ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – In St. Louis, in a neighborhood known as the Hill, one dish stands out as a true local legend: toasted ravioli.
The dish — made by breading and deep-frying ravioli, which is then topped with parmesan and served with dipping sauce — is generally believed to have been invented in St. Louis. But two different restaurants in the Hill have laid claim to the invention for decades — and both insist it was the product of a kitchen mix-up from back in the ’40s.
In 1987, the New York Times interviewed a local restaurateur named Louis Amighetti, who credited a restaurant called Angelo Oldani’s with the invention. He said the owner of that restaurant told his new assistant, a German cook, to prepare the ravioli. Misunderstanding the instructions, the cook dumped the ravioli into a pot of hot oil, rather than boiling water, Amighetti said.
Trying to salvage the dish, the owner of Angelo Oldani’s allegedly brushed some grated cheese on top. The fried ravioli were an immediate hit, spawning copycats across the neighborhood, Amighetti said.
But another restaurant called Oldani’s (no relation to Angelo Oldani’s) had also maintained its claim to the dish, which — as the story goes — was also created by accident when a cook, tipsy on red wine, dropped some ravioli into the fryer, St. Louis magazine reported.
As the story goes, the owners put the deep-fried ravioli on the bar and patrons gobbled them up. Oldani’s had also claimed its owners invented the name “toasted” ravioli, so as not to give customers the impression that the dish was super fatty or greasy, according to an account reported by St. Louis mag.
Today, Oldani’s is now known as Mama’s on the Hill, and Angelo Oldani’s is now called Charlie Gitto’s.
The official websites of both Mama’s and Charlie Gitto’s proudly assert their claims to the dish to this day. Both also defended their position when asked about the origins by St. Louis mag in 2015. (At the time, the co-owner of Mama’s explained to St. Louis mag that their original chef at Oldani’s was “cranky and half-lit,” perhaps leading to the mistake Mama’s now embraces.)
A third local restaurant chain, Lombardo’s, had also briefly tossed its hat into the ring to claim ownership of toasted ravioli, but Epicurious once debunked — or at least cast some doubt — that Lombardo’s was serving toasted ravioli before the 1940s.
The debate over who created the first toasted ravioli has never been settled, but it doesn’t really matter to the average St. Louis foodie: The dish is one of this city’s regional favorites, along with St. Louis-style pizza and ooey-gooey butter cake.
The restaurant owners in the Hill, on the other hand, are still hungry for recognition.
“When my grandpa was 100, we went to a restaurant where they said they invented toasted ravioli,” the owner of Mama’s told USA Today in 2018, “and he got upset … even more than 60 years later.”