Grassi's Ristorante and Deli

Grassi's Ristorante and Deli is one of those little hidden gems that are fun to discover. A true neighborhood place, though not exactly located in a proper neighborhood, it's got plenty of charm and tasty Italian delights to spare.

The Grassi's story began in 1972, when the original restaurant opened on The Hill. Two more locations followed, in West County and the CWE. Today only location No. 2, which has been at its current spot near Lindbergh Boulevard and Conway Road since 1996, remains open. Tucked away in a quiet little commercial area, it's a bit off the beaten path but well worth looking for.

Supremely casual, Grassi's is set up for cafeteria-style service. The food choices boil down to pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and salads—and there's plenty to choose from. With so many options, we deferred to the folks behind the counter, who recommended the Italian salad ($7 for a large) and the Vito's House sandwich ($9) as their perennial best-sellers. They didn't steer us wrong! The salad was a classic Hill-style mix of fresh lettuce, crunchy croutons, cheese and plenty of green olives, dressed with a tangy Italian vinaigrette. Definitely one of the best salads of this type we've had in quite a while. The sandwich featured plenty of juicy, tender ham and roast beef piled between slices of warm, crusty, cheesy garlic bread, courtesy of Fazio's. Paired with an ice-cold Peroni and a side of fries ($3), these dishes made for our ideal St. Louis comfort food lineup.

Of course, once we saw the pizza selections, it was imperative that we sample a pie. Grassi's offers several variations on either a 9- or 16-inch crust. Toppings consisted of the usual favorites: sausage, mushroom and the like. Fans of exotic, unusual or otherwise unconventional toppings should look elsewhere, as these pizzas all are about traditional flavor combos. We went with a 9-inch pie topped with pepperoni and green peppers ($8). This smaller size was perfect for sharing as an app or for one hungry diner. The cheese tasted like a mix, possibly provel and mozzarella. It had the smoothness of the former and the chewiness of the later. Whatever the breakdown, it was perfectly melted and held our toppings in place just fine. The pizza was built on a St. Louis-style thin crust crafted by Vitale's Bakery, and it was this component that really put this dish above other similar offerings around town. All too often, we run across thin crusts that are doughy, chewy and aren't firm enough to support the toppings, but Grassi's was baked just right, so that the crust was firm throughout with a nice crunch around the edges.

Although it's a cafeteria, service was anything but impersonal. The folks working the serving line at Grassi's were more than friendly, answered our plethora of questions with a smile and treated us like regulars.

Even though it's in the county, Grassi's maintains the atmosphere of our favorite joints on The Hill, and certainly has the food to match.

---Grassi's Ristorante and Deli, 10450 German Blvd., 994-1111,

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