What is the definition of "Italian-American" food? I'm not sure a standard exists, but when I think of "Italian-American" fare I think of red sauce, Italian sausage and heartburn. Some category classics include the Italian Beef sandwich as well as the Hot Dago, and although you'll never find either of these anywhere near Italy, you can find them at a few local joints including Brianno's off Cliff Road and Cedar Ave in Eagan. Since I couldn't choose between the Italian beef and the Hot Dago, I let them square off in head-to-head match up.
The Hot Dago at Brianno's is quite similar to what you'd find in most Italian-America delis. Thick country-style Italian bread gets smothered in red sauce before they apply what has to be the thickest patty (seriously an inch) of Italian sausage that I've ever seen. Lastly, a generous slice of whole milk mozz (not fresh pulled, but still good) gets bathed in another round of sauce to finish things off. The sauce is pretty standard, and nothing special, but it's hard to stick out next to a huge fennel-loaded patty of Italian sausage. The sausage was tasty, and generous, but I would have preferred a thinner and longer patty to match the bread surface, as a few bites were sausage heavy, and the remaining were just bread, cheese and sauce.
The Italian beef sandwich was just as I like it - simple, salty and spicy. The beef is a nice medium rare and shaved thin, but left me needing a bit more garlic and some oregano. A liberal application of hot and mild giardiniera offered a perfect heat that didn't overwhelm the rest of the sandwich. The thick mozzarella melted perfectly on top of the beef and a nice Italian roll proved the ideal vehicle for absorbing all the flavors and managing the ample fillings.
Sandwich Rating: Both fall into the Tasty category, but I think the Italian beef deserves the nod by a slight margin. The sandwich held together really well, while the Dago's sauce-soaked bread fell apart, creating a mess. The Italian beef sandwich was much more balanced while the Dago fell off pretty fast once you worked your way through the small meteor of sausage. Regardless, if you are out in the Eagan area and need a quick "Italian-American" fix, you'll be in good hands at Brianno's.
Epic Sandwich Copyright 2009 by Teddy Hobbins