I’ll take a slice of community with that

Shortly after my husband and I were married, we set out early one evening for a neighborhood stroll. We had recently moved into our home in Fulton and were taking great pleasure in discovering the hidden gems in our neighborhood. When we had bought our house we had not realized that we lived close to a wooded path by the creek, within blocks of the fantastic Settergren’s Hardware Store, and a 10-minute walk from Broders’ Cucina Italiana at West 50th & Penn.   

On this night in 1994, I was pregnant with my first child and tired from a long day at work in a downtown public relations firm. Glenn and I decided to walk to Broders’ Deli to grab a bite to eat. We also wanted to monitor the progress of their new venture across the street, Broders’ Pasta Bar — an intimate sit-down restaurant. Glenn had been excited about the arrival of the pasta bar for months after he had gone on a tour of the construction space while producing a food special for Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of “The Splendid Table.”   

As we walked down the west side of Penn Avenue, we noticed the lights were on in the restaurant space and people were in the building. Excitedly, we went to open the door but found it locked. We pushed our noses against the window for a minute and someone came to the door and invited us to dine for free as part of their test run. I’ll never forget that night. Glenn and I sat at the bar, ate Broders’ succulent homemade pasta dishes, soaked in the warmth of the new restaurant and felt that we were lucky beyond measure. Our taste buds informed us that this was the start of a long relationship.

Over the past 14 years, we’ve eaten at Broders’ Cucina Italiana and the Pasta Bar more times than I could count. When I open the door to either establishment I am filled with gratitude that someone has created this gastronomical oasis in my neighborhood. Often, I run into friends and neighbors as I order either take-out at the deli or wait for a table across the street, and although I always go to Broders’ expecting good food, the sense of community in this corner restaurant is palpable.

After my first, and then second son was born, I would find many of the winter days bordering on unbearable as I tried to entertain two very lively toddlers. Often I had no break in sight because Glenn traveled a lot for work in those days. As a survival mechanism, I got into the habit of promising myself a trip to Broders’ if I could just make it to the dinner hour. By 5 p.m., I’d be at the pasta bar door, tightly holding a toddler with each hand. With their Wikisticks, Crayons and paper tablecloths, Broders’ is a place that welcomes children and adults alike. My boys seemed to sense their special status at this particular restaurant because they always behaved well during these dining excursions. I would emerge from Broders’ happy and centered.

In late 1999, Glenn became very ill and spent six weeks in the hospital. During this stressful period I would stop at Broders’ on my way home from Abbott Northwestern to take out my favorite dish — number 11, quadrucci con pollo, asparagi ed aceto balsamico — housemade pasta with fresh greens, chicken, prosciutto, almonds, asparagus, balsamic vinegar and mascarone. Although I cannot eat this dish any more because I so associate it with Glenn’s illness, it brought me much solace during that period.

I suspect that the success of the two Broders’ establishments spawned other nearby cafés such as Pierre’s, Café Maude, and Cave Vin. Each of these independently owned restaurants brings character and vitality into Southwest.

Tom Broder died on July 5 and although I did not know him or his wife Molly, their lifework is kneaded into the memories of my family life.  

Jocelyn Hale shares this column with her husband, Glenn Miller. She is executive director of the Loft Literary Center.