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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Take your pick: A Tale of Two Cities or the tale of SLM’s Best Restaurants issue? As the quality level of St. Louis’ restaurants ratchets up, the list of prospective best restaurants gets larger—but alas, it’s still necessary to cull to keep the list manageable. So after much debate and dissension (and minimal utensil-throwing), here are our 50 favorites, in four price ranges.
$ On a budget ($10 or less)
$$ On a first date ($11–$17)
$$$ On a third date ($18–$24)
$$$$ On a special occasion ($25 or more)
$ On a Budget
A plastics plant was retrofitted to house a garden shop and a farm-to-table café, where there’s a standout bison sausage, making the case for bison meat to quit hiding under burger buns. When the check’s presented, it’s between the covers of an old grammar textbook. Café Osage is many things, but it’s really about repurposing, reimagining—seeing what and how we eat with fresh, hungry eyes. 4605 Olive, 314-454-6868, bowoodfarms.com.
Local Harvest Café
While too much growth for a restaurant often dilutes its quality, that’s certainly not true for Local Harvest, which added two locations this year. Joining its flagship café/market on Morgan Ford Road are a café in the Old Post Office downtown and a café/grocery in Kirkwood. Co-owner Maddie Earnest, who co-authored Missouri Harvest this year, and chef Clara Moore, who had a stint on a reality show and served as head chef at Feast in the Field in June, apparently thrive in busy environments—all to our benefit. 3137 Morgan Ford, 314-772-8815; 815 Olive, Ste. 150, 314-241-3196; 12309 Old Big Bend; localharvestcafe.com.
The Fountain on Locust
When family comes to visit, few places can placate a volatile gang of rug rats, sullen teens, and beleaguered in-laws—simultaneously—save The Fountain. Kids love the milkshakes and old-fashioned ice-cream parlor treats. Grown-ups choose from homemade soups, sandwiches, and decadent champagne floats. And everyone goes nuts for the extras: the Jazz Age–inspired mural art, the candy counter, those snazzy bathrooms, and the “World’s Smallest Hot Fudge Sundae.” 3037 Locust, 314-535-7800, fountainonlocust.com.
Slowly braised and grilled meats, melted cheese, and vegetables pressed between halves of oblong bread—the decadent and addictive sandwich known as a torta—might have Dagwood-esque qualities, but the sandwich is rarely the knife-and-fork variety. The exception? Durango’s torta ahogada, featuring crispy carnitas and grilled onions drowning in a smoky chili sauce that covers the contours of the sandwich, its plate, and (perhaps despite best efforts) the front of your shirt. 10238 Page, 314-429-1113.
Shu Feng Restaurant
Every city has at least one great restaurant that’s as much about the quality of the people running it as it is about the quality of the food. In St. Louis, Shu Feng is one of those. It’s armed with great takes on Chinese-American classics like the oft-mentioned moo shu pork and ubiquitous House Special Chicken—but it’s the warmth of owner Liling Wemhoener’s smile and appreciation for her customers that ultimately captivates the restaurant’s diners. 8435 Olive, 314-983-0099, shufengstl.com.
Writer’s Pick: Siete Luminarias
A tall glass of horchata and a platter of carnitas (simultaneously crisp and fatty) constitute one of the best examples of the dish found on Cherokee Street— and maybe in all of St. Louis. —Andrew Mark Veety
$$ On a First Date
Sanctuaria is a true triple threat. An oft-changing menu of Pan-Latin tapas from the mind of chef Chris “Midas Touch” Lee is creative, with faves like the decadent Cabrales cigars—Spanish blue cheese–and–leek fondue rolled into phyllo cigars, pan-seared, and drizzled with sherry-raisin sauce. Bartender Matt Seiter and his fellow mixologists routinely win national recognition for their own wildly creative menu of drinks, featuring house-made liqueurs and bitters, as well as herbs grown on-site. Then there’s the charming patio that conjures the feel of a breezy Mexican cantina. Add it up, and you can see why Sanctuaria has become an anchor restaurant in The Grove. 4198 Manchester, 314-535-9700, sanctuariastl.com.
