Inside St. Louis

Kemoll's

An original water color of Kemoll's by local artist Marilynne Bradley.

Kemoll's Restaurant

 

     How is it that Kemollís Mary Grace, Ellen, Mark and Doug Cusumano as well as Mary Graceís sister JoAnn Berger can possibly be so slim and trim when theyíre constantly surrounded by the cuisine that made this wonderful restaurant not only a local landmark, but a place known from coast to coast as one of the finest gourmet Italian dining houses in the land? In the case of Mary Grace and JoAnn, daughters of  Kemollís founders James (Joe) and Dora Kemoll, it could well be that Mary Grace who still comes to the restaurant by 6 every morning ordering food and organizing the kitchen and that JoAnn is rushing about, carefully supervising the baking. Ellenís story is that, as always, sheís a whirling ďdervishĒ of activity and Mark is well known for his regimen of weight-lifting, playing drums in a style that would be the envy of Buddy Rich (and hanging around with his cousin Gus Torregrossa). Doug keeps his weight down by going non-stop in his trademark cowboy boots and even brother Frank, whoís an ace sportscaster on KSDK-TV Channel 5, is on the slim side.

 

 

 

 

     Even their dad, the late, Frank Cusumano, who for some forty years would co-operate Kemollís, had a svelte physique and an urbane personality. He was the epitome of style and upbringing even before he was welcomed into the Kemoll family. That was back when he was toiling at his father Joe ďPapaĒ Cusumanoís fruit and produce company in the old Produce Row section at 915 N. Broadway in a space that had once been home of the St. Louis Furniture and Mercantile Company. They were but a block north of Tonyís Spaghetti House, which opened in í46. Frank and Mary Grace would marry in 1949. I recall several occasions while Frank and yours truly were taking in the vapors at the Missouri Athletic Club steam room how heíd go on about his family and how Kemollís had so dramatically developed. His pride was certainly justified.

 

 

 

     Had it not been for a United States Army desk Sergeant, Kemollís would probably be Camugliaís, as Joeís given name was Vincenzo Camuglia. The official simply changed Vincenzoís name to James Kemoll. Such a name change was not uncommon in those days for immigrants who bore unfamiliar names difficult to pronounce or spell. In many instances the person creating the immigrants ďnew identityĒ felt he was doing the person a favor by giving them a simpler name. Vincenzo Camuglia, one of nine children, was sent to America in 1913 by his mother in hopes heíd have a better chance in life than he would have had at his home near the remote town of Catania in eastern Sicily where his father was a manager of olive pickers. Vincenzo who was 16 at the time, left, never to see his mother again. He first lived in Chicago but soon moved to St. Louis where he became better known as Joe Kemoll. In 1926 Joe would marry Dora Gaetana Corrolo Danna. They would also become partners in business and quickly opened their first small confectionary.

 

 

 

 

     Today, as itís always been, Kemollís is a family affair with strong ties to the community, their dedicated and talented staff, such as Paul ďChiliĒ Cerbie whoís been with them for over 23 years, and of course all the guests who come to the restaurant for fine food and service in a tranquil and rich surrounding. In June, 1990 Kemollís moved from N. Grand to Met Square where they spent these past eighteen years located off the lobby in a beautiful restaurantÖbut one without a view. Now theyíve moved up to the 40th floor, to an equally fine facility but one that offers one of the greatest views of any restaurant in the world. This rambling space was home to the venerable Noonday Club which recently ceased independent operations having been melded into the M.A.C.. The vista, which is free for the looking, is highlighted by an unobstructed view of the upper reaches of Eero Saarinenís incredible stainless steel-clad Gateway Arch as well as an eagle-eye impression of the Mississippi as it curves past our riverfront stretching far south and north much like a ribbon of silver. These stupendous sites are partially obliterated only when thereís fog, dense clouds or a very heavy snow or rain. In any event this extra-added unduplicated Kemollís attraction is reason enough to visit Kemollís during the day and night in all seasons and with various meteorological conditions. This advice will give you lots of good excuses to expand your waistline.

 

 

 

     In March 2003 Kemollís opened Top of The Met on the 42nd floor of the Metropolitan Square building. Itís a lofty, spacious and highly successful banquet facility that also offers an amazing and exhilarating look not only at the city below but for many miles in every direction. At Kemollís windows, as you gaze at our richly varied cityscape itís easy to imagine why Laclede, Maxent & Co. selected this site to start their tiny outpost 246 years ago. Or why centuries before, the people we call Native Americans populated this area and in doing so unwittingly gave our town the nickname The Mound City due to their numerous burial mounds. One such mound still exists in far South St. Louis, and it may be within view from the Kemollís perch. The gabled Met Square tower, the tallest building in the State of Missouri at 600 feet tall, was designed by HOK. Itís survived for 21 years after an early construction skirmish with quicksand that lies beneath the surface of much of downtown. And the Arch has defied early skeptics by standing solidly now for 44 years. Kemollís too has beaten the odds by remaining in the same family and staying in continuous operation for 82 years. Few local family or other enterprises for that matter can match or top this.

