Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Foodies Road Trip: St. Louis and the Hill

While we perused the virtually 'hidden' Chinatown in our last post about St. Louis, I wanted to delve into one of the most famous ethnic cuisines in St. Louis...Italian.

For those seeking true Italian food, the area known as the 'Hill' in St. Louis is a treasure mine of deliciousness. The Hill is a large Italian community located around Kingshighway and Northup Avenue. 

In the late 1800's, the railroads and growing industry brought many Italian families into St. Louis. By 1900 over 600 Italians had made the area their home. Around the beginning of the 20th century, the area began to see a number of small Italian markets, bakeries and eateries. For several years members of the community known as 'the Hill' were virtually isolated from the rest of the city of St. Louis. Public services such as sanitation were not accessible from the area. Over time, the area became self sufficient and boasted a growing community of Italian owned restaurants and markets. 

Today as a foodie the Hill is an amazing tour through 'little Italy'. The Italian culture permeates the street life where the smell of roasted coffee and flags of red, green and white wave in the wind. Fogged up windows of bakeries hold within them the rich smell of golden Italian breads and sweet crispy pastries. Beautiful cobble stone streets can still be seen in many of the neighborhoods. 

We were able to visit a number of Italian bakeries including the famous Amighetti's bakery. Inside were mountains of breads, cookies and sweets. We enjoyed sweet homemade Canolli filled with sweet cream and berries. The smell of a stout espresso permeated the room. 

Right around the corner we visited a St. Louis classic 'Viviano's Grocery'. A trip inside of Viviano's grocery is indeed a treat. Homemade pastas, cheeses and breads are available throughout the store. A butcher offers fresh cut Italian meats and sausages while we perused the many shelves of imported oils, tomatoes and wines. Viviano's has been a part of St. Louis since the forties. The store features an olive bar filled with luscious Italian olives and peppers as well as a number of imported foods and gifts.

As we dipped into a number of little mom and pop Italian markets, I was immediately drawn to the site of fresh made Italian cheeses. (In case you didn't know, I am a cheese fiend. I literally would sell my soul for the right piece of cheese. )And no where was my cheese fetish more fulfilled than on the Hill. Historical Di Gregorio's Market carried an unbelievable selection of homemade Italian cheeses like aged asiago, parmesan, romano and  parmigiano reggiano. 

There are several authentic restaurants on the Hill. While we wanted to try every Italian restaurant on the Hill, this would have taken weeks and thousands of dollars. So we settled on having one big meal at a Hill favorite 'Rigazzi's'. Founded in 1957, Rigazzi's restaurant is the oldest Italian restaurant on the Hill. The walls of Rigazzi's are covered in signed photos of diners including Frank Sinatra, Sylvester Stallone, Robert Dinero and many other big named stars who have sampled the restaurants fairs. Rigazzi's serves up old school Italian dishes like baked mostoccioli, baked ravioli and stuffed cannelioni as well as fresh antipasto and warm baked breads. 

The trip would not have been complete without a visit to Gelato Di Riso, an amazing gelato shop that was nominated best gelato in St. Louis in 2010 by the Riverfront Times. Gelatos are made with fresh fruit and milk and are uber creamy and sweet. I tried a blood orange gelato which was slightly tart and sweet. I also sampled a pear and a caramel gelato which were also fantastic.

If you want to take a trek to little Italy without wandering far from the BibleBelt, check out the Hill in St. Louis. You won't be disappointed!

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