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Mar 20, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Mad Tomato’

The Scoop: Mad Tomato to close after Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015



Valentine’s Day will be bittersweet this year at Mad Tomato. Chef-owner Vito Racanelli Jr. confirmed the Italian eatery in Clayton is closing doors for good after dinner service on Feb. 14.

Racanelli said the sluggish economy and continual construction surrounding his restaurant, which is situated between the St. Louis County buildings on Carondelet Avenue, contributed to his decision. “We have been surrounded by construction since we opened,” he said. “From the renovation of the Clayton Police Department to now, it’s been an uphill battle.”

Racanelli said he has no immediate plans to open another restaurant, instead spending the next few months with his wife, Amy Racanelli, preparing for the birth of their child. “This is a decision that was made by myself and my wife for the betterment of my family,” he said. “I have no regrets, and I hold no grudges. It’s just time to move on.”

Mad Tomato opened doors in May 2011; Sauce reviewed the restaurant later that year.

-photo by Carmen Troesser

Budget Crunch: 10 delicious dishes and sweet deals to try now

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015


It’s time for Budget Crunch, wherein intrepid reporter Byron Kerman offers 10 tips on delicious menu items and sweet deals happening now. Got $10? Grab a friend and sample, split and stuff yourselves with these steals.




1. Someone at Brasserie really likes bratwurst. That would be executive chef Nick Blue, who has inaugurated Brasserie Brats. Every Tuesday through March, the CWE restaurant opens for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and offers house-made sausages in intriguing sandwiches. The changing selection includes three original creations each week. Today’s offerings include the Avec Brat, a chorizo brat with tomato sauce, date puree and bacon; Brat in a Blanket, a cheddar beer brat wrapped in a croissant and served with Bolyard’s Meat & Provisions beer mustard; and the Lao Brat, which is topped with green papaya slaw and peanuts. All brats are served with a side of fries for $7.

2. Give winter a kick in the nards with the Bottomless Soup Bowl ($6) at Corvid’s Cafe. The from-scratch soup du jour may include tomato basil bisque, white bean-chicken chili, lentil mushroom, corn chowder, vegetarian chili, chunky peasant-style borscht or other hot concoctions. Soups are often served with crunchy Companion breadsticks. How many bowls can one diner with a bottomless stomach slurp down? “The most I’ve seen one person eat in one day was six bowls, but he did sit here for a long time,” said Corvid chef-owner Cindy Panian.




3. The holidays haven’t ended at Jilly’s Ice Cream Bar. The flavors-of-the-month include December holdovers like a RumChata Eggnog Creme Brulee ice cream with plenty of nog. Ginger-Doodle is loaded with chunks of gingerbread-snickerdoodle cake in molasses-gingerbread ice cream with a ribbon of cinnamon-caramel. Scoop up your favorite for $3 to $6. Next door at Jilly’s Cupcake Bar and Cafe, the resolution busting continues with monthly cupcake offerings like Double Chocolate Chip with a dense gooey butter cake for $6, or for 50 cents more, try flavors like Butterscotch, German chocolate, Cookies ‘n Mousse crowned with an Oreo hand-dipped in chocolate and a Fireball whiskey cupcake topped with dramatic Fireball frosting flames.

4. One of the best deals in town on draft craft beers isn’t at a bar – it’s at a supermarket. Buy a $2 pint at Lucky’s Market in Ellisville and enjoy it in the store’s adjacent cafe or attach a cupholder to your cart and sip while you shop. The half-dozen daily draft choices have recently included brews like Deschutes Chain Breaker White IPA, Kona Longboard Lager, Urban Chestnut Schnickelfritz and O’Fallon King Louie Toffee Stout.




5. How hard is it to part with two bucks? Unless you’re some sort of deranged paperboy, it’s nothing. Maybe that’s why $2 Tuesdays has been a success for Mad Tomato. From 5 to 10 p.m. every Tuesday, all charcuterie, cheese and conserves in the joint are $2. Choose from goodies like prosciutto, sopressata, marinated olives, white bean hummus, sausage-stuffed fried olives, soft Morbier cheese and creamy dolce gorgonzola.

