BEST NEIGHBORHOOD CAFE—ST. PAUL - 2007
What makes a great restaurant? The chef? The management? The customers? Sometimes any of those, but often what sets a great restaurant apart seems to be some magical vibe, soul, gestalt, or whatever you want to call it, some elusive sum of all the parts plus va-va-voom. Muffaletta has that lately: The food, by talented chef J.D. Fratzke, is better than ever, his menu managing to hit the ideal notes of destination-restaurant-special (pâté forestiere made with black truffles and pistachios, $7.95; ginger- and fig-accented pork tenderloin $21.95; or boar sausage and red sauerkraut $10.95), and don't-wanna-think-about-it-comforting (French fries with house-made ketchup, curry aioli, and chipotle mayo, $4.95; and a pot roast, $18.95; or burger, $10.95, made from Minnesota-raised grass-fed beef). Servers are comfortable, confident, and well informed. The houses in surrounding St. Anthony Park draw families like wild catnip draws kitties, like keggers draw freshmen, like internet stock scams draw vulnerable seniors...you get the idea. We can't help but think that Muffuletta is part of what fuels the frenzy. So for us, guys, can't you ease up on all that va-va-voom, and drop perks like the Sunday night three-course $25.95 prix fixe? If you did, maybe, just maybe, some of those houses would open up and we could move in.