While I sometime think that Guy Fieri, the host of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" on The Food Network, can be a little over-the-top in his shows, he has turned me on to a number of interesting places that I want to try for myself. One of the places that he's visited for his show is Donatelli's, a family-owned Italian restaurant in suburban White Bear Lake, MN. I was in the Twin Cities for a few days recently and decided to trek over to Donatelli's for some food. (The picture of Guy Fieri was taken in the kitchen at Donatelli's.)
Here is the "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" segment on Donatelli's. Click the play button in the middle to watch -
Donatelli's began in 1979 as a pizza joint. However, Steve Donatelle had a number of family recipes available to him and he expanded his menu over the years and moved to his present day (and larger) location a few years ago. The hallmark of Donatelli's is that all their food is made from scratch. From the pasta to the sauces to the pizza dough, Donatelli's is an exceptionally unique restaurant these days.
I made it to Donatelli's one cool, rainy evening. Located in a strip mall near the corner of County Road EE and County Road N in White Bear Lake (see map), Donatelli's has a loyal clientele that has been coming back for years and years. Many employees at Donatelli's have been there for well over 20 years. It has a very family atmosphere to the place.
I had about a 10 minute wait to get seated in the dining room at Donatelli's. The young host showed me to a booth, asking me if I'd rather have that or a table. The booth looked sort of secluded, even with a four-person table nearby. I took the booth. He gave me a menu and told me the waitress would be with me in a moment to take my drink order.
Since I've lost my weight and have been able to maintain the weight loss, pasta hasn't been on my radar like it had in the past. But after seeing Fieri's segment on Donatelli's, I was looking hard at getting something with their homemade red sauce. Their pasta menu was very extensive and included traditional plates like spaghetti and meat balls (all made from scratch, remember?), fettuccine alfredo, and veal or chicken parmigiana. They also had a number of baked pasta dishes including rigatoni, cheese tortellini, and lasagna. Their meat sauce for their pasta entrees can be ordered with ground beef or with Italian sausage.
Donatelli's also feature a number of specialty pastas such as Cajun chicken alfredo, chicken and spinach stuffed cannelloni, and butternut squash ravioli with grilled Italian sausage. Actually, the first time I ever had a white sauce at an Italian restaurant - I remember this so vividly because it opened up a whole new world of Italian food for me - was a dish of tortellini alfredo at Chiarelli's Pasta House in a suburb of Kansas City. (Chiarelli's has long since closed, or I would have written about it on Road Tips long ago.) Chiarelli's tortellini alfredo had prosciutto-stuffed shells, with peas and mushroom slices. Donatelli's tortellini alfredo had cheese stuffed tortellini, but generous amounts of prosciutto, along with mushrooms and peas in their homemade alfredo sauce. Man, my mind was in a tizzy!
Donatelli's also has weekly featured items and dinner specials Monday thru Thursday and other specials on the weekends. Monday night is "All You Can Eat Spaghetti" - $6.99 a person and it includes two meatballs. Donatelli's also features a special "Beer of the Month". I was really starting to like the place.
My waitress came over and I ordered a Summit Oktoberfest beer. She asked me if I had any questions on the menu and I said, "My head is spinning because there's so much to choose from!" She said she'd give me some more time and went to get my beer.
At the table next to me, they brought out a large pizza for the family of four seated there. Suddenly, my world stopped. It was thin crust, large and ample chunks of sausage, a lot of pepperoni and other fresh looking veggies across the top. I went to the pizza section on Donatelli's menu and took a quick look. In addition to their thin crust pizza, Donatelli's did a deep dish style, as well. And the price on the deep dish pizza wasn't appreciably higher than their thin crust. Maybe that's because their thin crust pizzas were a little high priced to begin with ($9.99 for a 10" one topping pizza).
So now I was REALLY in a quandary. Pasta or pizza? Geez, I haven't had pasta in quite some time, but their pizza looked great. I was still trying to decided when she came back to take my order. I said, "Boy, I'm torn. I was all set to get some pasta, but I didn't know if I wanted your red or white sauce dishes. Then I saw these people get the pizza. Now my stomach is telling me pizza."
She asked, "Are you from around here?"
I said, "No, I'm up here on business."
She said, "Do you come to the Twin Cities often?"
I said, "Oh, maybe three or four times a year."
The waitress said, "OK, here's what I'd do. I love our pizza. Tons of people get the pizza here. That's what we started out as 30 years ago, a pizza place. I think our pastas are great, too, but if I was going to get one meal, I'd get the pizza. And then, you can come back and get pasta on your next visit!"
Pizza - 10" - thin crust. My standard Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. She smiled as she took my menu and said, "Excellent choice. I know you won't be disappointed."
I finished my beer and my waitress came back to ask if I wanted another beer. I said I did. The only problem is that they had run out of the Summit Oktoberfest. I ended up getting another beer, a Bud Light.
About 20 minutes after I ordered, another waitress brought my pizza to the table. It looked great - piping hot, tons of toppings, thin crust. I couldn't wait to bite into it, but it was so hot as it just came from the oven.
From the first bite, I was overly impressed. It was a damn good pizza. The crust was thin, but not too crispy. The Italian sausage had that nice fennel bite to its taste. The pepperoni was sassy and the mushrooms were definitely fresh. And the pizza was small enough that I was able to eat the whole thing in one sitting. The waitress was right I wasn't disappointed. In the pizza, that is.
However, I was disappointed in my waitress. After she left off my second beer, she didn't appear at my table again until after I was done with my pizza. I had finished my second beer halfway through the pizza (which tasted very good with a cold beer, I need to add), and I wanted another one. I ended up just drinking water to finish up the pizza.
She asked if I wanted any dessert, but I said there was no way. She left the bill and walked away. I guess you have to pay at the front counter. She didn't get a good tip when I paid by credit card at the front counter. I wanted to tell her to not forget about her customers when they're eating, but I didn't have the chance.
Donatelli's pizza was very good. I don't know if it was as good as Psycho Suzy's, but I found it to be very enjoyable. Other than the hiccup with the waitress sort of forgetting about me during the meal, my experience at Donatelli's was very pleasurable. I'm definitely going back at some point - probably next Spring, since I don't travel north of the Iowa border between November to March - and I'm going to try one of Donatelli's pasta entrees. Their descriptions on the menu - and how they look on the Guy Fieri video - make my stomach do jumping jacks.