Inside St. Louis
Del Pietro's Ristorante
An original watercolor
of Del Pietro's Ristorante D' Italiano
Del Pietro's Ristorante D' Italiano
The tilted cocktail glass above the tall neon Del Pietro’s sign that climbs the front facade of the restaurant’s building at 5625 Hampton Avenue is a veritable Southtown beacon inviting passersby to stop in to Del Pietro’s cozy cocktail corner before being seated in either their gracious first or second floor dining spaces. Now, as Steve Mizerany would say, “Don’t be confuuused.” This is DEL Pietro’s not Pietro’s which is a neighborhood away at 3801 Watson Road at the corner of Lindenwood Avenue. Not that Pietro’s wouldn’t be a good place to stop for a drink or a very pleasing lunch or dinner, but on this outing we’re zeroing in on Del Pietro’s, which when they opened during America’s Bi-Centennial year of 1976 bore the moniker of Del Pietro’s House of Pasta.
The St. Louis red-brick stand- alone 2 story Del Pietro’s edifice
stands between Rhodes Avenue and Eichelberger Street on the west
side of Hampton in front of Bishop Du Bourg High School’s athletic
field. An asset that most Hill eateries are unable to offer is more
than ample off-street parking, though we’ve never had a problem
finding a close at hand place to park on Hampton. Actually we
sometimes walk as we’re lucky enough to live just 650 steps from our
door to theirs. This way we get a solid Sicilian-style repast, along
with some exercise when we visit to enjoy some of their very
tasteful, and fairly priced, southern Italian delicacies. An
interesting directional note if you’re coming from the south on
Hampton is that the street numbers jump from 5800, where there’s one
of the over 75 Imo’s pizza parlors, to the 5600 block. There’s
no 5700 block of Hampton. Around the corner from Del Pieto’s the
block of Rhodes west of Hampton is the 5800 block while the second
block is 6200. Go figure.
Del Pietro’s has certainly stood the test of time that only a dining establishment offering a combination of quality and value along with high standards of direction can manage. In these days of economic turmoil, changes in neighborhoods and tastes 34 years is a long stay at the same stand with the same family at the helm. Cunetto’s House of Pasta On The Hill at 5453 Magnolia Avenue precedes Del Pietro’s by two years when Vince and Joe Cunetto started purveying pasta as somewhat of a salute to Rich & Charlie’s Trattoria on Clayton Avenue. That was when Rich Ronzio’s and the late Charlie Mugavero’s chef Charlie “Flipper” San Filippo was signed on by Vince and Joe to run the Cunetto’s kitchen…of which he’s still in charge all these years later. Meanwhile back at Del Pietro’s, Mary Rose, her mother Lee, and her husband, the late Mike Del Pietro were perfecting some of the most tantalizingly tasty Italian victuals anywhere by using time honored family recipes from both Mike’s family and Mary Rose’s Russo family cookbooks. All these original dishes, and some that are much newer, are on their well conceived menu, which you can visit virtually by dropping in at Del Pietro’s.com. But, you’ll need to go in person for the aroma and taste of real home-cooking .
An oft ask question is what was in the building prior to the arrival of Del Pietro’s. If you can visualize the previously mentioned neon sign, you might recall it reading Vincenzo’s which was an Italian eatery owned by Vincenzo Camuglia that immediately preceded Del Pietro’s. Before that it housed the first of Colonel Harlan Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken places in St. Louis. In even earlier days the building held such establishments as Dorothy’s Delight ladies wear, the Hampton Sweet Shop, Blanche Demaree’s delicatessen, Harold Bohlman an accountant and Dr. Wilber Jensen, a dentist.
