Pizzeria's

 
Pizza, an Italian dish ranking in popularity with spaghetti and ravioli in the East, is a newcomer in St. Louis. It is part pie, part hot sandwich, and a restaurant where it is baked is called a pizzeria (peetser-ee-ah).

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr 13, 1947

Melrose Apartments

The Melrose Apartments were constructed in 1907. Three stories tall, with a raised basement, the L-shaped, red-brick building fronted west on Sarah and south on West Pine. The tall basement allowed for sufficient light for commercial use. Older tenement-style buildings provided only cellars or storage areas in dim, low-ceiling basements, with commercial use only in first floor storefronts. The Melrose Apartments demonstrated that modern apartment buildings in St. Louis could efficiently utilize all interior space, even the basement.
 

Melrose Apartments
The Reality Record and Builder, 1910

The basement space at the corner of Sarah and West Pine was given the double street address 204-206. The tenants that occupied the space over the years sometimes chose one address, sometimes the other, sometime both and sometimes the addresses were used interchangeably.

Melrose Apartments Boundary Map
Sanborn Map Company, Vol. 5, Plate 73, 1967

The 1910 photograph above shows small ground-level windows on the western facing side of the corner basement. The exterior door to the basement, shown in the 2018 photographs below, would have been added when the space was first used commercially.

Melrose Apartments, 2018
 
Melrose Apartments Basement Entrance, 204-206 N. Sarah, 2018

By early 1931, the Melrose Food Shop occupied the basement space at 204-206 N. Sarah. A combination restaurant, delicatessen and confectionary, the eatery changed hands a number of times between 1931 and 1945. On October 7, 1945 the restaurant was once again on the market.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct 7, 1945

Melrose Pizzeria

Amedeo Fiore was born in Chicago on April 12, 1903. His parents had immigrated to the United States from Italy and Fiore was proud of his Italian heritage. He visited Italy at age 18, sailing from Naples on May 2, 1921.

Fiore moved to St. Louis with his wife, Elizabeth, sometime between 1935 and 1939. He was director of the Italian Radio Theater, which presented a program each Sunday on station WEW. He was a tenor and sang with The Muny and with the New York Metropolitan Opera when it appeared in St. Louis.
 

Amedeo Fiore Amedeo and Elizabeth Fiore

In 1940, Fiore worked as a used car salesman at Bilgere Chevrolet on Natural Bridge. In a November 17, 1940 St. Louis Post-Dispatch ad for the dealership, Fiore exclaimed, "Gosh! I just came to work here – but, oh boy, have we real bargains in used cars and trucks. To my many Italian friends . . . I would appreciate a call if interested in a car."

By 1942, Fiore was working at Emerson Electric on W. Florissant Avenue. He placed a classified ad in the June 15, 1945 St. Louis Post-Dispatch offering his services as a handyman:

ANYTHING in house repairing, plaster, asphalt tile your basement a specialty. Work guaranteed. Reasonable. Fiore, 4946 Arlington. EV. 1414

But Fiore's handyman days came to an end some time after October of 1945 when he purchased the advertised restaurant space in the basement of the Melrose Apartments.

Amedeo and Elizabeth Fiore opened a small Italian restaurant at 204 N. Sarah which they called the Melrose Cafe. The restaurant was frequented by a diverse clientele, including guests from the Chase Hotel, sent there by Hack Ulrich, manager of the Chase Club. Legend has it that when hotel guests complained to Ulrich there was nowhere to go in St. Louis for pizza, he convinced Fiore to add it to his menu. Fiore ordered an oven and developed a special recipe; St. Louis style pizza were born.

The Fiores were serving pizza at their restaurant by November 8, 1946. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch advertisement on that date introduced the new Italian delicacy to St. Louisans and taught them how to pronounce it.

