Nearly 100 years ago, a young Italian named Charles Vescio traveled across the Atlantic in search of his father, who had immigrated to North America. He searched New York and Chicago before coming to Minnesota, but unfortunately, never did find his dad (who family thinks might have ended up in Canada.)
But once in Minnesota, Vescio met his future wife Theresa, an Italian whose passion for authentic Italian food has lingered like the delicious aroma of simmering sauce for four generations, making Vescio’s Originale and Vescio’s Cucina successful legacies of a once-wandering immigrant.
This legacy began with a market in Minneapolis. Theresa and their second son, Frank, who had been a cook in the Army during World War II, would make pizzas at home every Thursday evening to sell at their grocery’s meat counter. In the mid-1950s, Frank opened a restaurant in Dinkytown where he cooked side-by-side with his mother and later with his own sons, Frankie, Fred and Ronnie. Frankie and his son Tony still run the Dinkytown operation, now called Vescio’s Originale. Fred expanded the family tradition to St. Louis Park with Vescio’s Cucina. Ronnie is a dentist, but “he eats here a lot,” says Fred with a smile.
Fred has the traditional Italian love of family, and has always enjoyed being with his parents. “I loved getting up early during grade school to go with my dad to the farmers’ market,” Fred says. “That’s where we would get our fresh ingredients. I always wanted to be in business with my dad.” Unfortunately, Frank senior died young, in 1978 at age 60, but Fred has the next best thing. He runs Vescio’s Cucina with his son, Jon, and wife, Nancy.
Vescio’s prides itself on making food in-house from scratch. The meat sauce is their oldest recipe and is the basis for many menu items. Vescio’s buys only the freshest meats to make its sweet sausage and its increasingly popular “fire hot” sausage.
“In the old days, some customers didn’t like spicy food,” Fred says. “Italians adjusted recipes to local tastes. But tastes change. We developed our spicy sausage recipe about five years ago, but didn’t put it on the menu for a while. Now, customers request it.”
Fred’s steps to developing new recipes are first identifying what he wants to do, seeing what else is in the marketplace and then striving to make his dish better than others. “I’ll try new things and narrow down to my favorites,” he says. “Then I take the parts I think are most intriguing from each recipe, including flavor, texture and aroma, and create my own dishes.”
For something unexpected, Fred recommends walleye at Vescio’s. “It’s our breadcrumb that makes it so good,” he says. “My dad was a big fisherman. He perfected our breadcrumb recipe. His buddies always hoped to catch little fish so they could bring any extra breadcrumb home.” The recipe is still used for Vescio’s parmesans, calamari and toasted raviolis.
When asked who is the best cook in the family, Fred and Jon point to each other. “Jon experiments. He grows his own tomatoes and basil for making flat bread pizzas. He also makes delicious handmade cannoli,” Fred says. “My older son makes dry rubs for.”
The Vescio family loves what they do. From catering to hosting banquets to selling their specialties to families hosting dinner parties at home, this family-owned restaurant is an evolving labor of love centered on authentic Italian cuisine.
Vescio’s at the Fair
In 1971, Frank Vescio was part of an investment group made up mostly of golfers. Someone in the group had a friend who wanted to sell his food stand at the Minnesota State Fair. With prompting from the other investors, Frank agreed to advise the stand and eventually took over the operation. Vescio’s at the Fair, located near the Grandstand, still feeds thousands of hungry fair-goers each summer.
“Back then, food stands had counter stools and most people sat down to eat meals at the fair,” says Fred. “But Dad saw the future. First thing, he cut down the counter stools and served portable foods like pizza, garlic bread and meatballs.”
Jon’s earliest family food memories are of time spent at the fair. “We had fun making pizza and garlic bread, and brought home pasta for dinner,” says Jon who, like his father, enjoys hanging out with family.
“Food at the fair has become very spread out,” says Fred. “Our location helps our business, especially when there are popular acts at the Grandstand. But our goal remains the same: provide good food and good service, hopefully without long lines.”
4001 County Road 25