cheeses. They then blanket the pies with a choice from more than 20 toppings—one for each pizza it takes to feed a rugby team or a Venetian parking meter. The topping roster includes such delicious embellishments as sliced roast beef and basil, and once they've been added to the pies, the chefs bake them in a stone oven. The care that Frankie's staff takes with its pizzas is similar in magnitude to the selection of its menu's pastas and sandwiches, such as the baked rigatoni and the buffalo-chicken sandwich.
Pinstripes’ 50,000-square-foot space yields sanctuary to all sorts of merrymaking, sheltering 18 bowling lanes, indoor and outdoor bocce courts, and a kitchen firing hearty Italian cuisine. Demonstrate disdain for careful configurations of pins with bowling ($5–$7/person/game), or celebrate retirement by playing bocce ($8–$10/person/game) with papier-mâché balls made out of unneeded timesheets. Youngsters 12 and younger can develop their bowling arm and Fred Flintstone dances for $3. On Friday and Saturday nights, live blues and jazz bands perfume the air with soulful tunes.
At Arezzo Ristorante, chefs hand-press fresh batches of dough into thin crusts, ladle the disks with sauces made from Italian San Marzano tomatoes, and toss them into a blazing brick oven. This process, which adheres to strict standards of the Associazione Vera Napoletana, earned Arezzo Ristorante the Citysearch award for Best Pizza in 2009. In addition to pizzas, chefs toss house-made pastas with sautéed vegetables and traditional Italian cured meats.
Arezzo Ristorante’s interior pays homage to Italian culture as well: an earth-toned mural of the Italian countryside unfolds beneath marble arches, and stone mosaic floors flicker in the warm glow of the flame-fueled pizza oven.
Head chef and owner Jonathan Hunt changes al Vento Restaurant's menu daily, dreaming up seasonal dishes to showcase the many facets of southern Italian cuisine. Bubbling pizzas rouse palates from morning stamp-licking circles with crispy crusts and toppings such as fresh basil and tomato ($9.75) or juicy fennel sausage with herbed goat cheese ($11). Pasta dishes harness summer's rampant produce for plated tours of the countryside fueled by fettuccine mixed with asparagus, english peas, and cherry tomatoes ($14). Cooks complement tender chicken breast with italian pork sausage and velvety spinach risotto ($16.75) as knowledgeable servers help guests crown meals with jewel-toned beverages ($6−$10) from the wine and drink lists. Desserts, such as creamy, frozen pistachio custard with chocolate shavings ($6), soothe excited taste buds and cool heated arguments between spaghetti-Western cowboys.
After years in the restaurant business, Ramon and Armando Ruiz were ready for a change. Tired of the gimmicky marketing that characterizes many Italian franchises, they joined with Ramon’s son Enrique to open Andiamo Italian Ristorante—an intimate, neighborhood joint that emphasizes the family orientation of Italian culture. “We don’t want to say this is who we are, deal," Enrique told Eagan Patch. "We want to build relationships with our customers and encourage and welcome feedback.” To that end, their menu of mostly Italian entrees, pastas, and pizzas also includes nontraditional cuisine such as walleye fillets and burgers. The dining room’s decor remains 100% Italian. A mural of rustic wine barrels sweeps across warm orange walls, and a tricolor sign glows above its outdoor patio. Ruiz and his staff also venture beyond the restaurant’s confines to cater various events.
"Your food should be something you get your hands on and become a part of," Rob Dubnecay preached to a reporter from CBS Minnesota. "Sitting back with a fork and knife is kind of boring."
Along with his brother, Chris, Rob developed his philosophy—and his palate—while growing up in Chicago, where the brothers could hone their motor skills by wrapping their hands around Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef. Hoping to introduce their childhood cuisine to Minnesota, the duo founded Chris and Rob's Chicago's Taste Authority, where each week trucks haul in ingredients straight from the Windy City, such as fresh poppy-seed buns and sausages wrapped in old mobsters' hit lists. True to the authentic big-shoulders style, cooks top Vienna all-beef hot dogs with everything but ketchup: mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, sport peppers, and a sprinkle of celery salt. The brothers have also adapted their roots to other Chicago favorites including sandwiches of sliced Italian beef, deep-dish pizzas, and Maxwell Street polish sausages.