Buon Compleanno

Party hats! In May, Broders’ Cucina Italiana is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the beloved Southwest Minneapolis deli that almost singlehandedly led diners into a new era of Italian food. 

Before Broders’: spaghetti smothered in red sauce and pizza bearing a burden of more-is-more. After, new words crept into our vocabulary as they seduced our tummies: balsamic vinegar. Truffles. Extra-virgin you-know-what. And mozzarella in a pearly ball that puts its tasteless pretenders to shame.

Tom and Molly Broder, living in Chicago and the best “hobby” cooks in their zip code, like many a dreamer in the ’70s, did a U-turn on their careers: They moved to South Minneapolis (“great place to raise a family”) and put their money where their mouths were — into a tiny, little deli, like no other. Tom, the radical, insisted on producing fresh pasta and fresh sauces. Molly, after life-altering cooking classes in Northern Italy, abruptly changed the way she ate (“Butter went away, olive oil was in.”)

Eleven years after that beginning, they utilized their affinity for sourcing vendors and vintners via travels in Italy, backed by their keen sense of the neighborhood’s needs, and opened Broders’ Pasta Bar across the street — where, these days, Molly is cuddling babies of customers she once hoisted into booster chairs.

Broders’ staff is just as long in years and loyalty, dining here on their nights off. “If my employees eat here,” says Molly as we share crostini topped with sweet prosciutto, sweeter Parm and a spritz of balsamic ($3) backed by a glass of Prosecco, “there’s no better compliment.”

Next up, a dollop of ultra-creamy goat cheese anchoring, just barely, a few wisps of local micro-greens brightened with hazelnuts, snips of tangy olives and a zing of lemon ($10), set off by a class-act Italian Chardonnay. Then, a moon of meltaway mozzarella (I’m clearing Molly’s plate, too) followed by a cunning little canning jar lush with velvet-smooth chicken liver pate under a coif of herbed aspic ($10). It’s paired with a glass of — what? — Lambrusco! Yes, the L-word, and a far cry from your parents’ tipple — all masterminded by the troika of Broder sons. 

Despite their parents’ “Don’t do this!” warning, all three are transitioning into management roles. Thomas, now executive chef, left theater tech training in Toronto and enrolled in cooking school instead, seduced by a kitchen gig that spurred a phone call home: “The happiest day of my life!” Charlie — you’ll spot his smile at the front of the house — serves as operations manager, and young Daniel is off in May to learn to cook in Italy. Father Tom, still a vivid presence despite his untimely demise, would holler, “Bravo!”

Thomas — picky, picky — has constantly upgraded products at the deli and takes seasonality as his mantra. Thus, we’re feasting on ravioli stuffed with leeks and sweet peas lightly kissed with a lemony béchamel ($13), showcased with an amazing red called Etna Rossa (yup, credit that volcanic soil).  

“He’s forged relationships with local farmers like never before,” proud mama boasts. And she herself will act as the first Minneapolis representative for Hands to Harvest (involving dedicated staffers, too) to raise produce to feed the hungry. 

Hungry? Non Io, at this stage, but I cannot quit — not with a pair of primi on the way: tagliarini tossed with prosciutto, truffle pesto and cream, to mingle with sips of Chianti Ruffina Riserva, then a risotto I’m unable to resist, mining rice with sheep, goat and buffalo cheeses, fava beans and arugula (pastas $9–$17). Menu items rotate throughout the season, but several remains forever, to forestall mutiny — the classic Puttanesca, for one. Lasagne veers seasonally from crab (now) to lamb (winter). 

In honor of the anniversary, monthly-changing classes will offer tastings — think Parmigiana, pancetta, balsamic vinegars, Lambrusco pairings. And in honor of just-plain good food, the Cucina starred in the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” April 16 show, to be replayed forever.