Pasta Perfection

The readers speak: Broders' Pasta Bar is an essential Minnesota restaurant

I put out the call a few weeks ago for readers to nominate their most essential Minnesota restaurants. The plan? To celebrate the good, to reorient the column a little away from "news," which inherently leans toward the new, and, generally, to see what happened.

What happened was fascinating.

For one, the letters flooded in. Given no guidelines, people didn't follow any. Some readers sent heartfelt, moving stories praising a single restaurant. (You'll read some of those in the months to come.) Others sent in full metro-area annotated restaurant guides, which filled me with awe at their complexity and depth, and scared me a little in terms of my job security. The largest group of writers sent in simple lists of their favorite restaurants, usually three to 20 items long. A fourth group sent in two- or three-word emails as brief and to the point as a Saran Wrap bikini: "Lucé, numbnuts!"

A celebration on a plate: Chef Michael Rostance and son Nate show off Broders' lasagna and fettucine Bolognese
Bill Kelley
A celebration on a plate: Chef Michael Rostance and son Nate show off Broders' lasagna and fettucine Bolognese

Location Info

Map

Broders' Pasta Bar

5000 Penn Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55419

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Southwest Minneapolis

I didn't know exactly where this project would go when I launched it, but a few things became instantly clear. For one, when I say Minnesota restaurant, you hear Italian restaurant: Italian nominations outstripped any other category by about two to one. Ultimately, though, it became clear why pollsters ask leading and inflexible questions: If you put strict guidelines to your questions, you get clear answers. In my very open call, I got a very open mish-mash response—a vibrant, exciting, creative, invigorating, wonderful mish-mash, but nothing to feed into a computer for an Answer.

But who cares, right? This open, ongoing, reader-driven project obviously demands a flexible response from me, so welcome to the first of what will be a series on Essential Minnesota Restaurants.

Our kickoff topic? Broders' Pasta Bar. How we got here? Out of all the restaurants on all the lists readers sent in, Broders' appeared most frequently. First thought, best thought. You speak, I eat! Broders' it is.

As we drove to the restaurant I explained Broders' Pasta Bar's reservation system to my date: They're not reservations, exactly. You call Broders' the night you want to dine there and put your name on a list. When you get there, they highlight your name on the list and hand you a light-up pager doohickey. Then you wait. In the summer, you wait on the pretty outdoor patio and can enjoy a glass of wine or a beer and any number of little antipasti; in the winter, you stand in the hallway with a drink. (I have my doubts as to whether this calling ahead is anything but a psychological placebo for guests, but I do it anyway.)

Once I finished explaining the reservation policy, I relaxed into the evening and became slightly giddy. Holy buckets, we were going to Broders'! What a treat. So often a restaurant critic's nights are crapshoots—unknown restaurants bearing unknown rewards—but Broders' is Minneapolis's sure bet. As soon as those thoughts crossed my mind I cursed myself: Now you've done it, it'll be awful.

I shouldn't have worried. We started off with fresh clams in a spicy tomato sauce ($8.25), one of those simple dishes that are so rarely pulled off well in Minnesota. Sweet—almost banana-sweet—mineral-edged Littleneck clams were paired with just enough spicy, chunky tomato sauce to showcase the lively purity of the quahogs; we devoured them.

Marinated crimini mushrooms grilled with thyme and slices of young fennel ($6.95) were similar in that they were unadorned enough to taste pure and bold, but adorned enough to taste polished and precisely prepared. Another plate devoured.

A classic Caprese salad ($6.50) contained some of the last ripe summer tomatoes and disks of real Italian water-buffalo mozzarella, which were as light and fresh as dew. We demolished that one, too.

Glasses of good, basic Italian wine accompanied our meal: We split a split of apple-edged but dry Carpene Prosecco ($9.50) and shared a carafe of 2004 Castello di Farnatella Chianti ($6.50 a glass; $13 a half-bottle carafe; $26 a bottle), which neatly pulled off the rustic Italian wine trick of being just fruity, acidic, and deeply plummy enough to stand up to any amount of tomato and spice you could throw at it.

As we ate we noticed that we had the same servers we always have at Broders', and we watched the line cooks furiously filling, flipping, tossing, and dumping sauté pans as flames and plumes of steam burst around them. They looked like some kind of operatic cross between toreadors mid-bullfight and Lucy confronting the conveyor belt of incoming candies in the famous I Love Lucy episode.

I have some years of experience as a line cook myself. "I would last two minutes out there," I concluded. "That's the hardest-working line I've ever seen."

These pan pounders soon produced an exquisite plate of wild boar braised in milk and fennel and served on a bed of their house-made linguini ($12.95). The boar was as soft as a cheese, but each morsel had a winy, gamy taste as deeply resonant as the darkest, most peppery chocolate. Paired with the chewy, silky pasta, it was like eating forkfuls of a cold night by the fire in a Mediterranean forest.

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