Location: St. Paul Seven Corners
About twenty years ago, we took a family trip to New England and one of our checklist items was to visit the famed Plymouth Rock, the traditional disembarking point of William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims in 1620. I wasn't disappointed, but I guess I expected more than a simple square-foot boulder with a small inscription. There was nothing particularly notable, other than its quaint setting and historic designation, and yet it was somehow rather inspiring. And so it is with Cosetta.
It would be accurate to describe Cosetta as a pizza/Italian restaurant, but it wouldn't be adequate because that's just part of the story here. It can border on sensory overload because when it's crowded, it feels like there are numerous sub-plots and back stories all being told at the same time, but in a charming sort of way. But it's not old-style traditional: it's more of it's own unique mashup of Little Italy meets collegiate dining hall meets upscale casual dining room. The food is served on the first floor in a cafeteria-style format, but it's not a cafeteria. You to walk the line with a tray and make your selections behind the glass encasement. Its quasi-buffet includes far more than pizza, and although that's the only thing I've had there, everything looks pretty good. Once you finish running the Sicilian gauntlet and pay, you're welcomed to a pleasant dining area that seats a couple hundred, and it's usually pretty busy. But no, it's still not a cafeteria. And if the restaurant experience isn't enough of an attraction, there's a bustling Italian market on the first floor to complete the overload. Cosetta has really developed its own unique brand in a very crowded St. Paul pizza market. I know many loyalists who will make the case that this is the best pizza experience in town, and they might have a valid argument.
Experientially, Cosetta is unrivaled. It's always a guaranteed adventure, and would definitely be on my Pizza Walk Tour of St. Paul if such a thing existed. The reason I can't rank it even higher is that the pizza itself, while definitely above average, falls short of elite status. The meats are outstanding, but the crust gets a ding because it's a bit on the firm/crunchy side. Like Plymouth Rock, it has a well-earned spot as a designated point of interest, and even if certain aspects seem a bit underwhelming, look at the larger picture and embrace the significance in its brave quest to make our world a better place. (9 of 10 stars)