Ten years ago, SLM began dishing out awards to the area's finest. Here's our celebration of St. Louis by the decades.
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Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts; Prop styling by Jan Leach; Model: Hayley Keith, Centro Models; Hair and Makeup by Priscilla Case, Talent Plus; Clothing provided by Remember Me Vintage Clothing & Costumes
Crushed Red Urban Bake & Chop Shop
Clayton’s been ripe for another salad restaurant since the demise of the Lettuce Leaf, and while Crushed Red is also about pizza, its salads are worth serious praise. Created in front of the diner, dramatically chopped with a traditional European tool called a mezzaluna, tossed, and dressed, they have a plethora of catchy ingredients, like tender brisket, barbecue chicken, roasted shrimp, and crisp strips of fried jalapeño. Order at the counter, carry away your salad, and don’t neglect the soup options. The pizza will be delivered to your table. 8007 Maryland, 314-725-8007, crushed-red.com.
LOCAL AND ORGANIC RESTAURANT
Local Harvest Café
Local Harvest is buzzing—not from local honey bees, but from its upcoming expansion (locations are slated for downtown and Kirkwood); “celebrity” chef Clara Moore, who competed in Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates; and co-owner Maddie Earnest, who has added “author” to her résumé with the publication of Missouri Harvest. Thanks to its commitment to local, organic food produced sustainably, biodegradable packaging, fair-trade practices, and a robust recycling program, Local Harvest Café lives its mantra: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Multiple locations, 314-772-8815, localharvestcafe.com.
Blood & Sand
Since opening its doors in 2011, the members-only Blood & Sand has quietly challenged the idea of what an evening of dining and drinks in St. Louis can be. Membership (now limited) affords entry to the social club and access to a progressive cocktail program led by TJ Vytlacil and Adam Frager, as well as delectable eats from Chris Bork’s kitchen. The vibe within the cozy confines is bright, relaxed, and welcoming, with much attention focused on the small details of service. We’re sold; sign us up. 1500 St. Charles, 314-241-7263, bloodandsandstl.com.
It may be a St. Louis original, but there seems to be a depressing cookie-cutter sameness to the toasted ravioli—our beloved T-ravs—found in and around our fair city. It is this sameness that makes the house-made, fist-sized dumplings from Lombardo’s family restaurants special. The dish contains seasoned meats and Italian spice (let’s be honest: It’s a meatball) tucked inside a pocket of thick pasta dough and golden fried bread crumbs. The result: an honest-to-goodness local treasure deserving of our namesake. Multiple locations, 314-621-0666, lombardosrestaurants.com.
“Ecstatic Hour,” Remy’s Kitchen & Wine Bar
Remy’s Kitchen & Wine Bar has been a mainstay of the Clayton dining scene for almost 20 years, boasting a changing array of Mediterranean-inspired dishes and an award-winning wine list. Lesser-known is Remy’s happy hour, which lures the post-work crowd with inexpensive small dishes and cocktails. So just what constitutes an “ecstatic hour”? An eclectic space to unwind, a see-and-be-seen crowd, and most important, watching the barkeep muddle fresh lime and mint into that mojito you’ve wanted all afternoon. 222 S. Bemiston, 314-726-5757, remyskitchen.com.
It’s a shocker. Scape’s vegetable lasagna, made of uncooked veggies, is so delicious, it’s easy to ignore how healthy it must be. The “pasta” is ribbons of zucchini wrapped around layers of sun-dried tomato sauce, spinach, basil, crimini mushrooms, and a “cheese” made of cashews. Its zingy flavor is nothing short of exciting. And while it’s not cheap ($24 at this writing), the labor of its construction and the taste validate the tab. Don’t feel sorry for anyone forgoing meat (or fish) for this. And do try the house-made sourdough bread. 48 Maryland Plaza, 314-361-7227, scapestl.com.
MEMORABLE SMALL PLATES
Liluma’s Side Door
While “Nests” and “Pillows” may conjure up images of a boutique home store, they’re two of Jim Fiala’s five courses at Liluma’s Side Door, perfect for mixing and matching. Perhaps the shiitake custard “Bite” and the fish-n-chips “Snack” with the donut “Afterthought”? It’ll only set you back $19. Add a $12 bottle of wine and you’re getting one of St. Louis’ best deals in one of its hidden gems. 238 N. Euclid, 314-361-7771, fialafood.com.
