The Melrose Apartments was constructed in 1907.
Three stories tall, with a raised basement, the L-shaped, red-brick
building fronted west on Sarah and north on West Pine. The tall
basement allowed for sufficient light for commercial use. Older
tenement-style buildings provided only cellars or storage areas in
dim, low-ceiling basements, with commercial use only in first floor
storefronts. The Melrose Apartments demonstrated that modern
apartment buildings in St. Louis could efficiently utilize all
interior space, even the basement.
Starting in the 1920s, a series of restaurants
began operating in the Melrose Apartments basement, at 204 N. Sarah.
In April of 1945, Amedeo Fiore and his wife
Elizabeth opened an Italian restaurant in the basement space. The
restaurant was frequented by a diverse clientele, including guests
from the Chase Hotel, sent there by Hack Ulrich, manager of the
Chase Club. Legend has it that when hotel guests complained to
Ulrich there was nowhere to go in St. Louis for a pizza, he
convinced Fiore to add it to his menu. Fiore ordered an oven and developed a special recipe; the Melrose Pizzeria
and St. Louis style pizza were born.
An April 13, 1947 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article detailed Fiore's St. Louis pizza recipe.
By the end of 1947, Fiore
had closed his restaurant at Sarah and West Pine, reopening it
in the spring of 1948 at 5026-5028 Easton. On April 29, 1951,
Fiore opened a Melrose Pizzeria at 5910 Natural Bridge, where St. Louis
style pizza was served until the early 1970s,
when the Fiores closed their pizzeria and retired to California.
Brothers Joseph and Louis Parente got their start in the restaurant business under the tutelage of Amadeo Fiore at his Melrose Pizzeria, at Sarah and West Pine. When Fiore moved his restaurant to Easton Avenue at the end of 1947, he sold the space in the basement of the Melrose Apartments to the Parente brothers, and they reopened it as Parente's Pizzeria.
As the Parentes' "pizza pie" was discovered by
more and more St. Louisans, Joe Parente opened a second pizzeria, Pagliacci’s,
at 4592 Manchester and Kingshighway, with partner Bob Cassulo.
The Parentes' restaurants were known for hospitality and great Italian food. Joe could usually be found at the stove, while Lou was more of a front man. The restaurants were popular places for sports and entertainment figures, their walls adorned with autographed photos of well-known customers.
In early November of 1954, the Parente brothers
opened Parente’s Italian Village on Chippewa at Watson, in a building
that had once housed the Shangri-La restaurant. By the end of
November, they had sold their original restaurant at Sarah and West
Pine. Joe Parente also sold his interest in Pagliacci's Pizzeria.
The Parentes' new restaurant flourished. But on the morning of April 5, 1963, a fire started in a basement storeroom. Dense clouds of smoke billowed across Chippewa and Lansdowne, and flames shot through the roof of the one-story building. Parente's Italian Village was virtually destroyed, with damage exceeding $100,000.
The Parente brothers chose not to rebuild; they
eventually sold the burned restaurant to Roy Russo in 1964, who
reopened it in 1965 as Saro's Sunny Italy. Instead, the Parentes
reopened Parente's Italian Village on Manchester Road in Rock Hill.
The turreted building at 9748 Manchester Road that housed the new
restaurant was built in 1861 as the home of steamboat captain Mils
T. Redmon, whose guests included Ulysses S. Grant. The first use of
the building as a restaurant was as Chalet de Normandie, in 1951.
The turreted building at 9748 Manchester Road that housed the new restaurant was built in 1861 as the home of steamboat captain Mils T. Redmon, whose guests included Ulysses S. Grant. The first use of the building as a restaurant was as Chalet de Normandie, in 1951.
In 1965, Joe Parente went out on his own and opened Mama Parente's at 2524 Hampton, on the northeast corner of Hampton and Columbia Avenues. In 1969, he sold it and rejoined his brother.
In 1974, the Parentes closed Parente's Italian Village – the turreted building would become Oliver's and then Hacienda. In the fall of 1975, they opened a Parente's restaurant at 5356 Daggett Avenue, at the corner of Macklind on the Hill.
The new restaurant retained the homey touches the Parente brothers were known for. There was a sign saying "Parente’s has it from Antipasto to Zabaglione" and another in front of the kitchen noting that "the finest meat balls in the world pass through this door." And there was plenty of pizza on the menu, including a sausage, mushroom, onion and green pepper offering, with the acronym SMOG.
In 1977, the Parents closed their restaurant on
Daggett, and Joseph Parente retired from the restaurant business.
