When I get the time when I go to St. Louis, I like to go to Urzi's Market on The Hill to pick up fresh spices, bread crumbs, fresh parmesan cheese and/or olive oil. (See my entry on Urzi's here.) Next door to Urzi's is a small Italian restaurant, Lou Boccardi's. It's been there as long as I've been going to Urzi's, which is getting close to 15 years by now. I've been in Urzi's at times when you could smell the pizza cooking next door. I've always wanted to try a pizza at Lou Boccardi's. On a trip to St. Louis just before Christmas last December, I needed to stop at Urzi's. Since it was early in the afternoon and I needed to get some lunch, I stopped into Lou Boccardi's to try it out. (See map)
Born and raised near Naples, Italy, just before the Second World War, Luigi Boccardi and his younger brother, Guiseppe, came to the United States hoping to find a better place in life. They ended up in St. Louis helping a cousin work in an Italian restaurant. Guiseppe - "Joe" - eventually opened a pizza restaurant in far southwest suburban Eureka in 1971. Today, Joe Boccardi's has three restaurants around the greater St. Louis area.
Luigi "Lou" Boccardi opened his little Italian restaurant on the Hill in 1972 using old family recipes. Much of the pasta and the sauces were made in-house, and the pizza dough was made from scratch each day. Even their sausage was made in-house using a family recipe with specific spices. Lou Boccardi made thin-crust Neapolitan style pizzas that people from all over would come to try. He was even known to freeze some of his pizzas and send them to people hundreds of miles away.
Lou Boccardi passed away in 1985 and his daughter, Lilly, bought the business ten years later. It's still the same as it was when it opened 40 years ago this year.
It was around 1 p.m. through the middle of the week when I stopped into Lou Boccardi's. The lady behind the bar asked me if I wanted to sit at the bar or at a table in the upper level. I decided to sit at the bar since it was bright outside and I could easily read my St. Louis Post Dispatch that I brought in to read during lunch. The bar area was decorated in festive Christmas ornaments and lights. Large, antique wooden soldier nutcrackers stood at the far end of the bar by the window.
Lou Boccardi's, compared to other restaurants on the Hill, is tiny. Next to the bar area is a small eating area consisting of four or five small tables and chairs (above right). The tables look like they'd be pretty small if you had four people eating pizza or Italian entrees on them.
Upstairs are two small dining rooms off the side of the kitchen (right). Both have the same small tables as the dining area off the side of the bar has. The rooms were small, quaint and cozy. It was like stepping back into a small Italian restaurant in the 40's or 50's.
Looking through the menu, Lou Boccardi's is not unlike many of the other Italian restaurants on the Hill. They have the main Italian dishes you'll normally find at any Italian restaurant. But I was there for the pizza. Through the week, Lou Boccardi's has a lunch special where you can order a 9" pizza and a side salad for $9.95. I ordered my standard sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. The very pleasant lady asked me what dressing I wanted on my salad and I asked what were their house dressings. She said, "Well, we have two. We have a house Italian and a homemade celery - anchovy."
I said, "Wait a minute. Celery and anchovy?"
She said, "Oh yes. We puree the anchovies and celery in a little bit of olive oil. It's really refreshing. Some people don't like it, but I sure do." I asked if I could get both on the side. She said it would be no problem.
I was a little apprehensive of the anchovy/celery dressing. When she brought out the salad, the small tub of green dressing looked more like soupy guacamole. I dipped a little of the lettuce into the dressing and I was pleasantly surprised with the taste. It was very refreshing on the tongue. I didn't get that fishy anchovy taste, nor did I get a overpowering celery taste to the dressing. It was like the two canceled each other out and created this light, lively taste. I tried some of the Italian dressing and it was similar to a lot of other sweet oil and vinegar dressings you find on the Hill. I went with the anchovy/celery dressing, mopping the remaining bits of it out of the small container with a piece of fresh Italian bread.
Not long after I finished my salad, the lady brought out a small rectangular baking pan that had my small pizza in it. The pizza itself was more rectangular than round and large chunks of mushrooms (canned, not fresh) along with multiple slices of pepperoni were on top. I had a hard time finding the sausage, however, and an even more hard time tasting them on the pizza. They were there, but the sausage was very bland in taste.
Another small problem with the pizza was that it was a typical St. Louis-style pizza with creamy provel cheese rather than mozzarella. Honestly, I don't mind provel cheese on pizza, but I'd rather have mozzarella. I told the lady when she asked how my pizza was after a couple pieces that I forgot that I was in St. Louis and they use provel on their pizzas here. I asked if mozzarella was available - on my next visit - and she said, "Well, yeah, we can put mozzarella on there for you. But it would be an additional charge."
I said, "An additional charge instead of provel?"
"No," she replied. Then she changed her mind, "Yes!" I was confusing her and she was confusing me. She said, "You know, all these pizza places around here use provel."
I said, "Well, yes, but I know of a couple three around the Hill where you can request mozzarella instead of provel."
She said, "Really? Where?"
Now, I really want to say that I liked the pizza at Lou Boccardi's, but I really can't. The sauce was good, but I wasn't really in the mood for provel cheese that particular day. The sausage was lifeless and bland, but the pepperoni slices had a nice spiciness to them. The mushrooms were processed and didn't add much to the whole taste of the pizza. But the crust was thin, but not so thin that it was "cheese on a cracker" as some thin-crust detractors like to call St. Louis-style pizza. The pizza was just OK, at best - definitely not the best on the Hill.
While I should go back and try it again with mozzarella cheese, I can think of about six or seven other places I'd rather go back to in St. Louis before I'd go back to Lou Boccardi's. I really did like the quaint atmosphere at the restaurant, although it looked like it could be a little tight in there if the restaurant was full. But the cozy atmosphere doesn't help if the food isn't good. Now, the anchovy/celery dressing was outstanding. I don't know about their pasta dishes, but I wasn't overly impressed with their pizza. And that's too bad. One of these days down the road I'll probably stop back into Lou Boccardi's to try a pizza with mozzarella cheese on it. But it will be much further down the road.