For those keeping score, we’re now in the third wave of coffee. So while your mom sits at home drinking her 10-cent cup of first-wave Sanka, thinking fondly of the ’60s, blissfully unaware that she missed an entire wave of coffee culture, we prefer to sidle up to Scott Carey’s bar at Sump for his scientifically precise (everything is weighed and timed) pour-overs and espressos, brewed right every time with beans shipped in from roasters around the country. In fact, Carey’s brews are so good that if anything isn’t up to his standards, it’s pulled for the day—even if that means closing shop! 3700 S. Jefferson, sumpcoffee.com.
SANDWICH FROM A SALUMERIA
Soppressata, Salume Beddu
When Mark Sanfilippo teamed up with Ben Poremba and moved the sale of their incredible encased meats from area farmers’ markets to a storefront on Hampton Avenue, you had to know equally great sandwiches couldn’t be far behind. With a small selection available each day, the chili-, garlic-, and fennel-flecked soppressata, topped with provolone, is best. Sitting within a split loaf of toasted Red Guitar bread—half of it smeared with an additional hit of lemony fennel relish, the other half with a dose of peppery, whole-grain mustard—it’s as perfect as a sandwich gets. 3467 Hampton, 314-353-3100, salumebeddu.com.
Florissant might not be the suburb you consider when craving Thai food in St. Louis, yet it’s there that brothers Scott and Tommy Truong have staked their claim—racking up “Best Thai” awards, largely due to a welcoming mix of Scott’s great cooking, Tommy’s effortless charm in the dining room, and an almost endless array of craft beer. Once you’re a regular, it’ll feel like going home each time you return…and you will return. 8416 N. Lindbergh, 314-831-3701, pearlcafestl.com.
“The Turkey Table,” Herbie’s Vintage 72
It earned its nickname because original owner Herb Balaban used to hold court there with his cronies and “talk business.” Its design (more booth than table) and location (near the bar for prime people-watching) make Table No. 30 the most requested in the CWE restaurant. An impressive list of notables has rested VIP backsides there—Bob Hope, George Burns, David Bowie, Paul Newman, Sharon Stone, Billy Joel, Susan Sarandon, and Prince Albert II of Monaco—but the brass plaque on the table bears the name of a local, Chuck Jackson, for his long-standing 8:30 p.m. Friday reservation. While many are drawn to the booth’s history or its location, some still “talk turkey” there. Marshall Faulk, for example, had his “first” drink at the table after he signed his lucrative contract with the St. Louis Rams. 405 N. Euclid, 314-769-9595, herbies.com.
Photograph by Ashley Gieseking
Boycott Companion—it’ll make the lines shorter when we visit. Sure, the locations are pleasant and comfortable, with decidedly superior breads like an outstanding crusty, flour-dusted Pain Beaucaire and thick, yeasty Bavarian pretzels. But please consider an emerald, earthy split pea–and–ham soup. Or try a golden-glossy broccoli cheddar—one with rich, thick broth studded with chicken chunks and artichoke hearts, fortified by gooey, pungent melted brie. Or the best clam chowder in town. Or tortellini Florentine. Obviously, Companion has Grandma chained to the kitchen stove, producing such extraordinary soups. Multiple locations, 314-721-5454, companionstl.com.
Sharing space with a small grocery, the dining area at Papagayos is modest. Ignore the Mexican fare; the menu’s right side covers several Honduran dishes that make the restaurant unique: Tamales, much fatter than Mexican versions, are stuffed with vegetables and chicken wings (with the bones still in). Baleadas include flour tortillas folded over scrambled eggs, beans, and mantequilla, an Honduran salty sour cream. And a national specialty is corn flour–fried chicken, slathered in a mild pico de gallo sauce, along with fried plantain chips, rice, and beans. 6922 Manchester, 314-644-0271.
