Five Observations on Il Gatto in Uptown

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Editors’ Note: Il Gatto is note closed.

The Parasole restaurant group’s newest eatery (built on the final resting place of the long-doddering Figlio) is proudly describing itself as “Uptown Italian,” a designation that makes an experienced diner worry a bit. Uptown’s a charming place, but not something that necessarily makes a good adjective for a new restaurant. After all: What does “Uptown” mean in this sort of a context? Overpriced? Too cute by half? Watered down for the cheechakos? An Italian menu that manages to work steaks, hamburgers, and french fries into the mix also sets off quiet alarm bells.

It’s not, however, possible to ignore Parasole’s impact on the local scene, so we went, and entrusted our meal selection to the advice of our opinionated waitress. This turned out to be a wise decision.

Here then, are five observations from the meal:

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

1. Get the Sausage Sandwich

Our actively helpful waitress (see “The Staff’s Terrific,” below) pushed a sausage grinder on me as a staff favorite. Lo and behold, it’s the kind of thing you’d expect restaurant staffers to dig: rich in punchy flavor, simple to make, and easy to eat. A thoroughly toasted bun contains a house-made sausage that’s rich in spice and heat, topped with a spreadable Italian cheese called stracchino that packs its own pepper and herbal kick. Asparagus gives the sandwich a bit of vegetal balance and a pleasant textural snap. The overall package is great — balanced, flavorful, filling, and a mere $10 — including about a pound of decent fries covered in herbs and grated parm.

2. Some Boorish Branding Choices Were Made

The humor that pervades the staff T-shirts and overall branding of the restaurant never gets beyond wordplay alluding to whores and whorish behavior, which, har har, gets old after you spot the second or third reference to “cheap” wine and rooms being rented by the hour. Yes, slutty women are funny. Yep. Got it. Prostitution. Har. The “Ah, Phuket” T-shirts at Chino Latino are Thurberesque by comparison.

A menu reference to non-alcoholic drinks as “spayed” was a particularly fratty touch. Having thoughtful non-alcoholic options for designated drivers, the underage, and the habitually sober is a nice gesture, but it loses some of its charm when you imply that the person who skips alcohol is having a partial experience drained of pleasure.

ilgattobomboloni3. The Bomboloni Are As Much Fun As They Sound

A paper sack full of house-made spiced doughnuts (“bomboloni” on the menu, $7) is a bit of an odd way to end a meal that might normally be followed by panna cotta or spumoni, but it’s also really entertaining. The bomboloni come out with three dipping sauces including a decent caramel, a somewhat underpowered chocolate, and a strawberry coulis. Best of the three was the strawberry option, which popped with bright flavor and proved to be the liveliest counterpoint to the warm spicy doughnuts.

4. Wine is Central

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Visually, wine bottles dominate the room and set the mood for your meal — good luck staying away from the wine list, particularly after a basket of the adequately crusty bread arrives along with a saucer of herbed olive oil. Il Gatto works on a carafe-served “glass and a half” system for its house wines, which is a charming way to do business (and a fine deal at $5 per serving.) Its other wines are priced at $7, $9, and $11 per glass — and neatly organized by price on the menu. Italian wines dominate, not surprisingly, but choices from Australia, California, Argentina, and Germany also make appearances.

5. The Staff’s Terrific

Before we headed out to Il Gatto, we’d heard from other Heavy Table staffers that the staff was really on its game. This turned out to be true. From the hostess to our waitress to the busboy who boxed up our food, the Il Gatto team was cheerful, focused, competent, and, in a word, welcoming. Whatever training or hiring program that’s in place seems to be working; kudos to the team for a job well done.

Il Gatto
Italian in Uptown

3001 Hennepin Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
OWNER / CHEF: Parasole / Matt Kempf
Sun-Thu 4:30pm-1am
Fri-Sat 4:30pm-2am
BAR: Full


  1. Aaron Landry

    I have been to Il Gatto twice and I’m right with you here on the observations. The Bomboloni is great but I preferred the caramel-espresso (or whatever coffee-like flavor was mixed there). The bizarre drink naming did feel like Chino and I can’t imagine that naming a drink a “Smitten Kitten” with Smitten Kitten down the street was any sort of coincidence. My asked my date, “I wonder if the drink is served in a hollowed-out dildo?” The “Twig and Berries” did have a literal phallic and testicular reference in the drink itself. I’ll be posting about that and the pizza on my personal site later and I’ll also trumpet that the staff is as you said: fantastic. I can’t believe how well they all knew this new menu as well as their enthusiasm on their favorite choices.