But Lou Parente wasn't finished selling pizza. In 1981, he opened
Parente’s Pizza at 9824 Manchester in the Rock Hill Shopping Center,
and in 1983, he opened Parente’s on Pershing at 5501 Pershing as
part of the remodeled DeBaliviere area.
Both restaurants offered pizza, with a thin crust and lots of
Louis Parente eventually sold both businesses
and retired to Florida. He died on March 7, 2001 at the age of 79.
His brother Joseph died on September 15, 2001 at the age of 81.
Rossino's was the third pizzeria to inhabit the
basement space in the Melrose Apartments at 204 N. Sarah, following
on the heels of Parente's Pizzeria. Roy and Nina Russo, and their
partner Frank Gianino, took over the space in 1954, combining their
surnames to christen the new restaurant. Gianino soon left, leaving
the Russos as Rossino's sole owners.
The basement restaurant was dimly lit, with low
hanging pipes overhead. Joe Pollack, the late Post-Dispatch critic,
wrote that Rossino's was "especially popular with short persons and
athletic types with reflexes good enough to duck the pipes...." The
decor included a fascinating clutter of sports memorabilia, old
signs, photos, advertisements, mirrors, paintings, books, trophies,
license plates and bottles.
The menu included a
classic Italian salad with salami, provolone, olives and a sweet
vinaigrette; a unique chicken-liver-and-mushroom pasta and another
pasta made with Rossino's rich, tangy marinara; and a distinctive
rectangular pizza made with mozzarella or provolone or both.
Many of St. Louis' Italian restaurateurs got their start at Rossino's. Roy and Nina Russo's daughter Nancy, who with her husband Tom Zimmerman bought Rossino's from her parents in 1963, laid out the lineage.
Roy Russo died in 1976. Tom Zimmerman was killed by a drunk driver in 1986. Nancy continued to run Rossino's with the help of her mother Nina and her son Rory until April of 2006, when she retired and the restaurant closed its doors.
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Luca "Luigi" Meglio was born in 1927 in St. Louis, the oldest son among five children, including two older sisters and two brothers. His parents were from Italy. His mother was a seamstress. His father had a series of jobs: cobbler, street lantern lighter and mason. After graduating from Southwest High School in 1945, he joined the Marines and was sent to China. While he was there, his father died.
Meglio returned home to work as a waiter in a restaurant in the Central West End operated by his cousins – the Parente brothers. His mother, Angiolina Meglio, was a Parente. She told her son, "If they can do it, we can," and mortgaged her home on Morganford Road in south St. Louis to help him get started.
In January of 1953,
Meglio opened Luigi’s Restaurant on Watson Road at Arsenal. His
mother worked in the kitchen. The restaurant used her recipes and
sold Italian food. Pizza was a hot seller. His brother Frank started
behind the bar and his brother Tony started as a waiter.
The restaurant prospered, and the overflow of
customers resulted in Meglio opening three more Luigi’s – at 8965
Natural Bridge, at 12870 Manchester and at 12900 New Halls Ferry, in
the Village Square Shopping Center.
Meglio was known
as an innovator. He instructed his waitresses to introduce
themselves by leaving their name tags at each table. Noticing that
four round pizza pans didn’t fit easily on top of a restaurant
table, he began serving his pies in rectangular pans. He made thin
crust pizzas with Provel cheese, and was among the first to offer
unusual toppings, such as pineapple and ham.
Meglio invented a better pizza oven. He took two Bakers Pride ovens, cut off the sides, and linked them together with a conveyor belt to speed up production and cook the pizzas uniformly.
At 5:30 in the morning on Jan. 2, 1977,
Meglio's brother Frank was making a deposit at Southwest Bank on
South Kingshighway. He was shot in the back and robbed of $2,000,
leaving him partially paralyzed. Police arrested a former dishwasher
and pizza maker who had worked for the Meglios during his high
Luca "Luigi" Meglio died on August 28, 2014 at the age of 86.
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The Fiores, the Parentes, the Russos and the
Meglios set the stage for the pizzerias that would follow; Pastori's
on Laclede, Cusanelli's on W. Pine, Di Martino's on Shaw, La
Contessa on Delmar, Marietta's on Clayton, Charlie Mittino's on
Watson, Dettoli's on Jefferson, Kemoll's on N. Grand, Rinaldi's on
Delmar, Garavaglia's on Watson, Yacovelli's on Big Bend,
Ponticello's on Goodfellow, Staebell's on Southwest, Lombardo's on
W. Florissant, Antonio's on Gravois, Rose's on Franklin, Sala's on
Newstead . . . and lots more.
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