Bargain dining: Three course dinner special at Cafe Biaggio

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by Jeremy Iggers | July 14, 2009 • Cafe Biaggio on University Avenue in St. Paul has all the charm of a contemporary Italian bistro, with exposed brick and original art on the walls and an all-Italian wine list, but there is something about the three-course fixed price menu – soup or salad, entree and dessert for $16.95 – that hearkens back to the restaurant’s roots.

Iggers Digest is the blog of Jeremy Iggers, the TC Media Alliance’s executive director. Jeremy is also the creator of TCFoodies, a local food networking site.

Unlike most such offers, which are available only on slow nights, the offer at Biaggio is available every night of the week (except Sundays when they are closed), and it actually gets better on weekends. On weeknights the menu options are spaghetti with meatballs, fettucine alfredo with chicken, or portobello mushroom ravioli, but on weekends they offer a more elegant choice of chicken breast stuffed with spinach and asiago over capellini, ravioli stuffed with crabmeat, or a skewer of beef tenderloin tips over rice. Also on offer – your first glass of wine for half-price.

One of Biaggio’s owners is John D’Agostino, son of the legendary Mama D’, who owned Sammy D’s, (later renamed Mama D’s) in Dinkytown for decades. Mama D’s, for those of you too young to remember, was a classic red-sauce Italian-American restaurant, featuring big portions, low prices, and the mothering presence of Mama D herself. Mama D, who died on March 17, became as famous for her generosity, and for her free dinners on St. Joseph’s Day as for her cooking. The Feast of St. Joseph is a tradition that John continues.

Mama D’s style of cooking is out of fashion now, but you can still find traces of it on Cafe Biaggio’s menu, alongside the trendier, more contemporary dishes: classic spaghetti with meatballs, a pretty good linguine with clam sauce. And the three course fixed price menu sounds very contemporary, but the dessert is actually a scoop of spumoni. Combine that with the house salad and a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and you have a meal that would have been familiar at Sammy D’s, circa 1965.

Caffe Biaggio, 2356 University Avenue, Saint Paul, 651-917-7997.

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