The Fiores changed the name of their restaurant from the Melrose Cafe to the Original Neapolitan Pizzeria. However, since the new name was a mouthful, they soon changed it to the Melrose Pizzeria.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov 8, 1946
Amedeo and Elizabeth Fiore St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov 15, 1946

In a classic 1947 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Fiore demonstrated how to make "pizza, a new arrival in St. Louis." This was the first documentation of what we today call St. Louis style pizza, culminated by the caption under Fiore's photo:

With scissors, Amedeo Fiore, proprietor-chef of the Melrose Cafe, cuts pizza into squares for serving. The squares, held with a paper napkin, are eaten from the hand.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr 13, 1947
(click image to enlarge)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb 12, 1948

By the end of 1947, Fiore had closed his restaurant at Sarah and West Pine, reopening it in March of 1948 at 5026-5028 Easton. On April 29, 1951, Fiore opened a Melrose Pizzeria at 5910 Natural Bridge.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr 29, 1951
 
Melrose Pizzeria, 5910 Natural Bridge
 
Melrose Pizzeria Interior, 5910 Natural Bridge
 
Melrose Pizzeria Menu
(click image to enlarge)

By July of 1969, the Melrose Pizzeria on Natural Bridge had closed its doors and Amedeo and Elizabeth Fiore had moved to California. But the pizzeria lived on. Amedeo Fiore, Jr., who had taken over operation of the Natural Bridge restaurant from his parents, opened a Melrose Pizzeria in Florissant. He served "The Original" St. Louis pizza there until early 1977.

Amedeo Fiore, Sr. and Amedeo Fiore, Jr. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec 23, 1976

Parente’s

Joseph Parente was born in St. Louis on August 5, 1920 and his brother Louis was born just over one year later on August 21, 1921. Their parents had immigrated to the United States from Italy.

The Parentes got their start in the restaurant business under the tutelage of Amadeo Fiore at his Melrose Pizzeria at Sarah and West Pine. They worked there as busboys and then as waiters. When Fiore moved his restaurant to Easton Avenue at the end of 1947, he sold the space in the basement of the Melrose Apartments to the Parente brothers, and they reopened it as Parente's Pizzeria.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb 22, 1948 St. Louis Star and Times, Dec 17, 1948

The Parentes' restaurants were known for hospitality and great Italian food. Joe could usually be found at the stove, while Lou was more of a front man. The restaurants were popular places for sports and entertainment figures, their walls adorned with autographed photos of well-known customers.
 

Parente's Menu, 204-206 North Sarah, Late 1940s

In 1950, Joe Parente left his brother Lou to open Pagliacci’s Pizzeria and Cocktail Lounge at 4592 Manchester and Kingshighway with partner Bob Cassulo. In 1953, they sold the restaurant to Peter Grana and Bob Calcaterra. Calcaterra sold his interest of Grana a few years later, and Grana operated the popular restaurant until it closed in 1973.

Pagliacci's boasted a "glass-enclosed corner-kitchen" where customers could "see how real Italian Pizza is built, babied and baked to perfection as only Pagliacci's chefs know how."
 

Pagliacci’s Glass-Enclosed Corner-Kitchen, 1956
(click image to enlarge)
 
Pagliacci’s Pizzeria and Cocktail Lounge, 1956
(click image to enlarge)

Pagliacci’s baked their pizza "with a thin, crisp crust blanketed by sweet, bright tomatoes, tangy imported Italian Cheese, and the correct touch of seasonings." The "Pizza a la Pagliacci" included mushrooms, onions, sausage, anchovies and tasty chunks of roast Tom Turkey.
 

Pagliacci’s Menu, 1950s
(click image to enlarge)
 
Pagliacci’s Menu, 1950s
(click image to enlarge)

After Joe Parente sold Pagliacci's, he rejoined his brother Lou, and in early November of 1954 they opened Parente’s Italian Village on Chippewa at Watson in a building that had once housed the Shangri-La restaurant. By the end of November, the Parentes had sold their original restaurant at Sarah and West Pine.
 

Parente's Italian Village, 6600 Chippewa
 
Parente's Italian Village, 6600 Chippewa, 1956
(click image to enlarge)
 
Parente's Italian Village, 6600 Chippewa, 1956
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Parente's Italian Village Menu - 6600 Chippewa
(click image to enlarge)

The Parentes' new restaurant flourished. But on the morning of April 5, 1963, a fire started in a basement storeroom. Dense clouds of smoke billowed across Chippewa and Lansdowne, and flames shot through the roof of the one-story building. Parente's Italian Village was virtually destroyed, with damage exceeding $100,000.

