The Family Jewels are Pizza and Cheesesteak: Good Words with Antonio Gambino
Antonio Gambino learned how to work pizza dough at the age of 18, at his father’s Andrea Pizza. It was a skill he’d need when he eventually took over the business; but, first, learning how to work pizza dough protected his face.
“First try, it didn’t go well,” said Gambino, 33, shaking his head and laughing as he recalled. “First try, second try, third try. I’ve had a lot of dough tossed at my face for not making it right from Papa. He takes it very seriously.
“You learn fast when you’re in danger.”
Gambino’s father, Andrea, opened his first pizza shop in the Twin Cities area back in 1972. The idea sprung when Andrea – originally from Cicily, and residing in Philadelphia at the time – visited the area, noticed a big pizza pie-sized void in the local dining scene, and stuck around to take care of it. Thirty-five years later, Andrea’s got Downtown Minneapolis on lock with three locations throughout.
Andrea has since handed the business off to Antonio and his brother Frank, but his presence is still very much felt. During our talk, for instance, Andrea stopped over to make sure the table stood evenly. He’s shorter than Antonio, with glasses and slicked-back gray hair. He tried three or four times to leave that day, each time backtracking to ask one more question.
“He hasn’t made much pizza,” says the younger Gambino, “but he loves just BSing with everyone. He’s the mascot of the skyway. Everyone knows him. You can’t miss him!”
Gambino grew up with the Philly teams, and speaks enthusiastically about the Eagles and Sixers. He thought Carson Wentz looked good in his rookie season. He thinks Joel Embiid is going to get Philly a championship if he can stay healthy. He also thinks pizza in the Twin Cities has come a long way, at least in the Neopolitan stylings, thanks to the likes of Punch Pizza and Pizzeria Lola. He slid me the names of some of his favorites – Orchid for Chinese, Rusty Taco in Northeast, and Bar La Grassa for pasta.
He says food, in general, has gotten better over the years.
“It’s gotten away from the old franchises to more mom-and-pa and small businesses,” he said. “It makes everyone push to be better. You gotta step up your game.”
The Gambino family branched out last January and stuck their flag into the Dinkytown turf, but this one is different. This time, the Gambinos built in a Philly cheesesteak shop to run in tandem with Andrea Pizza. They called it Frank From Philly, and it took the Gambinos just one year to reach up and snag the City Pages’ Best Sandwich award.
They cut no corners, only making cheesesteaks exactly like how you get them on Broad St. I’m talking ribeye steak, grilled onions, and Cheez Whiz, on Philly rolls (not just any rolls, and there is a difference). The Philly he brought out for modeling had ketchup; but, at their foundation, these Phillies are unchanged national keepsakes. The to-go containers aren’t long enough to properly house them. If you order one of these, you’ve got work to do.
It’s the pizza side on which things can get crazy. Across the river, a “specialty” slice at Cossetta is often a sausage, but with onions and green peppers tossed on. At Andrea, a specialty pizza can be dressed as a gyro. It can be a “Good Morning America,” with eggs, hashed browns, and the contents of an omelet. It can be whatever they dream up in the kitchen.
Speaking of: Antonio’s latest dream landed on the menu last weekend, and a Yelp check-in can have one on your plate for a pretty good discount.
In case you missed it, you can purchase a pizza with guacamole in the middle and taco toppings all over the pizza. In addition to ribeye, cilantro, white onions, lettuce, and tomatoes, the taco-style toppings also include – you guessed it – soft-shell tacos. Also available is a Philly, re-fashioned with taco toppings and dubbed ‘Phillyrito.’
If you check in on Yelp while ordering, you get a 50-percent discount.
“I said, ‘Let’s do it!'” said Gambino, when asked about Yelp’s first reaching out. “There’s no limits. It’s food!”
PODCAST: Yelp MSP Community Manager Kara Doucette on five-stars, one-stars, and the details of the ongoing Order The Yelp offer.
Frank and Andrea sits a block down 4th St. from the nightlife nucleus of Blarney Pub, the Kitty Kat Club, and the Loring Pasta Bar. Gambino said the double-edged restaurant gained momentum right off the bat, thanks to their work with local fraternities and sororities. A few funny videos, and some rave reviews later, and now after-bar in the front entrance can sometimes resemble a moshpit.
“We were up to the challenge,” he said, “because we love what we do.”
When you’re that close to the action, naturally, you rack up some stories. Gambino laughed hard as he brought up stories of kids falling out of chairs, or lawn chairs mysteriously vanishing … then just as mysteriously showing back up. He recalled a young lady who fell asleep at a corner table one night, waking up after an hour, and buying some pizza.
“College kids are great,” he said. “They bring a ton of energy when they want pizza, and they’re always so happy.”
The ‘Order the Yelp’ promotion ends June 30, but Johnny-Come-Lately is in for a pleasant surprise. This ain’t goin’ away so soon.
“We’re keeping it!” said Gambino. “It’s our surprise for the kids coming back in September for class. We’re going to keep it and see how it goes. It might just be a Thursday, Friday, Saturday night thing. We love the reaction when people see new pizzas. They get to see it before they buy it. That’s the best part: people’s reactions.”
While goers to the Downtown locations are no doubt used to the daytime hours of business, it’s nothing like that near the U. Frank and Andrea stays open until midnight on Sundays and 3 a.m. all other nights. You can find more information on their website.