The 25 Best New Restaurants in St. Louis Plus SLM's 2011 Restaurant of the Year
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They’re not the newest of the new, but the following have survived their crucial first year, an accomplishment that’s worthy of a salute—and another visit.
Peppe’s Apt. 2
Taking Hill-style Italian food to Kirkwood was a smart move. Peppe Profeta’s sunny, Franco-Italian decor hits the mark for loyal clientele, and the menu does, too, especially with offerings of small and large portions of pasta and most entrées. Profeta’s carbonara may be the best around. 800 S. Geyer, 314-909-1375, peppesapt2.com.
When Food & Wine magazine proclaimed Farmhaus’ Kevin Willmann among the nation’s Best New Chefs, it didn’t surprise his fans, who enjoy finding new flavors in dishes that often appear to come from a glorious moment of spontaneity. A blue-plate special—one per day—constitutes lunch, and many rejoice at a policy of no reservations for parties larger than four, which can be a blessing in such a small space. 3257 Ivanhoe, 314-647-3800, farmhausrestaurant.com.
A room with a view of Forest Park with well-conceived locavore food has brought success to the Missouri History Museum’s second floor. Sunday brunch is extremely popular, with its house-smoked salmon, mimosas, and flavorful sausages from G&W Bavarian Style Sausage Company. But Bixby’s is also a superior location for a business lunch. 5700 Lindell, 314-361-7313, bixbys-mohistory.com.
Brasserie by Niche
Forget the pseudobrasseries, the ersatz bistros: This is the real thing. Thoroughly French fare, dishes are lyrical: shellfish-studded bouillabaisse; the iconic steak, with shallot butter; lovely little touches like airy cheese gougères and cod brandade. It’s noisy, friendly, invariably crowded—and one of the best eateries in town. 4580 Laclede, 314-454-0600, brasseriebyniche.com.
Balaban’s Wine Cellar & Tapas Bar
It’s no easy feat, living up to a legendary name—not to mention doing it in Chesterfield, far from the original. Sure, the beef Wellington and morel pasta are still there. But innovative fare like beef empanadas and flatbread pizza make this a worthy re-invention, one that conveniently doubles as a top-notch wine shop. 1772 Clarkson, 636-449-6700, balabanswine.com.
The tapas and cocktail menus at Sanctuaria might be in a high-stakes battle to determine the ultimate victor. At present, they have reached a truly delicious détente. Consider the sweet, creamy Cabrales cigars: Spanish blue cheese and leek fondue rolled into phyllo dough, pan-seared, then topped with sherry-raisin sauce. The highly original drink menu has been internationally recognized for its creativity. Add a hoppin’ patio, a wildly decorated interior, and a bar staff who can match cocktails with quinoa, and see why Sanctuaria may be approaching culinary sainthood. 4198 Manchester, 314-535-9700, sanctuariastl.com.
Fozzie’s Sandwich Emporium
This ain’t no sandwich shop; it’s an emporium, for God’s sake, and that means relentless originality. From the Black N Blue grilled steak sandwich with spinach, blue cheese, and tiger sauce to homemade soups spiced with herbs from Fozzie’s garden, not to mention the Foz-O-Licious milkshake, made with goat cheese, roasted apples, and caramels, Fozzie’s quirky creativity guarantees many return visits. 1170 S. Big Bend, 314-932-5414, foodatfozzies.com.
It’s a feat to create a spot that attracts beer and food snobs both, but veteran restaurateur Dave Bailey has done just that at Bridge, where the bar boasts a murderers’ row of colorful handles for the 55 craft beers on tap (plus a couple hundred more in bottles), along with four-ounce sample pours to help you decide. The seasonally focused menu might boast oven-roasted tomatoes in herbed spaetzle, or a roasted pork–and–ruby grapefruit salad with blood-orange vinaigrette. A Bridge too far? Hardly. 1004 Locust, 314-241-8141, thebridgestl.com.
Peel Wood Fired Pizza
Devotees from Wentzville to Greenville, Ill., say it’s the best pizza around. We hesitate to disagree. A 90-second bake in a 900-degree, wood-fired Italian oven produces the ideal crust, char, and chew, and equal attention is paid to salads and craft brews. Peel’s an outstanding example of all things a pizza parlor can be. Look for the Missouri license plates. 921 S. Arbor Vitae, Edwardsville, Ill., 618-659-8561, peelpizza.com.
