MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As the temperatures drop, we are in the mood for some Italian comfort food. This time of year folks love lasagna, a festive favorite.
And we wanted to find the best Minnesota has to offer. Natalie Nyhus asked, and you answered. Join her on the east side of St. Paul for a huge plate at the Little Oven.
The Morelli family has been doing Italian food on the east side of St. Paul for more than 100 years.
“My grandpa came here shortly after the turn of the century,” Jimmy Morelli said.
But it was grandma who wanted a shop.
“Her father who was the man who baked the bread in the neighborhood — that’s what he did for a living, in outside ovens — gave her $500 to start a store in 1915,” Jimmy said.
That was Morelli’s, and it still exists in St. Paul today, though Jimmy has brought his family’s history to another St. Paul restaurant called The Little Oven.
“The lower east side [of St. Paul] was probably the hub … of Little Italy, and always was an immigrant neighborhood,” Jimmy said. “There was a lot of pride in it, a lot of pride in the home, in family, great restaurants and businesses that survived decades and decades.”
The Little Oven is one of those Morelli restaurants — serving pizzas, pastas and the best lasagna in Minnesota for 25 years.
“My dad had a good reputation for lasagna. … As my dad got older, he showed me,” Jimmy said. “That’s the recipe that I took up here when we started the Little Oven.”
They make their own sausage, specially season the ricotta and have created their own sauce recipe. And then there’s the mozzarella.
“We go through over a ton of mozzarella cheese in a week,” Jimmy said. “It comes in 50-pound cases … and we go through 45 to 50 cases a week, just here.”
Those ingredients make layer after delicious layer of lasagna — six in total. So what makes this lasagna the best in Minnesota?
“The care that we give it, and that we’ve have the same people with the same recipe for so long,” Jimmy said.
Jimmy says, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. And according to the smiling, stuffed faces in the dining hall, this recipe is definitely not broken.
“You have to be so blessed to have this type of longevity in this business,” Jimmy said. “And it’s not because of an owner. It’s because of the people, the customers, the loyalty.”
Your other favorite places for lasagna are Broders in Minneapolis and Mucci’s Italian in St. Paul.