He Said / She Said: Kristin and Tim’s t-rav taste-tour

One reason it’s good to be a St. Louisan: an abundance of homemade toasted ravioli.

Following generations-old recipes, cooks at the city’s Italian restaurants handcraft every morsel of the appetizer, from the noodle dough, breading and multi-seasoned meat filling (with a vegetarian style also emerging) to the tomato-based dipping sauce. All four of the restaurants on our t-rav taste-tour certainly worked wonders from scratch. The best taste? That’s debatable. They were all pretty darn good.

Kristin’s profile: Sauce, sauce and more sauce. I douse every bite. A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese tempts my taste buds, too.

Tim’s profile: Hearty and meaty, made to satisfy a man’s appetite.

Charlie Gitto’s at Harrah’s Casino
777 Casino Center Drive, Maryland Heights | 314.770.7663
Mon. to Thu. – 4:30 to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 4:30 to 11 p.m., Sun. – 4:30 to 9 p.m.

T-rav total: 10 • The damage: $8.99

K: I grew up in the St. Louis area, so, for me, toasted ravioli had become an afterthought (been there, eaten that). Our server said Charlie Gitto’s menu boasts the original toasted ravioli recipe. (The origin of toasted ravioli is debated, but Charlie Gitto’s folks claim it was created by a chef in the late 1940s at Angelo’s, the former version of the popular Hill restaurant.) So sampling the real deal satisfied my adventurous side. An extra bonus: We got a taste of The Hill right in St. Charles, our own back yard.

T: The waiter laid the napkin in my lap and arranged the silverware around my plate. I didn’t expect this place to be that fancy, and I wondered if the toasted ravioli would live up to the service. They certainly arrived in an impressive fashion: 10 bite-sized beauties with a garnish of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and chopped parsley atop a white, modern-looking, rectangular serving dish. One bite and I was sold. The breading was the perfect level of crispiness – not too hard, not too soft. The beef filling (featuring veal and chopped onions, carrots, celery and spinach) was flavorful enough to skip over the pomodoro sauce completely.

K: They definitely were delicious by themselves, and I’m condiment crazy, so that’s saying a lot. They were slightly mushy when you bit into them.

Our end-of-meal conversation:

T: (Looking at the almost empty plate.) How many have you eaten so far?

K: I don’t remember – three, four?

T: There’s one left. Go ahead and take it.

K: No, it’s yours. (Looking at Tim, then back at the plate.) OK, let’s split it.

T: You want to know my only complaint?

K: What?

T: I want more.

1 Metropolitan Square, St. Louis | 314.421.0555
Mon. to Sat. – 5 to 9 p.m.

T-rav total: 10 • The damage: $13

K: We missed the dinner rush, so we were two of a handful of diners. The atmosphere was a bit stiff at the time; I felt like we could only speak a decibel above library voice, and we constantly fought the urge to slouch. The friendly service softened the mood, though.

T: The menu said the dish serves four, so it was a mini-meal for the two of us. The odd shapes (almost like chicken nuggets) were a far cry from the perfectly sculpted store-bought kind, which made Kemoll’s t-ravs seem all the more authentic.

K: As soon as I slid my knife down the middle of the ravioli, the aroma of the meat stuffing filled my nose with savory seasonings, and I dug in immediately. The light, golden-brown t-ravs tasted a tad bit spicy, and the sauce was the darkest, thickest and richest of the ones we sampled.

T: The sauce, as good as it was, was needed. The ravioli were a bit dry.

K: They were some expensive little suckers compared to the rest. Ten for 13 bucks – that’s more than $1 per ravioli.

T: I don’t know if I’d pay that much for one of them.

K: Me neither, but then again, the raviolis were so big, it was almost like there were two in one. You could get a couple bites out of each.

4945 Daggett Ave., St. Louis | 314.772.4900
Mon. to Thu. – 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 8 a.m. to midnight

T-rav total: 11 • The damage: $7.75

T: A spot at the bar, a Newcastle beer and the ball game on TV made my night right off the bat. This is my kind of place.
K: Our visit fell on a work night, but if it had been on a weekend night, we would have washed down (or probably drowned out) our t-ravs with one of this 50-year-old restaurant’s famous fishbowls.

T: Our order came out quick, and the toasted ravioli were steaming hot. The crust lacked texture, it was almost as flat as the noodle wrapped around the filling, but that wasn’t a bad thing. The meat stuffing didn’t have as distinct a flavor as other t-ravs we’ve tried, but I was willing to overlook that because these were the best bang for our buck.

K: A slightly toasted topping of Parmesan cheese dressed up the t-ravs and made me feel like I was getting a little extra. A heaping helping of what appeared to be regular spaghetti sauce spilled over the sides of the white serving dish. No way you’d run out with that. The only downfall I can think of: A couple of the raviolis were understuffed, giving me the ripped-off feeling of opening a new bag of potato chips and exposing all the air on top.

Lombardo’s Restaurant
10488 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis | 314.429.5151
Mon. to Fri. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sat. – 4:30 to 10 p.m.

T-rav total: 5 • The damage: $7.25

K: Yet another Italian restaurant claiming to have the tastiest t-ravs in town – a slogan we’ve heard at almost every restaurant on our itinerary. Our server certainly talked up the third-generation recipe: “People come here just for the raviolis.” As if to prove that statement, patrons at two tables nearby were devouring them.

T: Italian food is all about family, and once inside the restaurant, I immediately felt at home. The owner, Carmen Lombardo, sat us, and the server chatted with us like we were longtime friends. The atmosphere was perfect: comfortable yet classy.

K: To make splitting the t-ravs easier, our server added an extra one to the order and delivered two saucer-sized plates with three on each. Drenched in a thin, light-red homemade tomato sauce and sprinkled with freshly grated Romano cheese, this was my dream dish. The fold of the delicately breaded, heavy dough noodle resembled pita bread with rippled pie-crust edges. After polishing off every last bite, I could barely make a dent in my entrée.

T: Complementing the t-ravs with an Italian beer – Menabrea Italia – was a good move. A sip here and a bite there – what a pairing.

K: To be fair to Kemoll’s, these puppies were the most expensive ones we tried. But they were so yummy, I didn’t see the need to be cost-conscious.