Giddy? Breathless? Increasingly hungry? I am, because I know that the face of Italian dining in the Twin Cities is changing forevermore this weekend. How so? Well, you know the old, beloved, though admittedly scruffy Buon Giorno in the northeasternmost corner of downtown St. Paul? The one that pioneered our understanding of the importance of regional Italian ingredients, was our proudest local proponent of Italian regional wines, and made the Marchionda family recipe for spicy homemade sausages a local phenomenon? Well, the Marchionda clan is opening a vast new complex this weekend, Buon Giorno Italia: market, takeout, catering, a 500-plus-bottle Buon Giorno wine shop, and a 70-seat Roman restaurant, Osteria I Nonni.
But if you're giddy, breathless, and also completely exhausted, check carefully: You may in fact be a Marchionda. "I can't sleep. I think I've put in 14-hour days all year, and I'm very, very nervous," said Frank Marchionda when I talked to him for this story. Frank Marchionda is president of Buon Giorno, son of the founders, brother to the BG buyer, husband to the head of BG human resources, and father to various BG wine and grocery managers.
"We've been dreaming of this for 25 years," he explained a week before the opening. "We've been working on these plans for two and a half years. I'm happy, definitely happy, but I can't sleep."
Is he right to be nervous? Well, on the one hand, when Buon Giorno first opened, it was way ahead of the curve of local dining, and it took awhile for the rest of the town to catch up. "We had things that flew right over people's heads: seafood pizzas, rabbit, calamari," he recalls. "Twenty years ago the only people that ate the calamari were Italians. Now, with the restaurant, it's going to be Roman. We'll have other things a lot of people have never heard of. But I think people want it. I think the Twin Cities are ready."
Like what? Like pasta topped with homemade Italian charcuterie items such as gricia, a legendarily rich cured cut of pork, sort of like bacon, but made from hog jowls. Are the Twin Cities really ready for hog jowls?
What about a wine list with 50 Barolos? "I probably shouldn't have put 50 Barolos on there," says Marc Marchionda, wine shop manager, "but it's my thing. I couldn't help it. I can't wait. We're going to do a lot of decanting, with Barolos from '82, '85, '88--even '78. I mean, that's not that old, but it's old in terms of what most people can get access to in a restaurant." And if you think Oh yeah, Minnesotans are ready for good wine and a slightly more arcane sort of bacon, ask yourself: Are we ready for lardo?
Lardo. Okay--lardo is not too far from what it sounds like, but in my world, lardo is also one of those things that restaurant critics from big cities use to taunt restaurant critics from lesser cities, in such expressions as "Where's the best lardo in Minnesota [snicker]" or, "How can you continue to work in a city without lardo?" or "Nyah nyah nyah!" Yet even though the cured preparation of pork fat is supposedly transportingly delicious, and even though it's not on the opening menu, Marc Marchionda says the kitchen has been experimenting with lardo, and, maybe one day, and, and--well, gee willikers, guys! This is so great.
Hey. I told you I was giddy.
What else? Chef Filippo Caffari hails from Rome, so expect light sauces and simple preparations. The wine list at Osteria I Nonni will have some 350 options, to pair with pastas costing $10 and up, and meats and seafoods costing from $17 or so. The restaurant plans to offer a full selection of Italian artisanal cheeses. The market will vastly expand its selections of fresh and cured meats over what was offered in downtown St. Paul. Italian wine classes will be held in the wine shop. And there will be quite a lot of outdoor seating overlooking two ponds. The grand opening is nigh! August 15. Buon Giorno Italia, 981 Sibley Memorial Hwy., Lilydale (roughly on the corner of Highway 13 and I-35E); 651.905.1080.