Long Lake eatery celebrates food and family Italian style.
When you sink your teeth into a plate of Spaghetti & Meatballs at Long Lake’s Primo Plates & Pours, you’re taking a bite of Tony Ostlund’s family history.
According to family lore, during World War II, Ostlund’s grandmother, Phyllis, took the train from Excelsior to New Orleans to marry her sweetheart, Woody, before he departed to serve in the military. The night of their wedding, the newlyweds ate at an Italian restaurant, enjoying a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. When they told their server how much they loved their meal, the chef insisted on giving them the recipe as a wedding gift.
That treasured spaghetti and meatball recipe became a tradition in the Ostlund family. Woody and Phyllis made it for their four sons every Christmas. Those sons made it for their children, including Ostlund. And, now, he makes it for his own children—Neveah and A.J.
The recipe also became the signature dish for Primo Plates & Pours when Ostlund opened the upscale Italian eatery seven years ago in the former Birch’s space. “It was my tradition growing up,” Ostlund says. “I built my menu around that red sauce.”
It’s a menu that Primo regulars Sutton McGraw and Lori Goodsell can’t say enough good things about. Ask either one what they would recommend and both will happily give a list of nearly everything Ostlund offers. “I love the [Insulate Rustic],” McGraw says. “All of the pizzas are amazing. The Bolognese is handmade. I get two meals out of the Spaghetti & Meatballs. There’s the Linguine & Clams, the sea bass, the Chicken Parmesan … The quality of the food is very good.”
“Tony does an absolutely fantastic job,” Goodsell says. She was among Ostlund’s first customers. “The first night, we were the only ones there,” she says. “The food was amazing, and we were terrified that it was going to close. We started bringing everyone we knew.” Today, the restaurant is buzzing, and Goodsell has a nameplate on one of the stools at the bar. She’s not the only one. “We get tons of regulars,” Ostlund says, noting that many of them have nameplates scattered around the restaurant or their own chairs at the bar.
Primo Plates & Pours has been embraced by the Long Lake community—so much so that Goodsell says she hates to let their little secret get out. “It’s a great neighborhood joint,” she says. “Like an upscale Cheers [referencing the bar in the similarly-named NBC TV program that ran from 1982–1993].”
At the height of the pandemic, Ostlund says his customers were fiercely loyal, keeping the restaurant afloat through robust takeout orders. “We got so much support, it was ridiculous,” he says. “We had the right food for it, I guess.”
McGraw lives less than a mile away from Primo. She says the restaurant seems like an extension of her home. “I feel like I know everybody,” she says. “It makes me feel like I’m coming home. It really makes a difference.”
That’s music to Ostlund’s ears. “I wanted to create a restaurant with a quiet, cozy neighborhood feel where people could come and enjoy good food and great service,” he says.
McGraw believes he’s achieved that and much more. “The beauty and magic is that it’s small and the attention to detail,” she says. “The personalized service and quality of food is top notch.” Goodsell says, “It’s super consistent.”
Other than a burger, which he begrudgingly put on the menu at the request of his regulars, Ostlund says you won’t find nonItalian fare at Primo. According to Ostlund, customer favorites include the Risotto Arancini, the Grilled Mushroom and Gorgonzola Salad, the Pappardelle Bolognese, the Four-cheese Ravioli and the cheesecake—a recipe that came to him courtesy of his ex-wife and includes a strawberry Grand Marnier topping. Ostlund’s personal favorites at Primo are the Spaghetti & Meatballs, Baked Strozzapreti and the “Bucatony,” a variation of Primo’s Bucatini Rosa that includes diced chicken breast and veggies.
As Ostlund looks to the future of his restaurant, he wants to continue growing, noting that he’s considered delving into prepared meals and meal kits. Until then, he’s going to keep whipping up batches of that red sauce and thanking his grandparents for sharing their wedding gift.