The 25 Best New Restaurants in St. Louis Plus SLM's 2011 Restaurant of the Year
Photograph by Steve Adams
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By our count, more than 200 independently owned restaurants have opened in the metro area in the past two years. Some shot straight into the stratosphere like SpaceShipOne, while others never left the runway. Cutesy names, location, provenances—they all mean nothing. A restaurant’s fate lies in the collective opinion. This year, in our biennial roundup of St. Louis’ best new restaurants, we take it one step further: Not only do we tell you our favorite places to go, we also tell you how best to negotiate each, with our picks for the must-get menu item, table, and server. Now go out and enjoy yourselves. We need to rest.
DeMun Oyster Bar
Dish: Shigoku oysters, if available; oyster stew is a must.
Table: We prefer the action at the bar, but the primo table is No. 30, midfray.
Server: Rob Marchant
Alan Richman had to have been thinking lovingly of Paris when he created DeMun Oyster Bar. The curved bar is just part of the retro decor that whisks us away. French oysters are good, but they are no better than these, painstakingly sourced from the Pacific Northwest, briny and sweet, with a champagne relish at hand and a good selection of sparkles at the bar, too. 740 DeMun, 314-725-0322, facebook.com/demunoysterbar.
Dish: Lamb chops crusted with goat cheese and herbes de Provence
Table: No. 8, along the back corner banquette. Sit facing out, and take it all in.
Server: Richard Swope
Set squarely in St. Louis suburbia, this spectacular French restaurant pairs attention to culinary detail with lavish presentations: plump escargots splashed with licorice-spiked Ricard; halibut in fennel broth with black rice; prime rib, sprinkled with lavender salt and pan-seared; and for dessert, profiteroles as light as angel murmurs. 1130 Town & Country Crossing, 636-394-1130, bistro1130.com.
Dish: Farm pear salad with gorgonzola crème brûlée.
Table: See outside and be seen inside at table No. 1, the two- or three-top in the front window.
Server: Kristina Dujmovic
Expectations for a new “wine bar” are necessarily low. This place, though, dodges the cliché. It opts for excellent, innovative food and an outstanding wine list. Polenta “cupcakes” are stuffed with smoked Gouda, mushrooms, and herbs, and pair well with the Qupé Central Coast Syrah. Focaccia pizza topped with chicken goes nicely with a Côtes du Rhône blanc. And black and blonde woods create an interior long on chichi. With full-dress fare at medium prices, this is the midcounty place for food and socializing. And vino. 16 The Boulevard–St. Louis, 314-726-0400, vinonadoz.com.
Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts
Dish: Seared scallop with cedar smoke.
Table: No. 13, a mirrored banquette. Face out or sneak peeks in the mirror.
Server: Sommelier Frank Fox
Who hasn’t driven down Lindell Boulevard and waited for the white-columned house to reopen? Here’s Salt, from Wes Johnson, whose fame goes beyond duck-fat fries. Somehow, he’s managed to block the creeping ho-humness of modern American cuisine and turn it into things we’ve never thought of before. There’s fried chicken, yes, but also a scallop in a Mason jar with a puff of cedar smoke. And the fries might be better than ever. 4356 Lindell, 314-932-5787, enjoysalt.com.
Half & Half
Dish: The fried egg sandwich.
Table: Reel it all in from the counter seats facing the coffee bar.
Server: Barista Cher Denny, an experienced staffer who runs the floor on weekdays
It’s half breakfast, half lunch; Half rich food, half basics like eggs and toast—and completely guilty of attention to every decadent detail. Half & Half beckons diners with dishes like blackberry French toast, a grilled salmon BLT, soft-shell crab eggs Benedict, and citrus-flavored donuts. (Order plain oatmeal if you must, but people might stare.) The coffee menu even has footnotes to explain how an AeroPress will make your microfarmed coffee taste superior. 8135 Maryland, 314-725-0719, halfandhalfstl.com.
Home Wine Kitchen
*Best of 2011*
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Dish: The menu changes weekly—if something appeals, order it.
Table: No. 7, where you won’t miss a thing.
Server: Jessica Paddock, who easily guides diners through the continually changing menu
The high-top kicks the servers wear aren’t ironically retro-hip—they just look out of place. But that’s the only thing we don’t like about Home Wine Kitchen. Located in the middle of Maplewood, the convivial atmosphere hits the right note of formality, with comfy seating and butcher paper over linen tabletops. And the menu is elegantly simple, but frequently changes. There’s a lemony, garlicky gremolata, brushed on a veal chop as thick as a Tom Clancy novel and meltingly tender; a luxuriously buttery black-cod fillet; potatoes sautéed in duck fat; and a piquant sage–and–white wine gravy ladled over a meltingly tender pork chop fried country style. And whoever’s in the kitchen turning out the desserts, like the blueberry cobbler that gave us Smurf lips, knows their business. Pricing every wine at $30 is also a fantastic idea, and we appreciate the prix-fixe No Menu Mondays—clever and a bargain. Just lose the high-tops. 7322 Manchester, 314-802-7676, homewinekitchen.com.
