Inside St. Louis

Castelli's Moonlight Restaurant at 255

An original water color of Castelli's Moonlight Restaurant at 255 by local artist Marilynne Bradley.

Castelli's Moonlight Restaurant at 255



       It was in the dismal Great Depression year of 1937 when forward thinking Alfonso and Teresa Castelli opened a bar and restaurant in the midst of farm country on the old Springfield Road (now Fosterburg Road). This was just three years after the “Noble Experiment” of prohibition came to a close with the repeal of the Volstead Act. A principal reason the Castelli couple chose the site was that it was just about the nearest place to Fosterburg, Illinois where they could operate a tavern, as Fosterburg proper was still a “dry” town…as it is today. It took a lot of foresight and gumption to start a business in that era of bread lines, soup kitchens, hunger marches, steel industry strikes, auto industry union related violence, dock strikes, Hoovervilles, some of the worst floods in over 20 years, a huge taxi strike in Chicago, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s proclamation that one third of America was ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished. None of this deterred Al and Teresa from their goal of starting their business – maybe it was the moonlight that let them see the silver lining in the clouds that darkened so much those long ago days.






       In 1920, a time of American prosperity, Alfonso and his brother Virgil came to this country from the poor town of Gaggio Montano in the North Central Italian province of Bologna, where they recalled the farm workers always sang on their way to and from the farms as they walked through the mountains. They left their families behind, but never forgotten. Alfonso’s wife and child remained in Italy until such a time as he hopefully would have enough money to send for them. Guided by word of mouth of their countrymen who had preceded them to the New World they settled into occupations of working oil fields and coal mines; first in Pennsylvania, then McAllister, Oklahoma and later in Wilsonville, Illinois. They, as had countless others through the years, left Italy to escape fascism and tyranny so they could enjoy the freedom and hope offered in the United States of America. Alfonso would never return, not even for a visit, to Italy.










       Alfonso, who was born in 1888, not only knew how to work, but how to save what he earned and he moved south from Wilsonville to Fosterburg where he’d buy his own single shaft coal mine. Virgil moved north to Rockford, Illinois where he became a successful grocer. Seven years after coming to the USA, Al also had acquired sufficient funds to send for his wife, Teresa, and their son Pietro (Pete). Teresa first ran a boarding house in Fosterburg and Pete, who was 12, and spoke no English, attended grade school there. Fortunately Pete had some terrific teachers who not only got  him through 8 grades in 5 years, but taught him to speak his new language with no hint of an Italian accent. In 1937, the vein ran out in the Freeburg mine and Al, who had been saving money in an old commercial pickle jar under the porch, because he didn’t trust banks, took their savings to a banker to buy some land. The banker said the money smelled like pickles, which it did, and Alfonso replied in his broken English: “Is alright, no?”  It was.    







       Al bought a place on the old Springfield Road, a cinder road that had been used by stage coaches and even Abraham Lincoln. The property had been part of the Culp Farm and near the Deem farm. When Teresa first saw the building in which the basement had been dug using mules and scoops, it was in the moonlight and this may well be the reason they called it Castelli’s Moonlight. It’s also possible she named it for a tavern named Moonlight that she’d seen in Kentucky as she and Pete were crossing the country to get to Fosterburg. Others say the name came from some popular songs of the day that had moonlight in the title. Possibly it was a combination of the three. In any event it became the Moonlight and so it remains all these years later. Al and Teresa opened for business in what was principally a bar with food in a time before the place had been wired for electricity, so the power came from a generator.




    The food was, and is, always something special with her family recipes for soups and sauces as well a special breading recipe. (These are all secret recipes). To their growing list of customers they soon became known as Mom and Pop and Mom was known as the brains of the operation. She did the cooking and kept things under control. For example when she thought a customer had had too much to drink, she’d make him “walk the line” along the asbestos tile floor. In the early days it wasn’t unusual for hungry customers to just show up in the middle of the night and yell “Hey Mom and Pop, we want some chicken!” So the obliging couple would get up, go to the chicken coop, kill the necessary birds, clean ‘em and cook ‘em for a feast in the moonlight. The cost was half buck a person. In those times a hamburger was 25 cents, a quarter chicken (served during normal business hours) with French fries and salad was 35 cents and a large platter of spaghetti was 50 cents.




       Gradually, after WWII, Castelli’s Moonlight evolved into more of a restaurant than a tavern, and since son Pete loved farming, he and his dad bought 300 acres on which to build a sizeable home, since they’d been living first above the restaurant and then in a two room house next door. Pete started successfully raising registered Hereford cattle and ultimately had over 200 head of some of the finest Hereford heifers and bulls anywhere. One bull, Helmsman A69 was considered by many to be the premium bull in the country. The day after Thanksgiving was animal moving day as they transferred the herd from the pasture to the farm itself. Over the years more than a few of these creatures became Moonlight menu items.




