Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

My Mom's as Mother's Day Approaches, Here's a Tribute to Our Other Moms -- with Their Names in Neon and on Hand-Painted Signs, They Run Small Businesses throughout the Area

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

My Mom's as Mother's Day Approaches, Here's a Tribute to Our Other Moms -- with Their Names in Neon and on Hand-Painted Signs, They Run Small Businesses throughout the Area

Article excerpt

They still make the ravioli the way Mama used to make them, with fresh vegetables and real eggs, each one hand-rolled and hand-cut in the same building at Macklind and Bischoff avenues where Mama Toscano sold her first ravioli 44 years ago.

"I can still picture her rolling them out; I can close my eyes and see the flour all over the house," says Nick Toscano, second-generation owner of Mama Toscano's Ravioli in the heart of St. Louis' Italian Hill neighborhood.

"It'd be cheaper if we went with a machine," Toscano says, "but then they wouldn't be our ravioli."

Kate "Mama" Toscano is 84 now, and she rarely works in the store. But her spirit still pervades this place.

As Mother's Day approaches, we think of her as one of our other mothers -- along with Mom Jenkins, whose deep-fried pickle slices come piled high in a plastic basket at My Mom's bar and restaurant.

And Mama Costello, who cooks up some of the tastiest pork ribs and potato-pumpkin pie this side of the Mississippi River at Mama's Coal Pot in the University City Loop.

And Dolores "Mom" Vago, whose boys have run Mom's Deli, 4412 Jamieson Avenue, for the past 19 years.

They are the moms with their names in neon, on hand-painted, cartoon signs and on paper menus.

My mom, your mom, our moms.

Mama Toscano's Ravioli shop is part ravioli factory, part mini-mart and part museum of the bizarre.

Over there sits a display of golfing memorabilia -- strange flea-market-type stuff (a golfing Easter rabbit, a golf ice bucket); here is Nick Toscano's bottle collection ("a diver pulled this one from the old Bonne Terre mines"); over there is his collection of political buttons and arrowheads. And over near the cash register, a dried piranha and a giant horned rhinoceros beetle.

"You'd be surprised at how many people come in just to see my artifacts," says Nick Toscano.

As many as those who come in to buy Mama's ravioli?

Well, not that many.

To bite into a Mama Toscano ravioli, some say, is to taste a little bit of heaven, or at least a little bit of the old country.

A former customer living in Brazil recently had a single wish for his 85th birthday -- a five-pound box of Mama Toscano's ravioli.

Frank Vittilo, a 40-year customer at Mama Toscano's calls them simply "the finest ravioli in the United States. Just like my mother used to make."

Just the night before, he said, he dined on 35 of the meaty little pillows of dough and stuffing.

Nick Toscano, his wife, Virginia (Mama No. 2), and co-workers make 10,000 ravioli three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It takes from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day, from start to finish.

"It makes for some long days," says Nick Toscano.

He said it was his mother and aunt who came up with the recipe. The rest, they say, is St. Louis ravioli history.

Karen Jenkins, the owner of My Mom's restaurant and bar, which straddles the St. Louis-Maplewood city limits on Manchester Road, says her customers all call her "Mom," and she does nothing to discourage them.

A wall sign warns:

No Gambling at All on the Pool Table.

Mom.

And another:

Come Play Pool for Free on Sunday and Tuesdays.

Mom.

Biologically, she says, she has two children.

"As far as my adopted ones, I have no idea," she says.

Before opening My Mom's two and a half years ago, Jenkins worked 27 years as a waitress at Pat's Bar & Grill on Oakland Avenue. It had been a lifelong dream to own her own place, she said. With financial help from her son, she transformed a former bikers bar from hell into a cozy neighborhood tavern.

"They know when they come in here they have to watch their language, and I'm always telling them to clean their plates," said Jenkins.

Jenkins' daughter-in-law, Pamela, who manages the bar, said naming the establishment was easy. …

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