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Massa's Italian Grill Sets a High Bar for O’Fallon’s Italian Battle

This month we begin our epic battle between O’Fallon’s Italian Restaurants. Can they possibly hold up to the incredibly high quality of our Thai food? Keep reading to find out.

I like the atmosphere at Massa's. It helps that their choice of late '80s/early '90s rock took me right back to high school.

The music fit with the purposefully eclectic blend of quirky restaurant with hints of sports bar. The maroon walls are dotted with mounted antlers every few feet. Between the antlers are everything from signed jerseys to framed lithographs of St. Louis back in it’s international heydey to pictures of Victorians playing tennis. All of the actual sports equipment on the wall is from an earlier era - solid wood gorgeous golf clubs, elegant wooden ski poles and tennis rackets that look like they were used by ladies in corsets and gentlemen in waistcoats.

To keep it from getting too stuffy, plush monkeys hang from the antlers, a leopard print changing screen frames one wall, and flat screen televisions tuned to assorted sports games bring everything back into the present. The wink at old gentlemen's club life adds some nice color.

Massa's offers five lunch specials for $7.95 including cannelloni and salad; vegetable lasagna and salad; toasted ravioli and salad; pizza and salad or soup and salad. Honestly, if you're in for lunch, I'd suggest ordering from the main dinner menu. The prices are very reasonable, and for a dollar or two more you can get a better choice of sides.

I meant to get a sandwich and an appetizer, but as soon as I looked at the menu, I knew I was going to be tempted away by the entrees. Protip:  Restaurants that offer multiple versions of the same thing tend to be really good at making that thing. When I saw three different versions of tenderloin medallions at a very reasonable price of $15 for the three, I knew one of them was destined to end up in my belly.

I don’t say that to disparage the sandwich offerings. For $9 or less, they offered a meatball sandwich with provolone and marinara sauce, a Salsicca sandwich with Italian sausage links grilled with green peppers and onions and topped with your choice of cheese or Massa’s Italian Special with four kinds of meats, four kinds of vegetables, plus some cheese and sauce to mix it up. They also offer the usual variety of chicken sandwiches and burgers.

They also offer a dozen varieties of pasta for under $12 including Italian classics such as cannelloni, tutta mare (linguine with clams, shrimp, scallops, mussels plus mushrooms and tomatoes which probably weren’t harvested at sea), and the very tempting butternut squash ravioli served in a fresh sage and butter sauce.

However, once I saw the entrees, I knew I was seduced by the Pepe Medallions. In addition to my pepper cream sauce, I could’ve tried the tenderloin medallions Modiga style with a white wine mornay sauce or simply seared and lightly seasoned without any sauces.

To my delight, my trio of medallions came out a perfect medium. The pepper sauce was a mild blend of a white Alfredo and a brown gravy. Each bite started with the tangy sweet cheese flavor of the Alfredo and finished with a nice, earthy bite from the generous amount of fresh ground black pepper. Any sharpness was muted by the smooth creaminess that can only come from using an amount of fat none of us indulge in at home.

I ordered some garlic cheese bread on the side so I'd have something to soak up the sauce. It might be bad for my heart, but it was so good on my tongue.

The three tenderloin medallions were nicely trimmed to be free of all fat. The exterior was a lovely caramelized brown while the middles were still the beautifully pink medium I ordered. Best of all, like all good tenderloin I was able to cut it with my butterknife. If you want to indulge in an affordable steak with excellent sauces, I recommend Massa's.

The cheesy garlic bread side dish turned out to be half a dozen thick rounds cut from the center of a baguette. Each slice was drenched in garlic butter, topped in cheese, and left under the broiler until the edges of the cheese were golden brown. I would've liked to see them use sourdough or a more flavorful bread, but now I'm just quibbling. It did a great job of soaking up some of the delightful creamy pepper sauce.

Sweet potato fries are notoriously hard to get right. Unlike white potatoes, the window between too soggy and horribly burnt is very narrow. Its hard to land right at golden and crispy. These were perfect. The fries were crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and generously dusted with a layer of cinnamon and sugar plus a hint of salt to bring out the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes fries. If you've tried inadequate sweet potato fries in the past and wondered what the big deal was all about, these will explain it all.

My total for three tenderloin medallions, a side of sweet potato fries, half a dozen garlic bread wedges and an iced tea came to $23 plus a $4 tip for attentive service. I ordered the most expensive item on the menu plus an appetizer. You can easily enjoy a quality meal at Massa’s for under $15 per person.

I'm pleased to give them an A. I liked the service, decor, music, and every bit of food they served me. Great job, Massa's.

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