Photography by Jonathan Gayman; Food styling by Carrie Province
SLM readers hear from our stable of critics and food writers in every issue—what we like, where we go, what rockets our taste buds into the stratosphere. This month, we changed things up. We asked 27 well-known St. Louisans for their opinions, what they crave, what local dish they just can’t live without. Their answers range from the expected to the “Really?” And who knows? The next time you visit Paul Manno’s, you might just see sportscaster Joe Buck eating what’s quickly becoming known around the restaurant as “Joe’s fish.”
What's the greatest thing you've ever eaten in St. Louis?
Find out the most-mentioned dish. “It looks so rich, you wonder how you’re ever going to eat all of it,” says chef Gerard Craft." “Then you can’t control yourself, and you just destroy it—every morsel.”
10 Decadent Desserts: Where to indulge for Valentine's Day
What's the greatest thing you've ever eaten in St. Louis?
Ok, St. Louis: what local dish can you not live without? Tell us about it in the comments below, or tweet it with the hashtag #GTIEA Tweet #GTIEA
Actress, The Office
The John Burroughs School grad has a thing for the BLT at PJ’s Tavern in Kirkwood. It’s a sandwich that comes “with perfect bacon and precisely the right amount of mayo.” On one visit, however, she did confess to smuggling in some summer tomatoes from her father’s garden. Your secret’s safe with us, Ellie. pjstaverninkirkwood.com.
Host, FM NewsTalk 97.1’s The Dave Glover Show
The dessert course for Glover’s “death-row meal”: the bubbly and sticky s’mores bread pudding from the Shrine Restaurant at The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill. It’s a sweet and suitable bribe, we’d add, for anyone with a working set of taste buds. snows.org.
President and Founder, Talent Plus
One might think it odd that someone who sidesteps mushrooms would be drawn to the linguine with morel mushrooms at Tony’s. “That’s how good it is,” says the mushroom-averse Tucci. Made with morels, fettuccine, cream, sherry, and a touch of veal demi-glace, the pasta has been a spring fave there for decades—and may have inspired the equally popular dish at Balaban’s and Herbie’s Vintage 72. tonysstlouis.com; balabanswine.com; herbies.com.
Owner, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
The dish that beckons our city’s concrete king away from both custard and Christmas trees: Rich LoRusso’s cioppino, the other San Francisco treat, a heady fish stew that contains a trawler’s worth of fresh seafood in a winey fish broth just begging to be sopped with sourdough. The homemade focaccia from LoRusso’s Cucina works well, too, says Drewes, adding,“I hardly ever get dessert.” lorussos.com.
Owner, Five Star Burgers
“It was on our first date that I knew, when Jen let me reach across the table and sample her shrimp and grits, that she was the one. Not only was this a woman who would share her food, I got to taste Sidney Street Café’s version of a low-country classic: creamy stone-ground grits and perfectly cooked bacon-wrapped and grilled shrimp smothered in a tomato-barbecue sauce, served with sautéed greens and ‘potlikker.’ Wow. We still talk about that dish today.” sidneystreetcafe.com.
Rapper, Entrepreneur, and Actor
When Nelly visits Sugarfire Smoke House, he passes on the brisket and ribs, instead ordering a…smoked turkey sandwich. Whatsay? We tried one: It was sliced (not pulled) and unbelievably tender, impossibly so. Hat tip to Mr. Haynes: Until his recommendation, we would never have considered such a thing. sugarfiresmokehouse.com.
Owner and President, Johnny Londoff Chevrolet
“While dining at Carmelo Gabriele’s house one night, he served me the best mini meatballs I’ve ever eaten, and I told him that—over and over. The next thing I know, a supersize version called Johnny Londoff’s Meatball appeared on the menu at his restaurant, Il Bel Lago… I admit it’s a strange claim to fame.” ilbellago.com.
Host, FOX 2’s Tim Ezell at 9 a.m.
“My wife and I really love the white-chocolate turtle brownie at Sidney Street Café,” says Ezell. “We seem to have it every time we have a kid, but haven’t had a kid in a while. Hmm…I sure hope they still have it.” Indeed they do. Time to get busy, Tim. sidneystreetcafe.com.
Ají de gallina, shredded chicken cooked in a walnut-Parmesan sauce flavored with ají peppers and served over baby Yukon Gold potatoes, has been called the national comfort-food dish of Peru. And there’s no better version, says Bode, than what Peruvian native Jorgé Calvo prepares at Mango, the city’s only Peruvian
restaurant. The peppers are medium-hot and fruity, one reason the dish is distinctive in flavor. mangoperu.com.
Asked what she craves when she returns to St. Louis, the expat comedian gave a well-balanced answer: “The crispy artichoke hearts from One 19 North Tapas and Wine Bar, the bistro steak from Brasserie by Niche, and if pressed for a dessert, oh, I guess the toasted ravs from Tucker’s Place in Soulard. Too odd? How about a Guinness from McGurk’s Irish Pub? I’ve done both.” one19north.com; brasseriebyniche.com; tuckersplacestl.com; mcgurks.com.
