I'm not certain, but I may have eaten at Rigazzi's one time long ago when I first started to travel to St. Louis for business back in the mid-80's. I remember going to a restaurant that was right next to Kingshighway and then going upstairs to dine. Well, Rigazzi's is right next to Kingshighway just south of Interstate 44 (see map) and they do have an upstairs dining area. But it was so long ago that I can't remember if this was the same place.
But on my continued quest to find all the good Italian restaurants in St. Louis, I decided to give Rigazzi's a try one evening a couple months ago after I got into St. Louis from Springfield, MO. I popped off the Kingshighway exit on I-44 and took a quick right and then a left. I drove a block and Rigazzi's was right on the corner of Daggett and Boardman St. I was able to find parking on the street, right in between two cop cars. I hoped they were in there for dinner and not on a call.
Rigazzi's has been around since 1957 when Lou Aiazzi and John Riganti combined their names to form a restaurant partnership on the Hill in St. Louis. Riganti eventually left the business and Lou Aiazzi and his wife, Josephine, ran the restaurant. Lou Aiazzi died in 1974 and his 18-year-old son, Mark, stepped in to run the family business. Mark Aiazzi continues to run Rigazzi's today, helped along with long-time chef Jim Murphy. Josephine Aiazzi continues to come into the restaurant nearly every day.
Rigazzi's suffered a devastating fire in 2000 losing a lot of sports memorabilia and other historic items in the process. Aiazzi rebuilt the restaurant and tried to keep it's old world feel to the place. There's a lot of sports memorabilia back on the walls at Rigazzi's celebrating the local sports teams in the St. Louis area.
Rigazzi's has sort of a "beer hall" feel to the place. In the large dining area on the main floor, there are a number of booths along with a handful of long tables that can accommodate up to 12 people at some tables. Smaller tables can be pushed together for even larger groups. Actually, it seems a little cramped with all those tables in the dining area.
It was about 8:30 when I finally got into Rigazzi's. I was seated at a booth in the dining room and given a menu by my waiter. He automatically asked if I'd like a "frozen fishbowl" of beer - Rigazzi's trademark drink. It's actually a large beer schooner - 32 ounces in size - that's frozen and filled with beer. I thought that sounded pretty good so I had him bring me one with Budweiser in it.
While I was still trying to diet, I knew I could have one night of gluttony a week. This was going to be the night. While I still didn't want pasta, I took a look at a number of their entrees before I ordered my food. Rigazzi's is famous for their chicken dishes including a mouth-watering Grilled Garlic Chicken Mozzarella, as well as their Chicken Parmiciano - two chicken breasts topped with a red meat sauce and mozzarella, then baked. I also took a quick gander at the Chicken Pepperoni - chicken breasts in a marinara sauce, topped with pepperoni slices and mozzarella. They all sounded great.
But just before I was getting ready to order, a couple next to me had a pizza delivered to their table. Ohhhhh, it looked great! Suddenly, I got to looking at the pizza menu instead of chicken. Rigazzi's pizza was the thin St. Louis style and you could get it with Provel or mozzarella cheese. I was beginning to get torn between the pizza and the Chicken Parmiciano.
When the waiter came back to the table I did a mental "coin flip" and decided to go with the pizza. A small Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. He took the order and ran off. Suddenly, I realized that I hadn't specified mozzarella cheese in place of Provel. I kept looking for my waiter to see if I could get that changed, but he never came back. About five minutes later he showed up and I flagged him down. I said, "You know, I forgot to say I wanted mozzarella on my pizza instead of Provel. Is it too late to change?"
He said, "I'm sure it is, but I'll check any way."
He came back a couple minutes later and said, "Sorry, it's in the oven."
I said, "Oh, that's OK. I'll eat it with Provel this time."
About fifteen minutes later, the pizza came to my table. It had the big chunks of sausage that I like. And they didn't spare the pepperoni or mushrooms either. The sauce was very good, a little sweet, but still good. And the Provel, while more creamy than a good stringy mozzarella, didn't detract from the overall taste of the pizza. Some people don't care for Provel cheese. I don't mind it and sometimes get a hankering for it. But I really wish I would have gotten the pizza with mozzarella. Next time.
I wasn't able to finish the whole pizza. I had the waiter bring a "to-go" box for the five or six pieces I had left. My waiter was efficient, but somewhat robotic. It was my opinion that the wait staff needed one or two more people working the room. But it was the middle of the week and there seemed to be a lot of families coming in for dinner - even for as late as it was.
Before I left, I hung around the bar area of Rigazzi's to look at the sports pictures, jerseys, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia on the walls. Rigazzi's is one of those places where I wouldn't mind having to wait for a table because I could be easily entertained by all the stuff they had on display in the bar.
Well, we're going back to St. Louis this summer for our annual baseball trip and I'm sure I can talk the group into a pizza at Rigazzi's some night. I would like to go back and try one of the chicken entrees at some point. But I think on my next visit I'll be getting a pizza again, only with mozzarella this time.