Cramped Cossetta’s, where diners used to stand in lines that wound out the door, and then trip over each other heading downstairs to the market, is now an empire of its own, covering much of a St. Paul city block. The deli has expanded, or at least widened its aisles. The market has moved into a bright new space and added a gelato and pastry shop. And upstairs there is, finally, a sit-down restaurant: Louis Ristorante.
The photos of grinning diners lining every wall make it look as if the place has been there forever. (In fact, they were taken at the restaurant’s soft opening in November.) And it certainly has that old-standard feel to it: the dark wood booths, the convivial wait staff in white shirts and black ties, the hum of family celebrations, and the menu that hews so closely to tradition you can almost hear Robert De Niro reading it out in your head: bucatini all’Amatriciana, vitello alla Milanese, pasta e fagioli.
Some of the dishes are old Cossetta favorites, such as the sausage Calabrese, a big, buttery bowl of polenta heaped with (mildly) spicy sausages and soft, sweet fried onions and peppers. (This is in the antipasti list, but it’s a hearty meal on its own.) The lasagne della nonna is a dense brick of lasagna smothered in Bolognese sauce and penne all’ Arrabbiata is (again) mild, smooth, and very traditional.
The entrées are what set Louis apart from the casual lunch counter downstairs. The signature Louis brick chicken is a quarter-bird with crisp, blackened skin and a little lemony bite, while the saltimbocca di vitello follows every nonna’s instructions to the letter: painstakingly thin slices of veal pounded with prosciutto and sage, swimming in a plateful of white-wine gravy.
Members of the Cossetta family have been feeding St. Paul for more than 100 years. These folks embody longevity. It’s easy to imagine, 50 or 100 years from now, a graying man sitting across from his grandchildren with a plate of spaghetti al sugo, telling them that this was what his grandfather always ordered here at Louis.
Louis is vibrant and relaxed, yet still feels special. It’s a welcome relief on nights when you want tradition over hip innovation.
Don’t try to order Italian-style, with both primi (pastas or “firsts”) and secondi (meat entrées, or “seconds”). The pastas are all entrée-sized, and the entrées are generous and come with sides.
211 W. 7th St.