Inside St. Louis
An original watercolor of Bartolino's by local artist Marilynne Bradley.
The Family Saracino offers a trio of eateries definitively designed for the delight of diners. Though you might not know the family surname, you’ll be familiar, I’d wager, the given names of Bart and Chris. To be specific, that’s Bart as in Bartolino’s and Chris as in Chris’ Pancake and Dining. Ther’s Bart the elder and Bart, Jr. who along with his brothers Chris, Michael and John keep their three eating establishments operating like clockwork, which is part of their heritage. We’ll pay a visit to these spots in due course, but first let’s set the stage as to how these restaurants came about.
The Saracino family is originally from the small farming community of San Martino, Compobasso in Pensilis, a region of Italy south of Rome near the Adriatic Sea across from the Baltic peninsula. Bart Sr’s. wife Roseanne’s family hails from Palermo. And yes there are still family members in the old country. For Bart, Sr. the grass seemed greener in the New World, specifically St. Louis, as his cousins Lou and Joe Parente were here and doing quite well, thank you, in the purveying of pizza-pies at their original Parente’s restaurant on N. Sarah St., so this was a natural landing location for young Bart. The Parente’s had first been under the tutelage of Amadeo Firore at his Melrose Neopolitan Pizza location in that well remembered low-ceilinged Midtown basement parlor. It was in the red brick three story Melrose apartment building, now a condo property owned by Pete Rothschild, on N. Sarah St. at W. Pine Blvd a block west of St. Louis U. Melrose drew people from far and wide to sample this newly discovered dish called pizza-pie though there always seemed to be SLU based customers that included: students, professors and priests. Even the Jesuits who were involved in the famous exorcism of a young boy in 1949 which was the basis for the book and movie The Exorcist were Melrose regulars. Pizza by the way got here 12 years before toasted ravioli.
Firore’s place also drew out-of-towners, especially from NYC and points east as Melrose, starting in 1945, was the only local restaurant that served pizza. He promoted it as Neopolitan pizza. That basement parlor, which would have been right at home in The Village, attracted the likes of bandleader Guy “Auld Lang Syne” Lombardo, song stylist and movie star Tony Martin, bandleader/singer Ted “Is Everybody Happy” Lewis, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, singer & movie star Rosemary Clooney, singers Ed Ames and the Ames Brothers as well as Frankie Laine, and many more nationally noted luminaries. A good number of the celebs were sent by Hack Ulrich the beloved maitre’d of the Chase Club at the Chase Park-Plaza Hotel where all of the preceding, other than Rosemary Clooney, played. Melrose became a place to see the stars, as well as to get one of those new-fangled, as far as our town was concerned, pizzas. By the way these pizzas were originally round and cut into pie-shaped sections, which is the way they are again at Batolino’s two locations.
Rectangular pizza didn’t come about until 1953 and that was at Luigi’s on Watson Rd. For the record Luca (Luigi) Meglio the co-owner of Luigi’s (a place they purchased from my parents) noticed that if 4 people sat at a booth or table they more often than not ordered but two pizzas to share. He figured that part of the reason for this was that there’s wasn’t enough room on the table tops for more than two round pizzas, so he found rectangular trays and lo and behold, since 4 trays of this configuration would fit nicely on a table-top most everyone started getting their own pizza and sales almost doubled with the same amount of customers. The pizza was cut into squares which former tile-setter Eddie Imo picked up on in 1964 and nowadays Imo’s markets their pizza as the square beyond compare. Oh, the original Luigi’s pizza is served today at Meglio’s Italian Grill and Bar at the SE corner of I-270 and St. Charles Rock Rd. where John Luigi Meglio and Luigi himself make certain it’s authentic. OK, OK, I know we got off the track, so let’s get back to Parente’s, which will take us to Bart (Bartholomew) Saracino and then his four sons.
