al's restaurant opened in 1925. photo by david kovaluk

Al's Restaurant has survived changing culinary trends for nearly 100 years

The St. Louis riverfront was a different world in the 1920s, but not everything has changed. Located next to the railroad tracks, in the shadow of the crumbling remnants of the area’s industrial past, is a low brick building. A crisp, white facade and black awning are the only indicators of the magic that resides inside.

Founded by Italian immigrants Louise and Albert Barroni in 1925, Al’s Restaurant has weathered innumerable culinary trends, changes in taste and myriad construction projects and economic fluctuations, all while providing an elegant respite from the daily grind.

Owner Pam Neal, Louise and Al’s granddaughter, said Al’s was originally more of a saloon serving lunch to railway workers. In the late 1960s, a neighboring building caught fire and collapsed onto the restaurant. After the rebuild, the family switched gears and delved into fine dining.

Al’s is one of the few places in the area to experience time-honored delicacies like beef romano, chateaubriand or a true Caesar salad prepared tableside by tuxedoed servers. Classic service and cuisine aren’t retro throwbacks – they never left. The menu rarely changes, and many of the dishes are made from Louise Barroni’s original recipes.

“I think it’s the unity of the family and the hands-on love and attention we give it,” Neal said. She also gave much credit to the staff, many of whom have worked there for decades. Some families have worked at the restaurant for generations, with parents bringing their children into the fold to continue the legacy.

Matt Sorrell is a staff writer at Sauce Magazine.