We have some casual friends in the Quad Cities that we run in to from time to time who like to go to St. Louis to see the Cardinals play baseball. Each trip to St. Louis, they always stop at Amighetti's on The Hill for a sandwich. While in St. Louis earlier this year, I decided to stop in for a bite.
Actually, a couple years ago, I stopped into Amighetti's at night to have something to eat. I parked behind the building and walked in the back door. The lights were on, but there were about 7 or 8 older guys sitting around a table. They all looked up at me in unison. It was like I had walked into a mob sit-down meeting. I sort of stopped and asked, "Are you guys open?"
In a husky voice, a guy with a heavy Italian accent replied, "No, we're only open for food during the day." I apologized and did a quick about-face out the door. It was kind of funny and unnerving at the same time.
I did make an effort to get back at some point and I found myself near Amighetti's at the corner of Wilson and Marconi near the noon hour (see map). (There are also two other Amighetti's locations - one in suburban Hazelwood and another in Rock Hill in West County.) I parked in front of Amighetti's Bakery, the original Amighetti's since Louis Amighetti opened it in 1921. A small, traditional Italian style family bakery, Amighetti and his son, Louis, Jr - aka "Junior" - grew the business over the years making breads and pastries, while also making sandwiches that quickly became popular with their customers.
In the late 60's, Junior Amighetti opened a small sandwich shop on the other side of the corner from the bakery. Their signature sandwich - the Amighetti's Special - consists of ham, roast beef, Genoa salami, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, a pepperoncini and topped with Amighetti's secret recipe Italian dressing all on a freshly baked Italian bread. A number of other places have tried to copy Amighetti's Special sandwich, most notably the St. Louis-based grocery chain Schnuck's that has ready-to-eat sub sandwiches in their deli case call "The King of the Hill". I've had a King of the Hill from the Schnuck's not far from our house in Davenport and I can say that it's just OK. I was hoping the Amighetti's special would be better.
I ventured into Amighetti's and a small line had already formed to order at the counter. The dining area was small with a handful of tables. There is a nice outdoor seating area on the north side of the building along with a walk-up window to order. It was pretty hot outside and even though the patio area had a cloth tarp over the seating area to keep the sun out, I decided to sit inside.
The menu at Amighetti's is pretty basic featuring not only their special sandwich, but a number of "build-you-own" sandwiches, as well. Amighetti's also has a handful of salads and some basic pasta dishes to choose from. Everyone in line in front of me was ordering the Amighetti's Special sandwich, so it was no surprise to the young girl when I ordered the same thing when I got to the front of the line. I ordered a half Amigetti's Special with a bottle of water.
Now, the girl behind the counter was neither welcoming or rude - just sort of neutral in her mannerisms and demeanor. She wordlessly turned to a container holding a bunch of the sandwiches, grabbed a bottle of water from one of the other girls and told me how much I owed. With the sandwich and the water, it came to around $5.50 - not a bad price for lunch.
Since Amighetti's makes a lot of sandwiches in advance, the lettuce got a little limp and wilted. In fact, the whole sandwich looked like it was just slapped together with thin slices of meat, a slice of cheese, a couple tomato slices, a smattering of lettuce and onions and topped with a large pepperoncini. I couldn't even discern the homemade Italian dressing on the sandwich. The bread was soft and a little chewy, but didn't add much to the sandwich. It was basically like getting a "King of the Hill" at Schnuck's. I guess I was trying to figure out what was so special about the Amighetti Special sandwich our friends had been raving about for quite some time.
There are a lot of places to have lunch on the Hill and it's no doubt that Amighetti's does a good business for lunch. But I wasn't overly impressed with the Amighetti's Special. In fact, there's a meat market/deli on the west side of the Hill (I can't remember the name of it, but I can drive right to it) that made me a submarine sandwich very similar to the Amighetti's Special a couple years ago and I thought it was very good. It wasn't made in advance like the Amigetti's Special so the vegetables topped on the meat were fresh and not wilted. Amighetti's may be the original, but I think there's others that do it just as good, if not better, than they do.