Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Carmelo's Ristorante

Carmelo's has been a staple for me ever since I came to the Twin Cities. For the record, I'm not the least bit Italian. I have no grandmother to whose work I can compare Carmelo's creations. I go because I love the food, and I'm as amazed now as I was when I was a mere pup at the value offered at this Saint Paul hole-in-the-wall.

Carmelo's offers, not high-brow Italian exactly, but certainly elegant Italian. What do I mean by this? Well, there's no flash, no hype, nothing to distract you from the simple pleasure of well-made food. Heather and Mark know that good cooking speaks for itself, and they're content to let their menu do its job. Everything here is home-cooked. Wisely, their website hits you with this trivia right out of the gate. Pastas, sauces, even the bread on the table, nothing here is trucked in or farmed out. It's made on site, according to "generational" recipes. All of this might sound a bit stuffy if everything weren't so darned good. Try anything here. The staff, equal parts quirky and cool, will help you if you have trouble, and you really can't go wrong. Two things you simply must have. First are the arancini. I've had these for years, in all sorts of places, and for my money these are the best you'll find anywhere. They are piping hot, rich, breaded globes of arborio rice, with sausage and peas, baked in a pool of bolognese sauce and cheese. I can't say enough about these. They are literally giggle-inducing good. Try these first, and if you keep ordering them, and skip the entree, I will understand completely.

The second is the signature entree, chicken Carmelo, which consists of a breaded and baked chicken breast covered with crab meat, parmigiano, and lemon cream sauce, all atop a bed of angel hair and roasted seasonal vegetables. This isn't just good. It's completely unfair.

These two dishes alone are reason enough to come back to Carmelo's, but the best part happens when you get the bill. For some reason, nothing on this menu costs anywhere near as much as it should. The chicken Carmelo, the most expensive entree on the menu, is $16.50. That's silly. You can spend more than that on a pizza almost anywhere. With a bottle of vino, my love and I can have a wonderful dinner here and get out for under $75 with tip. It's not fast-food cheap, of course, but neither is it fine-dining expensive, and it should be. For the quality of the food, the calm and quiet atmosphere, and the nice people making sure your needs are met, Carmelo's is a steal. Always has been.

The best thing I can say about Carmelo's? My wife just picked me up at MSP after a two-week trip to Italy, where I ate nothing but pasta and pastry and wine and cheese. We drove from the airport to Carmelo's.

They are located, by the way, near the corner of St. Clair and Snelling, kitty-corner from the Broiler. If the drugstore on the corner is open when you leave, stop in for an ice cream soda. Seriously.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Mark. This is a pretty nice blog-i'm sorry it took me so long to check it out. I too have known the magic of Carmelo's-some friends took me with them last year and everything was phenomenal. I don't have the necessary funds to make it any sort of regular stop, but i wish i did. Have you been to La Grolla on Grand Ave? My dad took me there a few months back and it was amazing Italian as well. You'd probably like it. Same pricing as Carmelo's, maybe a little less.