Soft-Shell Crab Eggs Benedict, Half & Half
Over the years, we’ve tasted Benedicts in countless variations. This year, we fell in love with Mike Randolph’s off-center interpretation at Half & Half. Two-inch cubes of brioche replace soggy English muffins. Two farm-fresh eggs replace often-tasteless ones. Next are a few spoonfuls of silky hollandaise, a tempura-battered soft-shell crab (cut in two) for unprecedented taste and crunch, then a scatter of baby arugula to brighten the plate. One caveat: This benny is seasonal and available only on weekends. 8135 Maryland, 314-725-0719, halfandhalfstl.com.
Intimate as the security checkpoint at Lambert–St. Louis International Airport, but infinitely more appetizing, the cozy confines of I Fratellini are a largely secret spot of superior Italian dining. Other ristoranti get attention; this meal from I Fratellini’s menu, though, is one you’ll remember. Start with the beautiful presentation of caprini salad: warm goat-cheese crumbles and sun-dried tomatoes glistening with olive oil, capers, and roasted garlic. The risotto here is sublime as a main course: Lobster nuggets, asparagus slivers, and flakes of Parmesan enliven a broth-softened rice that’s glossy and tender, with each grain perfectly al dente. Every spoonful’s delightful. Dessert? Why, a superb Moscato d’Asti, sweet, bubbly-frizzante, is just right for slow sipping and contemplating the great meal you’ve just enjoyed. 7624 Wydown, 314-727-7901, saucemagazine.com/ifratellini.
Pint Size Bakery
Pint Size Bakery does so many things so well, there’s a morning rush to claim owner Christy Augustin’s perfectly chewy sugar cookies, “BLT muffins,” blueberry cheesecake bites on house-made graham crackers, and amazing oatmeal crème pies with marshmallow/buttercream filling. The secret is no secret: Pint Size trumpets its use of organic and local ingredients, and the motto “Small Batch, From Scratch” isn’t just trending now—it’s a recipe for big demand, and big success. 3825 Watson, 314-645-7142, pintsizebakery.com.
Poblano Au Gratin Potatoes, J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood
In these parts, if the question is “side dish,” then the answer is most often “potatoes.” Were we not so self-conscious, we’d go to J. Gilbert’s just for the au gratin potatoes: Sliced thin and layered with a three-cheese blend (Parmesan, Gruyère, and pepper jack) and roasted poblano peppers, orders are baked individually in bright-red mini cast-iron Le Creuset casseroles. The richness registers first, and then the poblanos kick in—it’s a one-two that’s simply sublime. West County Center, 314-965-4600, jgilberts.com.
Behold, the ice-cream sandwich: The pseudo-edible, soggy chocolate wafers have a way of winding up partly inside you and partly on you, but the ones at Colleen’s—house-made ice cream smooshed between two chewy cookies—eliminate this pesky problem, and they’re delicious. Flavor combinations are named after employees, like The Hanna, banana ice cream and a dab of peanut butter crème between chocolate cookies, and The Sarah, strawberry ice cream between chocolate chocolate-chip cookies. The latter is so luscious, it could challenge the dominance of chocolate-dipped strawberries on Valentine’s Day. 7337 Forsyth, 314-727-8427, colleenscookies.com.
If the query is for a casual yet romantic date night, we nominate Diablitos. The festive starburst luminarias and candlelit ofrendas (altarpieces) radiate soft warmth. The hand-painted, candy-colored wooden chairs and collections of skull and devil-doll folk art are festive. The salvaged wooden window shutters and rustic doors all bear a provenance. And outside, if the string lighting, fire pit, and occasional “chicken drop” game don’t chill you out, you may require a bona fide Mexican vacation. The rest of us already feel like we’re there. 3761 Laclede, 314-644-4430, diablitoscantina.com.
Chop Shop STL
When an experienced sushi chef pack ups his Ginsu knives to jump onboard a food truck, take heed. While Eliott Harris’ wasabi-buttered popcorn and wok-seared ginger-garlic chicken are addictive, and Chop Shop STL’s Big Fat Sushi Rolls take maki to oversize, comical, and delicious heights, it’s the tempura-fried Twinkie with a whipped-cream yuzu sauce, berries, and Pocky sticks that will make you swoon, even as you grudgingly trudge back to that ever-so-humble cubicle. chopshopstl.com, twitter.com/ChopShopStl.
