Photo by Josh Keown
Call toasted ravioli a pleasant accident. The year: 1947. The location: St. Louis — in the restaurant known today as Charlie Gitto’s “On the Hill.” As the story goes, a chef accidentally dropped ravioli into breadcrumbs. Rather than clean or toss the breaded ravioli away he deep-fried it and presented it to the restaurant owner. The owner enjoyed it so much that he added it to the restaurant’s menu. An iconic appetizer was born.
Toasted ravioli is no longer prepared accidentally at Charlie Gitto’s’ locations. Rather, handmade raviolis filled with veal, pork and beef are roasted with vegetables, breaded and deep-fried. At service, raviolis receive a dusting of Parmesan and arrive with a side of tomato sauce. Its so popular diners often receive free samples when they’re faced with long table waits.
“Since it was created here it’s become our claim-to-fame dish,” says Charlie Gitto, Jr., CEO of Charlie Gitto’s “On The Hill” and Charlie Gitto’s “From the Hill” at Harrah’s Casino in Maryland Heights, Missouri. “Everyone serves toasted ravioli now, especially in this area. It’s caught on because of its unique flavor.” Gitto estimates that the food cost for one $9 portion is $2.30, about 25 percent.
Kay and Tim Esposito learned just how important toasted ravioli is to the St. Louis community when they opened a Fox’s Pizza Den in Ellisville, Missouri, in May 2006. “Before we opened, Tim and I knew that this was one product we needed to have on our menu. Every other local restaurant carries them. It’s a St. Louis tradition and is well liked by most everyone. Since we had all the other ingredients we just had to purchase the raviolis from a local distributor,” says Kay Esposito.
Most toasted ravioli are fried in a deep fryer. Operators who don’t own a deep fryer can easily prepare the dish using oven-ready versions. Esposito purchases beef-filled, pre-fried, oven-ready toasted ravioli. The raviolis remain frozen in the freezer until an order comes in. Then, depending on the order, either six or 12 are placed on a baking sheet and sent through the pizza oven. She serves the ravioli with a side of marinara and sells them for $3.99 (half dozen) and $6.49 (dozen). Esposito estimates the ravioli has a 12-cent apiece food cost. “It’s a good seller, second in line with my wings,” she says. “It’s a nice change from the usual appetizers.”
Toasted ravioli may have originated in St. Louis, but it’s not limited to the Midwest. At the Buffalo, New York-based Marco’s Italian Restaurant, chef/owner Mark Sciortino serves hand-breaded, deep-fried ricotta-filled ravioli alongside house made tomato sauce. He estimates the food cost is 97 cents per serving, with eight ravioli per order. The appetizer sells for $6.50. “A good price point for toasted ravioli is $5.99 or above,” Sciortino says.
The toasted ravioli were originally offered as a special, but became so popular that Sciortino added them to the menu permanently. Fast forward 15 years later and toasted ravioli remains Sciortino’s No. 2 selling appetizer.
“Operators should consider adding toasted ravioli to their menu for the profit margin and moveability,” Sciortino continues. “It’s a fast seller and a consistent item.”
Rolf Wilkin, president of Eureka Pizza in Fayetteville, Arkansas, agrees, adding: “Toasted ravioli is a simple, easy item to prepare that is popular.” Wilkin menus both cheese- and beef-filled toasted ravioli at all nine Eureka Pizza operations, where frozen toasted ravioli bakes in conveyor pizza ovens.
Another benefit of toasted ravioli, says Wilkins, is the low food cost. Philip D. Pagano, director of foodservice at Louisa Food Products, which produces pre-fried and oven-ready toasted ravioli, isn’t surprised. Pagano says that toasted ravioli are approximately 10 cents apiece and sell for about 50 to 60 cents apiece showing an 18- to 20-percent food cost. “This makes them one of the most profitable items over any other item on an end user’s menu,” he says.
Fresh or frozen — operators have options when it comes to toasted ravioli. Fresh ravioli demands more labor, but it can also demand a higher price-point. As Gitto points out: “You can tell the difference between handmade ravioli and frozen.” However, Esposito adds that frozen ravioli has virtually no labor involved. “It is the most low cost, easy appetizer I have. It really is a nobrainer for me,” she says.
Toasted ravioli served with marinara sauce may have a fan base, but why not serve it with ranch dressing or pesto, garlic/butter or cheese sauce? In addition to beef and cheese filled ravioli, other fillings run the gamut from nacho cheese and jalapeño to spinach and artichoke — even duck. Sure, toasted ravioli is viewed as an appetizer, but it could be tossed into pasta or atop a pizza or salad. No matter how you cook it and serve it, toasted ravioli remains an easy-to-prepare, profitable item. ❖
Yield: 1 serving
½ cup cold water
½ cup milk
8 2-ounce cheese raviolis
1 cup fl our
1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil, as needed Grated parmesan and parsley, for garnish
1 cup tomato sauce
In a bowl combine water, milk and eggs. Whisk.
Dredge ravioli in fl our. Add to milk and egg mixture. Then dredge in breadcrumbs.
Heat vegetable oil to 375 F. Fry ravioli until golden brown.
Serve with a side of tomato sauce. Garnish with fresh grated cheese and parsley.
Recipe courtesy of Mark Sciortino, chef/owner, Marco’s Italian Restaurant, Buffalo, New York
Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and liefestyle trends.
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