CROSSLAKE, Minn. (WCCO) — There’s nothing that hits the spot quite like a hearty, filling bowl of pasta.

The Italian comfort food is a favorite for many, so we went searching for the Best of Minnesota. Your votes sent us for a meal at Maucieri’s Italian Bistro in Crosslake.

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Italians love their food and their family, and pasta is the glue.

“Growing up you had these big dinners. Everything was loud and adults are drinking wine and people are arguing.  Whether you’re here with two people or 10 people, get a bunch of dishes and pass them around, drink wine and have a good time,” Tony Maucieri Jr., one of the owners of Maucieri’s, said.

Admittedly, it was a little bit of a surprise to travel into lakes country for the Best of Minnesota. How many Italian restaurants are there in lakes country?

“Not many!” Dawn Maucieri, also an owner, said.

That’s part of what makes Maucieri’s Italian Bistro work.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“When my daughter suggested it, I kind of laughed. I thought in the middle of nowhere, who’s going to want Italian. I humored her because I figured if it didn’t work, we could always try something else. And it worked,” Tony Maucieri Sr. said.

He was a milkman in Chicago when he decided to move his family to Crosslake. Tony Sr. knew of the area from his days in the service at Fort Ripley.

“That was kind of funny. We moved here January 15. It was 45 below when we pulled into town. I said to myself, I must be crazy. But I’m still here because I love it,” Tony Senior said.

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They moved in 1974 and opened a supper club, now closed. Then 11 years ago, Tony Sr., his daughter Dawn and son Tony Jr. decided to start their next adventure.

“Then they kind of suckered me into the business. And that was fine. It’s been great ever since,” Tony Jr. said.

They do approachable Italian food meant to bring everyone around the table.

“We decided that we maybe wanted to open a restaurant again,” Dawn said. “We wanted to be something different in Crosslake. We wanted to have something that wasn’t available anywhere else. We decided to do Italian food because that’s our heritage.”

The dishes are made like grandma used to. In fact, that’s where their recipes come from.

“We call our spaghetti sauce gravy. That was quite the thing. People would read the menu and think brown gravy. But with my grandma, we’ve always called it gravy,” Dawn said.

From the gravy to Italian sausage and meatballs, everything is homemade. At 79 years old, Tony Sr. still does all the prep work.

“He’s here almost every day. Every day pretty much,” Tony Junior and Dawn said. “I never get to measure anything. My mother and grandmother never measured,” Tony Sr. said.

Sure, Maucieri’s serves up some delicious Italian food, but they also bring friends and family together. And maybe that’s what makes them the best.

“The thing that makes me happiest is people come in here and enjoy it so much. It gives you a good feeling to know that people enjoy what you’re doing,” Tony Sr. said.

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The Maucieri’s want to let customers know that they are soon going to be serving dishes family-style for everyone to share. Your other favorite spots for pasta are Bar La Grassa in Minneapolis and I Nonni in Lilydale.