    Lastly, the house-made lemoncello is quite good although the presentation is a bit cheesy. You’ll have to order it yourself to find out — it’s only $4 and worth it for the taste.

  2. HungryinSW

    I really think that Parasole, a titan of restaurant success, could come up with a more sophisticated, yet compelling way to market this place. It sounds like they’ve created a great product (am yet to try it myself, but trust the opinions represented here). I just hope the overt display of obscene humor doesn’t dilute the experience.

    I’ve wanted to check out that grinder since I saw it on the menu, but figured I would let the kitchen season. Sounds like the whole staff hit the ground running.

  3. Deanne

    You go to an Italian restaurant and the only entree you try is hardly even an entree? All I get out of this review is they have a good lunch sandwich and the staff is nice. At least you leave room for hope that this won’t be another Burger Jones.

  4. ryanol

    Great write up, can’t wait to try it.

    Re: the frat boy humor and tongue in cheek copy- it’s uptown, that’s what uptown has become.

    Take the bottomless glasses of wine from d’amico down the street, add a little flair/cheese/entertainment of chino and mix it all up with perceived value and a great location.

    reads like a recipe for success to me.

  5. James Norton

    Deanne, the literal meaning of “amuse bouche” — the category that this story is filed under — is “mouth amuser” — it refers to a small taste before a main meal. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive review. Incidentally, we tried the gnocchi with lamb ragu. It was totally solid, but I thought the grinder and bomboloni were both more worthy of comment.

  6. JC

    I’m going to have to agree with Deanne. Is the only thing you had a sausage sandwich and fried donuts?

    This isn’t a review, it’s an advertisement.

  7. Deanne

    Hope my tone wasn’t too negative (although the negativity toward Burger Jones was fully intended). But what I mean is that regardless of your intentions, if you’re going to spend the time and money to go to a restaurant for the purpose of writing about it, it would seem economical, and more worthwhile to both you and the reader, to gather a little bit more useful information. Replace “review” in my comment with “writeup” and it doesn’t change my intended meaning.

  8. James Norton


    It’s actually the opposite of economical to do a proper review, as opposed to a collection of observations — in our book, that requires multiple visits, preferably with a group of people (as opposed to a couple.) What we’ve done with this write-up (and others like it) is give you a snapshot — the fruits of a single visit. It’s not meant to be conclusive, and not meant to tell you how many stars the restaurant deserves. If you don’t find it interesting or informative, my apologies — I know that some readers will, however, and as a reader myself, I often enjoy short observational pieces as opposed to comprehensive assessments.


  9. Adam Platt


    I am going to have to agree with Deanne and JC. What were you thinking, not dropping $800 at Gatto so we could read a more thorough review for free on this site. Are you some kind of lunatic? Don’t you know how many other bloggers are publishing online reviews right now with evaluations of the scallops and tortellini. You can’t expect us to continue to put up with this. You can only push people so far . . .

  10. HungryinSW

    I think part of it is that you went with your server’s recommendations as well. They said, “try the grinder,” so you did. When I visit a new place and don’t have a great grasp of their food yet, I often go with a staff recommendation.

  11. James Norton

    Heh. Picking my way carefully through the fray now. Naomi, you raised a good point.

    Speaking personally, I did, in fact, like the rearranged layout. Felt a bit more open, less stuffy, a little darker and more atmospheric — big emphasis on displaying the wine and loaves of bread. It’s not (in my opinion) a radical difference, but an incremental improvement.

  12. artsy

    So, in addition to Chino Latino and the Independent, there is also Stella’s to add to the list, and newer Lyndale Tap house and Il Gatto………….they all are using the sexist frat boy approach to marketing. I have a request, if they want anyone besides frat boys to eat there, PLEASE. STOP THIS. NOW. Thanks for listening.
    And since Il Gatto still has the same Figlio chef, I wouldn’t expect much different from the tired Figlio menu. Except for Joan Ida on desserts, something worth mentioning.

  13. Erica

    Parasole is a restaurant group that has a panel of people that put together a menu for each restaurant giving the chef very little room for creative expression.He runs a kitchen and produces food to the best of his ability based on a predetermined concept and style. Figlios- an uptown resident for many years- was tired. A new concept/new menu/new decor is Parasole trying to bring Figlios into a new era of food. They are marketing it as the new trendy place to be seen in Uptown. But just beacause it’s ‘trendy’ dont underestimate the ability of the chef.

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