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DeRusha Eats: Mucci's Italian

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On first glance, you might not even see it, but Mucci's Italian in St. Paul's West 7th neighborhood doesn't need a giant sign or flashing lights. Owner Tim Niver and Chef Chris Uhrich let the flavors do the talking.

Fresh pasta with a deep, rich red sauce. Lasagna with layers of love. Niver said it's been a dream of his to connect with the flavors he experienced as a child.

"I would come home on Sunday, mom would have tomato sauce, pasta; it's the food of my childhood," he said.

Niver named his restaurant after his mom, Audrey Mucci. Italian food is always personal, and with that can come strong expectations.

"That is something we talk about a lot. I'm not trying to make food in the style of your mom or your grandmom. We're making it in the style that we like," he said.

Think of the restaurant as a combination of Mucci's heart, Niver's soul and Uhrich's talent. Housemade bucatini is epic. Served all'Amatriciana style with pancetta, tomato, Locatelli cheese and peppers.

"We made it, said 'This is delicious, it tastes like Buffalo wings, it's awesome,'" laughed Uhrich.

Niver wanted to do pizza, but he didn't want to do the same pizzas other Twin Cities restaurants were serving. In 2012, he read about montanara pizza in this New York Times article.

It described montanara pizza taking hold in New York City, but inspired by chefs in Naples, Italy. That's right: after rolling out the dough, it takes a bath in the fryer. The pizza is topped, then put in the oven, and it ends up both crispy and chewy.

"This is the Camilla pizza. It's named after Gonzo's girflriend on 'The Muppet Show,'" said Uhrich.

It's topped with fried chicken chunks, peppers and a sweet-and-sour Agridolce sauce. The deep-fried montanara pizzas are so good, and so popular, Mucci's sells them frozen for takeout. They have goals of getting them into grocery stores.

"Even though Mucci's is very neighborhoody, and price-conscious, there's really a culinary aspect to this that I'm glad people are noticing," said Niver.

Instead of doing weekly brunch, Mucci's decided to become a doughnut shop on weekend mornings, an idea that morphed into a "doughscuit" shop. It has the flavor of a biscuit with layers of dough on the inside, then fried up like a doughnut. Uhrich created a blood orange glazed doughnut, a Homer Simpson (strawberry glazed with sprinkles of course), a Tiramisu doughnut, and a Locatelli doughnut with savory cheese.

"I said to Chris I wanted to do doughnuts, and he said doughnuts are not Italian. I said we could make them Italian," laughed Niver.

In its first year, Mucci's crowning moment may have been when Niver's mom came into the restaurant named for her for the first time to celebrate her birthday.

"Oh it was amazing, completely emotional, the whole room sang 'Happy Birthday' to her," said Niver.

It's food with heart and soul, served with more than homemade noodles.

"There's something special about Italian that kind of comes packaged with a hug. It's always been about that," said Niver.

Mucci's Italian
786 Randolph Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55102

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