Arguing about pizza—St. Louis–style versus Chicago deep-dish, fresh versus roasted tomatoes on top, Provel versus mozz—is like dancing about architecture: pointless. Instead, let’s give Pi props for its non-’za comestibles, which happen to be so good that they don’t need to lean on the nationally recognized clout of the Lou’s most innovative pizza chain. Have you had Pi’s “blazed” wings, cuke margaritas, house-made caramelized-onion dip, and/or peanut-butter cookie-dough milkshakes? Most haven’t. You should. Multiple locations, 314-727-6633, restaurantpi.com.
Mosaic Modern Fusion
Tapas: white-hot a decade ago, a trendy has-been today. So why has Mosaic’s local empire flourished? By embracing the essence of tapas—something social as much as edible, an event, a happening—then playing fast and loose with the culinary traditions, rolling out brunch, signature cocktails, chef’s tables, and bloody Mary bars. When you get right down to it, “more” is really what tapas—and Mosaic—are all about. Multiple locations, 314-621-6001, mosaicrestaurants.com.
Busier than ever after three decades in business, the Tran family’s restaurant shows no signs of slowing after moving from Delmar Boulevard to significantly larger quarters in Brentwood. And with countless chefs calling owner Qui Tran one of the finest cooks in the city, we’re sure the lines will continue as a next generation of diners discovers Mai Lee’s always-sublime Vietnamese cuisine. 8396 Musick Memorial, 314-645-2835, maileerestaurant.com.
This mecca for Webster Groves socializing really lived up to its name in the past year. Chef Joseph Hemp V came aboard and promptly expanded the menu with crowd-pleasers like chicken Dodine, a prosciutto-wrapped stuffed chicken breast that’s cooked sous-vide and browned in the oven. Meanwhile, the establishment’s beer, cocktail, and spirits repertoires now rival the wine selection (there’s even a menu just for sipped-straight nightcaps). And just like that, one of our favorite night spots became even better. 227 W. Lockwood, 314-963-0033, robustwinebar.com.
Milagro Modern Mexican
Jason and Adam Tilford are known in St. Louis for celebrating the ingredients and vibrant flavors of Mexico at their 2 ½–year–old Webster Groves restaurant. The kitchen found its stride early on, but it was the brothers’ recent collaboration with local architecture-and-design powerhouse Space that refreshed and reinvigorated Milagro with handmade touches reflecting one of the region’s most unique menus. 20 Allen, 314-962-4300, milagromodernmexican.com.
The beautiful building that Salt calls home makes a choice backdrop to nights out with friends and family. We’re somewhat partial to a seat at the bar, though, sipping a beverage from a list of classic cocktails and digging into pickled vegetables and smoked Missouri trout from the charcuterie menu. Our advice? Make your drink a bourbon whiskey–based cocktail; you’ll find its natural sweetness a willing companion to the salty and smoky preparation of the flaky freshwater fish. 4356 Lindell, 314-932-5787, enjoysalt.com.
Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar
One could spend an entire day eating in Dave Bailey’s downtown restaurants: Rooster for breakfast, Baileys’ Range for lunch, Bridge for dinner, and Baileys’ Chocolate Bar for dessert. We prefer Bridge, though, in that off time between lunch and dinner, when we feel like eschewing crowds but still want great food and focused service. Whether we’re at the bar (boasting 55 beers on tap) or in the upper balcony, we come to worship at the religious experience that is Gorgonzola, bacon, and rosemary bread pudding. 1004 Locust, 314-241-8141, thebridgestl.com.
As evidenced on Twitter, food insiders love Winslow’s Home—and with good reason. Part restaurant and part general store, this place has something for everyone. The seasonal, rotating menus invite customers to check in frequently, as in the olden days. Chef Cary McDowell uses local, organic ingredients from Winslow’s Farm in Augusta. Popular standards include Fried Chicken Tuesdays and Fish Taco Fridays. If it has a crust, order it: pie, quiche, and torta rustica should not be missed. 7213 Delmar, 314-725-7559, winslowshome.com.
There’s no shortage of Italian options throughout St. Louis, so it says something that chef/owner Steve Komorek’s unassuming South City spot ranks among the best even after all these years. And deservedly so: Its delicious food is simultaneously hearty and elegant, served without the pomp and circumstance—no stiff, tuxedoed waiters, no over-the-top decor. Yes, the off-menu lobster risotto is still available, but don’t overlook the midweek $10 menu. 3600 Watson, 314-352-7706, trattoriamarcella.com.