The Parente brothers chose not to rebuild; they eventually sold the building to Roy Russo in 1964, who reopened it as Saro's Sunny Italy. Instead, the Parentes reopened Parente's Italian Village on Manchester Road in Rock Hill.

The turreted building at 9748 Manchester Road that housed the new restaurant was built in 1861 as the home of steamboat captain Mils T. Redmon, whose guests included Ulysses S. Grant. The first use of the building as a restaurant was as Chalet de Normandie, in 1951.

9748 Manchester Road

In 1965, Joe Parente went out on his own and opened Mama Parente's at 2524 Hampton, on the northeast corner of Hampton and Columbia Avenues. In 1969, he sold it and rejoined his brother.

In 1974, the Parentes closed Parente's Italian Village – the turreted building would become Oliver's and then Hacienda.

In the fall of 1975, the brothers opened a Parente's restaurant at 5356 Daggett Avenue, at the corner of Macklind on the Hill. The new restaurant retained the homey touches the Parentes were known for. There was a sign saying "Parente’s has it from Antipasto to Zabaglione" and another in front of the kitchen noting that "the finest meat balls in the world pass through this door." And there was plenty of pizza on the menu, including a sausage, mushroom, onion and green pepper offering, with the acronym SMOG.

In 1977, the Parents closed their restaurant on Daggett, and Joseph Parente retired from the restaurant business. But Lou Parente wasn't finished selling pizza. In 1981, he opened Parente’s Pizza at 9824 Manchester in the Rock Hill Shopping Center, and in 1983, he opened Parente’s on Pershing at 5501 Pershing as part of the remodeled DeBaliviere area. Both restaurants offered pizza, with a thin crust and lots of toppings.

Louis Parente eventually sold both businesses and retired to Florida. He died on March 7, 2001 at the age of 79. His brother Joseph died on September 15, 2001 at the age of 81.

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St. Louis style pizza is a distinct type of pizza popular in the Midwestern American city of St. Louis and surrounding areas. The definitive characteristics of St. Louis style pizza are a very thin crust made without yeast, the common (but not mandatory) use of Provel processed cheese, and pizzas cut into squares or rectangles instead of wedges. The sauce is often seasoned with more oregano than other pizza types.

Provel is a white processed cheese particularly popular in St. Louis cuisine that is a combination of cheddar, Swiss and provolone cheeses, and tastes nothing like any of them. Provel has a low melting point, and therefore has a gooey and almost buttery texture at room temperature. It is the traditional topping for St. Louis style pizza.
 

Although popular in the St. Louis area, Provel is rarely used elsewhere. It is not universally beloved even in St. Louis, where its pronounced tendency to stick to the teeth has made some avoid it.

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Luigi's

Luca "Luigi" Meglio was born on November 22, 1927 in St. Louis, the oldest son among five children, including two older sisters and two brothers. His parents were from Italy. His mother was a seamstress. His father had a series of jobs – cobbler, street lantern lighter and mason. After graduating from Southwest High School in 1945, Meglio joined the Marines and was sent to China. While he was there, his father died.
 

Luca Meglio, Southwest High School Yearbook, 1945

Meglio returned home to work as a waiter at the restaurant in the basement of the Melrose Apartments operated by his cousins – the Parente brothers. His mother, Angiolina Meglio, was a Parente. She told her son, "If they can do it, we can," and mortgaged her home on Morganford Road in South St. Louis to help him get started.

In January of 1953, Meglio opened Luigi’s Restaurant on Watson Road at Arsenal. His mother worked in the kitchen. The restaurant used her recipes and sold Italian food. Pizza was a hot seller. His brother Frank started behind the bar and his brother Tony started as a waiter.
 

Luca "Luigi" Meglio
 
Luigi's - 3123 Watson Road
(click image to enlarge)




Luigi's Menu, 1950s
(click image to enlarge)

The restaurant prospered, and the overflow of customers resulted in Meglio opening three more Luigi’s – at 8965 Natural Bridge, at 12870 Manchester and at No. 55 Village Square, in the Village Square Shopping Center.
 

Luigi's - 12870 Manchester Road

Meglio was known as an innovator. He instructed his waitresses to introduce themselves by leaving their name tags at each table. Noticing that four round pizza pans didn’t fit easily on top of a restaurant table, he began serving his pies in rectangular pans. He made thin crust pizzas with Provel cheese, and was among the first to offer unusual toppings, such as pineapple and ham.