One 19 North Tapas & Wine Bar
First dates needn’t cause anxiety if plans are kept simple: Focus on finding something excellent to eat and drink in a setting that’s comfortable and that stimulates some getting-to-know-you conversation. One 19 North’s list of affordable new- and old-world wines complements a menu of small dishes—perfect for sharing and lingering over—featuring the rich flavors of Spain and the American South. Don’t want the evening to end? Being in the heart of Kirkwood has its perks: Parks, coffee, drinks—even snow cones—are a casual stroll away. 119 N. Kirkwood, 314-821-4119, one19north.com.
Photograph by Ashley Gieseking
Sam Racanelli, Mad Tomato
Sam Racanelli is mad for pizza. Bronx-born and bred, St. Louis’ acclaimed New York–style pizza pioneer is currently manning the peels at Mad Tomato (owned by his brother Vito). Sam’s not reverent about pizza, but he knows it inside out (calzones, anyone?) and from the crust up. St. Louis is losing its “There’s only one way to do pizza” mentality, he says, although the will to experiment seems to vary across town. If you like pepperoni, one of his new creations features house-made soppressata, the spicy Italian salume. 8000 Carondelet, 314-932-5733, madtomatostl.com.
The hottest dining burg is not Clayton, the Loop, or the CWE. It’s 40 minutes out, in Edwardsville, Ill. Setting the table is Andria’s Countryside Restaurant, the only place in the metro area serving 100 percent USDA Prime–certified Angus beef from Niman Ranch. Grace Manor Restaurant is charming; newcomers Peel Wood Fired Pizza and Cleveland-Heath are flat-out amazing; Bigelo’s Bistro and Global Brew are refreshing. On the horizon are a Sugo’s Spaghetteria and rumored new locations from other west-of-the-river notables. And then there’s the refurbished Wildey Theatre and Eddieville’s miles of bike paths. Hmm. Maybe it’s time to invest in an Edwardsville B&B…
REINVENTION OF A CLASSIC
Gooey Butter Cake, Who Dat’s Southern Food
If the name doesn’t make you smile, then owner Chris Salvage’s gooey butter cake will. It’s the only dessert Who Dat’s does. And half of Who’s patrons order it. Why? Salvage makes it in sheet pans and in scores of flavors—with fruit, with Oreos, and one with bananas and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that she calls The Elvis—then dishes them up in mighty $6 portions. Combining two of the world’s greatest delicacies—Cajun cuisine and St. Louis’ gooey butter cake—may be the ideal blend of French cultures. Quelle idée! 123 S. Main, Columbia, Ill., 618-281-2229, whodatsrestaurant.com.
Taquerías are diez centavos por docena here. But this one stands out. For the neophyte, it has tacos al pastor and carne asada; for the apprentice, there are headier options like cabeza, lengua, and barbacoa. But the journeymen head straight for the tripa (crispy fried beef tripe), or even better, the buche (nibbles of pork stomach), chopped and grilled and piled on a couple of supple corn tortillas, sprinkled with cilantro and onions, spritzed with lime. The texture’s slightly chewy; the taste addictive and surprisingly mild. Buche acts as a flavor trap for the roasty-toasty grilling process, sucking up all of that savory, lip-smacking goodness. Offal’s not so awful after all. 10238 Page, 314-429-1113.
A stable of 17 burgers—hand-formed patties of Missouri grass-fed beef, bison, pork, lamb, chicken, or veggie served up on house-made buns—ensures that Baileys’ Range has a burger for every patron. Purists looking for traditional toppings can opt for the Basic, but we recommend delving into the menu for a handful of can’t-miss combinations: a smoked beef patty with caramelized onions; a Carolina barbecue burger topped with smoked pork shoulder and slaw; and an eye-opener of a breakfast burger with a pork sausage patty, fontina cheese, home fries, bacon, syrup, and a sunny side up egg. Yes…it’s a mouthful. 920 Olive, 314-241-8121, baileysrange.com.