Co-Owner and Chef, Stone Soup Cottage
While diners delight in Home Wine Kitchen’s variations on slow-braised pork cheeks, McConnell discovered his favorite take while working alongside Home owner and chef Cassy Vires at Food Wine Design, an SLM-sponsored dining event last spring. “With grapes, goat cheese, mustard greens, and polenta, it was one of the most visually beautiful and delicious dishes I’ve ever experienced,” he says. “I hovered over a tray of them that night and wanted to eat them all.” homewinekitchen.com.
Asked her favorite dish in town, Massie used so many adjectives to describe it, we could barely extract it from the mix: “Oh, Lordy. Oh. My. God. My, my, my, you won’t believe how good this dish is, baby,” gushed the popular songstress. “Out with it, woman!” we demanded. “It’s the prime-rib pasta at O’Charley’s!” she exclaimed. “And I’m not a red-meat eater or an asparagus lover. And the sauce: It’s so dreamy, I could put it behind my ears.” ocharleys.com.
Sportscaster, FOX Sports
Every time the dish is available at Paul Manno’s Cafe, Joe Buck orders a breaded and broiled piece of tilapia, topped with Manno’s kicky fra diavolo sauce. Owner Paul Manno Jr. only uses a specific tilapia from a single supplier in Costa Rica. “Joe’s got everyone else ordering it now, too,” says Manno, “to the point that we’re just calling the dish ‘Joe’s fish.”’ 314-878-1274.
Partner, York Avenue Real Estate
For Koplar, the last word in starters belongs to the sauced-to-the-hilt Buffalo chicken strips at Sportsman’s Park in Ladue. The appetizer’s been his favorite since he punched the clock there during high school. “I ate them every day,” he says. “They essentially paid me in Buffalo chicken strips, and they are the best on the planet.” Sam suggests diners resist the urge to grab these birds and fly: “You really need to eat them there, ideally with ranch dressing.” sportsmansparkladue.com.
Host, KTRS-AM’s The John Carney Show
Rich LoRusso of LoRusso’s Cucina hit pay dirt when he tossed forest mushrooms in a champagne-porcini cream sauce and served them atop smoked-mozzarella crostini. Carney says he’s ordered the Wild Mushroom Trio “as an appetizer, a larger portion for my entrée, and followed that with one more round for dessert.” Trio indeed. lorussos.com.
The senior statesman of St. Louis restaurants took a trip in the way-back machine for his favorite dish: “Fifty years ago, Mrs. Kemoll served sliced fried artichoke hearts—hand-cut and hand-breaded—that were the best around, and I asked her, a few times, if I could serve them at Tony’s. She always told me no. I honored her request—and Kemoll’s has been selling the hell out of them ever since.” kemolls.com.
Senior Vice President and General Manager, St. Louis Cardinals
With a confidence no doubt conveyed in trade meetings, the Cards’ GM rather nonchalantly proclaims the “thin and incredibly flavorful” veal Milanese at Dominic’s Trattoria in Clayton “the best in town,” adding that his perfect meal at Dominic Galati’s suburban outpost includes fresh vegetables and a side of penne with Bolognese sauce. dominicsrestaurant.com/trattoria.
Owner, I Fratellini, Bobo Noodle House, Bar Les Frères
“I was blown away by it,” Robinson says in praise of the Poached Eggs in a Cup from Ben Poremba’s new Botanical Grove restaurant Elaia. Poremba’s description had us drooling: a 63-degree poached egg with a special zabaglione sauce, served under rotating toppings (for Robinson, it was salmon roe and white-truffle shavings). elaiastl.com.
When Edwards seeks great eats outside of the Delmar Loop, he heads to an area that resembles the Loop, circa 1980: The Grove. At HandleBar, where the bicycle rules, he swears by the Meaty Blinchiki: Russian-style pancakes made with seasonal, local draft beer and stuffed with buckwheat, marinated beef, broccoli, onion, and cheese. The bar’s owner, Tatyana Telnikova, serves the dish with a smile and an exclamation: “Na zdorovie!” (Enjoy!) handlebarstl.com.
Chef, Annie Gunn’s
Like many busy chefs in town, Rook doesn’t get to dine out much. It’s no surprise, then, that on his occasional night off, he heads to Tony’s. There, he orders a classic: steak tartare, which is prepared tableside. The key to steak tartare: “ice-cold beef tenderloin, freshly haché”—that is, chopped finely with a sharp knife. Topped with anchovies and capers, the version at Tony’s, he says, is “great every time you go there.” tonysstlouis.com.
Sportscaster, St. Louis Cardinals
“There’s no better steak than the bone-in filet at Mike Shannon’s Steaks and Seafood,” says the KMOX-AM broadcaster. “Both the bone and the dry-aging contribute to its superior flavor.” So does he dare grab the bone at the table? “It’s either there or in the car—if I bring that thing home, my dog and I will certainly have an altercation.” shannonsteak.com.
The dish that Sommers and his wife, Anne, continually crave starts with a P—
but it’s not pizza. They love pho, the quintessential Vietnamese comfort food, specifically the pho ga at Mai Lee, the Vietnamese equivalent of chicken noodle soup. “It’s the only dish we’re completely silent while eating,” says Sommers, “except for a little bit of slurping.” maileerestaurant.com.
