Pasta Perfection

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

The fettuccine Bolognese ($9.25) could have been in the dictionary illustrating the concept: The meat was tender, creamy, sparely placed on the pasta just as it should be, like lace on a window; the pasta was chewy, graceful, sturdy, elegant.

We finished our meal with some simple workhorse desserts: a rustic apple pie ($4.95) and a pair of sweet, fresh mini cannoli ($5.25).

The meal couldn't have been any nicer: Not a dish could have been done any better, service was quick and knowing, the wine was pre-selected to pair perfectly with the cuisine. I rolled out of there fat, happy, and rejoicing in the wisdom of the people.

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

On my next visit, though, I began to second-guess the people. Would-be diners were stacked 10-deep at the door, the parking lot was packed, the phone was ringing off the hook with more diners hoping to get in. As I stood in the throng, I wondered: Is it even remotely helpful to tell any more of you to dine at Broders' Pasta Bar? What is the point of giving self-evident advice? What's next? Hey, kid, you want to know how to make a killing in the market? Buy low, sell high. Hey, another thing: It only takes five things to raise a perfect kid: Love, wisdom, time, money, and luck. Want a good marriage? Find someone you can live with, laugh with, and change with, and then work at it every day. If you want more of this, have your fortune-cookie factory contact me and we'll see what we can do.

Sadly, the meal I had on my doubtful night at Broders' was just as good as ever. An appetizer of Parmigiano gelato ($5.25) revealed a ball of creamy cheese as buoyant as bubbles and as appealing as frosting. I was beside myself as to whether it tasted better straight from the fork in its buttery intensity, or spread thin on the house-made cracker-breads, which highlighted the simple rusticity of the flavors.

A lasagna ($12.95) made with spinach-flavored noodles, nutmeg-scented lamb, and ricotta in a pale-pink tomato cream sauce was as substantial as a roast and as rich as a layer cake; it was a celebration on a plate. As I scanned the various other triumphs on the table, taking in the menu of entrees priced from $7.95 (toothy stringozzi with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil) to a mere $13.95 (pricey prosciutto, asparagus, local chicken, and mascarpone adorning quadrucci), I despaired: What was the point of writing about this place? To stack you all up 40 deep instead of 10 deep?

I called up Molly Broder the next day to try to find something to add to this discussion that wasn't obvious from the heaps of fan mail or the proficiency on the plates.

Molly opened her deli, Broders' Cucina Italiana, with her husband, Tom, 25 years ago. They added the Pasta Bar 13 years ago, partly because they loved Italian food but more so because they were looking for a business model that would, unlike most American jobs, support their young family both structurally and financially.

"We used to live in Chicago before we moved here," Molly told me, "and I drove to Oak Brook every day for work. After two years of that I decided I didn't want a life like that, I didn't want to ever commute again. People always ask us now, 'Will you open a Broders' in St. Paul, in Eden Prairie, in North Carolina?' No. I've got my family, my neighbors, and my customers right here all around me within arm's reach. Why would I want to wreck that?"

Broder explained that the ability to bring her three boys to work, to bounce back and forth between work and her house two blocks away, to intimately understand the needs of her neighbor-customers (because she was one of them), and to actually integrate life and work is the real secret behind the success of Broders'.

The idea of work-life balance is one that's kicked around a lot these days, but no one really seems to know what it means. At Broders' it means that the business respects the importance of the employees' lives outside of work. The owners offer health and dental insurance, paid vacations, and other benefits for all their full- and part-time workers, a phenomenon more rare than unicorns in the restaurant business. Every fall a flu-shot bus is commissioned to arrive on site and vaccinate the entire 80-odd-person staff.

They also encourage key employees, like longtime chef Michael Rostance, in side projects such as the culinary tours he leads to Italy (www.historicitaly.com).

"When you're in the Italian food business and you don't go to Italy enough, you start to lose it, and the food becomes conceptually stale," Broder told me.

Because of commitment, both economic and philosophical, to work-life balance, the Broders have one thing that almost no restaurant has: long-term employees. Many of the Pasta Bar servers have been serving chef Rostance's food since the first year the restaurant opened. Rostance himself has been with the company an astonishing 20 years. Now his son works there. All of the Broder sons now work in the company, too.

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