Editor’s Note: Amici Pizza and Bistro is now closed.
Although Amici Pizza and Bistro is so newly opened that its liquor license has yet to arrive, it seems likely the restaurant will soon, as the name suggests, be fast friends with its neighbors in Audubon, if not the city at large.
Tucked into the old Snap Pizza location in a strip of shops on Johnson Street, Amici has a cozy neighborhood vibe. The walls are the color of red clay and textured, bringing warmth to the row of comfortable, maple booths that runs the length of the dining room and is punctuated by the kitchen. Clanking dish sounds mingle pleasantly with crooners like Frank Sinatra and Willie Nelson, and it smells like bread and warm tomatoes.
Possibly, a suggestible diner dreaming of pizza imagined that last bit, but you get the picture. Speaking of which, we could not embrace the two giant HDTV screens that perched over diners at either ends of the hall, silently broadcasting what must be the single most inappropriate programming for an Italian restaurant: “The Biggest Loser.” According to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, owner Greg Pratt hopes the TVs will bring folks in for beer and a casual bite during sports events, but bobbing around in our peripheral vision, they were just a distraction, even without sound or subtitles.
But not so much that we didn’t enjoy the hell out of the mixed green salad ($8), which combined apple, hazelnuts, prosciutto and a sweet pomegranate vinaigrette to wonderful effect. There was a mild grana padano in the salad, too, but while it was delicious to nibble, it got a bit lost in the mix.
The table pretty much fought over the steamed mussels ($8), elbowing each other away from the bowl so that we could dunk our bread in the broth — we tasted wine, butter, garlic, possibly fennel, tomato, and sweet red pepper — and grab the mussels, which were consistently sweet, plump, and tender. The only misstep here was that there weren’t any spoons, so we were forced to slurp the remaining broth out of our shells.
We enjoyed the briny tenderness of our oven-roasted chicken ($16), but even more so the sweet parsnip puree that accompanied it — a nice juxtaposition with a pile of rather strong, roasted Brussels sprouts and pancetta.
Apparently, the restaurant space came with a $13,000 pizza oven, and Chef Cam Adair, formerly of Prima, has put it to good use. Of note is a specialty pizza ($10 – $19) that included oven-dried tomatoes, spinach, toasted garlic, and fresh mozzarella. The thin crust was lovely: slightly crisp, slightly chewy, it fell somewhere between Pizza Luce and Punch Neapolitan. The fresh mozzarella was tasty, but we appreciated that it was sprinkled in little daubs over the pizza, so it didn’t overwhelm the super-sweet roasted tomatoes.
Over all, though, we favored the tomato and red-wine braised beef ($16), primarily for the beautiful meat, which fell apart on the plate and melted in our mouths. It was served with a creamy polenta and slightly charred — in a good way — escarole, which once again added a nice bitter note to the plate.
Oh boy, we didn’t need it, for the portions at Amici are generous, but the vanilla bean crème brulee ($5) provided a velvety finish to a very pleasant meal.
BEST BET: Red-wine braised beef, fall-apart tender and rich in flavor.
2851 Johnson St NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418
OWNER / CHEF: Greg Pratt / Cam Adair
Tue-Thu, Sun: 11am-2:30pm, 4:30-9pm
Fri-Sat: 11am-2:30pm, 4:30-10:30pm
Sunday Brunch: 9am-2pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes on weekends
ENTREE RANGE: $9-17
BAR: Liquor license in process (as of Mar. 5, 2010)