Co-owner, Pappy’s Smokehouse
As part of the tightknit local food community, Emerson waxed poetic about Kevin Nashan’s sweet-and-sour shrimp appetizer at Sidney Street Café: “I’ve been told I have a ‘gift of gab,’ and this dish leaves me speechless.” The king of barbecue, however, also chose the roasted Ozark Forest mushroom salad at Kevin Willmann’s Farmhaus for its simplicity: “I know, I know. There will be the ‘It’s just a salad’ naysayers, but this one is my all-time favorite.” sidneystreetcafe.com; farmhausrestaurant.com.
President and COO, Enterprise Holdings
The brick chicken with greens at Taste in the Central West End may not sound like the best entrée in St. Louis. But Nicholson begs to differ. Chef Matt Daughaday says the secret is using a free-range, all-natural, local chicken, placing it under the proper-size “brick” (in this case, a cast-iron weight) while sautéeing, and briefly cooking the “greens” (Swiss chard) in the pan juices. tastebarstl.com.
Host, KMOV’s Great Day St. Louis
Kerr’s declaration of the brisket from Bogart’s Smokehouse as “the best in town—maybe anywhere” echoes the feeling of many local ’cue gurus. “The same goes for the beans,” she adds. The secret: The beans are slow-baked directly under the brisket, prime real estate for catching those hallowed beef drippings. bogartssmokehouse.com.
Hall of Fame Shortstop, St. Louis Cardinals
When it comes to a favorite dish in St. Louis, The Wizard can’t conjure anything better than sliding into a plate of lasagna della casa from longtime West County standout Paul Manno’s Cafe. “It is Paul’s mother’s recipe,” says Smith. “It’s simply the best I have eaten anywhere, hands down.” Paul Manno Jr. says that when he was younger, his mother melted the ricotta into the red sauce, so he would eat the chunky cheese. “I now do it the exact same way,” he says. 314-878-1274.
Of the 27 people queried for this feature, four mentioned the warmed brioche bread pudding with bourbon currant sauce and vanilla whipped cream at Harvest (harveststlouis.com). “It looks so rich, you wonder how you’re ever going to eat all of it,” says chef Gerard Craft. “Then you can’t control yourself, and you just destroy it—every morsel.”
The New Orleans classic was tweaked by Harvest’s original owner/chef, Steve Gontram, who is candid about the restaurant’s signature dessert: “This is the one item that not only provided me with a living for 14 years, but still remains my favorite. To this day, I’m hounded for the recipe. Sinfully rich, yet deceptively light, it has been on the menu at Harvest for 16 years now, unchanged.”
Below is the recipe:
Warmed Brioche Bread Pudding with Bourbon-Currant Sauce and Vanilla Whipped Cream
Nick Miller, Harvest
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ vanilla bean
½ cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
2 loaves brioche, crusts removed and cut into ½-inch cubes
12 mint sprigs, for garnish
Powdered sugar, for garnish
2 cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup buttermilk
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter
½ cup bourbon
½ cup dried currants (dried cherries can also be used, and SLM likes to add a bit more)
(In a saucepot, combine all the sauce ingredients except the bourbon and currants; bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from the heat, add bourbon and currants, and set aside.)
Vanilla Whipped Cream:
1 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
(In a mixer, combine the heavy cream with the vanilla and sugar. Whip until stiff.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepot, combine the first seven ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil and remove from the heat. Discard the vanilla bean and the cinnamon stick. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks. Slowly pour half the hot cream mixture into the eggs and whisk to incorporate. Add the remaining cream mixture and whisk together. Let the custard cool slightly. Place the brioche in a mixing bowl and pour in the custard. Toss the ingredients together lightly and place in a buttered or greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bake approximately 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is a golden brown. Cut into desired sized pieces and serve in a dessert bowl topped with the bourbon-currant sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with mint sprigs and a dusting of powdered sugar.
10 decadent desserts
Where to indulge for Valentine’s Day
1. Annie Gunn’s: A slice of apple pie with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. smokehousemarket.com.
2. Baileys’ Chocolate Bar: A chocolate martini. baileyschocolatebar.com.
3. Cyrano’s: The Cleopatra. cyranos.com.
4. Franco: A dark-chocolate tart with raspberry sorbet. eatatfranco.com.
5. Pastaria: Salted-caramel gelato. pastariastl.com.
6. Peet’s Coffee & Tea at River City Casino: The giant cupcake. rivercity.com.
7. Scape: The banana cream pie for two. scapestl.com.
8. Sidney Street Café: A “Snicker Bar.” sidneystreetcafe.com.
9. The Tavern Kitchen & Bar: A “half-baked” chocolate-chip cookie with cookie-dough ice cream and peanut-butter mousse. tavernstl.com.
10. Vino Nadoz: The pastry, strawberry, whipped-cream, and lemon-curd Napoleon. vinonadozwinebar.com.
By Jenny Agnew, George Mahe, and Andrew Mark Veety ● Edited by George Mahe ● Photography by Jennifer Silverberg and Kevin A. Roberts