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Matt Mulholland is not so different from a lot of other people who have passed through the kitchens of so many St. Louis restaurants like a journeyman defenseman hopping from team to team in the NHL.
His resume includes stops at a now-defunct, country-western bar called “The Lone Wolf” in Castlewood, Mo. (“They had an actual electric bull,” he says); the shuttered Webster Bar & Grill; stalwart Greek restaurant Olympia Kebob House; the former Norton’s Café in Soulard; the restaurant on the (no longer floating) Robert E. Lee showboat; both the Schlafly Bottleworks and Tap Room; and Lester’s.
After a lifetime as line cook, sous chef, and executive chef at every kind of eatery under the sun, he says, he was beginning to feel burnt out.
Then, with the inspiration and assistance of family and friends, Mulholland got his mojo back.
“I’m going all in,” he says he decided.
It was finally time to hang his own shingle.
And what would he serve at his first restaurant as owner-operator?
That would be the high-calorie, meaty lunch food you can find on about a zillion corners in Chicago: Italian beef sandwiches and gyros.
“Back when the football Cardinals left town, I started going to Chicago for Bears games,” Mulholland says, “and I loved Italian beef sandwiches there, but you really couldn’t find them here.”
Just this month, Mulholland opened Vinnie’s Italian Beef and Gyros (3208 Ivanhoe, 314-644-7007) in a space that was once home to Colossus Greek restaurant and My Cousin Sheri’s breakfast spot, in the Lindenwood neighborhood.
His house rule is “I don’t want to do a million things good, I want to do a couple things great.”
We would concur. The Italian beef sandwich, gyro, tziziki sauce, fried potatoes, and baklava are all worth the trip—Mulholland hasn’t worked at restaurants for 20-plus years for naught.
The Italian beef sandwich has thinly sliced beef, jalapeno and serrano peppers sautéed in gyro-meat drippings, sautéed onions, Provolone, and a metric ton of giardiniera sauce on crusty Italian bread. The giardiniera is house-made from a family recipe. It’s more finely chopped than the usual, less oily, and not scorch-your-tongue spicy. In other words, this is a “starter” giardiniera, for those who don’t require a trip to Scoville City. The top half of this grinder is dipped in a dynamite au jus that’s rich like a stock. Consider asking for the full dip. You’re gonna be eating it with a knife and fork anyway—it’s un-pick-up-able. It’s also huge. At $6.50, you get two meals out of it. (The even bigger version, the Big Beef, makes for three meals.)
Watching a cook slice gyro meat from the rotating cone (above right) is so hypnotic. The secret to the Vinnie’s gyro is grilling the sliced meat, grilling the pita in gyro drippings, and a thick, tasty tziziki sauce. The tziziki sauce, explains Mulholland, uses both sour cream and Greek yogurt with diced cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, and spices. It helps the gyro taste remarkably fresh.
What’s described on the menu as “fried potatoes” (below left) is the sleeper side dish. Idaho potatoes are baked, sliced into half-moons, fried with thinly sliced onions until golden brown, and tossed with grated Parmesan, seasoned salt, and spices. They’re delicious, and if you reach for the ketchup, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Vinnie’s dessert menu has just one item, but what an item. The warm “pinwheel baklava” (above right) stars chopped walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, phyllo, and simple syrup. This is a baklava that eats like a cinnamon roll, and it causes moaning in the dining room. The recipe originates with George Potsos, a Vinnie’s employee whose family owned the Colossus Greek restaurant that once occupied the very same space.
Other menu items of note include a Greek salad with house-made dressing, house-made hummus, an Italian sausage sandwich, a meatball sub, a Chicago hot dog, a chicken gyro, and spanakopita. Recent one-day specials have included a shrimp po’ boy, an Italian fish sandwich, and a Philly cheese steak with a house-made take on Cheez Whiz.
Mulholland has plans to eventually deliver and to open a covered patio space during the warmer months.
If you’re wondering who Vinnie is, it’s the owner’s “loud, obnoxious” alter-ego, he claimed. (Truly, Mulholland is neither of those things, in any setting.)
He does love to joke around with the customers—especially since he cured himself of the too-much-time-in-the-kitchen blues.
“I am happy now when I make an Italian Beef sandwich!” he cries. “Look at those beautiful colors! I’m finally happy.”