Monday, March 16, 2015

Road Eats: Mr. Gilberti's Place in Hollister, MO.

Let me start off by saying that I appreciate Branson. It's just over the border, and it's one of the few places I can go and not be recognized. I've seen some pretty good shows there, my daughter loves Silver Dollar City, and my mom and I dig on the Veterans' Day sales most years.

Thing is, Branson has a lot of things, but classic, non-chain eateries aren't among those things. There are a few places downtown that have been around a while, and restaurants that are either at Silver Dollar City or attached to attractions, that have made it past the 20 year point... but by its very clientele, the city is beleaguered by a much higher local operation to chain operation basis than any other place I've ever visited. Folks coming in from all over the world are accustomed to their Cracker Barrels, Red Lobsters and McDonald's and want the comforting food of their regular diet to go along with the comforting nostalgia of their youth. I get that.

But for epicures like myself, the challenge to find a good restaurant to talk about is significant. Indeed, I've been looking for a place for over a decade that I can really, truly call my favorite. There are some I have revisited and a few I'd recommend here and there. But none compare to Mr. Gilberti's Place.

Now, first off, Mr. Gilberti's is not in Branson. It's actually on the outskirts of Hollister, set in the middle of a neighborhood. Unless you happened to come across it while driving around or found a sign, it might as well be in Timbuktu. The restaurant has no advertising and relies on
word-of-mouth -- which is saying something, since it's been around ten years now. There are a lot of return visitors here, including a whole wall-full of celebrities of all sorts... and me, my mom and my daughter.

This is Wayne Gilberti. He and his wife Susan started this place in 2005. Mr. Gilberti says his grandmother ran Uno's... yes, that Uno's, up in Chicago, before it became Uno's. The recipes for that famous Chicago-style pizza are the same, though locals who have visited both say Mr. Gilberti's is better. Since he started in the business when he was seven, and since he has all this amazing experience, I can believe it.

When casting the net for recommendations for the area last year, I had someone send me a private email about this little Italian joint. So when my mom, daughter and I took a well-deserved break and hid out in Branson for the better part of a week last September, I insisted we had to find this place.

Our first visit, it was dark -- it took me a while to find the way from Indian Point out over Table Rock Dam and through the zigzagging route at the top of the ridge below Branson. We thought we'd missed the place a few times, and then sped past it not realizing it was there. But when we got
in, we were warmly welcomed by a lovely lady in a fedora and vest, who told us to sit where we liked.

Having heard about the Uno's connection, I knew we had to have a pizza. But would that be enough for three of us? Maybe, maybe not. We decided to
get a few other items, and started out with the toasted ravioli. I've been a big fan of T-Ravs since a visit to St. Louis back in 2008, and these were not disappointing -- a dozen ravioli, half cheese and half beef. The cheese ones had a flavor of a different sort of cheese, maybe some St. Louis style
Provel, maybe not. The meat ones were spicy. The ravioli were served up with a very thick, chunky, herb-saturated marinara that I could have just eaten on bread, just very, very good.

We started with this with beverages - lemon lime soda for Hunter, unsweet tea for me and a small bottle of wine for my mom... which was so very, very cute, a Dago Red Chianti in a vessel that would hold about two normal sized glasses of wine. You can also bring your own beverage, for what that's worth.

We also ordered the Andy Williams Salad for Two. On this first visit, I thought maybe it was named in honor of the crooner who called Branson his home in later years... but as I was later told, this was one of the fine tanned man's favorites. Pepperoni and pepperoncini, black olives, artichokes, red onion, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese... a lot of different items, all with perhaps one of the best vinaigrettes I have ever tried in my life. A big salad, worthy of its $9.25 price, amply portioned.

But we were really there for the pizza, and we were going large -- with a Mama Gilberti. That's right -- we chose a large, 14" Chicago style all-vegetable pizza. The combination of marinated green peppers with tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, onions and black olives works very well -- I didn't miss the meat. The chunky tomato sauce on top was more tomato than sauce, more of a marinated melange than a proper sauce. The crust was tan and crunchy around the edges. It was marvelous - and it came to the table in about 15 minutes, rather than the 25 our waitress had warned.

We were happy. It was good. In fact, it was the best dinner we'd had in town that week. Think that's the only time we went? Think again. The pizza was so good the next morning, we made a special trip to go out that evening. This time, we changed it up... and arrived before the sun
went down. There were some things on the menu that had us curious, so off we went.

