Charlie Gitto connected with people while feeding them some of the best Italian food in the world.
Gitto’s world was St. Louis. You’d pass his spot on The Hill in route to get to the game, and upon leaving Busch Stadium to descend north towards your car, you’d pass his downtown location. It was hard not to go inside that inner city building, which resembled a cramped restaurant with moving bodies, dozens of plates of food, and an energy that surged through onto the street, where parties waited for a table. Look, it was a commercial chain restaurant down the street or an extra 30-45 minutes for a table at Gitto’s joint. The decision was easy.
The St. Louis food legend passed away this weekend after a heart attack last week, but his effect on the restaurant scene should resonate for a long time. People like Charlie do that. If he was standing in front of you, it was always warm.
He was everywhere at once for some celebrities, both local and national. The next important thing after the Los Angeles Dodgers’ lineup for Tommy Lasorda was a fresh bowl of pasta at Gitto’s spot. Max Scherzer once noted the quality of Gitto’s toasted ravioli was so strong, they were a can’t miss stop for him before the game got underway.
A year ago, Pat Maroon spent a solid portion of his day with the Stanley Cup at Gitto’s downtown location. For a local kid like Maroon pouring Gitto’s marinara sauce into the top of the most illustrious and unique sports trophy in the land, it was a highlight for many people in and not in attendance. That’s stuff that kids dream up as kids. For players like Maroon, Gitto’s food had an effect that lasted decades.
That’s what makes a restaurateur like Gitto so memorable. He connected with people in his buildings. It’s one thing to feed someone a good meal-but if you can connect with them personally and make them feel like family for an hour, those people will return.
While he is gone, there may be a nice comfort waiting around the corner. Local sports writer Rob Rains had been working with Gitto on an autobiography that they just finalized pictures for.
Growing up close to The Hill, I always knew about Gitto’s place. It was always a possibility. An opportunity to eat well and be transported to a place that combined culinary arts, sports, local love, and an easy-to-please generosity that never felt forced.
He’s gone and will be missed. The Gitto effect will live on.