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Kale G: Ah, Cossetta’s. How I have missed thee.
Cossetta’s Italian Market & Pizzeria, for those not in the know, is a little two-level eatery in downtown St. Paul, which has pizza, Italian sandwiches, and pastas for decent prices and generous portions. Additionally, if you love to cook Italian cuisine, they have one of the best Italian markets, with all the cheeses, meats, pastas and everything else in between. About the only thing they aren’t is a bastion of fresh produce, but if you can’t find tomatoes in this city…
Phil B: This place has been a fixture in St. Paul since 1911, when Michael and Irene Cossetta opened a grocery store on Seventh Street. Apparently the restaurant side of the business had its humble beginnings when they started selling sandwiches made from their homemade sausage. More on this sausage later …
KG: We got to Cossetta’s at about 11:15am, just after the food service portion of the place had opened, only to be greeted by a line that stretched out the door and into the parking lot. Never ones to be deterred, we soldiered onward, queuing with a complete lack of military precision along with all the other patrons.
PB: Fortunately, the setup they have for ordering/serving/paying (cafeteria-style) is very efficient, and the line moved fairly quickly. However, as we were leaving we noticed that the line was much shorter, i.e. nobody was standing outside. If the weather is unpleasant, you may want to consider delaying your arrival until the doors have been open for awhile.
KG: Once in the door, the line splits two ways; a much shorter line is for their pizza by the slice, whereas the longer, more circuitous route would take you through the store and into the sandwich/pasta portion of the show. Now, while we at DWPF do heartily endorse good pizza, we thought it would be more noble, more valuable to you, the consumer, if we braved the longer line for some of the more delectable, and, ahem, expensive fare on the far side.
PB: Yes folks, you guessed correctly – it was my week to pay! Not that I am complaining; we would have chosen the same line even if it was cheaper. It just seemed wrong to settle for pizza when they have so much more to offer on the other side.
KG: Along the way we were treated to a small sample of the current special, an eggplant parmesan smothered in Cossetta’s homemade red sauce, which simply exploded; I won’t say we licked the little plastic cups, but only because to admit to it would be embarrassing for us, and make you uncomfortable. Simply put, it was a wonderful blend of mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, pasta, eggplant and tomatoes that was tempting us as we wound our way through the store.
PB: I must admit that I was a little skeptical before trying it; I don’t like eggplant. Or, maybe I should say that I had never tried any variations of eggplant that I liked before this. But this was an amazing dish – I almost changed my mind to order it instead of a sandwich.
KG: Still, it seemed wrong to get something we would write a review on that would be gone when the special ended. No, we decided, it would be far better to purchase a repast that was something you could enjoy whenever you arrived. To that end, Phil went with the Cossetta’s sandwich, a fried patty of Italian sausage dropped on a trencher of Vienna bread and then heaped with the house red sauce, garnished with another trencher cut in half. It wasn’t so much a sandwich as a monument to Italian decadence.
I had the Italian beef sandwich, piled high with sweet peppers. Now, when I saw ‘piled high’ I don’t mean it had some peppers on the top. I mean it had small mountains of diced peppers bursting with a sweet pickling brine. Simply moving the sandwich would cause small avalanches of peppers to drop to the basket below, still leaving plenty for the palate.
PB: Yes, it seemed entirely fitting to try the sandwich that had the family name. I didn’t know at the time, but apparently the sausage in this sandwich has been a cornerstone of the family business for years. If you care to know more about the history of Cossetta’s and the Seven Corners neighborhood of St. Paul, just Google ‘Dave Cossetta sausage’. The first hit should be a City Pages article by Dara Grumdahl (Humming With the Spice of Life) that is well worth reading.
KG: As the sandwiches were conveniently sliced in half for us already, we decided we would split the pair, to better compare and contrast. As I said to Phil once I had begun on my half of the Cosseta’s sandwich, whichever one you’re currently eating will be your favorite; as Phil would say they’re both, in a word, awesome.
KG: I tried to compare the two, but Phil said they’re apples and oranges. I’m not sure what kind of household Phil grew up in that they had apple and orange sandwiches, but he’s definitely correct that trying to elevate one over the other is pointless; they’re very different sandwich types, from the open-faced Cossetta’s to the hoagie style Italian beef, and they’re both so good, why bother trying?
PB: Well, I thought it was a decent analogy, even if it is overused to the point of being a cliché. On these, the folks at Cossetta’s get the fundamentals right – the sauce, the breads, the meats, the giardiniera topping; each sandwich had a perfect balance of flavors and textures. I liked the food so well that I went back with my wife the next day. We tried the veal parmesan and the marsala chicken, which were, of course, awesome. It is really hard to go wrong with anything on their menu – the place reminds me of some of the family-owned Italian restaurants that I grew to know and love while working on the East Coast a few years back. Nothing flashy, just great-tasting food.
KG: One of our co-workers asked us to bring him back a cannoli, and as a three-pack from the freezer is only a buck more than getting two solo, this was an easy request to accommodate. Now, unlike baklava, I am a huge cannoli fan; no convincing was needed to entice me into one of these perfect pastry concoctions, especially as it was Phil’s week to pay. A flaky shell filled with sweet, creamy Mascarpone littered with chocolate chips; ‘The Godfather’ was right. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.
PB: This was my first time to try cannoli, but it definitely won’t be the last. The food here is definitely four tines way up!
KG: All in all, Cossetta’s is a place the denizens of the Twin Cities simply must visit if they have any love for the great foods of Italy. The hearty, home-style delights provided make this a fantastic Four-Tine dining experience not to be missed. Full Fork on this one, folks!