Milagro Modern Mexican
One look at the menu will tell you why Milagro’s made such a splash so quickly: duck carnitas in blood orange–habanero sauce; roasted squash and grilled corn with cilantro-pepita pesto; and standard fare, too, served in a space that’s sleek, modern, and neon- and sombrero-free. By creatively using fresh and house-made ingredients, owners and brothers Jason and Adam Tilford have given Mexican cuisine the respect it deserves, and diners have responded in droves. 20 Allen, 314-962-4300, milagromodernmexican.com.
Lee Redel and John Rice are back in business, this time with a pickup-only joint no bigger than their previous restaurant’s coatroom. If escargot pizza’s not your thing, opt for the spicy marinated shrimp; should none of the other 16 specialty pies appeal, choose from 35 toppings and go crazy building your own. Just promise us you’ll try that escargot pie…sometime. 9783 Clayton, 314-997-7070, redlpizza.com.
Photographs by Ashley Gieseking and Jennifer Silverberg
Best New Reinvention: Truffles
How often does a restaurant owner realize the moment when his pride and joy becomes stale and stagnant, when a dwindling number of customers sink a bit too far into dated chairs, desiring nothing more than what they ate last week? How frequently do restaurateurs recognize that the light fixtures look “vintage” unintentionally, or that the place just needs a fresh coat of paint on the walls—the spatial equivalent of a hot shower and a change of clothes?
Not often enough, we say.
Some restaurateurs are too myopic to see it. Others can well see but can’t afford the makeover, never realizing they can’t afford not to change it up.
Six months ago, the owners of Truffles found themselves on a precipice and decided to leap, rather than loaf. John Griffiths, a noted chef and experienced menu consultant, came on board with an Italian-inspired menu (posted online daily) that changes with the bounty of the market: Today, there’s a scatter of sweet Nardello peppers, blistered and roasted; house-made Burrata cheese, an ultracreamy and rare indulgence; a Venetian risotto, intensely aromatic and laden with frutti di mare.
Next to arrive was Aleks Jovanovic, an approachable GM and plain-talk sommelier whose mantra is “fun dining, not fine dining,” nudging patrons to try a wine varietal they’ve never heard of but will remember. Every week, one wine (determined by popular vote the previous week) is sold by the glass (a slick, 6-ounce mini carafe), half bottle, and full bottle at wholesale cost. You will recall it was Truffles where you snagged that bottle of Marisco pinot gris for $10 and took home a second bottle for not much more. That Wine Spectator award–winning wine list Truffles was long known for…is still improving. And servers now pour wines at a communal, kitcheny wood-block table, as if they were doing so at home.
A perfect example of this personable, affordable, and interactive experience is “Shared Plates,” larger entrées (like a whole flounder) and side dishes designed for groups of two or three. The chairs, tabletops (sans cloths), and fixtures are similarly casual and comfortable.
If we could clone all of this fresh air and disperse it liberally around town, indeed we would. In the meantime, let us pay homage to the torchbearer.
9202 Clayton, 314-567-9100, todayattruffles.com.
Photograph by Ashley Gieseking
Best New Idea: Prime 1000's Dry-Aging Room
As more meat eaters understand the dry-aging process, more seek it out. Steaks are either aged “wet,” with natural juices and enzymes in Cryovac bags, or “dry,” in climate-controlled coolers, slowly losing moisture during a prolonged aging process. Devotees claim such steaks are more flavorful, or just “beefier.” Local steakhouses that offer dry-aged meats buy them this way.
All except one.
Prime 1000 not only dry-ages its meats in-house for a full 30 days, but does so in a small room in public view, further demystifying the process and answering yet another question about how our foodstuffs arrive at the table. The marbled pink tiles lining the perimeter of the aging room may look like granite samples, but they are, in fact, slabs of 600 million–year–old Himalayan salt, the preferred medium for achieving the gentle, indirect desiccation that’s so integral to dry-aging. Other factors to consider are a steer’s breed, feed, climate, and growth conditions—but that part of the story, we’ll leave for the staff at Prime 1000 to tell.
Half-Day Dining Trips
New restaurants worth the not-so-far journey
Sometimes you just gotta get away from the city’s bustle—get in that car and drive. Ah, but then hunger sets in. Satisfy both compulsions with a visit to the following new restaurants, some near and some far.
Shady Grove Grill & Chill
Tucked into an unassuming strip mall on State Route 94, this place is one you’ll have to hunt for amid the maze of St. Charles byways. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with an excellent burger, house-made chips, sandwiches, and other bar-type tasties. Do what we do: Start with the pretzel appetizer, and follow with a liberally stuffed blue-cheese burger. 1267 Jungermann, St. Charles, 636-922-1080.