Photograph by Jennifer Silverberg
Dave & Tony’s Premium Burger Joint
Dish: Pick your favorite toppings, but get the pretzel bun.
Table: It’s quick-serve—land anywhere you can.
Server: Not applicable
Have it your way, indeed. Cheese and tomatoes atop your burger? Please. How about fried wonton skins or pineapple? Can do. Burgers go way upscale here—and become considerably complex as you dictate a smorgasbord of toppings. None of it gets in the way of seriously good beef and fresh, homemade burger buns. This joint lives up to its lofty name. 12766 Olive, 314-439-5100, daveandtonys.com.
Dish: The pork burger with bacon.
Table No. 60: It’s upstairs, quiet, and civilized. For groups of two to four, try tables No. 17 and 18, located in the restaurant’s coziest nook.
Server: Bartender Shannon Ponche. (She can bang out a killer cocktail, too.)
It’s almost a speak-easy, so dark and intimate is Taste. There’s lots of porky goodness from start to finish, but the insider’s secret is the fries, the ones you dip in a glorious aioli. Despite that handicap, vegetarians can manage. The cocktail menu is huge and fascinating. Still, if there’s some obscure drink that you remember Uncle Brewster talking about, mixologist Ted Kilgore and friends will be happy to re-create it—or, just as likely, reinvent it. And for dessert, succumb to the pigwich. 4584 Laclede, 314-361-1200, tastebarstl.com.
*Best New Space*
Dish: House-smoked salmon chips.
Table: No. 100, glass-partitioned with a fire pit and facing the Arch. Table No. 50, on the southeast corner outside, faces the river.
Server: Catherine Stanford, who goes by “Mississippi.”
We call dibs on the stool at the southwest corner of the patio, 25 stories up, looking down into Busch Stadium. Only Gussie, now in heaven, has a better view of the game. The Mississippi River stretches grandly nearby, and sunsets from this vantage point are breathtaking. Three Sixty is setting the standard for upscale-casual dining. Inside, it’s sleek, contemporary. Outside are open-air patios with cozy booths, flickering fire pits, and a beautiful bar. There’s pizza, lightly charred, with smoky wild mushrooms; barbecue lamb ribs; crabmeat sliders; a smoked pork-belly BLT; and phenomenal wines and cocktails, all reasonably priced. Go. Soon. 1 S. Broadway, 314-241-8439, 360-stl.com.
Photograph by Katherine Bish
Dish: A simple margherita pizza is done right here.
Table: Communal table No. 100 for large parties or No. 18, a corner banquette. The best bet, though, is anywhere on the quiet patio.
Server: Mixologist Jenn Dormuth
On one of downtown Clayton’s quietest corners, the voluble Vito Racanelli Jr., has given us cucina della nonna, his grandmothers’ food. The don’t-miss dish may be the macaroni with pork-rib ragu, rich and creamy. It’s anything but the stock, red-sauce Italian menu, with cocktails Nonna never even dreamed of. The restaurant is casual in dress and decor, with a large “you dine, we donate” communal table located right in the front window. 8000 Carondelet, 314-932-5733, madtomatostl.com.
Dish: The Santo pizza (chimichurri sauce, chicken, arugula, red onion, peperoncini, feta).
Table: No. 21: You get a booth and a window.
Server: Garrett Strong, a young veteran of the biz
It’s the mischievous younger brother in Paul and Wendy Hamilton’s family of restaurants. Pizza is simple here: There’s only one size (12 inches) and one thickness (medium-thin). The twice-risen, yeasty crust is elegantly simple; the toppings, like fennel sausage and meatballs, are simply house-made. The wine store next door? Simply brilliant. Located in a turn-of-the-century St. Louis brewery, craft beers are apropos here, too. 2017 Chouteau, 314-241-7799, pwpizza.com.
Dish: Believe it or not, the smoked pastrami.
Table: Feel privileged to snag any seat at any table.
Server: Not applicable, but the entire staff may be the friendliest in town
Bogart’s pit master Skip Steele is a former winner of Memphis in May’s World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and we’re happy as a pig in mud that the Memphis native hung his shingle in Soulard. Baby back ribs are finished with a light apricot sauce, then blowtorched to a shiny glaze; the beans, cooked in the smoker under the beef brisket, may be the best you’ll ever eat. Smoked hot pastrami and free meat samples for customers in line just gild the lily. 1627 S. Ninth, 314-621-3107, bogartssmokehouse.com.
Photograph by Jennifer Silverberg
Dish: A generous-with-the-crustacean lobster BLT pizza.
Table: The most quiet: No. 22 in the rear corner. The most action: high-top table No. 31, midscrum.
Server: Cory Bishop
Maybe it’s not fair that Frank Schmitz owns both BARcelona and Bocci Bar, the two hottest places on the block. Spend a minute with the affable operator, though, and you’ll realize the genesis of this area’s infectious energy. Bocci’s personality, vibe, and alluring aromas are exposed the minute Schmitz ratchets open the street-facing window wall. 16 N. Central, 314-932-1040, boccibar.com.
