Alex’s Italian Ristorante, in the little strip mall at 2738 Nicollet Ave. isn’t just the first Italian restaurant on Eat Street – it just might be the first Italian-Laotian restaurant in the world. (The Twin Cities do seem to have a knack for breeding exotic gastronomic hybrids – T’s Place at 27th and E. Lake in Minneapolis features Ethiopian and Malaysian cuisine. And I just spotted a sign at the former Andy’s Garage on University Ave. in St. Paul, announcing the imminent arrival of Mabuhay, serving Russian and Filipino cuisine.)
The picture above doesn’t really show what the cuisine at Alex’s Italian Ristorante looks like when you order it at the restaurant. It shows what it looks like when you order it to go, and enjoy it at home with candlelight and flowers and a decent bottle of wine.
This could be like the gastronomic version of the American dream: Alex, a refugee from Laos, comes to Minnesota and works for 18 years as a cook at an Italian restaurant (Stephano’s in Burnsville, owned by another immigrant,) masters Italian cooking, and saves up enough money to open his own place, a little pasta and pizza joint that he runs with his family.
Trouble is, the best location he can afford (I am just speculating here) is in a dilapidated strip mall on Eat Street, sandwiched between empty storefronts, and he has no budget for advertising, so there are no customers. They try hard to make the place look nice, with white (plastic) tablecloths and votive candles on every table, but Italian cuisine is a tough sell in this neighborhood, and the lack of a wine and beer license makes it even tougher.
I have sampled a few dishes so far, and liked most of what I tried – especially for the price: an appetizer of sauteed calamari in robust marinara sauce; linguine with sauteed beef and portobello mushrooms; and seafood fettucine with shrimp, calamari and mussels. Prices are extremely reasonable – nearly everything is under $10, including a good selection of pizzas and pastas. Home delivery is available on weekends.
When I stopped in for lunch a few weeks ago, one of Alex’s family members told me that because business was pretty slow, and there didn’t seem to be much demand for Italian cuisine among the Asian customers on Eat Street, they were going to add some Laotian dishes to the menu. And when I dropped in lasty weekend, there was a new supplement to the menu – a list of Laotian dishes that ranges from shrimp egg rolls (6 for $4.50), papaya salad ($3/$5), laab (a chopped beef salad with herbs, $5) and kow poon($5), a curry noodle soup. I’m hoping to go back soon and give the Laotian dishes a try, but if you get there first, please send me a note – firstname.lastname@example.org – or post a comment and tell me all about it.
Alex’s Italian Ristorante, 2738 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, 612-871-6000.