Zapata's moves to Fairview Heights
Q: I know numerous restaurants have been located at Zapata’s new location in Fairview Heights, including S&P Oyster Bar and the Pasta House Company. Can you name the others? My wife and I also are in disagreement over whether Mungo’s was located there. I say it was and she is adamant that it was not.
Keith Pickerel. of Swansea
A: I’d say you owe your better half with the elephantine memory a famous Mungo’s salad and anything else her heart desires from the Italian restaurant’s always scrumptious menu. Maybe throw in a rose and certainly don’t forget dessert, because while the Mazzola family has moved its eatery to many places in the past 33 years, 4660 N. Illinois St. was not among them.
Long-time metro-east gourmets will remember with watering mouths when Mungo’s opened for the first time on July 7, 1983, in an old Arthur Treacher’s chain diner at 4417 W. Main St. in Belleville. Co-owner Tony Mazzola was just 31 at the time, but he had been working in Italian restaurants since he was hired at Andrieno’s (later Dominic’s) on the Hill in St. Louis when he was 14. His partner, Sam Garozzo, was a dishwasher at 13. Best of friends, they soon realized they wanted their own restaurant. With names like theirs, how could they miss?
“I never went out for sports in school,” Mazzola told us in 1990. “When the bell rang, I ran straight to the restaurant. Agostino Gabriele, the chef, would be back in the kitchen doing the prep work. He’d try to explain to me in Italian how to cook. It was beautiful. I never wanted to do anything else my entire life.”
Soon, he would be taken under the wing of veteran waiter Charlie Mugarvero, nicknamed Mungo. So when Charlie opened his own restaurant — you may remember Rich and Charlie’s on Delmar in University City — Mazzola went right along.
He obviously learned his craft well. By the time he was 17, he was running the Rich and Charlie’s in Woods Mill by himself. Fourteen years later, with Garozzo, he would open his Belleville restaurant and name it after Mugarvero, who died in a plane crash. in 1971. His 67-item menu eventually had the Belleville building bursting at the seams, and his Mungo’s salad with its magical dressing had diners begging for the recipe.
After just three years, the scuttlebutt was that Mungo’s would take over Augustine’s Restaurant when it closed in early 1987, but the move never happened. Instead, when the Belleville site became too small, Mazzola picked up his antipasto in 1990 and moved to 4 Club Centre Court in Edwardsville. Unfortunately, that location never became popular, so Mazzola reopened in the old Barn restaurant off Hartman Lane later that same year. Bad news again. Almost as soon as Mazzola began dishing out his fettuccine and lasagna, they began redoing Hartman Lane, making access difficult.
Hoping his third resurrection would be the charm, Mazzola cut the ribbon at 1620 Lebanon Ave. in the Lake Christine Center in 1993. It wasn’t. In February 1996, Mazzola said he was closing the 7,000-square-foot facility and had no plans to ever open another restaurant.
“It was just too big,” he said. “I should have stayed small. After 13 years, I feel ashamed that I couldn’t make it go.”
But Mazzola must have spaghetti sauce running through his veins. Just four months later, he honored his late father by opening Anthony’s at 6980 W. Main St. (currently Jefferson’s). A year later, he sold the restaurant which would eventually become Gino LaMartina’s, complete with Mungo’s staff. Then, in April 1999, Mazzola took over the restaurant at the King’s Point Racquet Club in west Belleville and changed the name from Carli’s to Mungo’s Trattoria.
“The restaurant business is fickle, but I've been doing it for 33 years, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” he said at the time.
Talk about fickle. In September, Union Planters Bank closed the fitness center after seizing it from owner John Connors in bankruptcy. Six months later, less than a year after he opened his trattoria, Mazzola was looking for another kitchen to whip up his spicy meatballs when the restaurant fell $16,000 behind in rent payments and was ordered closed.
Finally, his persistence paid off. In May 2003, Mazzola took over the old Frenchies Restaurant at 525 Lincoln Highway near Schnuck’s and once again satisfied eager Mungo’s fans until cutting the ribbon at 1334 Central Park Drive in O’Fallon on Feb. 3.
While all this was going on, the new Zapata’s site in Fairview Heights wound up hosting nearly as many restaurants as the Republicans had presidential candidates this year. What apparently started as Bubba & Coy’s Catfish in 1988 morphed into the S&P Oyster Company in 1989 followed by Harry’s East (1998), O’Brien’s (2003), back to Harry’s East (2005), Martorelli’s Steaks, Pasta and Pizza (2007), the Pasta House Co. (2008), Gus’s Place (2014) and now Zapata’s.
Now if you want to plan that perfect evening with your wife, go to www.mungositalianrestaurant.com or call 632-6864. And if you want to pick me up a gift card, I won’t argue. (Just kidding.)
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