Joy Luck Buffet
Chinese food doesn’t thrive on buffet lines. That said, a busy one is best, and Joy Luck throbs with activity on weekend nights. Sure, there’s the safe stuff, but we’ve found spicy cold crawfish, a mountain of shrimp, tender frog legs, and superb hot and sour soup (beef and pork are scarce, no surprise at $9 per adult). There are frequent small-batch replenishments, and housekeeping on the line is almost constant. The nonbuffet food, especially from the a la carte menu (which is in English), is worth investigation, too. Or experience hot pot, a communal dish popular with diners of distinction. 8030 Manchester, 314-645-9982.
DINING DREAM TEAM
Chris Sommers, Pi
How’s this for a story? Sommers bought the recipe to his favorite pizza and then parlayed it into the biggest local restaurant success story in years, even garnering a presidential endorsement along the way. His Pi On The Spot was the first food truck to hit local pavement; he was the first restaurateur to sign on to downtown’s ambitious Mercantile Exchange (MX) project; and just recently, disgruntled with the inefficiencies of social media, he created Sqwid, a rewards app that integrates with social networks and allows businesses to interact with customers in real time. Multiple locations, 314-727-6633, restaurantpi.com.
Cassy Vires, Home Wine Kitchen
If the subject is St. Louis’ best, then Cassy Vires’ Home Wine Kitchen is deservedly mentioned, no matter the category: for lunch, for brunch, for its burger, as best new restaurant. The weekly menu changes every Tuesday, right after the popular No Menu Monday, when a three-course dinner is at the whim of chef Vires—a night when picky eaters have been known to eat their peas and beets. Would that dear old Mom had such magic. 7322 Manchester, 314-802-7676, homewinekitchen.com.
Aleks Jovanovic, Truffles
Aleks Jovanovic could work in sales or promotions, or be a great motivational speaker—he’s that infectious—so we’re lucky that his passion is food and wine. Talk to him long enough, and it may become yours as well. He’ll have you craving items you never knew you liked, have you blind-taste a wine you otherwise never would have tried, and then offer to sell you a bottle practically at cost. How often does your doggie bag get to go home with a companion? 9202 Clayton, 314-567-9100, www.todayattruffles.com.
Sara Swain, Trattoria Marcella
Swain’s been at Trattoria Marcella for eight years, so there’s nothing she hasn’t heard, seen, or tasted. You’ll know her by her winsome laugh—between a chortle and a rumbling giggle—heard almost as often as customers ordering Tratt’s signature fritto misto (i.e., all the time). Immediately and eminently likeable, her only affectation is a mildly—but properly—rolled R when she says prosciutto. Swain will be part of the lunch crew at the new Marcella’s Mia Sorella, meaning more evening time for her three young children. 3600 Watson, 314-352-7706, trattoriamarcella.com.
Chris LaRocca, Culinary Architects
If we started rattling off all of St. Louis’ LaRocca-inspired restaurants, we’d miss dinner—so we’ll just focus on the last two: EdgeWild Restaurant & Winery, a 390-seater he opened late last year, at a time when no other independent had the chops to wrestle a 12,000-square-foot dinosaur, and Crushed Red Urban Bake & Chop Shop, a pizza and chopped-salad restaurant that’s so busy, a Clayton cop directs street traffic there at lunch. Next up? “I’ve got at least half a dozen viable ideas,” LaRocca says, “just waiting for the right time and place.” 314-267-1686, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Restaurant: Sidney Street Café, sidneystreetcafe.com
• Bakery: McArthur’s Bakery, mcarthurs.com
• Burgers: O’Connell’s Pub, saucemagazine.com/oconnells
• Coffeehouse: Kaldi’s, kaldiscoffee.com
• Deli: Blues City Deli, bluescitydeli.com
• Desserts: Baileys’ Chocolate Bar, baileyschocolatebar.com
• Everyday Casual Dining: Blueberry Hill, blueberryhill.com
• First-Date Restaurant: Boathouse Forest Park, boathouseforestpark.com.
• Mexican: Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, haciendastl.com
• Pizza: Pi, restaurantpi.com
• Tapas: Modesto, modestotapas.com
• Vegetarian: Local Harvest Café, localharvestcafe.com
• Food Event: Taste of St. Louis, tastestl.com