Even though our featured eating establishment is some 31 block to the south of The Hill, the Del Pietro and Russo families are natives of that famed and fabled neighborhood having lived on the same street, Bischoff Avenue, with Mike at 5460 and Mary Rose at 5319. They were both in the same St. Ambrose grade school class and were childhood sweethearts. Both families have long been immersed with the operation of drinking enterprises and eateries with Mike’s dad, Angelo holding forth after prohibition at a bar at 615 N. 8th Street in downtown’s little Italy. He then would have a place at 3624 Dodier Ave. by Sportsmen’s Park that was visited on occasion by Browns and Cardinal players as well as Browns owner Bill Veeck. Later in the 1950s Mike had a small but busy watering hole at 212 N. Vandeventer Avenue at W. Pine Street in the Olympia Apartments. At this long narrow location you might have found Arthur J. Donnelly, the undertaker, who lived in the Olympia and Paul Piaget, the noted photographer, who lived and had his commercial photo studios with his brothers Carlos and August and sister Juanita at 3838 W. Pine Street, which is now the official residence of Fr. Larry Biondi, president of St. Louis University. On a personal note, the Olympia was the same building in which my grandfather Lorenz , who was also from The Hill, had a drug-store from the 1930s to the 1960s. He was born in 1890 in a house that’s still part of Mama Campisi’s restaurant at 2131 Edwards Street.
Mary Rose, daughter of Nina (Lee) and Rosario (Roy) Russo, was born at home, actually on the kitchen table, where she was delivered by midwife Mrs. Volpi of 5256a Daggett Avenue, wife of John Volpi of sausage fame. After her birth Mary Rose was weighed on a cheese scale. But long before that, in 1904 to be exact, Mary Rose’s grandmother Mary Faille Palazzola immigrated from Sicily, to Rome, Georgia, where for two decades she had a small restaurant. In 1926 Mary came to St. Louis to be closer to family members and to enjoy the camaraderie of a significantly larger Italian population. In 1954 Roy and Lee would enter the restaurant business with a backer from The Hill, Frank Gianino, by taking over the well established Parente’s Pizza location in the basement of the Melrose Apartments at 204 N. Sarah Street, which incidentally was but a block away from Mike Del Pietro’s bar on N. Vandeventer. Later Roy would also run Roy Russo’s Steak House on Watson Road, that’s now Orlando Gardens as well as operating Pucci’s in Dellwood.
The Russo’s named the place Rossino’s for the Rossi Venetian blind
store on Macklind Avenue and for Frank Gianino. Now it’s been gone
for over two years with the building having been turned into condos
by Pete Rothschild. Rossino’s was a touch of Greenwich Village in
St. Louis that had the distinction of having the lowest ceiling of
any restaurant in town. If you were 5’8” or taller you had to duck
several times as you made your may to a booth or table in this
amazingly small space or you’d bump your noggin on a light fixture
or one of the maze of pipes that criss-crossed the ceiling.
Mary Rose, just like her grandmother and mother and father, fell in love with the restaurant business and actually starting working at Rossino’s when she was just 11. She’d have good company as other fellow workers included John Kimbrough (J. Kim) Tucci and the late John Ferrara who, along with Joe Fresta, founded The Pasta House Company.
The Parente boys had moved to 6600 Chippewa Street and opened there
under the banner of Parente’s Italian Village. The place was the
former home of Joe Mittino’s Shangri-La restaurant and rathskellar
that he billed as an “Epicure‘s Paradise.” It also housed the
Seven Seas cocktail lounge. It’s now operated as Garavelli’s
Cafeteria. As Parente’s it was a hang-out for lots of many local
media personalities and well known recording, TV and movie celebs.
At any given time you’d run into people there such as Ed Ames of the
Ames Brothers, Al Martino, George Maharis, Dean Martin and Guy
Lombardo. They even had a singing waiter who landed a record
contract with RCA’s Groove record label. His name was Tony Della
Malva and the “A” side of his 45 was “Quando, Quando, Quando.” RCA
and the Parentes’ held a world premier of the song at the Chase Club
of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. Other than getting a little radio and
jukebox play in St. Louis, the song fizzled.
One of the reasons Michael and Mary Rose opened Del Pietro’s on
Hampton was that they lived less than six blocks away on Tamm Avenue
across from Francis Park. It’s interesting to note that their family
has had the longest run of any restaurant family in St. Louis Hills
history as between their two places they’ve chalked up a full
half-century in business. This tops the family restaurant longevity
record for The Hill as well. They added Michael’s at Woods Mill Road
and Olive Boulevard, but when Mike suddenly passed away September
1986 Mary Rose sold Michael’s to concentrate, with help from her
mother – which continues to this day – on Del Pietro’s and to raise
her children Angela, Lea, Marc and Michael.