The Secret of Massa's' Success

What makes this place so popular? Certainly not the food.

Desserts were no better. The cannoli's shell was stale. The tiramisu, a drunkard's dream, must have fallen into a barrel of Marsala on its way to the plate. I liked the spumoni, which was really just a bowl of chocolate ice cream with a whipped-cream doodad on top. The wine list contains limited descriptions (the vintage, and sometimes the nation of origin), lacks vision and seems to have been curated by committee -- or at least by someone whose passion isn't wine. Bottles under $35 are plentiful but California-heavy and humdrum: Kendall Jackson, Estancia, Callaway, Mondavi. Australian humdrum is available via Rosemount, Greg Norman, etc. To drink something interesting, you'll pay a premium: $49 for a 1997 Franus zinfandel (a great year for California zin) or $80 for a bottle of 1987 Trefethen cabernet sauvignon.

Even if you're willing to shell out for it, an $80 bottle of wine isn't at home in a place like Massa's. There's nothing on the menu that would likely live up to a seventeen-year-old cab. Nor does the ambiance, the décor -- bland beige, mauve and soft green tones that all but swallow up the smattering of uninteresting art on the walls -- or the service. The waitstaff can be pleasant, but it's largely all business and unsolicitous. When our party requested individual plates for our shared appetizers, a busboy dropped off a stack of saucers -- which would be fine, if this were the Old Country Buffet. There was no clearing between courses -- no appreciation, in other words, for what translates the presence of food into a meal, and a great meal into a great evening. Even that chocolate ice cream (er, spumoni) was undermined by the fact that I was left to enjoy it while staring at the remains of my mostly untouched broccoli and a pesto-encrusted dinner fork.

Hostesses Crystal Laurentius (left) and Colleen 
Hoffmann (right) wait for the throngs to arrive.
Jennifer Silverberg
Hostesses Crystal Laurentius (left) and Colleen Hoffmann (right) wait for the throngs to arrive.

Location Info

Map

Massa's-Kirkwood

131 W. Argonne St.
Kirkwood, MO 63122

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Kirkwood

Massa's-Bridgeton

4120 N. Lindbergh Blvd.
Bridgeton, MO 63044

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Hazelwood/ Bridgeton/ Earth City

Massa's-Ballwin

15310 Manchester Road
Ballwin, MO 63011

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Manchester/ Ballwin

Details

Toasted artichoke hearts $7.95
Steamed mussels $9.95
Chicken bianco $15.95
Combination $10.95

314-965-8050. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 4-8 p.m. Sun.

131 W. Argonne Drive, Kirkwood

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The Kirkwood location is but one entry in a Massa's trifecta -- there's a location in Ballwin and the flagship in Bridgeton. Considering the Kirkwood crowd, I'm guessing they pack 'em in out west and up north as well. But I'm still wondering what their secret is.

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