At Café Napoli, owner likes Mike
As the World Series moves back to Boston, we’re already wistful for the ample cheap parking around Busch Stadium. Can you imagine pulling up anywhere close to Kenmore Square for $5?
But St. Louis does have its shortcomings, like stonewashed mom jeans and what to do on game day if you’ve already been to the top of the Gateway Arch or toured the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. One wag said St. Louis sometimes reminds him of Hartford, and he’s right. There’s just not much doing downtown.
Monday, we drove a few miles outside the city to the suburb of Clayton, near Washington University. Our destination was J. Buck’s, the restaurant owned by the venerable St. Louis broadcasting family of Jack and Joe Buck. But it was all but empty so we went around the corner to Café Napoli.
The Italian restaurant is owned by Tony Pietoso, who looks more like actor Joe Pesci than anyone we’ve ever met. And, in case you were wondering, the restaurant is not named for the Red Sox player with the farcical facial hair.
“No, no, I like Mike Napoli,” said Pietoso, who speaks with a thick Italian accent. “But Napoli, it’s where I’m from.”
We counted exactly one beard among the lunch crowd Monday, and the guy was a ginger so he really doesn’t count. Much like the dearly departed Anthony’s Pier 4 in Boston, Café Napoli is the go-to place for celebs visiting St. Louis. And like Anthony’s, Pietoso has a wall of fame at his place, a series of framed photos of himself with various VIPs.
There are the usual St. Louis suspects — Bob Gibson, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Bob Costas, and Joe Torre — and an assortment of others, including Tony Bennett, Florence Henderson, Sammy Hagar, Danica Patrick, and former Sox pitcher Dennis Eckersley, whose hairstyle, it occurred to us as we ate our Caesar salad, has never changed.
Would Pietoso have his picture taken with the bearded Sox slugger with the same name as his place of business?
“Oh yes. I was at the game the other night and I wanted to take a picture when he came up to bat,” he said. “If Mike Napoli came in, I would treat him like a prince.”
On a beautiful night for baseball, there weren’t many boldfacers at the ballpark Monday. Crooner Harry Connick Jr. performed the national anthem, but even before it was over we wondered who might be handling the honors back in Boston.
Sox hype man Charles Steinberg said it’s up to MLB, but the Dropkick Murphys and the Boston Pops are possibilities. Still, how cool — and appropriate — would it be if the beard-sporting band ZZ Top sang the anthem. And if the series gets to a Game 7 on Halloween? Somerville’s Bobby “Boris” Pickett is gone, but we’re guessing Steinberg could make use of his hit, “Monster Mash.”