 

 

 

     When Kemollís started in 1927 the St. Louis Zoo had only been gone from neighboring Fairgrounds Park for some 36 years; we were in the middle of Prohibition; the locally made Moon, Gardner and Dorris motorcars were helping to keep us as an equal to Detroit; and the Browns and the Cardinals shared Sportsmanís Park which was owned by the Browns. It was bordered by Grand Boulevard, Spring Avenue, Dodier Street and Sullivan Avenue. There had been a baseball field on this site since 1871 and thereís still one there today at the Herbert Hoover Boys Club. Sportsmanís Park, later our first Busch Stadum, was in easy walking distance, or a quick Grand streetcar ride, at nine blocks from Kemollís. At the time Kemollís opened, a certain William O. DeWitt, who lived at 7042 Emma Avenue, was treasurer of the Sportsmanís Park Concession and Advertising Company.

 

 

 

 

 

     The Kemolls moved their tiny confectionary from Kossuth and Obear Avenues to rented space at 4201 N. Grand Boulevard at Penrose Street in í27 and they originally lived in the rear, as the building, which was being built by Saul Dubinskyís real estate company, was not yet complete. Theyíd later move to a second floor apartment, and still later they would buy the two-story structure from Dubinsky. In the late twenties other first floor occupants of the building were: Burtis R. Hammond a photographer, Francis W. Sanner a tailor and Rudolph Real Estate.

 

 

 

     In the earliest days, Kemollís made hand dipped chocolate candy, ices and sold ice cream. Beverages of the customerís choice were also available. They soon added ham sandwiches, which a former Northside resident, Marie Feldmann said were the best in the world, then came more items such as spaghetti with home-made (of course) meatballs and sauce. Soon, at the request of nearby businessmen such as Al and Fred Zeiser of Zeiser Brothers Neon Sign Co., Dr. William A. Grundmann and folks at the North St. Louis Trust Co. Joe and Dora started adding many more items to the menu including incredible hamburgers, plate lunches, open faced roast beef sandwiches and several Sicilian dishes. Thereís far more to the Kemollís story, but this report covers a lot of territory and feeling of what Kemollís is all about. St. Louis is darned fortunate we have Kemollís and the dedicated Cusumano family. 

 

 

 

     From the start the creation of recipes and food preparation was under the purview of Dora, with Joe manning the counter, later the bar, and the front of the house. Heíd get a great assist from his son-in-law Frank Cusumano starting in 1954. Kemollís had expanded to another store-front next to the original corner location and in the early 1950s, thanks to the behest of the Ravarinos of the Ravarino & Freschi  Macaroni Co. then on S. Kingshighway Boulevard they added pizza-pie to the menu with a most delicious light pastry dough crust topped with the freshest ingredients such as home-made Italian sausage. Was it the best pizza ever in St. Louis? If you said ďyesĒ I wouldnít argue the point. Pizza is back on the menu now that lunch has been reinstituted. The sausage is home-made using a decades old recipe. Dora and Kemollís presented St. Louis with some items that were new on menus here, such as cannelloni and calzone. They remain on the menu today.

 

 

 

     Kemollís cannelloni alla Toscana is home-made noodles loaded with a filling of beef, chicken and veal and topped with a Bolognese sauce. You might consider having them also add some cream sauce to it. The calzone Romano is an Italian pastry filled with Italian meats and mozzarella cheese. The calzone now appears in many restaurants and fast-fool placesÖbut none compare with Kemollís. Kemollís did make one with tuna that was equally as good; hopefully itíll one day make a return. Other dishes that followed were Carciofi Fritti, fresh golden fried battered artichokes served with a secret dipping sauce created by Dora Kemoll. Itís always on the menu and its justly their signature appetizer.

 

 

 

     When you dine at Kemollís please do yourself a BIG favor and order a Kemollís house salad with Mrs. Kemollís dressing. It doesnít get any better than this plus it comes with their incredibly rich and tasty cheese-garlic bread. In 1947 when toasted ravioli was accidentally created by Angelo Oldani of Oldaniís restaurant on Shaw (now Charlie Gittoís) while he was helping out at his brother Louis at his Oldaniís Steak house on Edwards (now Mama Campisiís) toasted ravioli has become ubiquitous in St. Louis, but itís for the most part dried out cardboard like squares. Not so at Kemollís. Their T.R. is freshly made there and served with a truly rich and thick meat sauce.

