Every liquor store parking lot is busy. Two things human beings will always need and and will always spend money on: dentistry and liquor. You can't go through life with a sore tooth and most of us can't go around without at least the occasional day-ender.
But Morelli's parking lot is busy in a way that others are not. The driving is especially pell mell, yet everyone seems to achieve it without a fender bender. The clientele is more diverse than you'll see practically anywhere else in the cities. Cops and judges, ladies in jangly earrings, grandmas and grandpas, a good many newly minted 21-year-olds, guys stopping in for their single-serve, walking-around drink of choice that gets slipped directly into a paper bag. They all come for arguably the cheapest prices on wine, beer, and liquor just about anywhere in the cities.
Swing open the same door that's been swinging open since 1930, and the aroma of red sauce hanging in the air hits you like a wall. Your nose does not deceive you, nor is it marinara floating on the wisps of wind from nearby Yarusso Brothers, another East Side Italian eating institution. Morelli's is one of the few Twin Cities venues grandfathered in to legally vend liquor and groceries in the same piece of real estate. What a piece of real estate it is.
Stacked up like a Tetris block tower: anise-flavored Pizzelle cookies, ruby jars of pasta sauce, side handles of Jim Beam, crinkly packs of pasta, more pasta, oily giardiniera in aquarium-sized jars, ham, Fireball Schnapps, mushrooms marinating in brine, green pepperoncini, roasted red peppers, frozen pizzas the size of a city bus tire, Patron, six-pound vats of house-made lasagna, Asiago, macaroni salad, Wild Turkey 101 proof, Veuve Cliquot yellow label for about $40. Zillions of other things.
The shopping carts are tiny so as to accommodate the precarious aisles, child-sized affairs so you'll feel like a giant while loading up on all of the above. And at Morelli's you'll certainly want that cart.
Pick up their weekly mailer for all the best deals of the moment. With store prices plus mail-in rebates, one can get the likes of a 1.75 liter bottle of Svedka for less than $10, or a case of Sam Adams for $7.65. This is a place of extreme drunkenomics. (The mailer is now available in PDF and one of the few ways they've gone high-tech. Morelli's does not accept credit cards and they pass that savings on to you — it's one of the reasons for the eye-poppingly low prices.)
One James Morelli and his bride opened the place in 1915 to provide familiar sustenance to the growing number of Italian immigrants filling in the Swede Hollow neighborhood of St. Paul, and by 1930 that original store had moved to the current location on Tedesco street. The store is now owned by grandson Jimmy Morelli. The Pioneer Press once called him "Gallo King" in a headline because he sells more mass-market California wine than the likes of the much larger Haskell’s, MGM Liquor Warehouse, and Surdyk’s thanks to his low, low prices.
The butcher counter also has some of the best prices on beef (if you can peel your eyes away from those bottles) with prime cuts staying in the single digits for a pound. Just don't forget to dust off your checkbook or hit the ATM before bellying up to the case. Your plastic is no good here.
535 Tedesco St., at Payne Avenue, St. Paul