Selecting Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis 2011 was no picnic. Choosing the winner meant several worthy candidates would go unmentioned -- until now. In this Gut Check series, we are chewing our way through notable runners up in a number of categories. To see hundreds more winners and finalists and download the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis mobile app, visit our Best of St. Louis homepage.
Last week, we shared our finalists for the five best (not cheap) Italian restaurants in St. Louis. This week, we look at the cheap options. And by cheap we mean only "not expensive." It's a term of endearment, we promise.
Page through to see the four finalists and our pick for the "Best (Cheap) Italian Restaurant" in St. Louis.
Adriana's (5101 Shaw Avenue; 314-773-3833)
This lunch spot on the Hill has been drawing crowds for twenty years now. The housemade meatball and salsiccia sandwiches are the main attraction, and the Sicilian salsiccia, served on garlic cheese bread, is so filling you might not need to eat again until lunch the next day. (Which is good because Adriana's doesn't serve dinner.) Deli sandwiches both hot and cold as well as thin-crust pizza and penne pasta in a simple tomato-basil sauce are also available.
Filomena's Italian Kitchen (9900 Manchester Road, Glendale; 314-961-9909)
What do you get if you cross the fast-casual concept with your Italian grandmother's kitchen? The answer might be Filomena's Italian Kitchen. Owner Filomena Angelucci-Dean grew up in Castel Frentano, Italy, but her menu is rooted in the broad, popular tradition of Italian food in America. The lasagna, one of four entrées offered, is excellent, as are the chicken marsala and chicken Parmigiano. Simple pasta dishes, salads and sandwiches are also available. The highlight is the arancini, flash-fried balls of risotto with a molten cheese core.
Gioia's Deli (1934 Macklind Avenue; 314-776-9410)
An institution on the Hill since 1918, Gioia's Deli began its life as a grocery store but is now a sandwich shop. Gioia's is most famous for its hot salami, or Salam de Testa: a thick, soft salami made from beef and -- yes -- pork snouts. The flavor is rich and earthy and delicious. Try it on its own or in the "Italian trio" with mortadella and Genoa salami, peperoncini, onions and cheese on toasted garlic bread. Gioia's salsiccia is tasty, too, especially when smothered with melting mozzarella cheese.
Sugo's Spaghetteria (10419 Clayton Road, Frontenac; 314-569-0440)
Michael DelPietro's restaurant features a minimalist menu of value-priced, home-style eats. Spaghetti with two very big and very tasty meatballs and a mammoth slab of cheese- and sausage-laden lasagna are both winners. Pizzas are available with your choice of thin or medium-thick crust. The Neapolitan-style pizza margherita is a standout. Daily specials rotate among Italian and Italian-American favorites like veal Parmigiano and chicken spiedini. Almost everything on the menu can be had for $12 or less, and the classy, understated décor lends itself equally to family night out, first dates and casual get-togethers.
And the winner is...
Anthonino's Taverna (2225 Macklind Avenue; 314-773-4455)
By "Italian Restaurant" we in no way mean to imply that Anthonino's Taverna serves Italian cuisine exclusively; the ownership duo of Anthony and Rosario Scarato encompasses both Greek and Italian heritage, and their restaurant's menu reflects that fact in a big way. (The spanakopita, the horiatiki salata and the gyros are to die for, just for starters.) All right, is everybody ready? Anthonino's pizzas begin with a delicious, hand-tossed crust that's not deep dish but certainly isn't "Ritz cracker" either. Pastas come with a lip-smacking housemade marinara. Nearly any entrée you select, be it based on chicken, steak or seafood, will set you back $15 to $20. Order with care and your party of two can settle the tab with two Andrew Jacksons -- and receive sufficient change to wash down dinner with a cold Peroni on draft.