Unlikely Italian

One of the biggest complaints about suburban dining in the Twin Cities is that there’s no good Italian food. So when I arrived at the Eagan strip mall that houses Andiamo and saw the beer poster screaming “Bring Your Buds!” I wasn’t expecting much.

Boy, was I wrong.

At 5 p.m. on a Sunday, the place was packed with happy suburbanites, many with their kids. And why wouldn’t they be both happy and with kids? Andiamo’s twice-daily happy hour includes half-price appetizers and pizzas. Of those appetizers, the seafood-stuffed mushrooms and the arancini really stood out. The mushrooms were plump, not mushy, and smothered in a decadent pesto sauce. The arancini, fried sausage and fresh-mozzarella risotto balls, came with a wonderfully bold, spicy marinara sauce. We devoured them.

Bold is the best word to describe Andiamo’s flavors. The kitchen’s execution is spot on, thanks to owner Ramon Ruiz, who was once executive chef at St. Paul’s Buca di Beppo back in the day when Buca was really killing it.

As at Buca, the portions are enormous. Andiamo is not intended to be family style, but one pasta dish or entrée could easily feed two adults.

The fusilli amatriciana is an incredible bargain: lots of pasta laced with a smoky bacon flavor that dances with the spicy marinara. I thoroughly recommend the chicken andiamo: juicy and loaded with proscuitto, artichoke hearts, and veggies. The filetto cacciatore was also quite good. Ruiz simmers two giant medallions of beef tenderloin in rich, robust tomato cacciatore sauce and tops it with a pile of mashed potatoes.

I’d skip the desserts: the cheesecake tasted like it came from a box (it did) and although the cannoli were a nice size with a good shell, the filling tasted dull.

Don’t come to this Eagan strip mall expecting chef-driven Italian along the lines of iNonni or Bar La Grassa: this is down-home Italian cooking fit for a family—or a hungry softball team. In fact, I have to say that the beer poster outside captured this excellent suburban-Italian spot’s spirit quite well. But perhaps it needed translating: if you go, just pretend the poster says portate i vostri amici!

Andiamo, 1629 Lena Court, Eagan, andiamomn.com