STLtoday.com If your idea of a family dinner out has been reduced to a Happy Meal and fries shoved into your vehicle at a drive-thru, you really ought to pop by Ricardo’s Italian Cafe in Lafayette Square. One of several eateries to dot the Park Avenue strip, Ricardo’s might just do wonders for your concept of family dining.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you enter is the wall-length shelf speckled with pictures, trophies, and other mementos. The bric-a brac belongs to the family of Mark and Michelle Adams, the proprietors of the 12-and-a-half-year-old cafe.
Granted, “cafe” is a bit of a misnomer. If you generally think of cafes as light, breezy, ultra-casual places, you’re in for a surprise. Ricardo’s is rather ritzy. Full of rich ambiance with brick walls, dark carpet, and spare, but nicely set wooden tables, the restaurant has exactly the look the owners were after. “We wanted the restaurant to look nice, which is why we have table linens, [but] we wanted the food to be reasonably priced too,” explains Mark Adams.
The combination of adult aesthetics and moderately priced Italian fare makes Ricardo’s a popular family eatery — and with good reason. The staff remains unflappable at the sight of spills. Finicky eaters are not a problem, and there are plenty of booster seats for tots. Regardless of the emphasis on enjoyable family dining, Ricardo’s is adult enough to afford big people a nice evening out, kids or no.
Over the years, Ricardo’s has become quite a neighborhood place. Many of the regular customers have watched the Adams boys, who occasionally work in the restaurant, grow up. That familiarity extends to Ricardo’s patrons as well. “We know many of our customers by name and what they like to eat,” says Adams.
The menu, with ample family-size portions, works well for any big-bellied brood. In addition to zuppa, insalata, and antipasta — of which the crab cakes and calamari (both $6.95) are especially popular — Ricardo’s has over a dozen pasta entrees available to feed the simply hungry and the seriously ravenous. There are well-prepared standards like fettuccine alfredo, cheese ravioli and baked lasagna, as well as a host of other pasta entrees. Penne primavera, ($9.20 for a large), with tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and green onions tossed in olive oil and fresh garlic, and linguini pesce, ($10.70 Large) with shrimp, crab, and clams served in either a butter sauce, a tomato sauce, or rich cream sauce are two of the more popular dishes. On the non-pasta side of things, Ricardo’s offers a variety of steak, chicken, veal, and seafood dishes.
Of the supper entrees, (which are served with salad and a side dish and run in the $16 to $21 range), the Beef Spedini ($17.95) is by far Ricardo’s signature dish and according to Adams is “prepared like no other in town.” Essential to the tried and true recipe, the marinated tenderloin beef is not rolled or stuffed, but cubed; after which, the meat is skewered, charbroiled and topped with garlic butter.
For a midday meal, grab an Italian-style sandwich. Ricardo’s is a suggested spot for anyone with a hankering for a meatballs-with-sauce setup — or opt for one of the many lunch specials served with a house salad and side dish of pasta.
The Adams family is very hands-on in the daily operations of their establishment (you can generally spot Michelle during the lunch shift and Mark, who is also the head chef, during dinner). In many ways, family is at the heart of Ricardo’s. As such, the restaurant is closed Sundays and all holidays.
Next time you’re searching for a place to take the kids and appreciate a dining experience minus paper-wrappers and plastic toys, stop by Ricardo’s.
Joy White, STLtoday.com Staff Writer