monsignor vince bommarito photo by carmen troesser

Monsignor Vince Bommarito serves Sicilian hospitality on The Hill

Stepping into the St. Ambrose Catholic Church rectory, that center of The Hill universe, you could just as easily be stepping off an Italian piazza into a high-end antique shop, one with gold-framed landscape paintings, ornate sculptures, dark-stained furniture and a faint but welcoming smell of olives and cologne. With a quick gesture of his hand, Monsignor Vince Bommarito welcomes you into his residence behind the church, where he will undoubtedly lead you into the dining room.

Bommarito celebrated his first Mass here more than 40 years ago. He’s left the parish and come back a few times, but his latest stint is 19 years and counting. Over the last 35 years, he’s raised money for the Italian Open, a children’s charity, by auctioning off dinners in his home. Eight to 10 people sit around the table as the monsignor serves course after course of his Sicilian specialties.

“We start out with a number of appetizers. We usually have a shrimp or fish dish. I always make a frittata with spinach and asparagus. Then we’ll have various cheeses and salamis and some fried mushrooms. Then we’ll make a pasta dish, and for the main course, we’ll make chicken marsala and we’ll roast spiedini. The only place to get spiedini meat in St. Louis is DiGregorio’s. They do it special, and I always get center cuts. After that, we have salads and cookies from Missouri bakery or Vitale’s. That’s a typical dinner here.”

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He attributes his skill to his mother. “You know, Sicilian mothers cook all the time, and the kitchen is the big place where everybody hangs,” he says. “You just watch your mother cook, and you learn to cook from watching her. Then you might break out and do your own thing.” But doing his own thing doesn’t mean straying far. “I don’t use cream in my sauces. I’m Sicilian.”

He prefers shopping and cooking at home to going out for dinner. “I love to go to stores because I sit and talk to people,” he says. But he still frequents restaurants on The Hill. “If I want liver and onions, I go to Lorenzo’s. If I’m in the mood for pizza, I go to Favazza’s – because he’s developed a pizza dough that’s very, very good. It took him two years to develop this dough. Then if I want calamari, I’ll go to Charlie Gitto’s. Don’t ask me what my favorite restaurant is. I don’t have a favorite because they’re all so good.”

Monsignor Bommarito sits at the center of this universe, seemingly content with knowing he nourishes people in more than one way at his table. “You have to understand The Hill. The Hill doesn’t understand you; you understand The Hill. We’re blessed here.” 

Carmen Troesser is a longtime contributing photographer and writer for Sauce Magazine.

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