O'FALLON — Mark Schott slipped into the kitchen to check on some eggplant parmesan, waved to a repeat customer, spoke to one of his fedora-wearing servers, then sat down. For a few minutes.
Mark, co-owner and general manager of the new Amore Italian Ristorante next to the Settle Inn off U.S. 50, isn't one to stay put for long. On his mind are bookings for a big baby shower, the Red Hat Ladies for lunch and a couple of other parties scheduled for the private banquet room that can seat 100.
"I'm going to make a salad, a Caesar salad," he said, popping up from the booth. "I make the dressing from scratch."
He passes the lunch buffet on the way through swinging doors, making sure there is enough pasta (several choices), breaded zucchini, pizza, meatballs, Italian sausage with peppers and salad on hand. The menu changes daily.
"A lot of people have lunch buffets," he said as he sat down again, salads and fresh bread in hand. "Customers end up paying extra for something to drink. I decided not to do that. It's $8.99 and that includes soda or tea."
Just four months after a lot of elbow grease and training his staff about scratch cooking, he opened Amore on July 1 to the strains of "When the moon hits your eyes like a big pizza pie ... ." If you don't know the words, don't worry: They're written on the walls of the dining room, alongside vintage photos of The Rat Pack and life-size cutouts of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
Longtime friends and business partners Tom Wann and Susan Mancia Wann own the building, which is on Eastgate Drive, next to an office complex and The Market Basket in O'Fallon.
The big sunny restaurant has a giant mural of Portofino, an Italian fishing village; green-and-white checkered tablecloths; new flooring; and fresh paint and decorations. Wait staff sport the jaunty hats as a nod to a mid-20th century gangster style.
The food choices and the wine list were carefully chosen. And Mark, a veteran restaurant server and manager, is trying to do a little educating of palates.
"All the items that have a grape (symbol) next to them on the menu are paired with wines," Mark said. "A lot of people like wine but don't understand it -- how it can enhance the flavor of food."
With about 28 wine choices, enjoy a bottle for $15 to $30, or a glass from eight selections for $5.
Start with the bruschetta ($6.99) topped with tomato, sweet basil, roasted garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Pair it with Santi Apostoli Pino Grigio or Parker Station Pinot Noir.
If you want a solo pasta for dinner, mix and match from four pastas and four sauces for $8.99, which includes soup or salad and bread.
"We do a killer Italian Wedding soup," Mark said. Add meat sauce for $2, a meatball for 99 cents or an Italian sausage link for $1.50.
Leaning more toward an entree? Choose from the top-selling lasagna ($9.99), Lobster and Shrimp Ravioli with your choice of sauce ($12.99) to a 12-ounce ribeye for $16.99. All entrees also come with soup or salad, bread and a side of pasta.
Other fare includes nine sandwiches, each $6.99 with french fries. Pick a Pizza Steak sandwich, topped with red sauce and a melted provolone and mozzarella blend. Meatball and sausage subs, as well as grilled chicken sandwiches and burgers also are available.
Pizzas are handmade to order in regular or thin crust and range from a 9-inch for $6.99 (79 cents for added toppings) to a 19-inch cheese for $16.99 ($2.29 per extra topping). The House Special Pizza ($9.99 to $23.99) is red sauce topped with pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon, onion, peppers and mushroom. Calzones are $6.99 with red or marinara sauce on the side.
Mark, 49, has two young grandchildren, and said that it bothers him that "parents can't afford to take kids out to eat." That's why he's offering a Bambino Menu for $3.99. Kids can pick from five items, including chicken fingers, spaghetti and ravioli. Picky eaters even can choose their own sauce.
And there only needs to be three dessert choices at an Italian restaurant: Tiramisu or cannoli ($5.99), and gelato ($3.99).
Amore Italian Ristorante
Location: 1050 Eastgate Drive, O'Fallon. Off U.S. 50, between Illinois 158 and the newly opened Shiloh Cut-off/Main Street by The Market Basket. Look for street sign for Settle Inn.
Hours: Dining room, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; bar, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays; to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.
Offers: Lunch and dinner, takeout. Full bar. Lunch buffet 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Banquet room.
Handicapped accessible: Yes.
Information: 624-2033, amorerestaurant.com, Facebook and email to firstname.lastname@example.org.