To put together the August 2012 Mpls.St.Paul Magazine now on the newsstand, the MSP Mag food team gathered at a secret location, and brainstormed. It was quite a storm of brains: Andrew “Bizarre Foods” Zimmern, Stephanie “Knows Everyone” March, Peter “Been to Every Hole in the Wall for 30-Years Running” Lilienthal, Beth “I Actually Develop Recipes, You Punks” Dooley, Steven “Good Luck Finding Out My New Restaurant” Brown, Marianne “Sweetheart with A Boning Knife” Miller, and of course myself, Dara “I Have So Many Names Already Do I Think I’m A Flipping Hapsburg?” Moskowitz Grumdahl. We were all asked this: What are the off-the-radar restaurants that absolutely everyone should know about? We came up with a lot of good answers (which are on newsstands now.) One of my table-pounding emphatic picks? The red sauce master of St. Paul Italian American, DeGidio’s. Now, let’s get some ducks in a row. Back around the turn of the last century, much of Italy, especially Southern Italy, was starving, so they came here. When they did, they founded a new cuisine, one based on Italian tradition, plus the great plenty and abundance of the American world of post-war food. So cheese by the armful, marinara sauce by the gallon, tender meatballs like a thousand flowers bloomed. We are not talking Italian food as they make it in Napoli, we are talking Italian food as they make it in Brooklyn. I grew up with this Italian American cuisine as the default food on the East Coast, and whenever I meet anyone here from Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, or Boston, we get to talking about red sauce Italian and I start pressing them to visit DeGidio’s. Why? Oh, it’s the red sauce. Serving red sauce and everything that goes with it since 1933, when bootlegger Joe “Kid Bullets” DeGidio decided to go legit with the end of Prohibition, DeGidio’s is just the authentic, delicious Italian American experience of abundance, squared.
I took some Minneapolis friends who had never been and we got the works. Cheesy mozzarella covered and grilled garlic bread with marinara dipping sauce, crispy calamari with marinara dipping sauce, arancini rice balls with marinara dipping sauce, a chicken parmigiana the size of a kids’ Nerf football, covered in mozzarella and red sauce—it actually was kind of hilarious to see the whole table spread with plates that all looked the same. Hilarious and wonderful, you don’t fight with success! Everything was delicious, that slightly browned pillowy mozzarella with red sauce taste just reminds me of childhood, of Christenings and funerals and busy crowded rooms with fake flowers on the dial-click televisions. If you go, and if you care about Italian American food, you should, I say, split the mussels, then go right for the chicken parmigiana or the large mostaccioli, with meatballs and sausage. You will receive a serious family-sized platter (the chicken parm is $12, the mostaccioli with two meatballs is $12) of red sauce greatness—the chicken is tender but crisp, the meatballs tender and meaty, the sausage nicely peppery, but more
than the components there is the whole: Every saucy, spicy, cheesy DeGidio’s bite is just a true taste of a great part of American culture. I will note that the place is not for everyone, the dining room has a very 1980s restaurant-supply warehouse vibe, and if you’re a gluten-and-dairy-free-vegan this is not the restaurant you’re looking for. Then again, they have $5 kids meals, and $3 pints of Summit during happy hour, are one of the rare restaurants with Flat Earth on tap, and are one of the even rarer restaurants with straw-bottle Chianti to put on the table, so you can pretend you’re at the restaurant in Lady and the Tramp. (Though I’d still recommend the Gnarly Head zinfandel.)
When I talked to my Minneapolis friend later she said: “That was the greatest place I’ve ever been to. We were so full we didn’t eat for two days.” When I met a guy from Yonkers a few weeks ago, we talked about the joys and occasional trials of being New Yorkers transplanted to Minnesota, and he said, with a twinkle in his eye, but do you know about DeGidio’s? I do! Now you do too. DeGidio’s, 425 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-291-7105, degidios.com