Here's the thing about making lists: it's hard to make just one, especially when you are narrowing down a world of possibilities to just a few items. Things are always left off, gnawing at you, vying for your attention, demanding the creation of additional lists. Such was the case for my initial round of food and dining wishes for St. Louis. Herein, I up the culinary ante on myself, raising my own list from five to ten:
West County Continues To Incubate Some Great Eats:
My wife and I loved the home we bought and rehabbed in South City. The location was central to some of the best food St. Louis has to offer, much of it close enough to reach on foot or bike. Fast forward to today: We sold that home and moved to West County, thereby becoming the punch line of jokes from our “city" friends. My favorite (if I can indulge myself in the middle of my own self-indulgent rant): The idea that we moved "past the mule line” (that would be Highway 270 for folks playing at home), a nod to the short-lived government policy during the Civil War that provided land and livestock to families willing to eek out a living farming what was once Confederate land. Funny, right? Har-de-har-har.
While I’ve yet to receive my mule (I’m not sure where to even register), I have discovered a host of great restaurants that are working to change the way our fair city—all parts of it—think about West County. The Tavern has established itself as one of the best restaurants in St. Louis (at least we think so), but we’ve also been served highly serviceable bites at Izakaya Ren, authentic street tacos at La Morena Mexican Grocery Store, killer Indian food at Saffron, and my pick for the best St. Louis style thin-crust pizza in town: the blissfully Provel-free pie from JJ Twig's. (Make mine the Special.) This may not be the year where West County outshines the rest of St. Louis culinarily, but I’ll gladly settle for it building on the last few years' progress to become even better.
Dining With Children:
If parenthood has taught me a lesson, it's that eating out with your kids is hard. Really hard. Logistically, it's a nightmare and socially it's downright awkward. I remember how I felt, pre-offspring, to be seated in a restaurant and endure the attempts of a family to eat a meal outside of the house. I did not always suffer these folks kindly, and for that and with hindsight, I am sorry. At the same time, parenthood has shown me that fast-casual and chain dining exists for a reason beyond the abject homogenization of our dining culture; in part it exists for parents to coalesce in an environment where everyone is essentially in the same boat. Missouri (and every other state in the union), it would seem, loves company.
I cherish the few places we’ve found locally where we can bring our son and enjoy a meal without the obvious hang-ups. And this is why I celebrate the coming of Pastaria by Niche (article here), the latest offering from the growing food empire of chef Gerard Craft, who has stated he wants his new restaurant to be a place that he would want to bring his own kids. How do I know he is serious? Check out the picture of an alphabet pasta die he tweeted recently. That was all I needed to see. This, St. Louis, is going to be good. Hopefully, others are watching.
My heart skipped a beat when I read that the Gabriele family had grabbed the space at Busch’s Grove and planned to install a coal-burning pizza oven, a reminder of my very favorite pizzas in New York City, dark-skirted and crisp pies from pizzerias like Lombardi’s, Arturo’s, Totonno’s, and Grimaldi’s. These are the pizzas I think of when people in St. Louis talk about New York-style pizza, not the street slice, which is an entirely different thing. News flash, St. Louis, we still don't have a coal-oven pizzeria here, but it would be a better place if we did.
Dining Where Local and In Season Is The Norm:
The Italians have a saying, “what is eating now.” The phrase simply captures the idea that eating good food—sourced close to home and in season—makes for some of the best meals. This is not locavorism for the sake of politics or activism—I, for one, am not suggesting denying ourselves the bounty of the world, delivered direct to my plate. Common sense dictates that the food raised closest will taste the best (and be best for you), despite the grumblings of some. We are lucky to have a growing number of chefs that are looking locally first to fill their pantries and our plates, and personally, I can’t wait to see what the changing of seasons will bring next.
St. Louis Provel Festival:
St. Louis should have a festival celebrating Provel cheese and its place in our collective history. Period. There, I said it. I may despise it, not understand it, and pretty much refuse to eat it on the crackers (sorry, pizza) it adorns, but I love that it is ours. If you think about it, the possibilities are endless: there can be a Provel parade (where participants dress as their favorite cheesy character), the athletic can participate in a 5K with stops for water and pizza, maybe a Provel brick toss. Bobbing for chunks of Provel in sweet red sauce is an obvious fit, then everyone could gather 'round for a historical reenactment of the first baking of an Imo’s pizza. Fancy yourself a home chef? Then enter the amateur Provel cook-off, and behold…our beautiful Provel Princess with ceremonial tiara and sash made of the stuff. St. Louis, we’re missing an opportunity here...