By Sarah B. Smith
What started out as a pasta lovers dream, available at farmers
markets, has now led to a charming new South City restaurant—Stellina
Pasta Café. Before making the jump to starting their own establishment,
the husband and wife team of Jamey and Lisa Tochtrop handcrafted
their own pasta and sold at farmers markets, to other fine restaurants
and individual gourmet chefs. Their new venture, opened just
a year ago, is a wonderful small treasure to all of us who are
fans of great food and pastry in a small, informal atmosphere.
is nestled in a small storefront on Watson Road in the Lindenwood
neighborhood of South St. Louis. Originally built as a tavern
in the early 1900’s, the Tochtrop’s oversaw the yearlong renovation
of the space and did much of the work themselves, with family
and friends assisting. They carefully restored historic elements,
such as the tin ceiling and exposed brick walls, and added contemporary
finishes and personal touches to create a warm and inviting
destination. Jamey’s brother Chad made the beautifully crafted
woodwork and cabinetry. And Jamey is the artist behind many
of the paintings displayed throughout the café.
Stellina’s serves both lunch and dinner, with the same menu
available throughout the day. Whereas lunch is informal—order
at the counter and your food is brought to the table—dinner
is definitely a sit down affair. The café is small, seating
just 26, with additional outside seating available when weather
permits. And since Stellina’s doesn’t take reservations, be
prepared to come early or expect to wait a bit if you’re planning
on dinner, especially on weekends.
“The main thing we try to do is put good ingredients together
to make well orchestrated dishes. We keep it real simple. We
start with good ingredients and don’t need to do too much manipulation
to come up with good products,” says Jamey Tochtrop.
The Tochtrop team oversees all aspects of the café—Lisa is the
genius behind the pastries and manages the front of the house;
Jamie is the chef creating their hot and cold savory main dishes.
The Tochtrop’s keep their menu fresh and interesting with the
pasta specials—lasagna, stuffed pasta and two cut pastas—changing
daily. The pastas are handmade daily with organic ingredients.
A recent visit included several delicious specials. The butternut
squash agnolotti, prepared with pecan brown butter sauce, was
succulent. According to Tochtrop, the recipe comes from the
Piedmont region of Italy; agnolotti is Italian for ‘priests
hat’—the shape of the pasta. For another popular version, he
fills the agnolotti with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and
a touch of lemon zest. The lasagna that evening was vegetarian,
with roasted eggplant. Both dishes exceeded my expectations
and merited a return visit.
Tochtrop likes to keep his sauces for the cut pastas simple.
For instance, he served capellini with shrimp, capers and a
garlic and cream sauce. (Cut pastas, I learned, are pastas sheeted
to a certain thickness, and then run through a machine, such
as fettuccini and linguini). The stuffed pastas start at $9.50,
with the cut pastas ranging from $12 to $18.
Virtually everything is made from scratch at Stellina’s, including
the soups. Some recent soup selections ($4.50) exemplify the
emphasis on simple, but flavorful ingredients—homemade mushroom/barley,
creamy zucchini with blue cheese, and a red curry butternut
Lunch is growing in popularity. The South Side Smoke—pulled
pork, caramelized onion, smoked gouda cheese on sea salt ciabatta
has been one of the most popular sandwiches. Hog Wild is the
chef’s personal favorite—a grilled sandwich with shaved ham,
bacon, granny smith apple, white cheddar, and sweet mustard
on peasant bread. Sandwiches come with a choice of side salads
and are $7.95. Lisa and Jamey’s son Harper was the inspiration
for the $4 “Harper Meal” for young diners—a choice of grilled
cheese, PB&J or pasta with red sauce.
Desserts ($2 to $6) are the creation of Lisa Tochtrop. Selections
change daily, but frequently include a cheesecake (a delicious
pumpkin variety when I visited recently), old-fashioned chocolate
cake, cookies and a fabulous tiramisu.
Befitting its take-home origins, Stellina Pasta Café offers
virtually all its offerings in the style of the Italian grocer
and befitting their neighborhood-friendly atmosphere, gourmet
coffees are available all day long. Enjoy!
3342 Watson Road., St. Louis, Mo. 63139
Tuesday - Saturday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.