Meglio invented a better pizza oven. He took two Bakers Pride ovens, cut off the sides, and linked them together with a conveyor belt to speed up production and cook the pizzas uniformly.
 

At 5:30 in the morning on Jan. 2, 1977, Meglio's brother Frank was making a deposit at Southwest Bank on South Kingshighway. He was shot in the back and robbed of $2,000, leaving him partially paralyzed. Police arrested a former dishwasher and pizza maker who had worked for the Meglios during his high school years.

The shooting of his brother left Meglio worried about what would happen when his three daughters were old enough to work in his restaurants. By 1981, Meglio had closed all four restaurants.

Luca "Luigi" Meglio died on August 28, 2014 at the age of 86.

Rossino's

Rossino's was the third pizzeria to inhabit the basement space in the Melrose Apartments at 204 N. Sarah, following on the heels of Parente's Pizzeria. Roy & Nina Russo and Frank & Marian Gianino took over the space in late 1954, combining their surnames to christen the new restaurant. The Gianinos soon departed, leaving the Russos as Rossino's sole owners.
 

Rossino's - 204 N. Sarah

Nina “Lee” Faille Russo was born in Rome, Georgia on June 7, 1922. She moved to St. Louis as a child. Her father died when she was a teenager and she dropped out of school to help support her family. She married Roy Russo in 1941.
 

Nina Lee Russo St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov 8, 1955

Roy Russo was the face of Rossino's. He can be seen in a classic early 1960s photo with Lou Parente, Bob Cassulo (Joe Parent's partner at Pagliacci’s) and other prominent St. Louis restaurateurs.

(From left to right) Roy Russo, Vince Bommarito, Bob Cassulo,
Charlie Gitto, Nino Parrino, Biggie Garagnani, Lou Parente, Gene Shiebal

Rossino's was dimly lit, with low hanging pipes overhead. Joe Pollack, the late Post-Dispatch critic, wrote that the basement restaurant was "especially popular with short persons and athletic types with reflexes good enough to duck the pipes...." The decor included a fascinating clutter of sports memorabilia, old signs, photos, advertisements, mirrors, paintings, books, trophies, license plates and bottles.
 

Rossino's Interior

The menu included a classic Italian salad with salami, provolone, olives and a sweet vinaigrette; a unique chicken-liver-and-mushroom pasta and another pasta made with Rossino's rich, tangy marinara; and a distinctive rectangular pizza made with mozzarella or provolone or both.
 

Rossino's Menu
(click image on right to enlarge)

Many of St. Louis' Italian restaurateurs got their start at Rossino's. Roy and Nina Russo's daughter Nancy, who with her husband Tom Zimmerman bought Rossino's from her parents in 1963, laid out the lineage.

The Pasta House guys worked here before they started on their own. Mike Faille (Talayna's) is my uncle; he started here making pizzas when he was 15 years old. Mike Del Pietro was my brother-in-law; we started them in business. He worked for us as a waiter for 20 years. We used to own half of Portabella. We used to own Deli D'Italia, which we sold lock, stock and barrel to Bob Candice (Candicci's) and started him off. And the grandfather of the Bartolino family worked for us. About 35 restaurants have come out of Rossino's, including Charlie Gitto's – that's my Uncle Charlie. He worked for us also.

Roy Russo died in 1976. Tom Zimmerman was killed by a drunk driver in 1986. Nancy continued to run Rossino's with the help of her mother Nina and her son Rory until April of 2006, when she retired and the restaurant closed its doors.

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The Fiores, the Parentes, the Meglios and the Russos set the stage for the pizzerias that would follow; Pastori's on Laclede, Cusanelli's on W. Pine, Di Martino's on Shaw, La Contessa on Delmar, Marietta's on Clayton, Charlie Mittino's on Watson, Dettoli's on Jefferson, Kemoll's on N. Grand, Rinaldi's on Delmar, Garavaglia's on Watson, Yacovelli's on Big Bend, Ponticello's on Goodfellow, Staebell's on Southwest, Lombardo's on W. Florissant, Antonio's on Gravois, Rose's on Franklin, Sala's on Newstead . . . and lots more.


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