My ongoing search for local Jewish foodies and proprietors brought me to Woodbury, chain restaurant heaven, where Angelina’s Kitchen has been cooking up Italian classics since July of 2006. Owner Angela Verrastro was born in the Bronx, spending Sundays at her Italian Grandmother’s house eating delicious meals like lasagna and manicotti. These are the foods of her youth, brought to the Midwest in her capable hands.
They don’t taste like restaurant food — by design. Angela describes her offerings as “home cooked, quality food at reasonable, affordable prices.” Or, like their tagline says, it’s “take out you can feel good about.”
Indeed. Nearly everything is made in-house, including all the dressings, sauces, breads, and pastas. They skin and roast all the natural chickens themselves. And, although there is a good helping of full-fat dairy found on the menu, it’s all real, and only a few things are laden with it; for example, the penne a la vodka sauce is 80% spicy marinara and 20% cream and cheese. And, with lighter choices like roast chicken, baked meatballs made with 90% lean beef, and herbed barley salad, you can find something that works for you and that you can feel good about sharing with your friends and family.
Born to a Jewish mother, every once in awhile you can find Jewish favorites pop up on the menu — like brisket as a Friday night special, or kugel (usually renamed “noodle hotdish” or something similar — you know, for the gentiles) around Hanukkah. But the Italian is her claim to fame, and boy does she have the right idea.
So, how does it taste?
Out first came the eggplant parmesan. While we waited for it to cool, Angela inquired where my favorite place to get eggplant parmesan in the Twin Cities was; having never found any (although I’ve not done much of a search, I confess), she nodded her head in agreement and smiled what I realize in hindsight was a knowing little smile to herself.
This eggplant parmesan was exactly everything I didn’t know I wanted it to be. Each slice was thin enough so as not to be heavy and burdened by oil, but carried enough flavor to let you know what you were eating. The breading was light and flavorful — not overdone or excessively fried in any way (in fact, it’s “pan sauteed”).
But what really grabbed me was the completely perfect bread and spicy marinara she served with it. This bread had perfectly crusty outside that gave way to a supple, chewy, soft inside. It had enough structure to hold a load of marinara — which is good because this is some absolutely showstopping marinara. Spicy, naturally sweet, and with flavors that you could swim in, they’re so layered and delicious.
I could easily (and happily) survive off this bread and marinara for days.
And, I wouldn’t even have to feel bad about it: there is no added sugar (or corn syrup), no paste, and very little salt used in the recipe — it’s just a mess of pureed veggies left to simmer for eight or more hours until it reaches red sauce perfection.
Hesitant to relinquish control of my plate (and all that spicy goodness), a beautiful little bowl of herbed barley salad took its place. As something of a nutritional hobbyist, I appreciate when restaurants opt for things like whole grains and fresh vegetables sans loads of fat. This little number is a dieter’s dream, with a Dijon vinaigrette applied with a light hand over a mixture of pearled barley cooked to a lovely toothiness, along with colorful bell peppers, red onion, and juicy cucumber. While it didn’t blow my mind, it was a refreshing change of pace, and would be a lovely addition to any weekday lunch or family picnic.
Then came out her secret weapon: penne a la vodka. Oh my. I’ve never professed anything but love for a good cream-based tomato sauce, but… wow.
As I made my way through the rest of the plates she put out for me, I kept going back to this one. I almost fought her for it when she tried to clear the plates — gratefully, she gave it back without issue.
The only drawback: if you are vegetarian or keep kosher, this is not the dish for you — they start the sauce with just a bit of prosciutto, and unfortunately, its savory-salty nuance just wouldn’t be the same without it. The good news is if that renders it off-limits for you, you have a wealth of equally phenomenal menu options to choose from instead, like spinach lasagna or Italian macaroni and cheese — although they still pale in comparison to the penne or eggplant parm due to their sheer awesomeness.
Just when I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, she brought out an adorable cup of creamy yellow sweetness. Banana pudding. I didn’t know I liked banana pudding until I tasted this. I honestly had no clue. But now I’m a convert — a banana pudding proselytizer.
The brownies are certainly yummy, but once you’ve had this banana pudding, you’ll realize (like I did) that you’re just wasting your time by ordering anything else. They make it fresh daily — and when they say “when it’s gone, it’s gone,” they mean it. It’s hard to describe, except to say that it’s akin to a room temperature cup of non-melted ice cream — which Angela attributed to the high quantity of sweetened condensed milk and high butterfat content milk (the main source of creaminess in ice cream). It’s dense and round in your mouth, defying you not to savor it — to somehow scarf it down like some pedestrian Jell-O concoction.
The Verdict: This is an eastern suburb staple not to be missed. Heck — go out of your way for this! With easy lunch options and daily dinner specials ($20 for a meal for four, including bread), you’ll wonder how you missed out for so long. The proof is in the, er… pudding. [insert cheesy groan here]
Where to Find It
2170 Eagle Creek Lane
Woodbury, MN 55129
Pick up, take out, and catering