We've been watching this store front at 29th and Johnson St. NE with anticipation. Snap Pizza, its former occupant, closed its doors some months back, much to our dismay. We soon saw "Amici Pizza and Bistro: coming soon!" in the windows, and felt a spark of hope that the neighborhood might be regaining a locally owned, independent and delicious pizza joint.
It has gotten much more than that.
Amici opened its doors four days ago, to customers literally waiting eagerly on the sidewalk. We were not among the first lucky few to sample their wares, but we did make it in last night for dinner. We walked there in the lovely spring-like evening and were the first customers of the night. We were seated by the owner's brother, who told us all about the new restaurant and how it came to be, and answered all our many questions about the transition from Snap (negligent owner) to Amici (the new owner left his job as a manager for a sizable restaurant-owning company to renovate the space and start the new restaurant). They're still waiting on the beer and wine license from the city--one of the many hoops a new establishment must jump through, but hopes are high that it will be forthcoming soon.
And then we tucked in. I was expecting your typical pizza joint fare, with a few obligatory salad and pasta options. But the menu is much closer to something you'd find at the Northeast Social Club or Pop, next door. It includes such options as Tomato & Red Wine Braised Beef with polenta, escarole & balsamic reduction ($16) and Risotto with red beet and farro ($9), in addition to its delicious selection of specialty pizzas (Bacon, onion, thyme & grana padano, anyone? $11 for a small, $18 for a large). We started with a bruschetta appetizer, of which they have two. We went with the oil cured tomatoes and whipped ricotta option ($5 for two generous pieces), which tasted refreshingly of summer with its thinly sliced ribbons of basil atop an almost too-generous cloud of creamy, sumptuous ricotta.
Entree time. I was craving pasta, so my choice was easy. The orrechiette with arugula pistachio pesto and roasted cauliflower ($12) leapt right off the page at me. My date chose the oven roasted chicken with parsnip potato puree, roasted brussels sprouts and pancetta ($16).
My pasta was a hit.
Orrechiette is a cupped noodle, perfect for holding the richly textured pesto, made up of delicate pebbles of pistachio and smooth, peppery arugula. The roasted cauliflower added the perfect note of nuttiness, amplified by the shaved Parmesan. I licked that bowl clean.
The chicken dish was no less impressive.
Its warm, autumnal flavors combined to satisfy your very soul. This is a dish your mother would make to comfort you at the end of a hard week, if your mother happened to be a contestant on Top Chef. The brussels sprouts were expertly done: tender and nutty, while retaining their satisfying crunch. The parsnip was noticeable in the potato puree, adding an earthy note to what could have been your standard potato base on which to plop the chicken. The chicken itself was melt-in-your-mouth tender under the thinnest layer of crisped skin, and the whole thing was drizzled with a scrumptious, light brown gravy.
Food like this hasn't been within walking distance of the northeastern corner of Northeast Mpls for as long as I can remember.
This place even outdoes Pop, in my humble opinion. We will be back again and again, especially once they get their beer and wine license. The only thing our meal was lacking was the perfect bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Welcome, Amici, to the neighborhood. May you live long and prosper.