I love The Hill in St. Louis. The restaurants, the specialty food stores, the history. Whenever I'm in St. Louis I have to make a stop on The Hill. On a recent trip to St. Louis, I wanted to go have lunch at Zia's. Imagine my surprise when I pulled up in front of Zia's and found it to be closed - due to a fire that happened earlier in August. I sort of wondered what was going on as there was ample parking on the street around the restaurant and it was before 1 p.m.
I still had to go to Urzi's Market to pick up some spices and their great Italian seasons mix. As I was walking in, there was this great smell - it was pizza - and it was from the restaurant next door. Quite honestly, I've been to Urzi's dozens of times and have never paid attention to the little restaurant just next door. But the smell of pizza was unmistakeable. Suddenly, my taste buds changed gears from the "Zia's salad and toasted ravioli" mode to the "pizza" mode.
As I was paying for my spices at the counter, I was talking with the young lady who was ringing up my purchases. I said, "Does this place next door do a good pizza?"
She said, "Honestly, I don't know. I've never eaten there."
She said, "You know who has good pizza on The Hill? Milo's."
I said, "Milo's? Where's Milo's?"
She said, "Caddy-cornered from the church. Across from Amaghetti's."
I said, "I know where Amaghetti's is. I'll go look for it."
When I drove up, I found Milo's (see map). Oh, Milo's! The little bocce ball tavern that I've been by a ton of times, have always wanted to go into, but never had. They have pizza at Milo's? Good pizza? All right, I'll give it a shot.
Milo's appears to be one of those little neighborhood bars that I love so much. On my numerous trips to The Hill, I've often wondered what Milo's was all about. Some nights, the beer garden out back is just packed, while other times it looks as empty as my beer cooler late on a Saturday night. But from the outside, it just seemed it had some nice character to the place. I was more than willing to give it a try, but I hesitated for a moment outside Amaghetti's as I've never tried their place for lunch before, either. But pizza was calling my name and I went into Milo's.
It turns out the garden area out back is what makes Milo's so famous with the locals, especailly in the summer time. It's where Milo's hosts games of bocce, an ancient Italian game that sort of resembles lawn bowling. Milo's has 3 leagues that run from April into November. The bocce area is covered and they can play in all types of weather. A nice little beer garden surrounds the bocce courts.
In 1977, Tom Savio bought what was the old Wil-Mar Lounge on the Northwest corner of Wilson and Marconi on The Hill and named it Milo's. His goal was to make it a family style neighborhood tavern where the locals would congregate and socialize over a few beers, good food and a wholesome atmosphere. Not long after Tom bought the building, the new St. Ambrose Catholic Church was built on the opposite corner of Wilson and Marconi. I saw an article at Milo's that said the place is one of the very few bars, not only in St. Louis, but in the world that was less than 100 feet from a church.
In 1989, Joe Vollmer came in as a partner to Savio and he convinced his new partner to build the bocce courts out back. They promptly did and Milo's has been the center of the bocce universe in St. Louis ever since.
Make no mistake - Milo's is a tavern, but it's far from a dive. It has wood-paneled walls with the required beer lights and St. Louis Cardinals posters on the wall. It has a number of televisions that are usually turned to sports, when they're playing games. That day I was in there they were tuned to networks like CNN and The Weather Channel. There is a game room off to the side with a number of video games.
I sat at the bar and ordered a Budweiser and got a menu. Then it hit me - I only had about 18 bucks in my pocket. I thought, "Crap. If they don't take credit cards, all I can get is a beer and then I'll have to move on." When the bartender came back, I asked her if they took credit cards. She said, "We sure do, sweetie." Whew! I sure didn't want to go elsewhere for lunch at that point.
While Milo's menu also features a number of appetizers - including their signature wings - and sandwiches, they do feature pizza. You get your choice of either provel or mozzarella as your first topping, then you can either get one of their specialty pizzas, or get your own toppings. The crust is thin, but not cracker-thin. A 9" cheese pizza is $7.00 and it's $1.75 per ingredient that's added to the top.
Before I ordered my standard Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza, something on the menu - and on the plate of a guy near me - caught my eye. It was Milo's "Special" sandwich - generous amounts of roast beef and salami on an Italian hoagie roll, topped with provel cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and finished off with a vinegar and oil dressing. That looked yummy, too. But my mind was set on pizza, and that's what I ordered.
Even though it was past 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, there was still a sizeable lunch crowd in Milo's that day. Milo's also serves a daily lunch special and that helps bring in the crowds through the week. I instantly fell in love with Milo's with the atmosphere and the number of neighborhood people who were greeting one another as they'd walk past tables.
About 20 minutes after I'd ordered, my pizza showed up in front of me. The toppings were plentiful and it was the big chunks of sweet Italian sausage that all pizzas should have - not that stupid ground sausage like they do in the Quad Cities. And from my first bite, I liked it. The sauce wasn't as sweet as Guido's (which I think is too sweet). I also liked the thin crust better at Milo's than I did on the Rigazzi's pizza. The sausage and pepperoni had a nice little bite to it and the mushrooms seemed to be fresh. The young lady over at Urzi's was right - it was a very good pizza, quite possibly the best of the ones that I've tried on The Hill. It was surprisingly good.
With three beers and the pizza, the bill came to about $23 bucks with the tip. Sort of expensive for lunch, but it was well worth it. I've found a new favorite tavern in St. Louis and they even serve pretty damn good pizza. When we come back down to St. Louis next year for a baseball game with our friends, we'll have to stop back at Milo's - even if it's just for a beer. Hell, before that, I'll stop back in to Milo's when I come back to St. Louis on business!