A decade ago, Italian farmhouse cooking captured the American food porn imagination like, well, porn.
Golden-hued images of impeccably renovated Tuscan farmhouses were the Food & Wine set's wet dream. The vineyards tumbling beyond the kitchen windows. The granite center islands with centerpieces brimming with just-picked lemons. The wine. No matter that you had to be a bajillionaire to occupy one of these. Or that renovations could take a decade. Or that original Italian farmhouses typically have no electricity or plumbing. We wanted that villa, dammit! If you don't have a cool mil or a dozen years, cruise over to the quiet, mostly residential neighborhood near Cedar Avenue and Minnehaha Parkway for a miniature yet ultra-satisfying plunge into that food-porn fantasy. You don't get to live there, but you can dine to jeans-unbuttoning levels, which is almost the same thing. The cooking is familiar and comforting without swaying way over into red sauce territory the way that similarly comforting, but more cheeky and more southern Italian Mucci's in St. Paul does. This brand of comfort is more subtle, the way the Italian grandmother of your imagination cooks — if your Italian grandma is on TV and wields a microplane. It's no accident. Eric Carrara, who owns I.E. (short for Italian Eatery) with his wife, Vanessa, grew up in the "Cossetta's of my hometown," an Erie, Pennsylvania institution called Serafini's. "My grandfather literally bought it so we could have Sunday family dinner," says Carrara. "And since 1921, it's been the weekly Italian dinner table of his (and our) dreams. Thirty uncles and cousins and grandpas at the long wooden table, complete with a lot of arguing." Read our full review here. Photos by Tony Nelson.