A shout out today to an old friend, Tim Lake, who used to live in St. Louis years ago and who now lives just outside of Birmingham, AL. He's a regular reader of Road Tips and we had a back and forth about my post on Amaghetti's (see that post here) a while back. I was trying to remember the name of the little place where I got a sandwich similar to Amaghetti's "Special" sandwich. I finally remembered the place - Mama Toscana's. Tim was telling me of a place on the Hill that had good sandwiches and an "out of sight" gyro - Anthonino's Taverna. I told him I didn't know where it was. He said, "Oh, man! As much as you're on The Hill, you've had to drive right by it."
Turns out that I have driven past Anthonino's many times, but never stopped in. On a recent trip to St. Louis I stopped in for lunch one day.
Anthonino's Taverna is what you'd call an Italian/Greek restaurant and that's a reflection on the owners, Rosario and Anthony Scarato. Their father is Italian, while their mother is Greek. Both Scarato boys grew up in the restaurant business as their father, Bob, owned his own restaurant - Athen's Cafe - for 20 years. Anthonino's (which is "Little Anthony" in Italian) began in 2004, housed in a building that was built back in the 1930's. The Scarato's are on hand all the time and their father, sometimes helps out as the host.
Anthonino's Taverna has a great neighborhood tavern feel to the place. While it's not overly huge, there's a large bar as you come walking in with a number of tables along the big window up front. The "L"-shaped dining room allows for small groups to push tables together, or for a quick bite for two on a date night. The place is bright with a lot of festive paint colors on the walls.
It was just after noon when I walked into Anthonino's. One of the waitresses greeted me up front. I told her it was just me and she said, "Would you like to sit at the bar?" Well, sure! That definitely worked for me. 50's and 60's - era jazz was playing on the sound system in the place.
Anthonino's menu reflects the wide and varied recipes the two brothers bring to the table. Their appetizer menu is deep with Italian staples like toasted ravioli, calimari and antipasti, but they also feature a number of Greek appetizers such as spanakopita - feta cheese and spinach wrapped in phyllo dough, slices of gyro meat with homemade tzatziki sauce, and baby dalmathes - grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice along with feta, peppers and pita.
Their salad menu features a house salad that is similar to those you'll find at many other Hill area restaurants, only they use a Greek dressing to top it off. They also have a Caesar Salad and your choice of toppings for any of the salads including gyro meat, chicken or sauteed portabella mushrooms.
Anthonino's has a full dinner menu consisting of both Italian and Greek specialties. In fact, the readers of River Front Times in St. Louis voted Antonino's the best Greek restaurant in the St. Louis area for 2010. But they also have a very large selection of Italian pasta specialties such as Tutti Mare, beef tortellini in both a marinara or a cream sauce with peas and capocola, and something called Pasta Puttanesca - pasta topped with tomatoes, capers, onions, kalamata olives, anchovies and oregano with garlic olive oil. Oh, man! My stomach is doing back flips as I'm writing this.
As a surprise to me, Anthonino's also features hand-tossed pizzas on their menu including a number of specialty pizzas with a little Greek flair to them. A larger group seated at a larger table back toward the restrooms had a couple pizzas on their tables for lunch. While Anthonino's pizza isn't the thin crust like a St. Louis-style pizza, it's definitely not overly thick. It looked delicious.
But I was after a gyro. My friend, Tim, moved from St. Louis to near Cincinnati about five years ago before moving on to Birmingham. His wife's family still lives in the St. Louis area and he told me, "Anthonino's has the best gyro I've ever had. I have to stop each time we're back in St. Louis to get one." He said he became hooked on them just after Anthonino's opened up over six years ago and said he's found nothing like them anywhere.
Anthonino's gyros are part of a lengthy sandwich menu featuring burgers, Italian and Greek sandwiches, fish sandwiches, and their own take on the submarine sandwich. One thing Tim told me to do was to order the gyro with feta cheese. And that's exactly what I ordered. I had my choice of a side and I saw that for a $2.50 up-charge I could get one of Anthonino's house salad. I took that instead of fries.
The salad was, in a word, wonderful. It had fresh tomatoes, kalamata olives, pepperocini and sweet red onions with fresh lettuce topped with a creamy feta cheese dressing. I would have been happy just to get a large house salad it was so good.
Less than 10 minutes after I finished my salad, my gyro was brought out to me wrapped in foil and topped with a generous amount of feta cheese and tzatziki sauce with large slices of tomatoes and red onions mixed in. It was huge! I had to make cuts and eat the first part of it with my fork and knife. But even after that I was having to take big bites just to get into the heart of the gyro.
I wasn't overly enthused about the feta cheese on my gyro, however. Too much feta can be overpowering and this was a little too much for me. And some of the meat slices were a little charred like they had been left on the spit too long. But the meat that was not overcooked was moist and tender and had a really good flavor to it. And the pita bread shell they used at Anthonino's was also very good - great flavor and not too chewy.
Was it the best gyro I've ever had? Probably not - but, then again, it may be one of the most authentic gyros I've ever had. Next time I go and get a gyro at Anthonino's I'll probably ask for a little bit of feta - that was almost too much for me.
But overall, I really liked Anthonino's. Not only for the gyro, but for the ambiance, the service and the overall neighborhood feel to the place. From the moment I stepped into the place, I liked the warmness of the place. It made me wish that I had a neighborhood bar/restaurant like Anthonino's within walking distance of where I live - or even just a short drive from my home. There's a lot of great little bars and restaurants on the Hill, but Anthonino's Taverna has suddenly shot to the top of my list of the place I'd most like to get a beer and sandwich.