 

 

 

     My favorite entrťe is the Tournedos au Poivre Vert. This is a fork-tender filet mignon prepared in a tart sauce made with green peppercorns. This dish dates back to a Kemollís 9 course Parisian Gourmet Night at the N. Grand location which was supervised by their continental food researcher and connoisseur the late Keith Guenther. The peppercorns had to be imported from Fouchonís, a gourmet grocery in Paris that, at least at the time, was so upscale the clerks wore tuxedos. I wouldnít be surprised to see this at the Market at Buschís Grove. Oh, Iíd suggest the Penne Basilica Pasta as a side dish and for dessert the Italian Cream CakeÖbut there are several other astoundingly wonderful choices.

 

 

 

     Lunch at Kemollís has returned after a too long hiatus and we heartily recommend it. Their professional long-term kitchen and wait staff insures that you can get in and out quickly, if need be, or if your schedule allows, you can relish a leisurely repast. The menu is extensive, but not expensive. I was there recently with Greg Rhomberg of the Antique Warehouse where I truly enjoyed an exceptional, thick and hearty split-pea soup, served piping hot, as it should be. Then I moved on to an original Kemollís pizza topped with anchovies, green peppers and mushrooms that made me feel as if I were back at Kemollís on N. Grand. It hearkened to the days of seeing a movie (double-bill, of course) at the Tower theatre at E. Grand and N. Florissant, the Norside theatre on N. Grand at Natural Bridge Avenue, the OíFallon theatre on W. Florrisant at Warne Avenue or the Lindell theatre at 3511 N. Grand. All were in walking distance of Kemollís. But I digress, so letís get back to 2009. Iím never one to bypass a freshly made dessert, so I pulled out of my reveries and completed our extended lunch with a generous slice of Italian Cream cake and freshly brewed decaf coffee. Greg chose the Kemollís house salad that has never been duplicated and we shared toasty hot cheese-garlic bread. His entrťe was a bountiful fresh marinated and grilled vegetable platter with tender beef tenderloin. To keep you coming back, they also offer daily soup and entrťe specials.

 

 

 

     Sports stars, noted politicians, actors, singers and top business people have always gravitated to Kemollís where their privacy is respected and they can enjoy the best of St. Louis. Keep in mind you donít have to be a ďcelebrityĒ to be pampered at Kemollís. No matter your background or position in life, at Kemollís you are a guest, not just a customer, and youíll always be treated with the utmost care, consideration and courtesy because to the Cusumano/Kemoll family you are in their ďhome.Ē I personally have countless memories of Kemollís as you likely do as well. But, if not, itís high time to dine high above St. Louis at one of my favorite restaurant anywhere in America.

 

 

 

You can view all the menus at Kemolls.com.

 

 

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

Click here to view several images of Kemoll's

ANTIQUE WAREHOUSE GRADE: A

Contact Information

Kemollís Restaurant

40th floor Metropolitan Square Building
Kemollís Top of the Met Banquet Room
42nd floor Metropolitan Square Building
One Metropolitan Square
St. Louis, Missouri 63102
(314) 231-7007

Hours of Operation

Lunch: Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with carry out service from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lunch is not served on holidays.

Early evening dinner: Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5pm and dinner must be ordered by 6 p.m.. There are 7 items at $25 that include Kemollís house salad and a chefís choice dessert.

Dinner: Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m.

314 421 0555 for reservations or e-mail: Ellen Cusumano at ecusumano@kemolls.com for reservations and general information

For weddings and private party reservations call: Mark Cusumano at 314 783 0667

More Information

     There are eight private dining rooms plus a banquet space for up to 500 people. Private dining rooms are available for parties of 10 to 250 seven days a week. Complementary garage parking is included.

     The Metropolitan Square building in downtown St. Louis is bounded by Broadway, 6th, Pine and Olive Streets, with the main entrance being on Broadway.

     Enclosed, secure parking is available in the Met Square building for lunch, dinner or special events. The garage entrances are on the Pine St. (westbound) side of the building. Elevators will take you to the lobby where you change to an express elevator.

     Kemollís does not validate parking at lunch. This will cost approximately $7.50. Kemollís will validate your Met Square parking subsequent to 4 p.m.. In the evening use the garage entrance nearest Broadway.

     Metered street parking is available at 25 cents per 20 minutes for a maximum time of 2 hours ($1.50). Parking at meters is free after 7 p.m. and anytime on Saturday.

     From Metrolink use the 8th and Pine Street station; go right (north) one block to Olive Street; right (east) 2 blocks to Metropolitan Square.

See Kemollís.com for menus and driving directions.

 

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