Bite of the Week is a weekly feature showcasing an exceptional meal or dish, curated by The Growler.
If you write about food for long enough, your eyes start to adjust and you can actually start seeing the scene clearly. What was once a small constellation of bright, newly formed, trendy restaurants fades to a more tolerable level and you can begin to see all the restaurants in the state that have quietly served their diners for years or even decades—places like The Little Oven in St. Paul’s East Side.
There’s nothing whatsoever sexy about The Little Oven. It’s a quarter century–old, cash-only, completely traditional Italian-American red sauce joint located in a quiet neighborhood across the street from a meat market. The menu is classic, and the portions are big. But if you like comfortable—comfortable seating, comfortable service, comfortable food—loosen your belt a notch or two and settle in. The Little Oven is a warm hug of a restaurant and you’ll dine in saucy splendor.
We tried The Little Oven’s massive Hot Paisano ($9) sandwich and its size is difficult to overstate. It’s enough food to feed a couple of roofers after a hard morning of work, and—for absolutely no reason—it also comes with a sizable bowl of decent spaghetti (or French fries, if you’re eating light.) The amount of food that hits the table is enough to make one wonder if there’s a commemorative T-shirt for people who can finish everything on their plate, and a memorial plaque for those who attempt it and die trying.
“Yes, it’s huge,” you may be thinking, “but how does it taste?” It tastes good, my friends. This is a classic St. Paul Hot Dago sandwich—house-made sausage patty, an aggressive sheen of melted cheese, toasted bread drenched in marinara, plus a massive steak knife to help you work your way through the meal.
The sandwich is a commitment, it’s a stylistic choice, it’s a lifestyle. And on a cold winter day, it’s one of the best ways you can spend your cash—emphasis on “cash,” as opposed to credit—in the metro.
The Dish: Hot Paisano (Sloppy), $9
The Place: The Little Oven, 1786 Minnehaha Avenue E, St. Paul
The Reason: Visiting The Little Oven is an enjoyable trip back in time and the Hot Paisano is a monster