We’re not sure how Shaw Avenue on The Hill, St. Louis’ historic Italian neighborhood, came to be Tapas Street, but so it is. Guido’s Pizzeria & Tapas would appear from its name to be a diluted version of The Real Thing. Not so. The small, corner establishment actually serves a number of tapas that are extremely traditional.
We strolled in one evening to do a little nibbling. En route to the table, we paused in the bar area to read the blackboard. "Did you want a table over here?" asked the fellow seating us. No, we explained, we were just looking at the evening’s specials. "Those," intoned the chap in portentous tones, "will be presented to you after you’re seated." Okay, sorry.
In addition to pizza and tapas, the menu also offers several pastas, some sandwiches and a few Spanish main courses, including two paellas, one of which is vegetarian. But if the restaurant says it’s about pizza and tapas, we believe in following its advice.
An early choice, the tuna empanadillas, weren’t available that night. So slices of Spanish chorizo were a starter. If you’re only familiar with Mexican-style chorizo, be aware this is more like salami, with a dry cure. It’s a little spicy, but not with significant heat, and one of our favorites. We also spied another, boquerones, described on the menu as sprats. Yes, they’re little fish, but lovers of Mediterranean food will quickly identify them as marinated white anchovies, handsomely arranged on a plate and seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil and fresh garlic, bringing out all possible flavor. Both of these winners may be the result of a good eye when shopping rather than magic in the kitchen, but there’s nothing wrong with that. We do, however, wish they’d put that acute eye to the bread, which is the dull, seeded stuff Hill restaurants continue using into their fifth or sixth decade and which was called "Vienna loaf" in Joe’s boyhood. Much new, far tastier bread is available. There’s added incentive here since one of the nicest ways to eat boquerones or marinated white anchovies, no matter what you call them, is laid across a good piece of bread.
From the hot tapas list, pimentos rellenos de bacalao were small sweet peppers, roasted and stuffed with sweet, mild dried cod in a light cream sauce, the whole served in a little tomato sauce. The roasted-pepper taste balanced well with the fish, and it’s a dish we’d recommend to those a little hesitant about the idea of trying something as esoteric as dried fish. (It’s soaked for a long time before it’s cooked, so don’t think it’s like chewing, say, dried fruit.) Albondigas, or meatballs, are a classic tapas dish. Guido’s version arrives, three of them in a golden gravy. The meatballs are tender and lightly seasoned, the gravy or sauce also lightly seasoned, near to the point where we both felt it was close to bland. A little onion, a little garlic, and that’s about it. A few sauteed potatoes rode along. Other possibilities were a couple of styles of mussels, two goat cheese options, shrimp in garlic and olive oil, mushrooms done the same way, two riffs on squid, and the classics of potatoes brava, sauteed potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce and a tortilla, which, as most of us know by now, is a potato omelet rather than the Mexican use of the word.
Pizzas come with mozzarella, provel or cheddar cheeses, and sit on a crust that is one of the thinnest we’ve seen around town. Saltine crackers are thicker. But it was crisp rather than soggy, the tomato sauce quite good and applied in judicious amounts. Mozzarella came in generous but not ridiculous quantities, and the kitchen clearly understands that anchovy lovers want enough anchovy that there’s a little with each bite, a pleasant change from some we’ve tried. Overall, these are fine, St. Louis-style pizzas.
Desserts are mostly cheesecake with a brief excursion into flan, although in a brief and uncharacteristic moment of self-control, we passed on the last course. We drank a pitcher of unusually good sangria, the little hit of (presumably Spanish) brandy smoothing it out. The wine list has a handful of bottles that are excellent values, but should be deeper. Service, once we were seated, was attentive and pleasant, although we never did hear about the specials, which the chalk board listed as veal parmesan and veal Marsala
Guido’s Pizzeria & Tapas
5046 Shaw Ave.
Lunch & Dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Poor