The Parente Brothers, learned the business well with Joe in the kitchen and Lou the glad-hand man out front. Then when Amadeo felt the neighborhood was going down he sold the place to Lou and Joe and moved to Easton Ave. across from Sherman Park, west of Kingshighway. When that area was fading he headed to Natural Bridge Rd. west of Goodfellow Blvd. between the Connelly’s Goody-Goody Drive In (still there and going like gangbusters) and former baseball star Terry Moore’s bowling alleys at the border of St. Louis and Pine Lawn.
Back in the basement on Sarah, the locals, the stars, the students and it seemed almost everyone still made their way to what was now Parente’s. I wonder how many customers over the decades bumped their noggin on the pipes criss-crossing that darned low ceiling. I know I did dozens of times. Joe Parente was also partners with Bob Cassulo in the noted Pagliacci’s Pizzeria and Cocktail Lounge at the SE corner of Manchester Ave. and S. Kingshighway Blvd.
In 1954 Lou and Joe were ready to move on to bigger and better things and they sold out the original Melrose to Roy and Lee Russo who were backed by Frank Gianino. Russo and Gianino did a play on their names and came up with Rossino’s. The restaurant would stay in the family until the building was sold for condos a couple of years ago. The Parente brothers didn’t mimic their old boss Firore by going north, but instead headed to southwest St. Louis and a large two story space with lots of free parking at 6600 Chippewa St. at Lansdowne Ave.. It had been Mittino’s Shangri-La Bar and Restaurant that was advertised by owner Joe Mittino as an “Epicure’s Paradise.” The “second floor” is the lower level which houses a large rathskellar. The name became Parente’s Italian Village and their original sign at the west end of the property is still there, though now, after having several masters, it indicates the current name as Garavelli’s Cafeteria. Years later Lou and Joe would move their Village to yet an even bigger place that’s now the Hacienda on Manchester in Rock Hill (watch your speedometer when you drive in that area).
At this juncture our hero Bartolino Saracino, who was one of eight kids, came directly to our town from the Old Country at the behest of his first cousins Lou and Joe and went straight to work at the new Parente’s where he held every job in the place while also learning the English language. For quite some time he lived with Lou and Joe’s mom on Sunshine Ave. in St. Louis Hills. Bart toiled tirelessly for the Parente brothers, then in 1961 he and partner Nick LaFata, his father-in-law, opened their own place which became a pizza palace as well. Nick was a spaghetti shaker, yes that was a real job, at the Ravarino & Freschi Macaroni Company on Kingshighway and Shaw Boulevards. They called their small neighborhood spot La Cino’s (another play on two family names) and it was at 3506 Hampton, now Malle’s Bar, just a block north of the St. Joan of Arc school playground. La Cino’s would be around until 1969.
In the interim, our friends Lou and Joe branched out with Mama Parente’s in the space that had been Anthony Venegoni’s Huddle as well as the first location for Uncle Bill’s (Bill Ernst’s) Pancake House. The Huddle at the NE corner of Hampton and Columbia Avenues on The Hill had opened as a very tiny bar. Vengoni sold to Uncle Bill in ’63 and he in turn turned thing over to the Parente boys in ’65. They proclaimed Mama Parente’s was “The King of Pizza.” I never did figure out how Mama became a king. But it was a good slogan. By 1969 the Parente twosome were off to other ventures and that’s when Bart and Roseanne Saracino along with mom-in-law Rose Lafata, who once was a seamstress for the Bee Hat Company downtown on Washington Ave., stepped in to create the first Bartolino’s. Nick LaFata passed away in 1969.
The location would be expanded over time and the Saracinos held forth there for a solid run of 40 years until Chuck Drury’s siren song lured them to his new Drury Inn & Suites at Forest Park, just 2 blocks north and on the west side of Hampton Ave. at Wilson Ave. The street address is actually 2103 Sulphur Ave., but that’s a tough street to find unless you’re using a GPS. The Drury is next to I-44 and behind a Circle K Shell gas station and convenience store. For years McCoy’s service station was at that site and just to the north were Ollie Auto Top, Steak & Shake, a Clark gas station and about where I-44 crosses Hampton there was a huge Falstaff beer neon sign on top of a hill. We advise caution at that busy intersection as the red light cameras work overtime there and you don’t want to get a “gift” in the mail from the City of St. Louis.
