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On the Trail of Toasted Ravioli | Noshtalgia

Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call
The version of toasted ravioli at Ledo’s chain restaurants is filled with hot peppers and cheese instead of meat, but it’s in an attractive fried shell.

According to Louis Amighetti, the owner of Amighetti Bakery on the Hill, it happened this way: “Angelo was busy and told a new assistant, a German cook, to prepare the ravioli. He had a pan of boiling hot oil on the stove, and the cook thought it was supposed to be for the ravioli, so he dropped them into the oil.’’ When Mr. Oldani saw what had happened, he tried to salvage the ravioli by brushing on some grated cheese. The result was local history.

These days, restaurants across St. Louis furiously battle to be recognized as the non plus ultra of toasted ravioli.

Still, some maintain the end products are pretty much all the same.

“Many of the t-ravs consumed locally, in restaurants and at home, are made by Mama Toscano’s and Louisa Food Products,” Evans said, fingering two commercial t-rav makers as the founts from which most ready-made raviolis flow.

An East Coast transplant who relocated to the St. Louis area decades ago concurred with Evans’ assessment, estimating that most local restaurants “use a decent quality frozen ravioli, and make it their own by serving it with their own marinara sauce.” The transplant, who requested anonymity so as not to be targeted by overzealous defenders of the t-rav in the adopted city, touted Frontenac Grill as one of the few that use house-made ravioli with meat filling for a delicate dish.

Most everyone else rarely deviates from the time-honored script for loyal followers of the crunchy snack food.

Evans totally gets that. “Fried pasta, sprinkled with cheese, dipped in marinara? What’s not to like?” she said. “They make good bar food, party food, etc.”

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

The research done, we struck out in search of the protein-packed productions.

And strike out we did.

While Wal-Mart (and by extension, Sam’s Club) does carry a variety of Louisa products — including original beef, sausage and cheese, cheddar cheese, four cheese, and pizza style pepperoni and sausage — none of those appear to be available in our immediate area. Emails to Wal-Mart HQ and calls to the Waldorf, Md., Sam’s Club about the reach of the frozen t-ravs went unanswered.

Just as Bondioli promised, we spied toasted/baked/fried ravioli on menus across the area, from mom-and-pop delis in Centreville, Va., to chain pizza parlors scattered throughout the DMV.

Of course, most of those were distinctly dairy-rich offerings.

Until we hit on Tommy Marcos’ Original Ledo Restaurant (4509 Knox Road, College Park, Md.) The venerable eatery serves fried ravioli, and only meat-filled.

The distressingly pallid pieces are, in fact, filled with ground beef (sauteed with peppers and onions, no less) yet they somehow still taste remarkably bland. Everything else about these sorry specimens — from the flimsy pasta (lack of breading robs it of potential crunch) to the head-scratching absence of any cheese (brutal) — smacked of sub-par snacking.

Hell, at least the chain Ledo’s, which dishes out a shark-jumping version featuring diced hot peppers nestled within melted ricotta and mozzarella (a jalapeno popper by any other name), manage to dress the whole thing up in an attractive, herb-studded fried shell.

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