Saturday, August 23, 2014

Happy Place

It has been a rather down and depressing week here on the Coast of Illinois. Extreme heat. Extreme storm. Extreme civil unrest.

I don't like to use this blog as a place to debate anything but happy thoughts. However, I would like to take the opportunity to say this:

St. Louis is a wonderful town. The people who live here are kind and thoughtful and try to do the right thing. Of course, there are those who live outside the Golden Rule. But we can not let them overshadow what is good about our city.

The weather likes to play by it's own rules.

So I am traveling back to a happy place.
The year is 1985ish.
Picture a young woman in a stylish khaki jumpsuit and enormous Sally Jessi Rapheal-ish glasses and a young man channeling Billy Joel, in a white button down shirt, faded jeans and white Nikes. They are out on the town for dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant. 

Yes. I stole a menu. It is hanging in my kitchen. I believe statute of limitations is up on this one.
 Rossino's no longer exists. But it was one of our first and favorite places to eat. The actual restaurant was in the basement of a rickety building on the edge of a questionable neighborhood. The tables were barely a foot apart, which made for a whole lot of crowd interaction as you were taken to your favorite booth. If you were tall, as the fifty year old head waiter was, you actually had to duck to keep from knocking yourself out on the pipes which ran along the ceiling.
Bart and I would go there when we wanted a 'fancy' dinner. Or just dinner.
Most expensive item: Strip steak for $12.50. including a crisp dinner salad, french fries or spaghetti and a glass of wine.

We always had Mateus. (Which went for $7.50 a bottle, but as noted above was included in the cost of the meal.)
He usually ordered the chicken parm or the pizza.
I ordered the spaghetti ala Natalie or the spaghetti ala Thomas. Both were baked pasta dishes. Both were in a brown butter sauce and covered in melted provolone cheese. Natalie came with two enormous meatballs under the melted cheese. Which seems sort of odd as Natalie is a girl name and these were ENORMOUS balls...

This was the first sit down restaurant we took our small children too. We didn't want to be that couple with the shrieking children who ruined everyone's dinner. And it was clear, from the look on the hostess's face that she didn't want this either. But our kids have always been well behaved in public and they rose to the occasion, gobbling up every bite of their kid size portions, which while not on the menu, was offered by the hunched over waiter. And as we left, the nervous hostess complimented us on our lovely children and offered them each a fortune cookie from the jar by the door. (Why an Italian restaurant had a huge jar of fortune cookies is a mystery which will never be solved.)

Cleaning your plate was VERY important here.
Bart and I ate dinner one evening before attending a concert at a nearby theater. The servings were always more than generous and while we tried our best, neither of us cleaned our plates. Normally, we took the left overs home but it was summer and we didn't want to leave melted provolone, butter sauce and chicken to ferment in our car. So, when the seventy year old hunched over waiter came to clear our plates we declined the doggy bag.
"You didn't like your food?" he asked.
"Oh no. Delicious as always" we replied.
"Then let me bag it for you. Take it home. Don't waste it." His disapproving shadow loomed over our wasteful, guilty plates.
"Thanks, but we don't want to leave it in the car." We avoided all eye contact.
"No problem. I'll but it in our refrigerator. You pick it up on the way home." He smiled. Conversation over.
We picked up the food on our way home.

Years later, we took our now teen age kids and one of our son's buddies back for dinner. We warned Zac that he would be reprimanded for not finishing his food. He looked as us in his 'You parents are so goofy' way.
And then we began to order.
Our daughter ordered the chef salad. She was informed by the now ninety year old, hunched over waiter, that that was an awfully large salad for such a tiny girl.
Zac's eyes widened.
At the end of the dinner, as the waiter cleared our table, he looked at Zac's half eaten plate of pasta and said, "you ARE taking the rest home, aren't you." (I am punctuating this with a period as there was really no question to it.)
Zac never doubted us again.

And then suddenly, Rossino's closed.
Never mind that it had been opened for a million years and the waiter was now one hundred years old, could only see his shows as his back was now unable to straighten without surgical intervention and he was clearly the only waiter working there.
I was sad.

Until Bart came home one day with a surprise. He had been working up in the neighborhood and passed the restaurant site. A construction crew was busy gutting the building, prepping it for condos. He stopped and chatted with one of the guys, reminiscing about what a wonderful place Rossino's had been. He carefully asked if maybe there was something he could take home as a keep sake for his wife.
This is what he brought home: 
I know it is difficult to see here but this baby measures 4 feet by 2.5 feet.And it is steel.
There are many great Italian restaurants in St. Louis. We have a new favorite in a different part of town. I can make a mean chick parm at home. And you can actually buy a bottle of Mateus for less than the bottle price on that old menu.
But to this day, there will never be another Rossino's.

Everyone has a favorite restaurant. But what about those places that only exist in your memories? What is your favorite of those old places? 


  1. That sign is such a treasure! How wonderful to have a "souvenir" from a spot that has meant so much to you and your family over the years. Years ago my family lived in a small town in Connecticut and once a week we would go to dinner at a local restaurant called Mother Hubbard's Cupboard. I haven't thought about that place for years! Thanks for bringing up a great memory. By the way, I guarantee there were hairnets there! (visiting from SITS Sharefest)

    1. Mother Hubbard's Cupboard sounds like a place I would LUV! With or without the hairnets! lol! thanks for stopping by!


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