Friday, January 27, 2012 / 10:55 AM
When recently asked what neighborhood would be the hot spot for dining in 2012, my answer caused a jaw-drop. In my opinion, it would not be Clayton, Soulard, Downtown, or the CWE. It won't even be in St. Louis. Or Missouri. The most active dining area might just be in Illinois, in Edwardsville.
Think about it. My first significant dining experience in Edwardsville was 20 years ago at Andria's Countryside Restaurant (and I use Andria's Brush-On Steak Sauce to this day), but it was restaurants like Neruda, 222 Artisan Bakery, Erato on Main, Bigelo's Bistro, and Fond that received major critical attention and opened Missourian's eyes to the area.
The fairly recent arrival of Peel Wood Fired Pizza, undeniably one of the area's finest pizza joints, alone justifies the drive from St. Louis (Anyone who's visited the new but architecturally pleasing building, perched above a creek along one of the area's many bike paths, knows what I mean.) Same goes for two-year old Grace Manor, a positively charming lunch/dinner/brunch spot located in a pre-Civil War era home just off Main Street proper.
The 103-year old Wildey Theatre just reopened, too, tempting even Missourians with frequent movies, concerts, children's shows, and special events. Edwardsville is a vibrant area, one that supports its restaurants: Bella Milano is always busy and the 54th Street Grill & Bar often starts a dinner wait at five in the afternoon.
Such robust business not gone unnoticed: Wasabi Sushi Bar recently opened its sixth metro store, below the relatively new and well-received Global Brew Tap House and Lounge. Eric Heath and Jennifer Cleveland opened Cleveland-Heath several months ago to big crowds and critical raves. Dewey's Pizza will soon open a location nearby. Locals now buy cheeses and small batch wines from Bin No. 51 Wines & Spirits, open since November.
Charlie Downs, a long-time restaurateur who's owned or operated close to a dozen local eateries, feels strongly about the vitality of the area. Several months ago, Downs announced plans to open a second Cyrano's Cafe on S. Buchanan St., but recently opted out of “that location, but not Edwardsville.” Restaurant golden boy Michael Del Pietro (Sugo's, Babbo's, Via Vino , Pazzo's, Tavolo V) is thisclose to inking a deal to put a Sugo’s next to the 54th St. Grill. Del Pietro's brother Marc (Luciano's, The Block) is similarly impressed with the growth of the area (and that SIU-E is now a Division 1 school), and is looking for a location as well. Another Italian restaurant, Tuscany, may open in the former Rusty’s Restaurant, while Coyote's Ranch Grill & Saloon will take over Neruda's space when it closes its doors in mid February.
Pat Shannon of Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood is kicking tires in Edwardsville, too, but we’re advised not to expect a copy of the flagship restaurant. Shannon told Relish that “we definitely have a different concept in mind.”
Thirty-plus years ago, singer Jackson Browne allegedly recorded "Shaky Town" in Room 124 of Edwardsville's Holiday Inn (now a Comfort Inn) on S. Route 157 for his album Running on Empty. Whether Browne was referring to Edwardsville then is unclear; what is clear is that he would certainly be singing a different tune today.
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