Andrea Ervin’s Italian upbringing on The Hill was filled with family meals of homemade pasta and pastries. So, it was only fitting that she cut her teeth working at several Italian restaurants in the neighborhood before venturing out on her own.

In 2005, Ervin and her husband, Lance, purchased Mama Campisi’s, one of the staples of the close-knit Italian neighborhood since the 1940s. The couple reopened the storied establishment, calling it Mama Campisi’s, Mama’s on The Hill, in February 2006.

Originally known as Oldani’s Restaurant, it’s said to be the birthplace of a St. Louis classic – toasted ravioli. “Toasted ravioli was created by a chef named Fritz, who enjoyed his vino while cooking,” Ervin says. One evening, while some regulars were sitting at the bar, it’s said that Fritz threw ravioli into hot grease instead of hot water. “Aggravated with what he had done, he took the ravioli out to the guests and told them to enjoy,” Ervin says. “Well, that they did! The guests could not have been happier with the accident, and started coming in regularly requesting it.”

The Ervins are passionate about providing authentic Italian cuisine and keeping the establishment’s rich tradition alive – toasted ravioli and all. “When we purchased Mama’s, it was very important to us to keep the name,” Ervin notes. “So many people had such wonderful meals, and enjoyed seeing Mama. We wanted to keep what she had started.”

With chef Antonino Astarita from Sorrento, Italy, helming the kitchen, favorite menu items range from spaghetti with meatballs and bruschetta to lasagna, rabbit and chicken spiedini. Even the house salad is a special treat, Ervin says. “Our balsamic vinaigrette is to die for!” While new lunch and dinner menus are in the works, Ervin says popular classics always will be offered. And if diners have a craving for a custom creation, Ervin says the restaurant can make it happen. “We take great pride in preparing dishes that are not on the menu, and accommodating any and all requests we are able to. We love making memories for guests.”

Business these days is brisk, particularly on weekends and holidays, with tour groups, out-of-towners and, of course, lots of regulars. For groups, Mama’s offers a beautiful banquet room for parties up to 100, complete with private restrooms, a private bar, fireplace and separate entrance. The banquet menu boasts a variety of entrees, such as canneloni, eggplant parmigiano and pollo marsala, with spumoni ice cream or cannolis for dessert. “We love doing family-style dinners,” Ervin says. “It reminds us a lot of growing up and passing the food to one another. Mama’s has an authentic atmosphere, as well as the authentic home-cooked food. You feel like you’re at my home.”

Mama’s also offers wine dinners, culinary classes and catering services.  During wine dinners, Chef Astarita creates the perfect pairings of Italian wines with five courses including appetizers, entrees and desserts. The wine dinners, as well as the culinary classes, can be held at the restaurant or brought to your home for holiday parties, birthdays, graduations, retirement celebrations and more, according to Ervin. “Our classes can be hands-on, where you create awesome dishes with us. Or you can have a demonstration class, where we come and show you how to do everything, and provide the recipes to take home.” Mama’s also caters events of any size, from simple bag lunches to elaborate sit-down meals. The catering menu includes ala carte items and lunch or Italian buffets for 15 or more guests. “We can provide food from our menus or create something [for you],” Ervin notes. 

Authentic Italian cuisine and superior service are the legendary restaurant’s important ingredients to success. “Mama’s dining experience is unique because we truly care about our guests, and try to provide the authentic service we all used to give and receive,” Ervin says. “We want our guests to leave looking forward to their next visit.”

Timeline

1940s – Oldani’s Restaurant opens

1982 – Mama Campisi reopens the restaurant with her namesake

Mid-1980s – Mama Campisi’s sons, John and Frank Campisi, take the helm of Mama Campisi’s

2005 – Mama Campisi’s closes; Andrea and Lance Ervin purchase the restaurant

2006 – The Ervins reopen the restaurant as Mama Campisi’s, Mama’s on The Hill

ON THE COVER

Mama Campisi’s, Mama’s on the Hill, at 2132 Edwards St., serves up authentic Italian lunch and dinner daily. For more information, call 314-776-3100 or visit mamasonthehill.com.