       Pete, who was known to sing at picnics and at the restaurant, was also very patriotic, and had McGuire Sign Co. install a large American flag in front of the restaurant in such a position that he could always see it from most any room in his house across the street, even the bathroom. There was a point in time in the 1950s that even though the Castellis owned the land, they leased the restaurant to two other families, then following a fire in ‘56, Pete again took over the operation, rebuilding the structure and doubling how many customers it could seat to 100. About that time a Burger Chef franchise opened in Alton, and Pete, who was always a thinker, coming up with something creative, decided it’d be a good idea to franchise their fried chicken which he named TALK-N-CHIC. He got a registered trade-mark for the name and even had a papier-mâché rooster to be the official TALK-N-CHIC mascot. Plus he wrote a commercial jingle, or song, had it recorded, and put on a playback unit inside the rooster figure, so people could activate it and hear the rooster “sing.” Pete’s sister Betty can still sing the jingle which started: “It’s the best in the west and all the rest, it’s the best in the west and all the rest….” TALK-N-CHIC was never franchised, the recording in the rooster stopped working and the whereabouts of the mascot itself is in question.






       When the third generation of the Castellis, Pete’s sons Mike and Phil, were in their teens, they started their day working the farm, going to school, then toiling in the restaurant covering all the bases from bus boy to waiter to helping prepare the family secret recipes: all under the constant supervision of Pete. A typical day for Pete was getting up with the roosters, reading, working the farm, driving around and observing, taking a nap and working at the restaurant. He usually got by on 5 hours sleep a night. In ’78, by popular customer demand, The Moonlight started serving lunch, thereby making all their original dishes such as the Pete Castelli created Roman salad dressing available to even more happy diners. This creamy Caesar-style concoction, which is still served at Castelli’s Moonlight, as are all their signature dishes, is a wonderful concoction like none other. In ’77, the year Pete retired, as new drapes were installed at the restaurant Pete proudly wore a sport jacket he had made of the same material.









       Castelli’s Moonlight feels they owe their success to the family tradition of quality and service, serving high quality home-made food at fair prices, truly taking care their customers – many of whom have come for decades - always having a family member on the premises, treating their employees with fairness and respect, and making certain everything is fresh and clean whether you’re the first customer of the day or the last. These are great rules to live by. It’s too bad Pete didn’t get the TALK-N-CHIC franchises off the ground as these points would have made a great philosophy for such operations. Of course, unless they had a lot more kids they couldn’t have had a family member at every location.









       In ’78 Mike and Phil would take over the operation and business grew so greatly they’d increase the seating capacity to 150 in ’82. Pete was still a fixture in the restaurant attired in his overalls and polka dot cap and sharing stories and memories with his beloved customers old and new, until he passed away in 1985. Today the restaurant can easily accommodate 325 people, which is a good thing, as they typically serve some 800 customers on Saturday. According to co-owner Tracy Castelli, an Eastern Illinois University grad, who keeps track of such things,  some 70-75% of the diners order the TALK-N-CHIC fried chicken, which is made with a batter that’s created weekly by a member of the Castelli family. You can also get that same batter on their crispy, crunchy fresh onion rings. In my opinion, if you crave the best fried chicken - THE BEST, take the time to go to Castelli’s Moonlight at 255, as that’s where you’ll find it. And now it’s easier, not closer, but easier to get to than ever. Just take 255 north to Fosterburg Road, make a left and you’re there in a mile. Oh, they also still make their own soup, sauces, ravioli (including toasted) and tortellini, plus it’s good to know they are determined to hold the line on prices. There are many long-term employees at Castelli’s Moonlight but I’m taking the liberty to point out two. They are Betty Bishop, who’s been there 38 years and her daughter Debbie Thyer who’s been with them 30 years.   






       Today, Phil and 4th generation members of the Castelli family, Tracy and Matt, are in charge and they are constantly assuring that if you eat at Castelli’s Moonlight today it will be just the way it was when Pete was there. Oddly enough, you get the strong feeling that Pete’s spirit is still there as the place has such strong ties to the rich memories of the past and their family heritage. Keep in mind that Castelli’s moonlight is open 7 days a week (hours follow) and they do a really big carry out business with a separate entrance, plus they do a fine job of catering and banquets. And if you’re into American history take Fosterburg Rd. south toward College Ave. and you’ll come across a monument that is dedicated to a 1880 massacre of white settlers by Indians. Then you might consider taking College to Alton where there are many historical landmarks to be seen





     Castelli's Moonlight Restaurant at 255 is located in Alton, IL.  Click here for directions.

Click here for an image gallery of Castelli's


Written by: Ron (Johnny Rabbitt) Elz of KMOX and Channel  5’s Show Me St. Louis.


Contact Information

Castelli's Moonlight Restaurant at 255

3400 Fosterburg Rd.
Alton, IL 62002
(618) 462-4620

Hours of Operation

Sunday 11 a.m. - Close
Saturday & Monday 4 p.m. - Close
Tuesday - Friday 11 a.m. - Close

 All items available for carry out

Easy access for all

Credit Cards Accepted


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