Gay-Owned Neighborhood Gem Serves Awesome Italian Cuisine

Neighborhood restaurants don’t always get the love they deserve from the press, and I suppose I understand why. They usually don’t offer the kind of razzle-dazzle that the media rewards.

However, of all the restaurants I have covered, it is usually those little neighborhood gems that I recommend for the most common question I get asked: “Please, Heidi, I want to be able to wear jeans, enjoy good food and wine, carry on a conversation without shouting—and I want it all on a budget. Do you know a place like that?” Indeed I do, so if you read my restaurant reviews regularly, you know I can suggest several such places. And, let’s hope, so should you.

Seasonal Pizza; Blueberry Tiramisu. Photos by Hubert Bonnet

The newest restaurant on that hot little list would be Amici. It isn’t far from Downtown, in Northeast Minneapolis near The Quarry shopping center. A few ethnic restaurants are around, but nothing else nearby offers anything similar to Amici’s bistro-style menu.

For its neighborhood, the restaurant’s arrival a little more than a year ago has been very welcome. The menu changes quarterly, and a robust selection of daily specials also keeps things interesting for regular patrons.

Amici is a casual, streamlined little space. A couple of flat-screen TVs can be used for special events, like the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, but normally, they are tuned to Turner Classic Movies with the sound down. TVs can be terribly distracting, but here, they function more like conversation pieces and laid-back ambience.

In fact, the restaurant is so conducive to conversation that I had to keep reminding myself to concentrate on the menu, and make some tough decisions. The specials were particularly tempting—and our server assured us that they are reliably good—but if I ordered the special crab cake appetizer and the special prawns, only to neglect the regular pizza list, I would have been a very naughty food writer indeed.

My dining companion and I chose to go with the Baked Goat Cheese ($8) to start. Though the crab cakes will remain a mystery, I did not regret it. The tangy goat cheese was melted but not molten, topped with toasted chopped almonds, and served with a delightfully-demure grape compote, arugula, and crostini. The overall combination was addictive, yet I can’t help but focus on a small detail: the crostini. So many kitchens can’t get it right, but here, the bread is toasted to that wonderful sweet spot where you get a very satisfying crunch, but the crostini doesn’t shatter the minute you bite into it.

With the goat cheese, our server recommended the food-friendly Terrazas malbec ($8.50/$32). I have gotten myself into a bit of a malbec rut of late, but in my defense, it is so malleable that I don’t really mind the habit. If malbec isn’t your wine of choice, Toasted Head Untamed Red ($7.50/$28) also is medium-bodied, but darker, and more exotic on the tongue.

The Amici beer and wine list, which is spartan but varied, still manages to offer two sparkling wine options for special occasions. If your schedule allows, try heading to the restaurant for the first time on a Wednesday evening, when bottles of wine are half-price.

The promised Prawns ($20) arrived—fat, perky, and served over olive and caper couscous that is surprisingly sexy. Couscous easily could be an afterthought—and so often is—but the Amici chef really likes to play with food, while respecting each ingredient.

Amici’s thin-crust Seasonal Pizza ($12/$21), topped with pulled pork, smoked fresh mozzarella, spicy tomato sauce, arugula, and pickled onions, is quite unique, too. I’m not a fan of the usual barbeque pizza, but the spicy tomato sauce, peppery arugula, and pickled onions balanced the subtly sweet pulled pork. The thin, chewy crust had just enough bite—yet another pleasant surprise.

I confess that I had my eyes on the Flourless Chocolate Cake with salted caramel ice cream for dessert, but after a brief consultation with the kitchen, our server steered us toward the luscious Blueberry Tiramisu instead. Note: When your server points you so strongly in a particular direction, say yes! The tiramisu was rich, delicate, and not overly sweet. I was especially taken with it, so much so that I took the last remaining bit home.

Amici is very kid-friendly, and offers a special menu section to please the under-10 crowd.

Snap! and Pop! both having closed, I am very glad to see such a well-rounded restaurant pick up the torch. I hear that eager customers were lined up the day Amici opened. It seems the chef has the versatility to keep the neighborhood happy for years to come.

2851 Johnson St. NE, Mpls.
(612) 781-5711

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