Tony Mazzola was ready to call it quits after nearly four decades of owning Italian restaurants.
The lease was expiring on the O’Fallon building that housed his latest version of Mungo’s, and he was thinking about heading to The Hill in St. Louis to find a job working for someone else.
Then Mazzola, 67, of Fairview Heights, got an offer he couldn’t refuse. Owners of a historic brick building on Main Street in Collinsville persuaded him to rent the lower-level storefront and become part of a dining resurgence in downtown Collinsville. He opened Mungo’s Uptown on June 15 at 100 E. Main St.
“It’s my best restaurant in 36 years, between the decor and the layout,” Mazzola said. “I’ve got to set it up like a professional kitchen instead of a mom-and-pop operation.”
As for the food, Mazzola is sticking with his traditional Mungo’s menu of handmade pasta dishes ($11 to $22.95) and beef, chicken, pork, seafood and veal.
The restaurant also serves pizza, sandwiches, appetizers and the Mungo’s house salad with prosciutto ham, provel and Parmesan cheeses and housemade creamy Italian dressing ($6.95 small; 8.95 large; $5.95 with meal).
“My most popular dish is the Beef Tony,” Mazzola said of his charbroiled tenderloin with provel cheese sauce, fresh mushrooms and chopped green onions ($28.95 for 6-ounce with a side; $34.95 for 8-ounce). “I have a great filet, and I run specials on ribeyes and other steaks. I buy all quality meat. I buy all quality products, period.”
Dining scene changes on Main Street
Collinsville seemed like a logical place for Mungo’s, given its large contingent of Italian residents. They shop at an Italian grocery store, play bocce ball in the park and celebrate their rich heritage at the annual Italian Fest.
The restaurant’s opening follows a year of big changes on the dining front in downtown Collinsville, which city officials call “uptown.”
Three restaurants closed on Main Street in 2018, including The Vault, which occupied a massive former bank building; the Sandwich Shop, whose owner retired after 40 years in business; and Fifth Quarter Pub & Grill, another downtown fixture that had re-opened under new ownership in 2017.
“The owner of the bank building recently put it on the market, so we’re hopeful that will become something that brings people to uptown Collinsville,” said Cristen Hardin, the city’s associate planner.
Also last year, a coffee house known as Verona Coffee Co. opened at 101A E. Main St., sharing a building with Bert’s Chuckwagon, a 54-year-old barbecue and hamburger joint that moved from its former location on Clay Street in 2010.
Who Dat’s Southern Food relocated to 118 E. Main St. from Troy in September, and Old Herald Brewery and Distillery opened at 115 E. Clay St. in November. Sloan’s Pub House has been operating at 119 W. Main St. for about four years.
“The excitement is there,” Hardin said. “If you come through uptown at 4 o’clock, you’ll see a lot of cars parked along Main Street and in parking lots. There’s people, and there’s activity. ... The restaurants are new, and each of them have their own authenticity and vibe.”
Regulars follow Mazolla to new digs
Mungo’s Uptown is next door to Friday’s South Bar & Grill, which has been in business for about 11 years at 106 E. Main St.
Mazzola had a crowd on recent weeknight, thanks to new customers from Madison County and old customers from St. Clair County who were willing to make the drive.
Brothers Ron and Keith Filges sat at a high-top table by the storefront window.
“I’ve been going to his places on and off for 20 years,” said Ron Filges, 71, of Caseyville, a retired railroader, who ordered the Chicken Tony ($18.95 with a side). “Everything is very good — the food, the service, the atmosphere.”
“It’s a nice addition to Collinsville,” said Keith Filges, 67, of Collinsville, a radio voice-over freelancer, who went with the Pork Spedini ($14.95 with a side).
Two other brothers, Bud and Scott Jacob, were eating at a round table with a group of friends and family. They’re the ones who lured Mazzola to Collinsville.
The Jacobs and a partner, Gregg Crawford, have owned the 1890 two-story brick building at 100 E. Main St. for about four years.
“When we bought it, it was gutted,” said Bud Jacob, 64, of Collinsville. “The city had purchased the building from the previous owner to help revitalize downtown.”
A early deal with a potential lower-level tenant fell through, so the building remained vacant while the partners converted the upstairs into lofts apartments. Then Mungo’s came along.
Working in restaurants since age 14
Mazzola got his first restaurant job at Andrieno’s on The Hill in St. Louis at age 14. That’s where he met his mentor, the late Charlie “Mungo” Mugavero, who opened Rich & Charlie’s Italian restaurant in 1967 and took the teen with him.
Mugavero and his wife died in a plane crash six years later on their way to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Mazzola opened his first restaurant at age 24 in Houston and his first metro-east restaurant in 1983 on West Main Street in Belleville. He later operated other locations in Belleville, Edwardsville, Shiloh, Fairview Heights and O’Fallon. He also did a couple of stints at Al’s Restaurant, a St. Louis steakhouse.
“It’s been a long journey — 36 years (in the metro-east),” he said. “I can’t believe that right when I was ready to give it up, I found what I was looking for here in Collinsville. It’s been my dream, and I get to continue the Mungo name.”
Mazzola brought the wooden back bar from his O’Fallon restaurant to Collinsville. The new space seats 152 people in two dining rooms and a bar with exposed brick walls, pendulum lighting, tables, booths and high-tops. A garage-style door can be raised for an open-air atmosphere.
Walls are lined with framed, black-and-white photos of Mazzola’s Italian family. His brother, Mario, serves as general manager and pastry chef at the new restaurant.
“We have a great staff,” Mazzola said. “They’re doing fantastic. We’re also training some new people because we’ve doubled our seating capacity.”
Hours at Mungo’s Uptown are 4:30 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Fridays, 4 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 4 to 9 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 618-632-6864.