Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Frankie Gianino's

1209 West Main Street
Imperial, MO 63052-3852

We found FG’s after last week’s debacle regarding that Texas-themed steakhouse whose name I shall not again utter. Driving south from that abominable town of Arnold, we detoured through the eastern tip of Imperial, near Mastodon State Park. (Featuring real mastodons!)*
We Googled the place ahead of time and found out they do NOT take reservations or offer fake call-ahead seating and that the menu looked pretty good, Italian, very similar to Trattoria Giuseppe, a place that we dearly love. So the plan was to order pretty much the same sort of thing and do a head to head comparison.

The Place:
We arrived around six, late for us because of a dog (imagine that!) There was a line but it was contained indoors. Angel stepped forward asking for a table for three, first available. She was handed one of those flashing pager things and told the wait would be about ten minutes, it only took five.
‘First available’ turned out to be about ten feet from the door, in a booth right across from the noisy bar. I can’t go into detail about the décor since this is as far inside as we ever got. The rest of the place might have been perfectly lovely, or a pig sty, I simply don’t know.
Above the bar were suspended very large flat panel TV’s one showing a basketball game of interest to several of the barflies, the other a hockey match which seemed to hold no one’s interest. Why people were watching the round ball match I don’t know as the two teams were not even local. Why no one was interested in the hockey, I understand perfectly. It’s a stupid sport played by knuckle-dragging thugs who are simply there to skate around pointlessly until given a reason to hit someone else with their sticks or oversize gloves.
The bar crowd was two or three people deep all around and quite noisy. A family of them received their page and was escorted to a table somewhere, thankfully, far away. All the male members of the family, including frail grandpa were totally plowed and chatting and laughing loudly and stupidly. I was glad to see them go, the noise around the bar was reduced by half.
This was going to be tough to compare to the family style relaxed atmosphere of Giuseppe’s. This was, at least where we were sitting, more like a bawdy sports bar.
Our drink orders were taken, and menus offered. Angel was delighted to discover that Diet Dr. Pepper was available, it isn’t in most places. I don’t know why she likes it. Dr. Pepper is just this side of disgusting WITH sugar. But it pleased her. Adam took a Pepsi, and I ordered a….. guesses anyone?
Ice Tea, silly. The waiter asked about lemon or not, I opted yes. On delivery I was impressed to find not one, but TWO wedges in the glass. The tea itself was not bad, clear and fresh, but it could have been stronger.

The Food:
The menus immediately shocked us. I was still in a mind to order the Steak Modiga, like the one I had at Giuseppe’s a couple of weeks back to celebrate Angel’s birthday. It was at this point I started looking elsewhere. The steak, all of the steaks, were between twenty five and twenty seven dollars; sticker shock ensued. I have not paid that much for a steak anywhere in the area. I decided that even though there was a chance that it might be just that good, maybe a nice pasta dish would do instead. The ambiance, at least at our table, was simply not appropriate for trying to enjoy a thirty dollar steak.
Angel noticed my dilemma. I was looking at the twelve dollar spaghetti (yawn!) when she pointed out the pizza. Not so much the pizza itself, but the tag-line on the menu: "As featured on “Rachel Ray’s ‘Taste of St. Louis.’ “ I closed my menu, that’s all I needed to know. I adore, worship Rachel Ray, but not in the way you are thinking. I mean I have built a shrine to her and burn a candle and pray to it daily. One recommendation from her and I’d eat a burning ferret.
A large deluxe (sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni, onion, green peppers) could be had and shared for seventeen bucks. Angel asked for additional toppings; black olives and shrimp. The extra toppings added about four bucks, but it was still cheaper than a single steak of any kind. Not that we were out to go cheap, it was just the ambiance didn’t shout cloth napkins, fine wine and overpriced steak. This was, at least where we were sitting, beer and pizza territory. Adam ordered the ‘Honey Mustard Chicken Sandwich’ and fries.
Angel and I also asked for a house salad, then had to be more specific since they offered two different house salads. Since this was an Italian place by claim, I assumed “Two houses, both alike in dignity” ** ; and they may have been, but as it turns out the big difference was mushrooms. The salads were five bucks a pop, pricey maybe, but not enough to cause two star-crossed lovers to “take their life.”
The salads were very good. The dressing was sweet, reminiscent of Giuseppe’s though not quite as good. It was still better than most other house salads I’ve had.
I was still a little disappointed. For me pizza is not ‘dinner’ it’s more of a snack, or meal short-cut. I associate it with fast food, not fine food.
But fine it was. It was prepared St. Louis style. This style is somewhat unique to the area as you might imagine. It features a very thin and very crispy, unfold-able yeast-less crust, and is therefore almost always rectangular and cut into small squares (party cut), and is further defined by the use of Provel cheese. Provel is a trademarked cheese developed by the St. Louis firm ‘Costa Grocery’. It is made in Wisconsin specifically for the St Louis market. It is a blend of provolone, Swiss, and white Cheddar. The sauce is on the sweet side, reflecting it’s origins from the local Sicilian population.
As the crust is quite thin, it is also slippery. While the sauce and cheese were hot and liquidy the toppings easily slid off. Angel and I ended up using a fork. The taste was rich, substantial and delightful. She’d made a good call about the shrimp; it complimented the sauce and cheese perfectly. There was more than enough to fill us, we boxed up and lunched on the rest.
As far as pizza’s go it was as good as any I can remember, with the possible exception of one I had in Chicago ten years ago. That was a different style though, served in a small, lively place that a friend of mine knew about from his younger days in the Windy City. ***

I cannot get past the price of the steaks, it was simply unreasonable; easily eight to ten dollars more than similar steak offering in nicer nearby places. The bill came to a reasonable fifty two dollars and change before the tip. It would have been closer to eighty if we’d had the steak. Adam’s sandwich was ‘fine’ as usual.
The pizza was indeed outstanding, Rachel was certainly right about that. I’d seriously like to have it again sometime, or at least try some other 'St’ Louis style' pizza at other places. It is rich, but it doesn’t weigh you down too much since the crust is almost non-existent.(wafer thin) That has always been my one 'beef' with Chicago style, too much bread.
As far as a recommendation, I’d certainly send my pizza loving friends there, as for more traditional Italian, I’d still put Trattoria Giuseppe’s first.

* Don’t worry they’re all dead.

** “ Two houses. . .” Come on, you know this! It’s from the prologue of William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ (I saw the movie)

*** A shout- out to an old friend, Ken Cleeton of Springfield, MO. He passed recently leaving a large, oddly shaped hole in the better parts of the fabric of the universe. He’ll make one hell of an angel.

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