For pre-theater and -concert dining in the Grand Center area, we often suggest Vito’s, and then firmly speak to the necessity of a reservation. On a recent weeknight, arriving at 6:30, we saw only two open tables, and those were in the bar at this popular Midtown location at the southern outpost of the arts district and the northern edge of the St. Louis University campus. It also can work for a post-performance meal spot, with a kitchen open late on weekends and a bar open until 3 a.m.
It’s a pleasant, very low-key example of the family-owned Italian restaurant that has been a mainstay of St. Louis dining for more than a century, and Vito’s is proud of its Sicilian heritage. Lunchtime offers a menu or a buffet that includes provel-free pizza, drawing business folks and escaping students and faculty. And now gelato is available, waiting temptingly in a case near the front door.
The rolls that start things are housemade and, probably, we suspect, from the pizza dough. That’s fine by us because we like the texture and the chew. Unfortunately, they sometimes get a little dried out from being in the warmer too long. One of the tastiest first courses is caponata, the eggplant-based relish that is done Sicilian style, agrodolce or sweet and sour. The presence of raisins harks back to the long-ago influence of Moors from North Africa in Sicily. But it comes and goes from the menu and the buffet table; if you find it, it can convert the eggplant-phobic. The fried calamari is, as promised, lightly breaded, nicely crisp and with a briskly seasoned marinara sauce. A caprese salad had excellent tomatoes at the end of the tomato season, a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and sweetly milky mozzarella slices. But the most fun we had in the first-course department was with the meatball sliders, small single-meatball sandwiches on their own rolls, the tomato sauce moistening things and the meatballs tender and meaty. Fun, a little messy to eat, but delicious.
Yes, the pizza is quite delightful unless you’re monomaniacal about St. Louis-style pizza. The crust here is thicker, and there is, as announced above, no provel cheese. To honor our family’s pronounced anchovy gene and the visit of one of the folks who also posses it, we went for one of the pizza specialties, a Don Vito. A 10-inch pizza is topped with fresh mozzarella and tomato slices, kalamata olives, a few capers and the anchovies. Gooey, richly flavored, good crust, altogether enjoyable. Linguini tutto mare combines clams, mussels, scallops and shrimp in a tomato-laced broth, slightly peppery, neither the pasta nor the seafood overcooked, all the flavors in harmony. Our only complaint was that it didn’t arrive with a soup spoon and/or more bread to soak up the juices.
Fat, round ravioli filled with chicken, spinach and mushrooms wore a creamy sauce, but it was the filling, with lots of rich mushroom flavor that got applause worthy of an encore. The only glitch in the main courses was a plate of linguini with clam sauce. It was tasty, with lots of garlic in the sauce, but unfortunately, half the clams hadn’t opened from their steaming and many of the remaining ones were broken, with their shards scooped up and included in the pasta. Apologies from our waiter, who was covering a lot of ground that night, and a quick removal from the table and the check.
Yes, it was an error. We usually don’t send dishes back unless they’re inedible, but this was a potential hazard to the teeth, far more than just an overdone or too-salty entree. It can happen to any diner, and the big question is not what the diner does, but what does the restaurant do? Vito’s was quick to respond, and the response was correct. Should we be telling you about it? Absolutely. We’re sometimes accused of being "too nice," and we do try to speak politely while we’re being critical.
The wine list includes a good-sized number of reasonably priced Italian imports along with enough California entries by the bottle or the glass. Nothing exceptional, but plenty of hearty wines that go well with the hearty food that comes from the kitchen at Vito’s. Service is friendly and efficient, and if you’re too full for a large dessert, a couple of scoops of gelato will fill the empty spaces
3515 Lindell Blvd.
Lunch and Dinner, Mon.-Sat. (to 3 a.m. Fri.-Sat.)
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Good