During our recent trip to St. Louis, I told my wife and our friends, Scott and Marcia, that I really wanted to eat some place where we've never eaten before. They all readily agreed to that plan. One of the places I've always wanted to try, but never had before, was the revered Italian restaurant Charlie Gitto's, located on the famous Hill in St. Louis. (see map)
Charlie Gitto's (Gitto is pronounced JEE-to) began in March of 1981 when Charlie Gitto, Jr. opened the doors of his restaurant in what was the former site of Angelo's Restaurant. His father, Charlie Gitto, ran the venerable Charlie Gitto's Pasta House in downtown St. Louis - a restaurant that is still operated today by the senior Gitto and his daughter, Karen. Charlie, Jr. cut his teeth in the restaurant business working in all capacities while growing up. A childhood friend, Michael Garozzo, eventually moved to Kansas City and opened up the Garozzo's Italian restaurants. Garozzo and Gitto, Jr. have combined forces to open Mike and Charlie's Italian Restaurant in the Harrah's Casino in North Kansas City.
Charlie Gitto's on The Hill is a very nice, upscale restaurant. We got reservations for four at 7:30 and we had a short wait at the bar waiting for our table. The place is pretty classy with vested bartenders, waiters and waitresses. We were casually dressed in shorts and we didn't feel like we were out of place one bit. There's dark wood paneling throughout and a lot of elegant light fixtures. The heavy tables are topped with linen table cloths and the lighting is very subdued.
It turned out that they sat us at a table next to where we were standing at the bar. As we were maneuvering around to the table, I heard some commotion at a neighboring table. It turned out it was our friends, Dave and Pat Heusmann, along with Pat's parents. It was a very unexpected and rather strange small world happening. Scott knew they were going to be in St. Louis that evening, but didn't know where they'd be. He knew that Pat's parents would be with them, so he didn't even attempt to make plans to get together. It just turned out that we all decided - independently - to eat at Charlie Gitto's that night.
We carried on with the Heusmann's for about 10 to 15 minutes before their food showed up. And we thought we'd better look at the menu so we could order our dinner. Of course, we had to get an order of toasted ravioli, a must-have every time we eat out in St. Louis.
One of the specials that evening was a sea bass, grilled and served on a bed of risotto. Both Cindy and Marcia thought that sounded good and they both ordered that. Scott looked at a couple of things and decided upon the rigatoni pasta with ground Italian sausage in a marinara sauce.
Man, I had a lot of trouble figuring out what I wanted. I thought about the tortellini filled with bolognese meat and served with peas, prosciutto and mushrooms in a nice Parmesan cheese sauce. They also had a seafood Fettuccine made with a spicy three-pepper cream sauce. I looked at the Chicken Saltimbocca, topped with prosciutto and Fontana cheese and drizzle with a sage marsala sauce. God, I was having a lot of problems.
I finally settled on the veal marsala and I asked if I could get a small side of the tortellini. The waiter was more than happy to make that happen for me.
By the time we had finished our salads, the Heusmann's were into the dessert. Dave was just in heaven. He said, "Oh, man. You guys have to save room for this stuff." They were having tiramisu.
Our main entrees showed up and the food looked great. And it was as good as advertised. Everyone liked their entrees. Cindy gave me a bite of the grilled sea bass and it was delicious. My veal marsala was very good. Not the best I'd ever had, but it certainly didn't suck. And I'm glad I was able to get the tortellini. It was fabulous. The creamy Parmesan cheese sauce was out of this world.
The tortellini was also pretty rich and I was getting full fast. According to the Heusmann's I had to save room for dessert. I wasn't certain I could do that. But when push came to shove, I ordered up some tiramisu. Cindy and Marcia got the walnut bread pudding. While we all shared the tiramisu, I didn't try any of the walnut bread pudding as I'm not keen on walnuts. But it did look good.
After we finished our dessert, I got up to go to the bathroom. I noticed Charlie Gitto's had a very nice outdoor dining area. It was a nice night and had I known they had the outside area, I would have requested seats out there. But then we wouldn't have run into the Heusmann's.
I then noticed a large dining area toward the back of the restaurant, and beyond that was a smaller area where you could have private dining. If I'm not mistaken, they called it the "Lasorda Room" after the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda, who visited the restaurant each time he was in St. Louis. Lasorda once said about the food at Charlie Gitto's, "I don't get full. My arms get tired."
Before we left, both Scott and I picked up a book they had for sale at the bar - The Hill: Its History - Its Recipes written by Eleanore Berra Marfisi. The Berra name is very common among families on the Hill. The great former catcher for the New York Yankees, Yogi Berra, is from the Hill. In fact, there's a Berra Park on the Hill and I always thought it was named after Yogi Berra. Turns out it was named for Louis (Midge) Berra, a political activist who helped bring some prominence to the Hill area.
While Charlie Gitto's wasn't all that cheap (about $250 for the four of us including wine, dessert and drinks), it was a very pleasant dining experience. It's one of the best Italian restaurants on the hill and with the competition it faces day in and day out, Charlie Gitto's has to be on the top of their game at all times. We certainly weren't disappointed in the food that evening. Or with the service, for that matter. Everyone at Charlie Gitto's was friendly, helpful and easy going. I highly recommend Charlie Gitto's if you ever make it to St. Louis.