The Bartolino name has been a fixture in the St. Louis restaurant community since the early 1960s, associated with a stable of eateries that includes Bartolino's South, Chris' Pancake and Dining and the latest object of our attention, Bartolino's Osteria. The restaurant is located on the edge of The Hill in the Drury Inn and Suites at Forest Park, just down the road from the original Bartolino's location, which is the current home of Joey B's.
Just like some restaurants located in strip malls and shopping centers, those that reside in hotels sometimes get overshadowed by their surroundings. Certainly, Bartolino's doesn't look like much from the outside. But once inside, there was nary a trace of the hotel to be found; and the ambiance was welcoming, comfortable and low-key, with diners attired in everything from business suits to sweat pants. The main dining room was separate from the bar area, which created a nice buffer between diners and happy-hour revelers.
The Bartolino's menu boasted the motto, Cook Good Food And Give Plenty. This proved to be quite the understatement, as every course that came to the table seemed plated for two.
Our first thought was to start with the Antipasto plate ($13), and then delve into a salad. But the Bartolino's Special Salad ($12) contained almost the same ingredients—salami, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts—as that starter, so we decided to take out two birds with one stone, so to speak. This tasty take on the classic Hill salad put some others we've sampled recently to shame. The provel was freshly grated on top—not dumped out of a bag—and the dressing was sweet with a bit of bite, but not cloying. There also was no shortage of salami, either—always a plus!
Growing up in St. Louis and making frequent excursions to The Hill, the Traditional Bartolino's Pizza ($17) from the original location was one of our favorite pies. Could the current edition live up to those fond childhood memories? Happily, yes. In fact, it may even have exceeded expectations. We ordered the 14-inch version, and it was every bit the classic St. Louis-style pizza we recalled: crispy thin crust with plenty of provel at the base, then piled ridiculously high with Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and onions. It paired up quite well with a glass of Ciacci Piccolomini ($8), a bold Super Tuscan wine that stood up to the hearty toppings.
The House Special Risotto ($18) was next on the dining agenda. Aside from containing really tender risotto and a rich sauce of white wine and cream, what set this dish apart were the chunks of sweet Italian sausage, with hints of fennel that seemed to be in every bite. It was definitely worthy of being the vanguard of the risotto selections.
We saved just enough room to split a classic Cannoli ($8) before we pushed ourselves away from the table.
In addition to being delicious, the food was very reasonably priced, and the service also was more than adequate. Our waiter was attentive, but not overbearing; and his wine recommendation was spot-on. Bartolino's transcended its so-so surroundings and definitely lived up to the reputation it's earned over the years for fine food and service.
Bartolino's Osteria, 2103 Sulphur Ave. (Hampton at Wilson), 644-2266, bartolinosrestaurants.com.