The official new name for the restaurant is Bartolino’s Osteria. Osteria in Italian translates to “A Gathering Place.” This snazzy new location with a Tuscany-style décor that would be at home in Rome gives boss Bart, Jr. a very large bar/lounge area, good size dining room with a semi-private alcove, patio and excellent banquet space for up to 250 people. Following an experimental deviation of the original Bartolino’s menu the food was swiftly changed back to the way it was and today you’ll find basically the same menu and pricing at the Drury Bartolino’s as Bartolino’s at 5914 S. Lindbergh Rd. where they’ve been serving South Countians since 1982. That Lindbergh location had been a Tennessee Jed’s Bar B Q restaurant. You’ll generally find John and Michael at the south spot, but in the true family tradition all of the brothers work all of the places. And at each o them one of the mottos is “Cook good food and give plenty” - and they live up to it. Service at both Bartolino’s is always first-rate in every respect.
The menu at the two Bartolino’s covers a whole lot of territory for both lunch and dinner, all are good choices but here are a few can’t go wrong suggestions. For lunch consider chicken asparagus risotto which is tender sautéed chicken accompanied by mushrooms and asparagus in a pleasant and aromatic tomato and cream sauce on risotto. Or there’s grilled fresh slightly spicy salsiccia with sautéed red peppers, green peppers, onions served with tomato sauce. The sandwiches come with either pasta, slaw or fries. For dinner a good starter would be the eggplant parmesan provides plenty of eggplant slices that have been layered in tomato sauce and Provel cheese and then baked. For a main course of pasta think about Orecchiette alla vodka. This is ear shaped pasta tossed with sautéed langoustines in fresh garlic, light olive oil, a splash of vodka in a cream reduction. The entrees come with a dinner salad and your choice of pasta, potato or fresh vegetable. I’ve enjoyed the Petto di pollo Sambuca. That’s a nice size chicken breast sauteed with a robust concoction of garlic, spinach, mushrooms and tomato in a very mild but flavor-filled Sambuca cream sauce. And they are not heavy handed with the garlic. Pizza is a menu mainstay at both Bartolinos’.
The third Saracino family restaurant which came into existence in November, 1987, is Chris’ Pancake & Dining, where the first chef was Rose LaFata. Contrary to what some have heard, the letter “s” is not missing from the word pancake due to a mistake by the sign maker. It was on purpose just like it was at Perkin’s Pancake House. A similar story made the rounds when David Slay opened his Café Hamton in the old Dairy Queen/Chicken Delight building on the SW corner of Hampton and Columbia Avenues. The letter “p” was missing on purpose as he was pronouncing it Café Ham-tone. His place was across the street from his late dad Anthony’s Slay’s Bar and Barbecue restaurant.
Chris’ is located at the edge of The Hill, and if it’s not technically really on The Hill it’s not more than a very short block away, which is the same with Bartolino’s Drury location. Chris’ is on the SE corner of Watson Rd. and Southwest Ave. just a few doors west of Hampton Ave.. For the directionally challenged the address is 5980 Southwest. Over several decades this corner was home to a feed store, then a little tavern first operated by a Samuel Hanven and later by Andrew Pizoni. That original building is actually incorporated in the greatly expanded Chris’ complex. As I was starting to write this paragraph, a person I work with who recently moved here from Tucson called and was telling me about this great breakfast place she had found. You guessed it. It was Chris’, which of course is named for Chris Saracino. One of the long list of good things about breakfast at Chris’ is that it’s available ALL the time. The omelets are what legends are made of such as “The Country Omelet” with salsiccia, onions, cheese, hash browns and creamy country gravy. Other breakfast choices are “The French Slam” which gives you a half order of French toast, a pair of eggs and a meat selection. There’s “The Bigga,” which is Bart, Sr’s. nickname, which will fill you up with a fried egg, ham and Swiss cheese on grilled sourdough. The breakfast menu is replete with just about everything imaginable…but if you don’t see exactly what you want, they’ll happily make it for you. But no matter what you order, you should go for a pancake or two on the side. Once you taste ‘em you’ll know why.
