When Geno’s announced its opening, and chose to leave the dubious name “Dago” out of the business of making Italian sandwiches, we were very happy.
First, because more Italian sandwiches! And second, because something this delicious doesn’t need a potentially offensive nickname attached to its otherwise glorious existence.
There’s nothing offensive about Geno’s take on the old classic, meatballs piled fluffily on a hoagie or kaiser roll (the choice is yours) and doused in red sauce. The meatballs are excellent and tender, and the flavor of real McCoy Parmesan cheese comes through like homemade. Our only complaint was that the sandwich wasn’t a little saucier, but happily a side of marinara can be yours just by asking.
Much of Geno’s charm comes from the fact that it’s located in a tiny northeast Minneapolis storefront. So unassuming is the space on a wee stretch of sidewalk between Hennepin Avenue and an alley, that you might not know it’s there. Inside, a facsimile of an old Italian diner awaits, with red tufted stools, charming graphic wall paper, and black and white photos on the walls. A couple of unfortunate TV screens harsh the vibe a bit, but what’s perfect anymore?
We were also pleased to find an Italian club on the menu, one of those old-fashioned cold cuts numbers. These are strangely difficult to come by around here, possibly since the shuttering of Clark’s a million years ago.
Here, get a mile-high version with alternating cold cuts and good Provolone, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Thoughtful bottles of vinegar and oil at the table let you dress it to your specifications, and it’s a pretty fine rendition of what I’ve (and possibly you) have been craving for a long time.
Geno’s also serves Buca-sized portions of family style Caesar salad and a broccoli rabe that retains its verdant hue, with red hoops of fresno chiles making a vibrant Christmas tableau. The Caesar was a bit underdressed and under-seasoned but almost there.
“Almost there” is the phrase that comes to mind overall with this sweet new under-the-radar spot. It feels like it wants to be a little bit edgier, a little bit more candlelit, a little less impaired by the glow of the boob tube. The food, with a wee bit more emphatic punch, could go from very good to excellent.
One area they get altogether right is the bar, where a boozy grapefruit Negroni overflows with double the bitter edge than the standard inclusion of Campari, and a wine slushy makes summer sport out of ordinary vino sipping.
Prices are more than fair, with the entire menu falling under the $15 sweet spot, which, along with all of the cheese and starch (there are towering piles of pastas, too) makes Geno’s a no-brainer for your next family outing.
The restrooms are lined with black & whites of famous Italians, including a young Madonna and a Pulp Fiction-era Travolta, and it occurs to me that those are the vintage Italian stars of today. Maybe the iconic Italian eatery of now is more Madonna and less Sophia Loren, more wine slushy and less Chianti, more screen and less Sinatra.
And with that we can get down, as long as they keep the clubs piled high and the meatballs well sauced.
12 4th St. SE, Minneapolis