6. Felix’s Pizza Pub recently moved just across the street from their old Dogtown home. The much-expanded space features a generous happy hour deal from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday stars its criminally underrated New York-style pizza. The Pint and a Slice includes a pint of a Schlafly beer and a one-topping slice for $6. The Sweet Deal is a slice, a garden salad and a soda for $9.50. Finally, the Buddy System includes two slices, an appetizer and two sodas for $15.




7. What do you do when you hear the word of the day? You hop over to Southwest Diner and collect your reward. Dedicated followers of the New Mexico-style diner’s Facebook page already know that the word of the day can score you goodies like free coffee, a dollar off cherry pancakes (an off-menu special), or a free side of guacamole, amongst other recent freebies. To the vigilant go the spoils.

8. The drink that’s flying from the bar at The Scottish Arms these days is hot wassail ($5). They make it by boiling local apple cider, Strongbow English cider, orange brandy liqueur, nutmeg, cinnamon, honey and citrus fruits into a warm, fortifying winter cocktail. The alcohol boils out, so most patrons choose to add a shot of Kraken spiced rum, a bourbon or rye for another $2 to $3.




9. If you like it sweet, consider the chocolaty warm happiness of the Cinnamon Toast Cocoa Cocktail ($7.50) at Big Chief Roadhouse in Wildwood. The drink is made quite simply from RumChata, Captain Morgan spiced rum and hot chocolate. It’s boozy, hot and puts a big ol’ child’s grin on your adult face.

10. The Charlie Gitto’s locations in Chesterfield and inside Hollywood Casino have introduced a new Happy Hour Menu. For $4, you can choose from meatballs in pomodoro sauce, arancini or toasted ravioli and sauce. For $6, choose from fried calamari and peppers (served with a citrus mayo dipping sauce), chicken speidini lollipops or tortellini alla panna. For $8, choose from mussels in a lobster-tomato broth, a sausage-pepperoni Sicilian flatbread or a vegetarian flatbread. Happy hour is every day from 3 to 6 p.m. in the bar area; keep an eye out for similarly priced drink selections soon.



The Scoop: Racanelli’s New York Pizzeria to open fifth location in The Loop

Thursday, September 25th, 2014


{Racanelli’s owner John Racanelli}


A slice of the Big Apple is coming to the Delmar Loop thanks to John Racanelli, owner of Racanelli’s New York Pizzeria, who will open his fifth storefront at 6314 Delmar Blvd., in November.

Racanelli learned the art of pizza-making growing up in an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx. “I learned to make pizza the old-fashioned way,” he said. “We make everything from scratch using the best products.” His brothers, Vito and Sam Racanelli, were also inspired by their food-oriented Italian upbringing, opening Onesto Pizza & Trattoria in South City and later Mad Tomato in Clayton, which is still owned and operated by Vito Racanelli.

The first Racanelli’s Pizzeria storefront was opened two decades ago in University City, which was later transformed into Market Pub House in 2010 and is still owned by John Racanelli.

The menu will remain consistent with the offerings found at the Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Central West End and St. Peters locations. While slices of hand-tossed, New York-style pizzas are the house specialty (Racanelli’s personal favorite: sausage, mushroom and jalapeno with extra cheese, cooked well-done), other crowd-pleasers include parmigiana heroes topped with a generous ladle of fresh tomato sauce, sandwiches on house-baked focaccia and house-made calzones and strombolis.

Construction crews began work on the new storefront in mid-September in the space that formerly housed the vintage designer clothing shop, Timeless Authentic Garments. Racanelli expects two dozen seats inside and an additional 10 to 15 seats outside. The new location will also offer dine-in, carryout and delivery.


