Well before the Internet, cell phones and food blogs, and years before I was legal to consume alcohol, I lived a pretty good culinary life here in the Twin Cities. I can’t recall if my parents enjoyed bringing their kids out to nice restaurants, or if they just hated paying babysitters. But I was lucky enough to be there during an era of Twin Cities dining excellence.
Rick Nelson of The Star Tribune and his article “Ghosts of restaurants past” got me thinking about these restaurants and food experiences stuck in my head — ones that cease to exist today. Here’s one of many stories, stay tuned for more highlighted RIP restaurants.
High in the sky on the 50th or so floor in the Marriott Hotel in Minneapolis City Center was a triangular dining room with a glass wine cellar in the middle and black piano at the front. Gustino’s entertained not only with not-your-typical-Midwestern-American Italian food, but with singing waiters.
Soprano waitresses, tenor waiters, robust bellies and powerful diaphragms, all singing show tunes, Christmas tunes and listeners’ requests. The very attention our waiter would garner when he bellowed out the first note was as if they were striping off their clothes in the middle of the Mall of America rotunda, on a non-school day. Today diners would be whipping out their cell phones and causing a viral following. But back then the singing was about being there, being present.
It was rare that my family would leave without one or two of us with garlic oozing from our pores. Gustino’s famous roasted garlic soup was worth the drive from Stillwater. Its presentation began with a crisp, white saucer and a tasted sourdough croustade. Then the waiter poured the garlic-infused cream over the top and let the milk fat infiltrate the bread and your veins. Then-food critic for The Star Tribune, Jeremy Iggers, wrote:
“Anyone considering ordering the cream of garlic soup ($4.50) should first consult with their cardiologist, and weigh the risk against the benefits: You may die on the spot, but it is certain that you will die happy.”
On one snowy December 21, mid-1990s — I recall the date because it was to celebrate my mom’s birthday — we ventured into town for a family dinner at Gustino’s. Little did we know it was indeed the day the fat lady would sing — truly. The curtains were set to close on December 22 and Gustino’s would be ending its dinner service, with a side of Broadway. (But not before we grabbed a recipe…)
Roasted Garlic Cream Soup with Parsley Oil & Sourdough Croustades
3 large garlic bulbs
Fine sea salt
White pepper, freshly ground
1 small sourdough baguette
Grape seed oil
1 bunch parsley
1 quart heavy cream
Low-sodium vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
2 springs thyme
Instructions weren’t included, but that’s half the fun, right?