Charlie Gitto’s flagship restaurant has been serving up quality Italian cuisine on The Hill for 30-some years. The space holds a lot of history: That St. Louis favorite, toasted ravioli, supposedly originated in the restaurant’s kitchen back in the 1940s when it was called Angelo’s. Though there are several other Charlie Gitto’s locations around the area now, we went back to where it all began to get a taste of why this eatery has become such a mainstay of the St. Louis dining scene.

The interior of Charlie Gitto’s evoked a low-key, comfortable yet classy vibe, thanks to the dark wood, low lighting and the sharp-looking, bow-tie-wearing staff. This classic feel was echoed by the large selection of Italian favorites on the menu.

We got a sampler appetizer special ($18) to start that included a taste of the famous t-rav and a signature shrimp. We’d love to see this sampler become a menu mainstay. It was a great way to get a feel for some of the many small plates available. Truth be told, we’re not huge fans of toasted ravioli, probably because there are so many tasteless versions around town. But Charlie Gitto’s version gave us a new appreciation for this stand-by. It was crispy on the outside without being dry, and the filling was actually flavorful, as was the marinara sauce it came with.

Our appetites sufficiently piqued, we went on to the Lobster Bisque ($8), and the Mixed Green salad ($6), which included homemade croutons and fontina tossed in a sweet and sour vinaigrette. The bisque, which was poured over some choice chunks of lobster meat into the bowl at our table, was creamy and ultrarich. Though it probably owed more to France than Italy, it was nonetheless delicious! The salad was a straightforward, no-nonsense affair that set our palates for the main course.

Charlie Gitto’s menu featured steaks, chicken, veal, seafood and even brickoven pizzas. But we were in a pasta mood, and we took advantage of the lengthy list of pasta selections. The Penne Borghese ($17), which was designated as a Charlie Gitto’s signature item, featured tender penne pasta covered in a pink cognac sauce with onions and parsley and strips of prosciutto. It was surprisingly light, and the prosciutto was chewy and had a nice bit of smoke. The Gnocchi ($16) we ordered came in a tomato sauce. We’re used to creamy sauces with our dumplings, but we were pleasantly surprised at how the tangy sauce augmented the tender gnocchi. For an additional $4 we added some crumbled house-made sausage, normally used in the Rigatoni with Sausage, to our dish, and it proved to be a spot-on spicy touch.

A trip to The Hill for dinner wouldn’t be complete without an order of Cannoli ($6), so we indulged accordingly. Charlie Gitto’s take on these venerable pastries was classic, from the creamy ricotta filling to the maraschino cherries on top.

With good, solid fare and an inviting atmosphere, it’s no wonder Charlie Gitto’s remains a local favorite.

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