Feast on St. Louis: Pasta
Written by Bethany Christo
Photography by Kelly Glueck
When looking for a good bowl of pasta in town, heading to one of St. Louis’ many Italian eateries is a safe bet: from time-tested, old-world establishments where your dish is served on a checkered tablecloth and lit by candlelight, to scratch-made, inventive pasta plated at more modern spots.
St. Louis is well-known for its authentic Italian options across the metro area, but the largest concentration is found on The Hill. The tight-knit neighborhood whisks you away to the romantic, flavorful dining found along the streets of Italy, but in reality you’re just 20 minutes from the Gateway Arch. One prominent corner spot is Favazza’s on The Hill, owned by brothers John and Tony Favazza and founded in 1978 by their father, the late Vito Favazza; their mother, Ellen; and Tony.
Favazza’s started with 75 seats and has grown to fit 530 guests in its dining rooms, banquet room, and heated and covered patios, allowing customers to dine alfresco like the Italians year-round. The menu serves variations of Ellen’s recipes, including signature entrées such as Sicilian chicken, veal saltimbocca and hand-tossed pizzas.
But you’re there for the pasta, and you’re in the right spot. Must-try dishes include lasagna, linguine pescatore (shrimp, clam, crab, garlic and mushrooms in butter sauce), Cavatelli Shrimp Mario (garlic-butter sautéed shrimp, mushrooms and roasted peppers in marinara sauce) and Cavatelli con Broccoli, made with fresh cavatelli pasta tossed with mushrooms and broccoli in a creamy butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano sauce with a touch of marinara.
“And then we have a lighter item we put on the menu recently – recently being about 10 years ago at our restaurant – it’s a whole-wheat penne pasta with grilled chicken, fresh spinach, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and Kalamata olives,” says co-owner John Favazza. “We started with family recipes and, over the years, sprinkled in a few items that grew popular.”
Translated to maple in Italian, Acero is a sleek neighborhood spot in Maplewood, Missouri –hence the name – that chef-owner Jim Fiala opened in 2007 to pay homage to the Italian food, culture and people who shaped him.
“I think there’s great variety of pastas in St. Louis,” says executive chef Andy Hirstein. “A lot of people think of The Hill and its Italian-American-style pasta with red sauce and white sauce. I think there are a lot of different people doing great pastas in St. Louis that flies under the radar. My main focus at Acero is locality, seasonality and quality ingredients.”
The dedicated care that goes into the restaurant’s beautifully prepared food is apparent in the “all Italian, top to bottom” menu at Acero, which includes grass-fed beef, scallop and seafood entrées, and is especially apparent in the handmade pasta dishes. The egg raviolo is a worthy example: a farm-fresh egg yolk nestled with a blend of Parmigiano-Reggiano, mascarpone and ricotta cheeses inside a single large raviolo topped with brown butter and toasted hazelnuts. Hirstein also recommends the wild mushroom taglioni or rotating ragu – this month featuring local lamb, red wine, Parmigiano-Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, onion, celery, carrot and tomato.
“It’s really simple, straightforward, but just honest and delicious,” Hirstein says.
Longtime local institution The Pasta House Co., founded in 1974 by J. Kim Tucci, Joseph A.Fresta and the late John P. Ferrara, is known for its family friendliness, exceptional service and authentic Italian cooking. There are currently 22 locations across the St. Louis area (with another opening in Springfield, Illinois, this month), serving favorites such as St. Louis-style pizza, cheesy garlic bread, toasted ravioli, burgers and sandwiches.
In addition, there are three dozen specialty pastas on the menu cooked to order, including fan favorites such as spaghetti Bolognese, pasta con broccoli, spaghetti with Nonna Tucci’s massive meatballs, baked lasagna, penne primavera, chicken fettuccine and seafood ravioli. Plus, every three months, The Pasta House introduces new recipes or brings back old favorites to keep the beloved establishment fresh and exciting.
“We put butter in every order of pasta – it makes it richer,” says president and co-founder J. Kim Tucci. “That’s the secret, and it’s been the secret for the last 45 years. And it’s important that we use durum wheat – we don’t cut costs on our pastas or any of our quality ingredients. The people here are very discriminating and would know if we cut corners.”
From old-world family recipes to modern, from-scratch takes, swanky spots to time-tested establishments, the pasta-bilities are endless in St. Louis.
Acero, 7266 Manchester Road, Maplewood, Missouri, 314.644.1790, acero-stl.com
Favazza’s on The Hill, 5201 Southwest Ave., The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.772.4454, favazzas.com
The Pasta House Co., multiple locations, pastahouse.com