For Hunter, it was time for her own pie. Yes, she was into the T-Ravs and salad and even had a slice of the thick Chicago-style pie the night before, but she wanted more than that. So we got her a small cheese Chicago style pizza all her own. Yeah, she was all about that. It was very cute, too... with tiny little pieces but still just as good as the Mama Gilberti we had the night before.

Mom went for the Tony Orlando's Favorite. Now, this, like the meal I chose, came complete. It's a side salad and six meatballs covered in marinara sauce, served with bread (the cheese is extra). I'm thinking this is an excellent choice, especially for my gluten-free friends (who can skip the bread) looking for something good to eat here. The meatballs did very well in that same stand-up chunky marinara.

Now, I should be going on more about that... after all, if it's Tony Orlando's favorite meal, maybe I needed to wait around for Tony Orlando to return to order it? But you know that's not how I roll.

I had noticed the previous visit the Mama Gilberti's Seafood Ravioli. I'm not usually the sort of person to gravitate towards the most expensive item on a menu, but I was intrigued (the largest pizzas cost a little more, but they were meant for more than one person). I love seafood, and with the promise of homemade pasta I just couldn't resist.

It was decadent.

We're talking handmade ravioli stuffed with shredded lobster, shrimp and scallops. Drowned in a pink Alfredo and crabmeat sauce. With big fat shrimp on top, artichoke hearts, and more crabmeat.

Pardon me while I wipe the drool from the corner of my mouth. I want this dish again.

It was remarkable, delicious, and just downright tasty. I'd already had a side salad with the housemade blue cheese dressing, but that was forgotten. This plate of pasta was wipe-up-the-sauce-with-bread good. Lick the plate good.

And best of all, it came with spumoni for dessert. No, really, it's included in the price. Yeah, Hunter had to get on this action.

So, two great meals at Mr. Gilberti's. Were we done yet? Oh no we weren't. We had obligations to take care of back in Arkansas, and knew our time was
growing short, but planned our Missouri exit for lunchtime so we could enjoy some good Chicago-style Italian one more time.

This being a Friday, we took advantage of the special and let Hunter get
another pizza, this time a one topping thin crust black olive pizza. That's right, Hunter prefers black olives to most meats. It came swamped in cheese on a very crisp crust.

Mom and I went with sandwiches. She went for a chicken breast
sandwich. Now, this isn't like most chicken breast sandwiches. The breast is marinated and then baked, served on a French bread roll that's then dipped in olive oil and Parmesan cheese, served with the lettuce and tomato on the side. Mom got hers with the mozzarella cheese. It was a pretty ample sandwich.

And I chose an Italian beef. Now, me and the Italian beef sandwich, we usually have a gripe. The different places I tried it in Chicago, it was usually a little greasy and undersalted (which is saying a LOT, coming from never-add-salt me). But it's nice and thin-sliced and hearty here. It's
usually served with hot or mild peppers (I had the mild) and mine came with grilled onions and smothered in mozzarella. Fries came with it, and they were all right, but what I was really digging was the rich, brothy jus that came with the sandwich (you have to request it, but it's no additional charge). Yes, I'll be having that one again.

So, why haven't I talked about this place before? Well, I wanted Grav to try it. He spent four years in Chicago and considers himself an expert. Also, we were on the road a LOT around that time, and it got pushed to the backburner. So on our latest visit to Eureka Springs, we took a day to
drive up to the Branson area... only to discover the place was closed for a much-needed vacation. Well dangit.

You'll find Mr. Gilberti's on Acacia Club Road in Hollister. There's a map here... you may just need it. It's open every day (when there's no vacation involved) at 11 a.m., except on Sundays when it opens at noon. Enjoy yourself.

Oh, here's the website.

Mr. Gilberti's Place
1451 Acacia Club Road
Hollister, MO 65672
(417) 334-9332

Mr Gilberti's Place on Urbanspoon


  1. Thank you so much! This is a very wonderful article...Love the pictures! Could you by chance change the menu link to our current prices, to this link

  2. Thank you so much! This is a wonderful article! We sure appreciate it...and love the pictures! Could you by chance change the menu link to our updated menu prices, to this link Thanks in advance!

  3. I can't figure out the connection, if any, between Mr. Gilberti's in Hollister and Mr. G's in downtown Branson. Their menus look very similar, and of course the names are as well. All I can see is that Mr. G's has a "young" owner. Is Mr. G's a rip-off of the original Gilberti's, or is it an authorized second location, perhaps run by a relative or family friend?

    I've eaten at Mr. Gilberti's and it's fantastic but haven't (yet) tried Mr. G's. I'd kind of rather not patronize the latter if it's a rip-off...

    Can you help research this?


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