Despite reports of hour-plus waits at the new St. Paul red sauce Italian joint Mucci's, we found it easy to stroll right in just after prime dinner hour on a recent Wednesday. Go on an off night and the already fabled best marinara in town, mile-high lasagna, and deep-fried pizza can be all yours in relative peace.
Mucci's, 40 seats in a west end St. Paul neighborhood, seems right at home. With a church across one street, and a liquor store across the other, scratch Italian like mom used to make completes the trifecta for living a good and proper life.
The space is spare — just a box painted mostly black, with old-school red candles flickering away on the tables. There are wood floors, a somewhat open kitchen, and an almost-summer breeze flowing through the screen door. That's it, and it's absolutely charming. Service could not have been more top-notch — efficient, friendly, knowledgeable, swift.
The menu is neither comprehensive nor spare, allowing space for gotta-have-its like spaghetti and meatballs, and lasagna "layered with love." There is plenty of stuff that makes you stop and think: "Devil hair" with cioppino and guanciale, barrimundi in parchment, braciole.
You'd be wise to begin with a protein-rich meats and pickles plate, as glasses of Prosecco are merely $5 (five dollars!) all the time, and you'll want to put down a base for letting it flow like a river. And what a base it is: deviled eggs, ham and salami from Red Table Meats, a giant quenelle of chicken liver mousse, and little piles of pickled things with crackers and mostarda. Again, it's a hell of a buy at just $8 for a small and $15 for a large (pictured) big enough for a crowd.
The deep-fried pizza entices like all evil temptresses. Take heed and share. More than a slice will threaten to ruin you for what's to come. And what's to come is pasta, and potentially the best red sauce in town.
It's a difficult feat to get pasta, sauce, and cheese to taste bright and lively, but they've done it here. You want to say, "Maybe it's lemon?" "Maybe it's vinegar?" Or maybe it's just a deft hand with the cooking. Whatever it is, there's something really special about Mucci's red sauce.
Owner Tim Niver (Strip Club, Saint Dinette) says it's the food he grew up eating. We believe him. These recipes taste like heritage.
Even the Campanelle pasta, bound together by fonduta (cheese sauce) and flecked with fatty pancetta, tasted animated and peppy. Interspersed with peppery broccolini and blanketed in toasty bread crumbs, it's one of the best grownup macaroni and cheeses (the way our server described it) we've had in recent memory.
Do yourself a big favor and do not miss their take on a garlic bread — the likes of which we've never seen. Think of a flat bread that got just a tiny bit fluffier, and then took a long, long bath in a scalding broth of garlic butter. It arrives hot, crisp, and dripping with fat, and if there's anything more decadent in town right now we don't know what it is.
Mucci's feels like a restaurant for the ages — one that steers mostly clear of anything too trendy or hip (deep-fried pizza notwithstanding). It's the sort of place marked by what it isn't rather than what it is. You could imagine it occupying this corner for as long as some of the other West End institutions, like delightful dive Skarda's or even red sauce institution DeGidio's.
Just remember. Go on an off night. It's everyone's favorite new restaurant for good reason.
Pro tips: Mucci's serves doughnuts and coffee on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. until they're gone (no later than noon.) And the restaurant has recently started offering frozen food for purchase. So, no more standing in those long lines for pasta, that incredible sauce, Layers of Love lasagna or pizza. Just grab it and go.
786 Randolph Ave., St. Paul