And keep in mind Chris’ is a full service restaurant serving delights such as crunchy good fried-chicken, Mama’s recipe (really) chili with sour cream, shredded cheddar and diced onions, and the Prosperity sandwich of sliced smoked breast of turkey and ham on a toasted English muffin with cream sauce, cheese and crisp bacon. The ½ pound Michael’s burger comes with chili, cheddar and raw onion and it’s similar to the chili cheese burger that was served at the Tack Room of the Chase. There are plenty of dinner items such as home-style meat loaf topped with a burgundy wine sauce with a salad and potato, and in the pasta category consider cheeseburger macaroni with fresh ground beef, cheddar jack cheese, fresh tomato, basil and green onions tossed with macaroni and marinara sauce and baked.
The coffee, which is so important at a breakfast oasis, is from Ronocco (that’s O’Connor spelled backwards, and there is a story there) and for 11 years now they’ve been serving Hillshire Farms thick applewood bacon which is prepared just the way you like it. If you’re like me and want extra, extra crispy, that’s what you’ll get. One suggestion is, if you’re ordering scrambled eggs, ask your friendly server, and they all are, that you want them served hot. Plus something that many don’t know is that Chris’ also has a full bar. As you may be aware, Chris’ is always VERY busy on weekend mornings and early afternoons, but they strive to get you in one of their 4 dining rooms just as soon as possible while not rushing those already seated. There’s a large, often overflowing waiting area where you can relax with a cup of coffee as you peruse the Italian newspaper Il Pensiero or just chat. And, each Saturday and Sunday after you’re seated, you’ll get a gratis dish of delicious maple walnut or macadamia nut cookies, which go a long way to help make your wait worthwhile. And as it is at their other two restaurants, the service is exemplary and downright pleasant. Note that sometimes they do run out by the afternoon as some folks buy them by the dozen, and if you do, you’ll find you always get more than a dozen. And there is patio service as well.
A side-note on Chris is that when he was a kid he used to enjoy an occasional grilled cheese sandwich with a chocolate malt at S. S. Kresge’s in Hampton Village and today some of his favorite spots are Kemoll’s, Tony’s and Trattoria Marcella. He’s always had good taste.
All of the Saracino family members are dedicated to St. Louis and are very involved in countless community activities as they in all sincerity believe in giving back to the community which has given them so many successes and blessings. I’d be remiss in attempting to list them as I’m afraid I’d leave some place out.
Barolino’s Osteria, Bartolino’s South and Chris’ Pancake & Dining and the Saracino family are all about tradition, family, the community, good food and service, and fair prices. They prove it every day. With younger family members joining in the business it wouldn’t surprise me that another location might show up sometime. We’ll let you know.Buona fortuna!
Written by: Ron (Johnny Rabbitt) Elz – Host of Route 66 Saturday nights on News Radio 1120 KMOX & KMOX.com, August 2010.
Chris’ Pancake & Dining
Bartolino’s tomato and pasta sauces as well as their salad dressing is bottled and available for purchase at select grocers and Italian specialty markets.
All three locations offer private party and banquet facilities, full catering and a special “At Home” menu.
Reservations are accepted by phone or on-line. Chris’ does not accept reservation for Saturday or Sunday mornings and early afternoon.
All major credit cards accepted.
All locations offer excellent handicapped access.
All restaurants are family friendly with the
There’s free adjoining parking at all three locations.
Dining rooms are smoke-free.
Sound level at Bartolino’s south is good, while it’s louder at Bartolins’s at Hampton where the bar area can get very loud. The sound level at Chris’s is fine, other than the atrium room which can get a bit noisy.