Minnetonka’s Bacio Serves Up Interesting Eats in a Classic and Comfy Space—with a Creative Twist

Italian flair in Minnetonka.

Have you ever walked in the door of a friend’s house and sighed as you sank into a perfectly padded chair? That’s what comfort feels like, and it’s what the team at Bacio in Minnetonka goes to great lengths to create for its guests.

A family-owned eatery created by veteran restauranteur Bob Tinsley and his wife, Jill, it’s a place where familiar foods are given a special twist and there’s a decidedly come-as-you-are vibe even in its upscale environment.

“Our first focus is on relationships. It’s a little bit Cheers-ish. People know your name here. Sometimes food appears before you actually order it,” says Tinsley with a laugh. The food is top-notch, too. It’s all about fresh, local, interesting fare that’s fit for a casual night out or a special occasion.

“We really do not compromise on the quality of our product,” says chef Mike Zinser. “If we get a box of tomatoes that’s not that good, we just won’t have tomatoes that day. It’s the best or nothing.” Originally from Rochester, Zinser moved to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America. When he moved back to Minnesota eight years ago, he says the decision to work at Bacio was an easy one.

“We’re all on the same page with hospitality and the way we serve people,” says Zinser, and for him that means providing a delightful dining experience and flavors that pack a punch. “It’s comfort foods with a twist—approachable, recognizable food—but fresh, seasonal, local…and 100 percent from scratch. We don’t buy one single thing that’s pre-made.”

In Minnesota, that means rolling with the punches of a shorter growing season, so the team at Bacio switches up the menu four to seven times per year: “We work on the farmers’ schedules,” says Zinser. Some things are constants, though, like the pastas that are made fresh by hand each day. The meats pretty much stay the same—sourced as locally as possible. And day in and day out, there’s fresh-churned gelato in fun flavors.

Throwing a party? Bacio offers semi-private, rentable spaces for up to 25 in the dining room and has recently opened an event-friendly venue in its bar. It’ll serve up to 40, with the same service and menu that people expect. “We’re going to give groups an absolute restaurant dining experience,” says Zinser. “It’s not catering—it’s the same great service and the same great food you’d get in the rest of the restaurant.”

The space—bar and dining room—is thoughtfully laid out with classic, classy décor and pops of quirky color throughout.

“We wanted the space to be comfortable but also elegant at the same time,” says Tinsley. “We want people to feel comfortable wearing anything; wear your suit or wear your sweatshirt.” The space, formerly a Leeann Chin restaurant, was completely renovated in 2002. “We really created the whole space from scratch,” says Tinsley.

The bar is decorated with local artists’ work—some of it changed out from time to time—and you can ask for a business card at the bar if you’re interested in commissioning a similar piece. The pieces of art are conversation-starters that add to the playful mood of the restaurant and give a nod to the local, family-owned, community-centered approach to the Bacio business. Having lived locally for many years, Tinsley and his staff are invested in the community. They have a presence at local events and fundraisers and often partner with local breweries or producers to create new dishes that highlight local products.

Anything we haven’t mentioned so far? “Brunch!” says Zinser. Apart from the stellar happy hour—with apps and entrees at swoon-worthy prices—Bacio is perhaps best known for its leisurely brunch. It’s available Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and you’ll see some classics like omelets and eggs Benedict on the menu. You’ll see one rendition of the Benedict that’s done up New England crab cake-style, and there’s a spicy breakfast risotto with local cheddar cheese, harissa, ham, sausage and bacon. True to Bacio style, the accompanying juices are fresh-squeezed every day.

General manager Sue Birchhill has been with Bacio for 15 years, and she thinks the restaurant’s draw goes far beyond great food and drink. “It’s all about taking care of employees and guests—no matter what it takes. Our focus is on making sure people are happy,” says Birchhill. She notes that there are many cooks and servers who have been with the eatery since Bacio’s inception, and she says, “There’s a reason: It’s a great company to work for.”

(Bacio owners Jill and Bob Tinsley)

Take a Sip

Any great meal deserves to be paired up with a delicious beverage, and the Bacio bar doesn’t disappoint. Check out the selection of craft beers—ten on tap, and all but two are local—or the extensive wine list, with by-the-glass and bottle options.

Coming for brunch? Check out the blood orange mimosa or the bloody Mary, which is arguably “the best in the west end,” according to the Bacio crew.

“We’ve gotten more into craft cocktails recently. We have a signature Manhattan—it’s delicious,” says Birchhill. (Stu’s Old Fashioned, $11, with Maker’s Mark bourbon with orange and cherry.)

A Bite of Bacio

We asked Bacio chef Mike Zinser to dish on a few of the plates he’s most excited to serve up this season—and the wine pairings he’d put with them. Buon appetito!

Spicy Thai BBQ Scottish salmon
“At Bacio we cut all of our fish every day—sometimes twice—so that the fish we serve is never in our restaurant more than 18 hours…it’s the freshest seafood possible,” says Zinser. For this zippy dish, salmon is rubbed in spicy Thai BBQ sauce, seasoned with salt, and then seared to order until it is nicely caramelized. It’s served on top of spinach sautéed with sesame oil, toasted peanuts, garlic, scallions and matchstick carrots. The colorful dish is drizzled with more BBQ sauce and reduced soy sauce, plus a squeeze of lime.

Try it with: Whispering Angel Rosé.

Braised local short ribs with horseradish mashed potatoes, caramelized Brussels sprouts and black truffle demi-glace

This dish begins with top-quality, local beef. At Bacio, that can only mean one thing: it’s from Revier Cattle Co. in Olivia, Minnesota. Short ribs are seared until golden brown and then slowly braised in red wine with fresh thyme, parsley, garlic, mirepoix and veal stock.

“We then reduce the braising liquid into a beautifully textured demi and finish it with a black truffle butter,” says Zinser. The beauties are served with horseradish mashed potatoes and caramelized Brussels sprouts that have been sautéed with toasted almonds, Ames Farm honey and butter.

Try it with: Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon.

(One of Zinser’s favorites: Thai BBQ Scottish salmon)