Inside St. Louis

Del Pietro's Ristorante D' Italiano
The Hill in St. Louis Hills"

 An original watercolor of Del Pietro's Ristorante D' Italiano
y local artist Marilynne Bradley.

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. 

     Unfortunately Del Pietro’s is strictly a dinner destination with service Tuesday through Sunday. This is the reverse of Forrest Miller’s
Giuseppe’s Italian Ristorante on S. Grand Boulevard and Meramec Street that these days usually  offers lunch only Monday through Friday with no evening or weekend hours. You can visit the “Inside St. Louis” archive for the official story of Giuseppe’s and its long heritage.

     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’ 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.

     That Sarah Street parlor was already legendary prior to former bus-boys and waiters Lou and Joe Parente taking charge, as in 1945 previous owner Amadeo A. Fiore who had named the place Melrose Pizza was the first person to serve pizza, or as he billed it “Neopolitan Pizza-Pie” in a St. Louis restaurant. I had the honor of, as a 6 year old, to be there with my grandfather the week they opened. Pizza’s been my favorite food ever since. Fiore by the way moved first to 5026 Easton Avenue then 5910 Natural Bridge and operated both for a time.

     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.

     When the Parente brothers decided to pull up stakes for a bigger, more central location they landed at their new Parente’s Italian Village at 9748 Manchester Road in the building that had been the long-time home of the very upscale Chalet de Normandie restaurant. Today’s it’s the Hacienda Mexican restaurant. Lou and Joe continued with their tradition of serving the stars such as Bobby Darin, Jackie De Shannon, Tony Bennett and one night that is a standout for me was being there with the Rolling Stones. That’s when the Russo and Del Pietro family once again followed in the Parente’s footsteps as they took over the Chippewa location and changed the name to Saro’s Sunny Italy
(see menu). Mary Rose and Michael who were wed in 1965 remained in the business as the joined families were at that location for 15 years before they turned things over to George Hagiparis for his restaurant. Back at Rossino’s Nancy Zimmerman, the older sister of Mary Rose and her husband Tom Zimmerman, took over at Rossino’s and keep things going without missing a beat. Tragedy struck during June, 1986 when Tom was killed in an auto accident on the Forest Park Expressway, but Nancy carried on the tradition for another 20 years. 

     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.

     As our friend Lemay Fire Chief Neil Svetanics would say “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and this is true for Michael and Mary Rose’s offspring as all four are firmly entrenched in the restaurant business, and I must add, are quite successful; which is not a surprise as they had some darn good direction. Today Michael, Jr. and his wife Melissa have
Sugo’s Spaghetteria just west of Le Chateau Village on Clayton Road in Frontenac. Sugo is what Mama Mary Rose called sauce when the kids were growing up. Michael is also planning another place, with a different name, in the Chesterfield Valley to open in early 2010 and later it’s reported he plans yet another place at Clayton and Henry Roads. Angela and husband Tom Zoog are the proprietor of Portabella at 15 N. Central in downtown  Clayton and Marc and his wife Amy along with Lea have Luciano’s at 172 Carondelet Plaza by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Plus Michael, Marc, Lea and her husband Bryan Dougherty have Kilkenny’s Irish Pub, a place that used to be Murphy’s at 20 N. Central in Clayton. The family also once operated Shiitake’s on Forsyth. Michael’s only restaurant misadventure was the short-lived La Cucina Loco Mexican restaurant in South County. The Pasta House Company also fizzled with a Mexican themed place. It was Pancho’s which was located in the old Palace Bowling Alley building at 4929 Southwest Avenue on The Hill.

     As the Del Pietro family reaches out for new vistas, the mothership of Del Pietro’s remains a constant of good Italian food at good prices in a very friendly and cozy environment. You’ll always have a warm welcome from Mary Rose and Lee and you’ll go away satisfied and anxious to return. Oh, the pizza? If you liked it at Rossino’s and Parente’s, and who didn’t, keep in mind what one time Hill resident Yogi Berra said: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”             

Written by:
Ron (Johnny Rabbitt) Elz – Host of Route 66 Saturday nights on News Radio 1120 KMOX &, December 2009.

Click here for an image gallery of Del Pietro's



Contact Information

Del Pietro's Ristorante D' Italiano
 5625 Hampton Ave. - St. Louis, MO 63109
Phone: 314.351.1700
Fax: 314.351.8444

General Information
Handicap Accessible
All Major Credit Cards
Private Dining/party rooms for 25 to 90 people

Hours of Operation
Monday - CLOSED
Tuesday - Thursday ~ 5:00p.m. - 9:30p.m.
Friday - Saturday ~ 5:00pm - 10:30pm
Sunday ~ 4:00pm - 9:00pm

Del Pietro's is located in Saint Louis,
Missouri ~ Click here for directions.

click here to view all of the
featured places from
Inside St. Louis

return to e-Newsletter

what is Inside St. Louis?

click here to return home