By Alex Haglund
Fall of 2016 will mark 30 years that Girolamo’s Pizzeria has been in Nashville, but the roots of this family restaurant stretch back even further than that.
The first Girolamo’s was actually in Herrin, and was started up by Girolamo and Vita Bartolotta, the parents of Girolamo’s owner Frank Bartolotta of Nashville (the Herrin restaurant still bares the name but Bartolotta says that the family sold it about 15 years ago).
While Frank was born in Italy, he first came to live in the United States at 10 years old, went to school in Herrin, and then spent his teen years back in Italy.
1986 was the year Frank returned to southern Illinois. “I was 17-and-a-half, and I just moved here from Italy– I would have gotten drafted into the army there.”
Frank says that he didn’t want to return to Herrin though. Too boring for him, too far from St. Louis.
“Back then, it just happened that I was going through here,” Bartolotta says, “I kind of fell in love with the idea of Nashville.”
The Bartolottas cut the ribbon for Girolamo’s in Nashville the fall of 1986. Frank, an older teen is in the photo with his parents. The newspaper clippings from the event and other Girolamo’s milestones are proudly displayed in the restaurant.
“Dad said that he would help me out and he did,” Frank said. The restaurant’s original location was at the intersection of State Routes 127 and 15, where Circle K now stands.
About seven years after that, “this building was available, Frank says, gesturing around him. “It’s not on the main drag, but I figure the phone is gonna ring either way.”
It has, and in the years since, not only has the number of customers at Girolamo’s grown, so has the Bartolotta family. Frank married his wife Alessandra, in 2002, and together, they have three children: Vita, 11, Marcus, 10, and Francesco, 2-and-a-half. They are also joined by Alessandra’s parents, Emilio and Manuele.
Expanding as well has been the the Bartolotta’s restaurants, yes plural, with the last three years seeing the opening of Frankie’s On The Hill, Frank’s fine dining location on State Route 15 which he describes as serving steakhouse fare, as well as the addition of a spacious banquet room at Girolamo’s.
The menu has grown too: the original pizza crust served at Girolamo’s Frank describes as a cracker style midwest crust, which has now been joined by two rivals for the attention of Nashville’s pizza-seekers: a hand-tossed New York-style crust and a deep-dish Chicago-style one.
“I always had faith in Nashville, I had a good feeling about going here in town,” Bartolotta says.
“The people that used to support us, half of them are gone, “ Frank says with a bit of sadness, “but we’ve got a new generation. People here have been like families. We’ve had people come here, get married, have kids, and now the kids come in here too. We get to see them grow up.”
“Watching all that growing,” Bartolotta goes on, “I wanted to give something back. That’s why we put Frankie’s in here.”
While Bartolotta is certainly proud of Frankie’s, it’s still not the original.
“Frankie’s, people will bring visitors too when they’re in from out of town, or for special events,” Frank said. “Girolamo’s though, that’s still the favorite.
Girolamo’s Pizzeria is located at 144 NE Court Street, just east of the Washington County Courthouse, across the street. They are open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and for brunch from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. They offer delivery within the city limits and to Nashville’s factories and warehouses. They can be found online at www.girolamospizzeria.com and reached by phone at (618) 327-4110.