Ballyhoo Restaurant & Bar
Local (loud) bands rock this joint, which also has become a spot for some excellent meals. A mozzarella-robed chicken caprese over angel-hair, steak sandwiches, wings—the food’s more eclectic than the entertainment. And with varied frosty beverages, Ballyhoo’s may have single-handedly restored the joy of happy hour in St. Charles. 1048 Wolfrum, Weldon Spring, 636-244-6900, letseat.at/BallyhooSTL.
A surprising exception to the mediocrity of sushi joints in St. Charles, this restaurant has a chef who knows his business. Other Japanese fare—tempura and teriyaki—is fine. But the sushi is outstanding. The preparation is expert, with attention from the rice to the fish. And don’t miss a classic Kanto-style preparation of miso soup. 161 Civic Center, Lake Saint Louis, 636-561-4449, facebook.com/SushiSen.
Taytro’s Bar & Bistro
New Orleans–style fare in Festus? You can never drive too far for good gumbo. This one’s spicy and smoky. What about a roast-beef poor-boy or some of those buttery, tangy barbecue shrimp? Or smothered fried catfish? Obviously, this is more than a one-trip pony. 343 N. Creek, Festus, 636-931-1880, taytros.com.
What’s New on Central Avenue
A handful of new eateries are rockin’ this Clayton block.
When devotees brush off a July heat wave just to claim a coveted sidewalk table—the ones that stretch so far that they trespass—it’s clear that BARcelona has something its competitors don’t. And for those who prefer a large order of AC with their albóndigas, the restaurant’s expanded its inside seating—again. 34 N. Central, 314-863-9909, barcelonatapas.com.
Tucci & Fresta’s Trattoria & Bar
It wasn’t yet open at press time, and all eyes were on The Pasta House founders to see just how different this trattoria would be. The only Pasta House carry-over will be the 12-layer lasagna al forno, but even that will get amped up. No pasta con broccoli? Say it isn’t so, Kim and Joe. 15 N. Central, 314-725-6588, tucciandfrestas.com.
This vibrant, new hot spot has it all…well, everything except bocce. 16 N. Central, 314-932-1040, boccibar.com.
Coastal Bistro & Bar
Diners lamenting the lack of seafood restaurants now have one less reason to carp. Last month, the Schmitzes transformed Mosaic Bistro Market into a small plates–leaning seafood bar boasting bivalves from all coasts. Coastal’s pedigree is solid: When 10 friends of ours dined at the Bistro Market’s rustic wooden table before the switch, the score was a perfect 10. 14 N. Central, 314-932-7377, coastalbistro.com.
Every time we walk by, a little voice says, “Psst, spicy Southwest chicken griller.” Occasionally, we succumb. 4 N. Central, 314-338-2800, mcalistersdeli.com.
We loved ’em. We’ll miss ’em. We reluctantly move on.
By George Mahe
41 N. Central, Clayton
Last Meal Served: September 26, 2010
Why We’ll Miss It: It was a reasonably priced and well-executed example of a quick-service restaurant with excellent salads and wood-oven pizzas.
Why (We Think) It Closed: A fire on September 27 caused irreparable damage.
Where to Go Now: Individual pizzas served in a quick-service atmosphere are an anomaly here; both Katie’s Pizzeria Café and Dewey’s Pizza are nearby, but the experience will cost you more.
Riddles Penultimate Café
6307 Delmar, University City
Final Meal Served: October 16, 2010
Why We’ll Miss It: Owner Andy Ayers was a “locavore” long before the term was even coined. Perusing his ever-changing menu over a quartino of wine was both entertaining and educational.
Why (We Think) It Closed: Riddles was in need of some freshening when Ayers’ daughter Kate took over. Restaurant groupies were pumped, but the fresh air never came.
Where to Go Now: For the locally sourced plus bohemian component, Local Harvest Café gets close; for the music component, go ahead and hum something bluesy.
An American Place
822 Washington, Downtown
Final Meal Served: November 1, 2010
Why We’ll Miss It: To land a restaurant owned by a nationally acclaimed chef (in this case, Larry Forgione) gives a city braggin’ rights. Plus, it remains perhaps the most stunning dining room in the city.
Why (We Think) It Closed: First was the loss of chef de cuisine Josh Galliano; later, AAP seemed to take on more private events, a frustration to regular customers.
Where to Go Now: Go where chef Josh Galliano is, of course: to Monarch, where the choices range from an AAP-type tasting menu to traditional Southern fare, courtesy of the Louisiana-born chef.
Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse
777 River City Casino, Fenton
Final Meal Served: November 19, 2010
Why We’ll Miss It: The quality, the cuts, the meat rubs…Ruby’s was the finest steakhouse never to be experienced by most local carnivores.
Why (We Think) It Closed: Casino patrons never warmed up to the high-ticket steaks; high-ticket patrons never warmed up to the casino setting.
Where to Go Now: As with a deceased artist, only when Ruby’s died did the public take notice. Besides having some lower-cost alternatives, its reincarnation (1904 Steak House) is unchanged in decor, menu, and concept.
999 N. Second, Downtown
Final Meal Served: January 31, 2011
Why We’ll Miss It: Hubert Keller’s cooking skills, his infectious personality, and his prowess as a DJ in SLeeK’s slick Ultra Lounge were always enticing draws.
Why (We Think) It Closed: A casino steakhouse is a tough sell in St. Louis, even if the creator is an internationally known master chef.
Where to Go Now: Prime 1000 pairs dry-aged steaks (see p. 86) with modern sculpture and does so in a spectacular historical building in downtown St. Louis, only blocks from where SLeeK used to reside.
2700 Olive, Downtown
Final Meal Served: May 27, 2011
Why We’ll Miss It: It had no signage, no outdoor lights, and no posted prices. Every day promised fresh-roasted meats—and fresher gossip.
Why (We Think) It Closed: After 113 years in business, third-generation owner Mike Beffa retired. Along with him went the name and an institution.
Where to Go Now: We’re not sure such a combination will (or could) ever be duplicated. Regulars convene every Friday at Triumph Grill to keep the fire burning.
33 N. Sarah, Central West End
Final Meal Served: June 28, 2011
Why We’ll Miss It: We remember those long, lingering nights on the patio, nibbling on…chicken thighs. It’s true: They were the best in town.
Why (We Think) It Closed: In dining circles, a revolving door of chefs and menus equates to a flashing yellow light.
Where to Go Now: First-class dining on a CWE patio? Our vote goes to Bar Italia or the hidden back patio at Scape.
Five spots that have us licking our chops for opening day
By Katie O'Connor
A lively dining scene is one that’s continually in flux: Some doors open, others close—and new spots are announced all the time. At press time, these five spots weren’t quite open yet, but you can bet you’ll find us at each of them on opening day.
Pastaria by Niche
Gerard Craft’s fourth restaurant promises the best of both worlds: renowned cutting-edge creativity applied to a beloved comfort food in an approachable setting. An open kitchen and wood-fired oven should keep things modern, while a rotating selection of house-made pastas should make it a favorite of foodies and families alike. Watch for a November opening. Location TBA.
Look for Michael Del Pietro’s sixth restaurant to push Italian fare to a new level when it debuts in December. The East Loop spot promises a decidedly modern—and welcome—twist: a strong vegetarian bent with dishes featuring local, organic produce and herbs, some of them grown in a suspended herb garden. Never fear, carnivores: There’ll be plenty for meat eaters, too. 6118 Delmar, mdprestaurants.com.
Blood & Sand
A selection of 75 classic and inventive cocktails from bartenders (and owners) TJ Vytlacil and Adam Frager and a menu from chef Chris Bork is enough to pique interest in Blood & Sand, slated at press time to open in September. Its members-only concept and new-to-STL digital approach to service—in which servers take orders using the iPod Touch, integrated with several iPad stations, to build a “digital palette” for each customer, complete with recommendations—have us downright intrigued. 1500 St. Charles, 314-241-7263, bloodandsandstl.com.
Kelly English Steakhouse
We’re eager to see what happens when a chef who specializes in French-Creole and Southern fare opens a steakhouse. We’ll get our chance when acclaimed chef Kelly English opens his second restaurant in Harrah’s Casino in November. That the Memphis-based English will raise
St. Louis’ number of Food & Wine Best New Chefs (2009) and James Beard Foundation Award semifinalists (2010) is just icing on the cake. Harrah’s St. Louis, 777 Casino Center, harrahsstlouis.com.
Who says “artisanal” only applies to high-end cuisines? Dave Bailey’s fourth restaurant will bring the local, sustainable approach to burgers and shakes. Everything at Baileys’ Range, from the bun to the burger to the pickle that tops it, will be made in-house from local ingredients. Antique windows and colored milk cans, suspended overhead, recall a simpler time. 920 Olive, 314-241-8121, baileysrange.com.