Peno Brings "Southern Italian Soul Food" to Clayton

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PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
If you were a fan of the grilled pizza at Pizzino — the fast-casual spot tucked into a little strip mall just off Wydown Boulevard in Clayton — you might be surprised to see what the new owner has done to the place. 

Gone is the utilitarian white-and-red color scheme, fridge full of bottled drinks and open kitchen. Instead, at Peno (7600 Wydown, Clayton; 314-899-9699), the walls are a bright yellow-green, with black accents providing a sharp contrast. Big black-and-white family photos hung from the ceiling help break up the room and hide the kitchen, while cubbies in various corners hold books and wine and charming little potted succulents sit on each table. Overall, it's a big improvement.

You still order at the counter here for lunch, but St. Louis Bread Co. this isn't — a dark-shirted staffer delivers your order and keeps your water glass full. In the evenings, it's easy to imagine lingering here over a bottle of Chianti, something that would have seemed unfathomable at Pizzino, no matter how good the pizza.

PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
If you're the kind of St. Louisan who thinks "pasta" when you hear "Italian," the menu may come as a bit of a surprise. Perhaps due to the limitations of the kitchen (before Pizzino, the space held the Missouri outpost of a Southern California pizza franchise), there are just two noodle-based options, and they're both baked. That's a baked gemelli ragu with handmade ricotta (featuring pork, chicken and beef in "tomato gravy") and baked spaghetti and meatballs.

Far more extensive are the pizza offerings — you can build your own, with prices starting at $16 for a 12-inch crust — or try one of the six house pies (the 12-inch options on that side of the menu are all $18). Six sandwiches are also on offer, each with your choice of side.

While they were out of the fried mortadella on the day we visited, you can get a spicy Calabrese beef ($12, with a roast garlic brown gravy); meatball; veggie; or roasted leg of lamb. We tried the "Louie's special" — smoked ham and peppered roast beef on "garlic cheese bread." It was less decadent than it sounds, but made for a filling lunch even before the classic Italian cookies offered as a gift from the house.

It was the "Italian soul food sides," though, that really intrigued us. Far more interesting than the usual fries or mixed greens, Peno's list offers roasted wild mushrooms in marsala reduction, a medley of beans (black-eyed peas, cannelini and garbanzos), or roasted cauliflower, among nearly a dozen options, all but one veggie-based. We tried the Calabrese-style spinach, which came deliciously steamed with egg and garlic. 

PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE

Peno is the brainchild of longtime St. Louis restaurateur Pepe Kehm, who was one of the original partners at Felix's in Dogtown, as well as Spaghetteria Mama Mia, Bistro Toi and Eros, all of which (other than Felix's) are now closed.

The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., with delivery available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then again from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., along with an extra hour of delivery service on the weekends.

A roster of lunch specials hope to draw a crowd of Clayton office drones. Check out the Working Man's Lunch, which provides a hearty portion (roasted chicken on Tuesday, spicy Calabrese beef on Wednesday, etc.) with garlic bread for just $12.

PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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