By Susan Marquez
Robert St. John knows restaurants. He has opened and operated many in both Hattiesburg and now Jackson. He also knows Italian food. He spends three months a year in Italy. In March 2011, he opened Tabella, an Italian restaurant in Hattiesburg. “I did Tabella before I ever traveled to Europe,” Robert says. “My take on Italian food is night and day from what it was when I first opened Tabella.”
In late September, Robert opened his newest restaurant, Enzo Osteria, in the Renaissance in Ridgeland. “We are doing a mix of American Italian and authentic Italian,” he says. “Most of the time I spend in Italy is in the Tuscany region. The authentic Italian cuisine at Enzo will be very Tuscan in origin. The pizzas in Tuscany are very thin, with minimal ingredients. We’ll be doing some American-Italian stuff too. I like both. Both are great.” Some tweaks are made in the food prepared to please the American palate. “In Tuscany, they don’t salt their bread. We use salt in the bread, but not too salty.”
The restaurant is in what was originally Biaggi’s. Built 15 years ago, the restaurant had great bones. “We did some work to the interior,” Robert says. “The biggest change is in the bar. It is a lot darker. It’s a great ‘happy hour after work’ bar. We also have two dining rooms, a private room and a great outdoor area.”
The restaurant was closed for two weeks for the transition from Biaggi’s to Enzo Osteria.
“My first and most important goal was to keep everyone on staff,” Robert states. “We paid them all while we were closed. We trained them, worked with the kitchen to teach them the new recipes, and many helped with deep cleaning and renovation. I’m happy to say we opened with a full staff of former Biaggi’s employees.”
The restaurant is named after Enzo Corti. “Enzo is one of my favorite Italian friends. He lives in the small town of BarberinoTavernelle in the heart of the Chianti region of Tuscany. He and his wife, Annagloria, are the first people my wife and I met when we traveled to Italy in 2011. We stayed in one of their villas; and we still stay there when we go to Italy. I told Enzo I wanted to name a restaurant after him, and Annagloria asked why we didn’t name one after her. I told her that her name was too long. Besides, Enzo has a z in it, and z’s are cool.”
Enzo is a fourth-generation wine and olive oil merchant. “He embodies everything I love about Italian food and culture, and we have patterned our restaurant and its approach after his love of Tuscan food and wine, his zest for living, exuberant charm and infectious personality. At Enzo Osteria, we aim to live up to all those characteristics.”
After taking several tour groups to Italy over the years, Robert says now hundreds of people know him. “The Tuscany region is a lot like the American South. That really struck me. It is an agrarian society, but instead of cotton and soybeans, they grow grapes and olives. They love family, and they are very hospitable. They love good food, and they love to have long, leisurely dinners with friends and family.”
Robert says the menu includes recipes he has learned in his travels to Italy and recipes his son learned while working in Tuscany. “We chose to keep the inaugural version very limited to make sure all our staff members are on the same page during the opening days. We will be adding more authentic Italian recipes through a daily features program, and many of those items will eventually transition onto the regular menu in the coming weeks.”
Enzo Osteria is open daily from 11 am to 9 pm and Saturdays until 10 pm. It is located at 970 Highland Colony Parkway in Ridgeland.