The Scoop: Chef Chris Lee leaves Mad Tomato, opens Chef’s Table STL

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014



Chef Chris Lee has parted ways with Mad Tomato chef-owner Vito Racanelli to launch a new venture called Chef’s Table STL, a prepared meal delivery service and catering company. Lee, who joined Racanelli at Mad Tomato just three months ago, decided to launch his own business after friends requested his help creating diet-specific meals, as reported by St. Louis Magazine.

Lee rolled out Chef’s Table STL last week; customers can call or order custom, nutritious meals online, to be delivered twice a week. “The thought was to offer that to people so they can stay home, relax with the family and not have to drive around,” Lee said. The menu, which will change according to ingredient availability, features entrees like seared chicken with Southwest-style quinoa and a gyro salad, small plates like maki rolls and crisp pork meatballs, as well as a selection of sides, soups and salads. Chef’s Table STL currently is using the kitchen at Wild Flower in the Central West End while Lee hunts for a commissary kitchen.

Years of experience with professional kitchens and catering have prepared him for running a one-man catering operation. Prior to teaming up with Racanelli at Mad Tomato, Lee worked as a banquet room chef at River City Casino. For a number of years he was executive chef for In Good Company, which operates Café Ventana, Sanctuaria, Diablitos and Hendricks BBQ. “I took all the things I learned in the past eight or nine years and squeezed it into one thing,” he said. “From a lifestyle choice, I like this much better. Not only am I not using my physical being as much to crank out food for service, I’m running a business … I’m no longer behind the stove. I’m in front.”

He added that Mustard Seed, a joint venture between Racanelli and Lee, had not yet taken off when Lee left Mad Tomato two weeks ago. The concept saw the two chefs visiting and assisting other restaurants, then using some of those consulting fees to help establish small restaurant businesses in developing international communities.

Racanelli said he was surprised at Lee’s departure, but he was confident he could handle any extra workload at his Clayton restaurant. “I’ll get it all done. God gave me some really strong shoulders,” he said. “I always find a way to get it all done.”

Ligaya Figueras contributed to this report.

The Scoop: Vito Racanelli, Chris Lee join forces to launch new company, Mustard Seed

Thursday, May 1st, 2014


{Chef Chris Lee competes during Taste of St. Louis Chef Battle Royale in September 2013. Lee is a two-time Chef Battle Royale champion.}

Chefs Vito Racanelli Jr. and Chris Lee have joined forces to form a new company called Mustard Seed. The new venture will be the parent company to Racanelli’s Italian restaurant Mad Tomato in Clayton and future culinary endeavors for the business partners and longtime friends.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Racanelli said. “Chris wanted to do something different. He’s never owned his own place.” Add to that Racanelli’s desire for help running Mad Tomato and other various projects, and Racanelli said it was a logical partnership.

Until April 9, Lee was the banquet room chef at River City Casino. Prior to that, he was executive chef for In Good Company, which owns Café Ventana, Sanctuaria, Diablitos and Hendricks BBQ.



{From left, chef Vito Racanelli Jr. and Sauce publisher Allyson Mace emcee the Taste of St. Louis Chef Battle Royale in September 2013.}


The pair will first focus “on getting Mad Tomato where we want it,” Racanelli said, adding that Lee has been in the kitchen for the last week and a half, tweaking dishes and getting familiar with the restaurant. Mad Tomato will roll out a new menu May 10 with dishes that combine Lee’s classical French training and refined culinary skills with Racanelli’s own rustic style.

Lee said he hopes to improve Mad Tomato’s existing favorites, without expanding it to excess, especially since the kitchen at Mad Tomato is not large. “The menu’s going to have to be simple in a way that meshes with the size kitchen we have,” Lee said.

He said he will focus on entrees and desserts, stemming from his French culinary training under chefs Marcel Keraval at Café de France and the late Jean Claude Guilloussou at L’Auberge Bretonne. He added that his eclectic background running kitchens for Kirk’s American Bistro, Hendricks and River City Casino will also influence his vision for the menu at Mad Tomato.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve always been doing it for someone else,” said Lee, who is eager for more latitude in a kitchen he co-owns. “I’m pretty excited about working with Vito. (He) is definitely a little more extroverted than I am … but coupled with someone who can strengthen the back of the house – we make a good pair.”

