Welcome to beautiful Minnesota, where 9° could be positive or negative and you mention the Vikings at your own peril! As soon as I landed I headed to the Mall of America. Of course. The parking lot I ended up in was named Indiana and totally marked up in yellow. There are so many parking lots within the garage they are named after states, blasted with color and you can text a number your state to help you remember where to find your car. Oh man. So I was pretty pumped to get inside, but after coming in in one of the most central parts of the mall, I wandered for a bit and found I wasn't blown away.
I was lucky in that I ended up at the Mall around 2pm on a Monday, so there weren't many people to keep me from seeing everything I wanted - from See's Candy samples (see what I did there) to the amusement parks to a sneak peak of the aquarium on the "negative first" floor. Seriously between the weather and the mall there is a strange negative trend.
For those who haven't visited the Twin Cities (about whom I'd like to have a separate conversation in the future), the mall is basically a giant square, with classic department stores flanking each corner at the points and views into the center amusement park halfway through each side of the square. There were climbing games, a roller coaster, carousel, ferris wheel, a water ride, and all sorts of Dora and Spongebob themed rides. Having no one around made me equally comfortable to snapstory away while also feeling like a pretty obvious tourist for the few people wandering with their kids or significant others.
I mentioned a negative level - that's the aquarium! There are four levels otherwise, but if you go deep deep down you can pet de-barbed stingrays and hang out with other water creatures. I considered it, but it was $18 for an adult ticket and I had a bit of a ride in the snow to my hotel. A lovely employee there did let me look at the different areas for a bit though - the stingrays are really something else.
So, the food!! After stalking restaurant reviews at the mall and comparing their gluten free menus, I had to go with Tucci Benucch. This little Italian place is not that little - I sat on the right hand side of the "patio" and people-watched (or, people-watched while being people-watched since everyone's always so confused by someone eating alone and reading a book/casually staring at them) - there's a pretty big, semi-dark restaurant off to the back that looks really cozy for large groups.
I wasn't having any of that though, especially when there are happy hour deals to be had on the patio. Although I ordered my main off the gluten free menu, I did accept the bread that came over because 1 I was hungry and 2 why pretend I can't have it? I told the waiter that I was trying the gluten free Fusilli Tomato Cream for my dad, just so he wouldn't worry that someone had brought me bread and I'd already went in on it while ordering a gluten free entree.
And boy was this WORTH IT. Like my taste buds didn't think gluten-full or gluten-free at all. My waiter told me Tucci Benucch makes all their own sauces and soups etc. from scratch, including the mozzarella. This stuff was added in tiny pockets to the fusilli along with slightly crunchy chicken and this insanely delicious tomato cream sauce. With every bite of the pasta and chicken a little piece of mozz would come along, and I would swirl my fork waiting for it to snap and it just wouldn't. It was almost a sport to see when it would finally snap but that baby just kept on going. Super impressive. The sauce itself was sweet with a little spicy warmth that wasn't truly spicy, but kept things interesting. The cream took it too the next level without being overwhelmingly lactose-y. Kind of a gross way to word that, right? My point being it had all the taste elements of a traditional tomato cream sauce without the gross feeling people get after having a meal with cream in it.
And the pasta itself! It was perfectly al dente, with just the little bite you need along with all the normal gluten-full taste, so you don't even notice that it's gluten free. I was so impressed I asked the waiter where it was from, and after checking with the kitchen he said it was Heartland brand. I'd recently read that that's one of the best gluten free pasta brands but that it's a really only found in the Minnesota area, so it's definitely on my list now and I'm sure a product review of trying it at home will follow!
All in all, from the pretty solid gluten free menu to the attention that the staff provided and the incredible quality of the food, I'd highly recommend checking out Tucci Benucch next time you're dragging yourself around the Mall of America. Honestly it might be my only reason to go again!
Have you been to Tucci Benucch? Any other gluten free places in the Minneapolis area I should check out?