I was just like other travelers before me as I stood under the Arch in St. Louis. I am in the Gateway to the West not for any particular reason, other than toasted ravioli tasting. The stomach filling and diet-breaking dish was reportedly born out of the Italian neighborhood southwest of the city. Ravioli can just be ravioli, but in St. Louis it is fried up like a fluffed up pillow and served as an appetizer, even if that palette starter is heartier than the main course. In order to understand this quintessential St. Louis food, you must do as I did, go taste it at some of the supposed best restaurants for toasted ravioli. Here are three tastings of toasted ravioli in St. Louis that are sure to leave stomachs bursting and taste buds satisfied.
Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill: This stop on the toasted ravioli tour of St. Louis is arguably essential. Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill boasts of being the original home of toasted ravioli, the very spot where it was invented. The story goes that that in 1947 when the current restaurant was called Angelo’s Oldani Pasta House, a non-Italian chef accidentally dropped ravioli in hot oil rather than boiling water. The mistake was applauded by the kitchen staff and soon landed on the restaurant’s menu. It is no secret that Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill maintains this story. As my waiter remarked, “Toasted ravioli WAS born here.” Under the description on the menu, their toasted ravioli is merely described as “the original”. Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill produces pillow-like toasted shells fried with meat, cheese and spinach. These pockets of goodness are then topped with Parmesan cheese and accented with marinara sauce. Charlie’s toasted ravioli will set you back $10.
Mama’s on the Hill: The toasted ravioli origins start to get a little doughy with a visit to Mama’s on the Hill. Also set up in the historic Italian neighborhood, Mama’s claims to be the original home of toasted ravioli. According to Mama’s on the Hill, toasted ravioli was born when a chef by the name of Fritz also dropped ravioli into hot oil instead of boiling water. Mama’s has her witnesses that toasted ravioli was born here. Mickey Garagiola, brother to Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Garagiola, is said to have been the first to taste the mishap on the night that it occurred. Whether this is the original or not, Mama’s toasted ravioli is filled with meat and deep fried until a golden brown. Mama’s on the Hill prices their toasted ravioli at $7.25.
Lombardo’s Restaurant: While Lombardo’s doesn’t try to claim to be the inventor of toasted ravioli in St. Louis, it does credit the dish with helping the business prosper at its earliest stages. The Lombardo legacy of restaurants began in 1934 when Angelo Lombardo, Sr. came to St. Louis from Sicily and started a fruit stand. He would add on a small restaurant that served up toasted ravioli. The dish was a hit and quickly helped the business thrive. Now Lombardo’s has relocated from its original location in north St. Louis to a spot near Lambert Airport. There is also a Lombardo’s Trattoria near Union Station in the Durry Inn. Lombardo’s toasted ravioli is famous for its extra large surface area. The heavier and doughier toasted raviolis also differ in other St. Louis establishments’ versions in that they are topped with grated Romano cheese rather than Parmesan. Put most simply, Lombardo’s calls their toasted ravioli, “our toasted ravioli”. Lombardo’s Restaurant prices toasted ravioli at $7.95 while Lombardo’s Trattoria charges $8.95 for the good stuff.
Have you had toasted ravioli in St. Louis?
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