Sauce managing editor Garrett Faulkner contributed to this report.

-photos by Ligaya Figueras

The Ultimate Margherita Pizza

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Crust. Tomatoes. Mozzarella. Basil. The queen of Neopolitan pizza is understated in her simplicity, yet efforts to achieve this crowning beauty have caused countless headaches in the kitchen. Finally, area experts reveal their essential tricks to making the ultimate Margherita pizza at home.

“Pizza is the most easiest, complicated thing to make. I know people who have been trying to make the perfect pizza for 20 years!” – Vito Racanelli, chef-owner, Mad Tomato

The Tools: You don’t have to have a wood-fired oven to get the thin, crispy crust and great chew of a Neopolitan pizza (See the heat trick below.). But a tricked-out pizza peel and stone will elevate your pie to new heights.

G.I. Metal Perforated Aluminum Pizza Peel
Aluminum peels are durable, flexible and don’t dry out like wooden ones. The perforation lets you shake off excess flour before sliding the pizza onto the stone to avoid burning, and the rectangular shape gives you more surface area, making it easier to lift, slide and adjust the pizza. $96. (model A-45RF/50) gimetalusa.com

Emile Henry Ceramic Baking Stone
This rectangular, heat-tempered, scratch-proof, chip-proof, coated stone won’t crack in your oven and has more surface area than round versions, a crucial factor in achieving that crisp crust. $40 to 60. Kitchen Conservatory, 8021 Clayton Road, 314.862.2665, kitchenconservatory.com 

The Ingredients: We queried quite a few chefs about the brands they’ll bet the house on. Bonus: These high-quality products are all made in the USA.

Hodgson Mills Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
You don’t have to spend extra dough to make great dough. Unbleached, all-purpose flour is fine. This near-local company offers a high-quality product that’s available at most supermarkets.

Stanislas Alta Cucina “Naturale” Style Plum Tomatoes
“We tried every single Italian one,” said Gerard Craft, owner of Pastaria, who settled on this domestically grown tomato because it offers “a nice bite of acidity” and “the right consistency, just crushed on its own.” For a fresh sauce, simply crush the whole, peeled tomatoes in your hand and season with salt. A couple ladles is all you need; you should be able to see the dough through the sauce. No. 10 Can, 6 lbs. 7 oz.: $4.89. DiGregorio’s Market, 5200 Daggett Ave., St. Louis, 314.776.1062, digregoriofoods.com

Calabro Fior di Latte Cheese
Buffalo mozzarella? Not so fast. Cow’s milk can produce a cheese with fabulous flavor. This fior di latte has a lovely creaminess, mild saltiness and melts beautifully into the sauce. Cut it into slightly larger chunks (4 ounces cut into 6 slices for a 12-inch pizza); the cheese will take longer to melt, so it won’t burn by the time the crust is done. ½ lb.:$6. Pastaria, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.862.6603, pastariastl.com

Fresh basil
Some chefs add the leaves before popping the pizza in the oven; others wait until after. Place the outer, shiny side of the leaves up. If you add prior to baking, when drizzling olive oil over the pizza, drizzle some on the leaves to keep them from burning and discoloring.

The Technique: Creating a great pizza at home is all about technique. Let Ted Wilson, who trained under pizza god Jim Lahey, take you through it.

Find Wilson’s recipe for The Ultimate Pizza Dough, here.

Cover the dough with just enough flour so it doesn’t stick to your hands or the lightly floured work surface. Use the pads of your fingertips to gently push on the center of the dough until you feel the work surface but don’t break through the dough. Flatten and stretch the dough by pushing from the center of the dough and moving outwards until you get within 1 inch of the rim of the circle that’s taking shape. Give dough a quarter turn and repeat. Continue until a round disk forms. While stretching and shaping, place a hand under the dough to ensure it isn’t sticking. If so, toss a little flour onto the work surface. Gently guide dough outward from its underside as it rests on your fingers to stretch it further.

