If you’d have asked me two years ago what the Twin Cities most needed, I’d have howled, “A sushi bar every 20 blocks!” Lo! The market heard my cry, and made it so. (I didn’t see the cupcake thing coming. Who could have? However, I am herewith officially placing my order for gourmet doughnut bakeries offering crullers dipped in single-estate Madagascar chocolate and topped with handmade sprinkles formed from gold leaf and applewood-smoked cinnamon. Gentlewomen, start your business plans!) Now with sushi, cupcakes, and, I can only assume, gourmet doughnut bakeries safely in hand, what is an urban diner left to wish for? How about three dozen more metro spots just like northeast Minneapolis’s new Amici Pizza and Bistro? ¶ Not that there’s anything revolutionary about Amici. It’s simply a solid, friendly, price- conscious, slightly Italian bistro with a few craveable, affordable dishes. Like the mussels! For $9 the nice folks at Amici will deliver to your comfy, homey booth a heaping bowl of fresh mussels jazzed up with a nicely chunky red-pepper-touched tomato sauce. You eat a few tender mussels, you sop up some sauce with some bread, you eat some more mussels, and you participate in the simple act of restoring your soul by restoring your body. Perhaps you add a simple antipasti plate, also priced and sized to share, and stocked with good salamis and cheese. Then a lively and fresh Caesar salad, maybe a crisp pizza made with good marinara sauce, or a perfectly cooked chicken quarter with skin that’s fine and crisp, balanced on creamy parsnip-potato purée. Skip the house-made desserts (they’re heavy and inexpert), and head home, having fed yourself well and managing to stay on a reasonable budget.
Granted, there’s no reason to drive to Amici from another neighborhood, and no reason to break out the nine-dollar adjectives for the food here, but chef Cam Adair, formerly of Prima, deserves high praise for taking the most well-loved staples of the contemporary bistro repertoire and treating them with integrity and care. Making a good caesar salad is probably one of the most thankless tasks in a chef’s life—first, because it never gets you the rave notices a more show-offy dish would, and second, because it draws in customers who won’t order a show-offy dish, and so creates a universe in which you never get to show off. But Adair is doing it at Amici, and he is winning plenty of local fans for it (at presstime the place had developed a steady business of Audubon Park neighbors delighted to have such a likable restaurant in their midst).
The question now turns to: How can the rest of the good neighborhoods of the Twin Cities achieve similar happiness? Perhaps we need to re-create the barn raisings of yore, and simply meet on street corners with one neighbor bringing a pot of tomato sauce, another toting a few heads of romaine, and so on. It’s worth a shot—for as the sushi-bar explosion of the last few years has shown, if you build them, we will come.
Value-driven neighborhood Italian. Don’t drive in from Orono to try it, but if you live in northeast Minneapolis, take a night to meet the new neighbor.
Ideal Meal: Mussels, an antipasti plate, pan-seared chicken. Tip: Call to see if the endlessly delayed wine-license has arrived. Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday; dinner 4:30–9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, and till 10 p.m. Friday–Saturday; Sunday brunch 11 a.m-2 p.m. Prices: Appetizers $5–$9; entrées $12–$20. Address: 2851 Johnson St. NE, Mpls., 612-781-5711, amiciusa.com