According to many members of the close-knit Italian community on The Hill, it was at a restaurant called Oldani's in the early 1940s that a clumsy chef dropped a piece of pasta in frying oil and created the first toasted ravioli. That dish went on to become a Saint Louis specialty, and Oldani's went on to become Mama's On The Hill, rechristened by matron Mama Campisi, who took it over in 1982. When Mama's sons, John and Frank, had to give up the restaurant in 2005, Lance and Andrea Ervin jumped at the chance to take over the culinary landmark. They reopened it in 2006, retaining many of Mama's original recipes as well as the crisp signature pasta.
Ivory and black stripes upholster padded chairs in the understated dining room, where a set of glowing candles are ensconced in a stone fireplace. Here, Mama's special recipes still serve as blueprints for many of the house sauces, including the marinara and parmesan cream. Salmon entrees are drizzled with her chianti-balsamic glaze, and deep-fried shrimp do cannonballs into her cocktail sauce.
Mama's famous fare also lures avid diners to enroll in culinary classes taught by kitchen staff. In the currently running sauces class, up to 20 students set pots a-simmer in groups of five, fueled by appetizers, snacks, and pep talks given by freshly cracked bottles of wine.