Now that the Hampton Avenue overpass into Forest Park has reopened, traffic on the avenue has picked up again, although our guess is that it didn’t much affect Joey B’s On The Hill. Even early in the week, when we’ve visited, the joint is jumping. Located in what was until last year Bartolino’s, at the corner of Hampton and Columbia Avenue, there’s a busy (and rather smoky) bar, a dining room, what seems to be a glassed-in porch for a second dining room and an outdoor area on another porch. Only the latter lacks plenty of television sets tuned in mostly to sporting events, with the occasional variation of desert island reality shows - which probably fall into the same category.
The servers seem to fly around the room at a rate that makes us wonder if they’re about to leap tables in a single bound. And the clientele range from after-work blue-collars to dating couples to families with kids. They order from a menu that ranges fairly widely. Yes, plenty of bar food and sandwiches, but St. Louis-style pizza, as well as more complete entrees.
Hot wings arrived crisply fried and meaty, and a traditional blue cheese sauce was a nice adjunct, though the wings themselves proved properly cooked, juicy and nicely spiced. Alternative sauces are barbecue and, for the first time in our experience, butter and garlic. An immense house salad was mostly iceberg lettuce tossed with provel cheese, sliced mushrooms, a little roasted pepper and a sweet dressing. But the onion rings blew us away. While we’re normally fans of a light, tempura-like batter, these are thick, some almost two inches wide, with a heavily seasoned, dense and very crunchy batter. They’re awfully salty -- our batch was, anyway -- but absolutely irresistible, each heavy enough to serve as a paperweight. Freshly made, the delicious rings work out to a little less than a dollar apiece, not cheap but worth it for anyone not sodium-restricted.
The pizza, in two sizes, is true St. Louis style, rectangular, with an incredibly thin crust and provel cheese. Full strips of bacon, an unusual sight, lay atop ours, along with onions, mushrooms and jalapeno slices. Warning: the jalapenos still have seeds, giving off plenty of heat. The crust is crisp, the sauce in good balance, the whole thing not over-salted, a first-rate version that happily impressed our Apprentice Eater from Arizona, and us, too, for that matter. On the sandwich front, we saw plenty of what looked like meatball sandwiches going by, but ended up with a dish that has almost disappeared locally. Mumble-mumble years ago, the pork tenderloin sandwich was a staple in Midwestern restaurants and bars. Thin slices of the meat are hammered into tenderness, breaded and deep-fried, sort of a pork schnitzel. The mild pork, and there’s no part of pork that’s milder than the loin, is ready to accept all sorts of condiments or garnishes, or stand on its own crunchy merits. This huge version would make its ancestors proud. A side of pasta brought penne with a red sauce, the pasta not overcooked but almost overwhelmed by an extremely generous amount of sweet-ish, chunky tomato sauce.
And speaking of pasta, cannelloni’s meaty filling of chicken, veal and beef charmed, the dish arriving with the tubes of al dente pasta resting in the same tomato sauce, but topped with a rich and creamy white sauce. The biggest surprise was the chicken mudiga. Two large pieces of boneless white meat wore a crunchy coating. Still nice and moist, they sat in a sauce of white wine, bacon, mushrooms and provel cheese, sufficiently tasty that even after the chicken was gone, the sauce came in handy to improve a side of pasta with white sauce. Alone, it was pretty bland, but got good use as a vehicle for the mudiga’s sauce.
The wheelchair entrance on Columbia is rather strange. There’s no handle on the door - not very welcoming, to say the least. But other than that, we were happy with the neighborhood style and Italian bar menu at Joey B’s, part of the Gianino Family restaurant group that also includes a Joey B’s on Laclede’s Landing, Bill Gianino’s, Frankie Gianino’s Grill & Bar and Frankie G’s Grill and Bar. Just be prepared for the possibility of crowds. Reservations are accepted except on Friday and Saturday.
Joey B’s On The Hill
2523 Hampton Ave.
Lunch & Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Poor