Cheesecake at Brianno’s in Eagan

James Norton / Heavy Table

The photo above depicts a slice of cheesecake from Brianno’s Italian deli in Eagan. It’s not much of a photo — it was taken quickly, as an afterthought, to serve as a reference in case the cake turned out to be remarkably good. Not much other than fried catfish or tacos looks good on styrofoam, and the pale color of the cake plays particularly poorly here.

Nevertheless, this slice of Brianno’s homemade cheesecake ($3.50) quickly popped into our top five reasons to drive out to this stellar deli, one of the last true bastions of Italian-American deli deliciousness in the state.

That list:

5. All the Italian cookies/dried pasta/pizzelle you could possibly want.

4. High-quality frozen pasta sauce for a reasonable price; we really dig the house-made Bolognese, but the classic Meatless is just what you’re looking for, too.

3. The cheesecake. We’ll get into this a moment.

2. The Sloppy Hot Dago ($8.50). Is this the best hot dago sandwich* in the state, and therefore the world? You be the judge, but we think it might be. Tons of tasty melted cheese, high-quality red sauce, legitimately spicy sausage patty, and even a pepperoncini on the side. (*Yes, we know that the name is offensive to many people, and we actually wrote a book that dove into the history and etymology for about two full pages.)

1. Muffuletta ingredients. All the high-quality, reasonably priced Italian meats and cheeses you need to make a huge, killer muffuletta and feed an army of people. Plus! Spicy, delicious muffuletta olive salad in a jar to save you a tremendous amount of hassle and expense on your sandwich crafting.

Anyhow, back to the cheesecake. It’s as tangy as you could possibly desire, and sticky to the point of being almost cream-cheese-like in consistency. The balance of sugar and dairy zing is spot on, and the graham cracker crust is a great counterpoint in terms of sweetness and crunchy texture. We’ve had cheesecakes with a more elegant texture (lighter, firmer, overall better), but this slice gets the tangy vs. sweet balance right in an important way, and really delivers on the “cheese” side of things.

Brianno’s Deli-Italia, 2280 Cliff Rd, Eagan, MN; 651.895.1174


    1. James Norton

      …because that’s what it’s called? The actual question is: Why do Italian-Americans proudly call their sandwiches Hot Dagos? You can talk to them (I have) and you’ll get a range of answers. But it’s mostly about reclaiming what was once a virulent slur and declaring that they’re past it.

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