Ready the toppings before shaping the dough. Once the dough is shaped, quickly add the toppings in this order: sauce, cheese, basil (optional), drizzle of 1¼ to 1½ tablespoon of olive oil and a 4-fingered pinch of kosher salt. Leave the outer rim of the pizza untouched.

To get your home oven to reach restaurant-high temps, toggle between the bake and broil functions. Place the stone in the oven on a rack set in the topmost position with enough room for the pizza. Preheat the oven to its highest baking temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. Just before shaping the dough, switch to broil. Shape the dough, add the toppings, then use the peel to slide the pizza onto the hot stone. Switch the oven back to its highest bake temperature for 2 to 3 minutes, then back to broil. The pizza is done when the cheese is bubbling, the crust is charred but not burnt, and the underside is golden, about 3 more minutes (5 to 6 minutes total).

Pictured: Margherita pizza from The Good Pie, 3137 Olive St., St. Louis, 314.289.9391, thegoodpie.com

— photo by Greg Rannells

The Scoop: Vito Racanelli parts ways with Onesto

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

013112_onestoVito Racanelli, chef-owner of southern Italian restaurant Mad Tomato in Clayton, has parted ways with his other restaurant, Onesto Pizza & Trattoria. Racanelli’s decision to break with Onesto leaves business partner Craig Stenson in control of the pizzeria in the Princeton Heights neighborhood of South City.

“I was spread too thin,” explained Racanelli last evening during a preview dinner for Mad Tomato’s new winter menu. “I want to focus on this restaurant alone. You have to come here if you want to see me,” he said. Racanelli opened Mad Tomato last May. (See Michael Renner’s New and Notable review of Mad Tomato here.)

Apart from focusing on the house-made pastas and other rustic cuisine at Mad Tomato, Racanelli is launching a charitable giving initiative via monthly events and special promotions at the restaurant. His goal for 2012, he told guests, is to donate $10,000 to local charities. The first of these events will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 8, with 20 percent of lunch and dinner proceeds benefiting Caring For Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for children involved in the family court system in the St. Louis area.

— Photo by Carmen Troesser

Drink This Weekend Edition: A new rosé that’s good as a pair or a solo sipper

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

072111_RoseWineCheap and too sweet. Bottom shelf and bad. Simply not in vogue. Over the last few years, these views of rosé wines have gone through the crusher, fermented into a newer, more knowledgeable opinion that a rosé can be tasty, pair well with food and even hang tough on its own. This week, we offer a brand new arrival in this wine category that’s both food-friendly and tasty enough to stand alone.

Mad Tomato, the new Italian restaurant by chef-owner Vito Racanelli, has exactly one rosé on its wine list and it is BaRosé, a bottle from well-known Barolo wine producer Virna di Borgogno. Barolo wine is typically made from Nebbiolo grapes and is recognized for its light color. This is the first time that Virna has made a rosé Nebbiolo, created from the youngest of the Nebbiolo vines from five vineyards near Piemonte. The skin of the grapes is left in contact with the juice for about 48 hours, resulting in a vibrant pink hue and beautiful notes of strawberries and raspberries, as well as deeper notes of plum on the nose and palate.

Tom Sutliffe, general manager at Mad Tomato, settled on the BaRosé because it worked well with the tomato sauces and southern Italian cuisine at the Clayton restaurant. “It stands up to the acidity of the food and doesn’t overwhelm it,” he noted. If you want to pair this refreshing wine with a meal at home, think along the lines of grilled white meat or fish, seafood or spicy dishes. Reserve a second bottle for the fall, and match it with truffles, another Piemonte specialty.

