Concetta's is a quintessentially St. Louis Italian restaurant. Every cream sauce on the menu is made with provel. The side dishes include fries, house salad or mostaccioli. Toasted ravioli are not only an appetizer, but a lunch entree as well. Out-of-towners might find the food unusual, but for anyone born and bred in St. Louis, the menu is classic comfort food.
When you walk in, the mostly windowless dining area has the feel of a grandparent's basement. The tan walls are accented with dark wooden beams, all topped by collectible porcelain sculptures. One room is lined with American historical figures including founding fathers and civil war soldiers. Another room is rimmed with small porcelain sculptures of wild birds. Fake curio cabinets stocked with porcelain bottles line another room. It's the kind of place Don Draper would've taken his kids.
If Draper did show up, his kids would love it. The restaurant stocked a few discrete toys for diners in the know. I saw an elementary school-aged boy’s face light up in delight when the waitress brought him a Thomas the Train toy. His mother said he loved Concetta’s more than McDonald’s, which is impressive for a first grader.
My friendly waitress chatted with regular customers at a nearby table, showing off photos of her newborn and asking about the customer’s family. I love to see that kind of warm and friendly atmosphere in a restaurant.
The menu itself is very affordable. The $5.75 appetizers were all typical fried fare such as cheese sticks, toasted ravioli and chicken wings. Lunch sandwiches hovered around $8 for a French dip, Italian sausage, or my choice, the Cajun chicken sandwich with sauteed peppers and onions.
Other entrees were typical homey St. Louis Italian fare such as cannelloni, tortellini or manicotti on the pasta side and chicken Parmesan, chicken marsala and chicken piccata. The most adventurous thing on the menu was eggplant Parmesan.
I really wanted to like my Cajun chicken sandwich more. I'm a big fan of freshly sauteed onions and peppers. The chicken breast itself was wonderfully moist. However, the Cajun seasoning was so salty the sandwich was difficult to eat.
I tried slicing the meat into smaller chunks and wrapping them in large pieces of the big, fluffy white bun in order to soak up some of the salt, but it was a losing battle. There might have been some other flavors hidden in there, but they were crushed under the weight of all that salt. It's a darn shame, because the sandwich looked lovely. Sure, the bun was a little plain, but the plump chicken breast that spilled out the sides of the bun was plenty moist and the sauteed onions were just barely starting to caramelise, one of my favorite texture points.
The mostaccioli was disappointingly watery. This could be due to the overcooked noodles holding too much moisture or the penne not being properly drained. Either way, the red sauce had more color than flavor.
I wanted to give the food one more chance, so I asked about the dessert menu. Cheesecake, tiramisu and spumoni all sounded good, but the waitress said none of it was made in-house.
My sandwich, mostaccioli and iced tea came to $10.52 plus a $2 tip.
The restaurant had such good service. I was in and out in half an hour at lunch time. The kitchen did a good job with both presentation and speed while my waitress was warm, friendly and attentive to everyone. My drink was never allowed to drop below half full, the kid across from me got to show off his pictures of trains, and everyone’s food came out super fast. The restaurant’s manager deserves some praise for his staffing.
But at the end of the day, restaurants are all about food. Therefore, I sadly give Concetta’s a C+.