Parasole Restaurant Holdings has been taking a bit of a beating lately with the opening of Burger Jones, one of the three new-to-the-metro-burger-scene restaurants. The criticisms may be deserved, but it’s worth noting that Parasole has some great restaurants that have been around for years. Muffuletta, located just north of 94 on Como Avenue, is case in point.
Muffuletta sits in an idyllic neighborhood that quickly erases any memory of having just traveled on construction-filled roads. This time of year is ideal weather for enjoying the restaurant’s patio, which sits above sidewalk level and gives a sense of being quite removed from the foot and car traffic. Those who seek out restaurants that use locally sourced products will appreciate seeing the familiar names of many area producers on the menu.
The service is prompt and attentive without being intrusive and servers are knowledgeable about the standard menu as well as the soup of the day and the featured cheese. Topping that is true enthusiasm about the food and a concern for the experience of the customer.
The menu, while brief, offers an array of options capable of pleasing many diners: vegetarian, meat lover, hungry after a busy day, kids, or looking for a light bite. The vast majority of the menu items are under $15, with only four options venturing into the low $20 range. In line with Parasole’s recession marketing, Muffuletta also offers Sunday Night Supper and Tender Prices for Tough Times. The Sunday Night Supper, a three-course prix-fixe menu, is a reasonable $18.95 and Tender Prices for Tough Times has a featured entrée Sunday through Thursday nights that stays under $12.
The restaurant’s bread basket features roasted garlic spread and either a breadstick or a baguette (both of which balance a crunchy exterior and soft interior) and a couple of delightful flatbreads.
The quality of the bread basket might lead a diner to skip the appetizer section of the menu, but that would be a mistake. The jumbo lump crab cakes (two per order) are well browned and so moist and full of crab that they nearly come apart. The bed of cilantro-lime crème fraiche upon which they sit and the avocado slices and pickled red onions topping them add to the visual effect of the dish but are unnecessary in terms of flavor.
The tapas cheese plate rotates its offerings and could be mobay, Cowbilly, or some other local offering, often from Wisconsin’s award-winning Carr Valley, accompanied by Ames Farm honey and marcona almonds.
The namesake Muffuletta and its smaller sibling the Mini Muffuletta are cubano-like in nature and not to be missed. They showcase the flavor of Fischer Farms ham supported, but not overshadowed, by spicy capicolla, pistachio mortadella, genoa salami, and a salty green olive relish, all held together by just the right amount of provolone cheese.
If a sandwich or burger isn’t what you’re craving, certainly one of the entrees, ranging from steak to duck to pasta, will lure you in. Whether you have a thing for bacon, are a sucker for a well-done alfredo sauce or simply love discovering pockets of goodness in tortellini, the Tortellini Baronessa fits the bill. The pasta is surrounded by flavorful roasted mushrooms, bright green peas that pop off the plate, and chunks of Fischer Farms bacon against the background of creamy alfredo sauce.
The concept of gnocchi seems a simple one, but it’s one that can easily be ruined by mishandling and resulting in dense, flavorless blobs that suck the life out of anything they’re accompanied by. At Muffuletta, they’re light, tender morsels that are sautéed with butter and lemon to a toasty brown. Mix in the Wild Acres duck confit, caramelized onions, and mirepoix, top with parmesan and a scattering of bright tomatoes, and the dish is a delight to both the eyes and the tastebuds.
With such sophistication and thoughtfulness, Muffuletta may fly squarely in the face of the currently raging burger craze — but that’s not such a bad thing.
Bistro in St. Anthony Park, St. Paul
2260 Como Ave
St. Paul, MN 55108
OWNER / CHEF: Parasole Restaurant Holdings / Jason Schellin
Mon-Thu 11 am-2:30pm, 5-9 pm
Fri-Sat 11 am-2:30pm, 5-10 pm
Sun Brunch 10 am-2 pm
Sun Dinner 5-9 pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes on weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $9-24