So, where can you find this refreshing summer sipper this weekend? Well, it’s available by the glass and by the bottle at Mad Tomato, or you can pick up a bottle for some patio pouring at Randall’s Wine and Spirits and Wines of Wildwood. Priced at around $15 a bottle, it also pairs well with your pocketbook.

Three reasons to dine out and give back

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

041211_DineOutSt. Louis is one of the nation’s most generous cities, ranked 8th nationally, based on per-capita giving among large cities in 2009. We in the Gateway City know that charitable giving is important; it’s just a matter of deciding who should get our charitable dollars. Here are three ways to make your dining dollars support some worthy causes right now.

1. Give Back Mondays at Ruth’s Chris Beginning yesterday and running through the end of the year, when you head to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse downtown or in Clayton on Mondays and order the Give Back menu item of the month, 10 percent of sales will be donated to Backstoppers, a group which supports families of public safety workers in the greater St. Louis area who have died while on duty.

2. The Ripening of the Mad Tomato Chef-owner Vito Racanelli Jr.’s new restaurant at 8000 Carondelet Ave., in Clayton is set to officially open May 6. However, you can get a preview of Racanelli’s Southern Italian cuisine by attending the opening fundraiser party on Thursday, April 28. Half of the proceeds from your $30 ticket will support St. Louis area food bank Operation Food Search. Make your reservation by calling 314.802.8883 x 399.

3. Dine in the Dark to help fight blindness. Guests who attend Dining in the Dark at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac hotel on May 11 will don light-blocking blindfolds while dining and use their sense of smell, taste, sound and touch to gain heightened awareness of blindness. Proceeds from the event will support the sight-saving research efforts of national nonprofit Foundation Fighting Blindness. To purchase tickets, visit fightblindness.org or call 847.680.0100.

The Scoop: Vito Racanelli to serve up rustic Southern Italian fare in downtown Clayton

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

100510_eggparmVito Racanelli Jr., owner of Onesto Pizza & Trattoria and V. Catering & Events, has just inked the lease for the old Carondelet Grill space, securing the spot at 8000 Carondelet Ave., in downtown Clayton for a southern Italian restaurant.

The menu at the yet-to-be-named restaurant will focus on “wholesome, simple, rustic cuisine” from southern Italy, Racanelli said. “It’s everything I love: Neopolitan tripe braised with onions and olives and topped with bread crumbs, focaccia made from potatoes, pastas from Southern Italy.”

Many dishes will be inspired by food Racanelli grew to love in his adolescence when he spent summers in Italy helping the family businesses. “I’m taking a lot of good cuisine from my mother,” he said. “She’s from Calabria. Everyone on mom’s side is a butcher – going back five or six generations; the butcher shop is still there. My father is from Bari. On my father’s side, they are all farmers. They grow almonds, olives, grapes. They have pear orchards.”

Comparing the new restaurant to Onesto, Racanelli explained that Onesto is “like what you see in restaurants where I ate at as a kid growing up in New York City: American Italian. [The new restaurant] is more ‘mom’ flavors: braised pig skin, eggplant parmesan made on top of the stove like my grandmother made it, zucchini flowers. Anchovy and pancetta will be mainstays that I will make myself.” The wine list will also have a southern Italian focus.

Being that Racanelli grew up in the pizza business, you can bet there will be a pizza oven at the new locale as well. “It’s straight old-school wood burning, no gas line,” he said, adding that he isn’t trying to mimic Neapolitan pizza. “I’m just serving what I like.”

Although Racanelli hasn’t finalized the name for the 50- to 60-seat restaurant, he says he’s leaning toward Mad Tomato. “I’m kind of a kid at heart. It’s a playful name. I collect toys, comic books. And I call my daughter ‘The Mad Tomato.’ I keep going back to that name.”

Schedule permitting, lunch- and dinner-goers will be able to taste Racanelli’s from-the-Italian-hearth-and-heart fare some five months from now – on Valentine’s Day.

All of our coverage on Vito Racanelli Jr.
All of our coverage on Onesto Pizza & Trattoria

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