One 19 North
Dish: Pan-seared tenderloin with pine-nut spinach is a steal at $10.99.
Table: With no reservations, sit at the bar. In advance, request table No. 4, in the window.
Server: Josh McCaulla, equally well-versed in food and wine
Frankly, we thought the emergence of another “tapas and wine bar” would be welcomed like another song from Rebecca Black. We were wrong, as the continually packed house at One 19 North is our witness. When you’re tucked under a stone archway, a Tempranillo and a wedge of Manchego will conjure memories of that little wine grotto in La Mancha. Fair warning: Whether you visit on a Friday or any other day, reservations are a must. 119 N. Kirkwood, 314-821-4119, one19north.com.
Dish: Something unexpected—a cornmeal-encrusted Missouri trout.
Table: The L-shaped end of a banquette, table No. 23.
Server: Steve Fairbanks
Here, the slogan “We Bust Chops” is taken literally, as chef/owner Marc Del Pietro butchers all meats in-house. Sidle up to a 10-ounce local pork chop with potato-and-bacon hash in a comfy, barn-wood setting. Or take something home from the meat case up front. No need to sift through The Block’s packages of bacon, though; they’re all as perfect as what you’d get from your uncle, the butcher. 146 W. Lockwood, 314-918-7900, theblockrestaurant.com.
Photograph by Jennifer Silverberg
SLM's 2011 Restaurant of the Year: The Tavern Kitchen and Bar
By Dave Lowry
Dish: The Tavern burger with bacon jam.
Table: The chef's counter
Server: Wade Taylor
It’s often how good restaurants become Best Restaurants. Taking chances, like opening in the wilds of West County, miles from the supposed epicenter of dining chic. Or like dropping the kitchen right in the middle of things, where the action, smooth or clumsy, is plainly visible. (Note: The house’s best seats are literally stoveside.) Taking chances doesn’t mean going all gastronomía molecular with the food. It’s more a matter of understanding and mastering the value of basics, knowing when and how to unleash the creative culinary imps, tweaking, monkeying with combinations, concocting variations that sound tantalizing and taste even better—much better. In short, Best Restaurants get to be that way by taking the approach of The Tavern.
It’s got brick walls, polished concrete floors, tables spaced closely enough to consider filching a bite off a neighbor’s plate when he isn’t looking. A board over the kitchen is chalked with the day’s specials (inevitably featuring some terrific, continually changing fresh seafood). Add some big-screen TVs with this week’s game on: The place looks more like its namesake than a high-end eatery. The menu will set you straight. It’s short. Even so, the challenge is finding an offering that doesn’t tempt.
Consider the possibilities over a warm, pull-apart chunk of what tastes like rosemary-spiked brioche that arrives as you’re seated. How about a sea-fragrant cioppino, overloaded with mussels, clams, shrimp, and a slab of fish in a peppery, tomatoey broth, along with—just to make it interesting—thick slices of spicy-hot andouille? Yeah, I could go for that. Or game hen, the delicate pink flesh roasted and lightly grilled, juicy-sweet, resting on a tumble of emerald English peas? I could definitely go for that. Meatloaf, maybe, swaddled in bacon and slathered with a meaty, caramel-dark mushroom gravy? A burger of ground chuck, sirloin, and brisket, blanketed with Irish cheddar and—this should tickle your palate’s imagination—bacon jam? You get the drift. Little here is entirely unfamiliar. Even less is what you’d expect of such familiarity.
It ain’t over just because you’ve settled on a main course. Sides—typically a dining afterthought—play a beautifully delicious counterpoint here. The cheese mac—ruinously rich, buttery, the cheese mild, with a crusty breadcrumb top—is delectably crunchy. A tater-tot casserole redeems school lunch ladies everywhere. Then there are the starters: baby back ribs in an apricot-hoisin glaze; blackened mahi-mahi tacos; baked artichoke ravioli.
Dinner’s helped along nicely with a wine list that’s quirky, bouncing from California chardonnays to Argentinian Malbecs, but always staying in the ranges of affordable and interesting. A rotation of craft beers doesn’t hurt, either.
Here’s one other signature of a Best Restaurant: the reluctance to rest on past successes. Less than a year ago, we were mildly obsessed with the Tavern’s sous-vide egg, brioche toast, and pork-belly extravaganza, as well as the lobster-stuffed toasted ravioli. Both were exquisite. Both are gone—at least for now. Now it’s the ham-and-egg asparagus and a pork tenderloin basted with jalapeño and honey mustard that The Tavern’s cognoscenti are raving over.
Finally, a hallmark of a Best Restaurant is that it tends to turn trendy on its head. Ignoring the precious and pretentious, a Best Restaurant begins with an original vision and proceeds, undistracted by fads or temporary fashions. The Tavern proves a great restaurant does not have to be flashy or grand or in just the right neighborhood. It does need a chef like Justin Haifley, one who has that vision and takes chances. That’s a big reason it’s the Best Restaurant in St. Louis this year.
2961 Dougherty Ferry, Ste. 101, 636-825-0600, tavernstl.com.
Photograph by Katherine Bish