That the Farmhaus team can go from slinging hearty blue-plate specials at lunch to serving creative farm-to-table fare at dinner without losing its sense of self is remarkable. At a flat $10 a plate, those lunch classics—as good as Grandma used to make—are easily the best value in town, and that dinner fare deservedly landed chef/owner Kevin Willmann on Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs” list in 2011. Even better, the five-star food and come-as-you-are attitude redefine the look and feel of fine dining—the next round of “Brews for the Kitchen Crew” is on us. 3257 Ivanhoe, 314-647-3800, farmhausrestaurant.com.
One 19 North Tapas and Wine Bar
Why it’s splendid: because it gets the tapas right. Some are authentic classics like that slab of Manchego, fried to gooey lusciousness, with a cup of piquant sofrito. But the place isn’t afraid to go rogue either, as with a proper shrimp étouffée. Whether you go classic or innovative, prices here are tapas-typical (read: affordable), even with the wine you’ll want to accompany them. 119 N. Kirkwood, 314-821-4119, one19north.com.
Coastal Bistro & Bar
It’s been 286 million years since Missouri was seaside; Coastal Bistro’s making up for the long dry spell with some terrifically creative, quality seafood dishes presented in an upscale, beguilingly comfortable Clayton setting. The lobster rolls are lovely; the shrimp and grits are delightful. Channel your inner Ahab with the Coastal Tower, an architectural marvel of a dozen East Coast and West Coast oysters, a dozen shrimp, and a lusty helping of ceviche. 14 N. Central, 314-932-7377, coastalbistro.com.
Only a private jet provides a better aerial view. The dining area is sophisticated and swanky—but with a 360-degree view of downtown, the river, and Busch Stadium, the glassed rooftop patio’s vistas are unparalleled. Sunsets are astounding. Small plates (e.g., roasted mussels, wild-mushroom pizza) and cleverly infused libations (e.g., the It’s Not You It’s Me, with rum, Cointreau, strawberries, basil, mint, and a cucumber cube) make the scenery even more memorable. 1 S. Broadway, 314-241-8439, 360-stl.com.
It can be a long drive to Edwardsville, Ill., and since Cleveland-Heath doesn’t take reservations, it can be a long wait. But yes, absolutely, the drive and possible wait are worth it. It would be worth it even if the restaurant didn’t have an incredible porterhouse pork chop or a superb pozole. The biscuits alone are worth a trip to this convivial, inevitably crowded eatery—they’re ethereally light, flaky, flecked with globs of cheddar, slathered with dripping golden honey butter. 106 N. Main, Edwardsville, Ill., 618-307-4830, clevelandheath.com.
Why this little hideaway isn’t packed to its sound-dampening rafters every night of the week, we don’t know. We do know that chef Chris DeMercurio’s small-portions menu never disappoints: The cider-braised pork belly with preserved lemon and bacon “powder” qualifies as hog heaven on earth. Special kudos to the “We buy only a case” wine-buying policy, so even regulars like us can always sample something new. 16 The Boulevard–St. Louis, 314-726-0400, vinonadozwinebar.com.
Writer’s Pick: Pearl Café
What I love most about Pearl Café is that my 2-year-old daughter jumps up and down and screams for Tommy Truong anytime we talk about eating out, because the owner treats every customer like a close family friend. —Bill Burge
Writer's Pick: Pappy’s & Bogart’s
A singular assignation of the best is never totally necessary, because, well, there’s always lunch tomorrow. That’s why we must equally exalt both of these smoke joints. —Rose Maura Lorre
Writer's Pick: Dressel’s Pub
Ben Dressel’s farm-to-table fixation has revitalized the menu at the venerable CWE watering hole, morphing it into a true gastropub, broadening its reach, yet not abandoning stalwarts like fish and homemade chips and the best soft pretzel in town. —Byron Kerman
Writer's Pick: Peel Wood Fired Pizza
Everything that Peel does—wood-fired pizza, salads, sandwiches, wings, a ton of craft beers—it does so well that it doesn’t matter that the place is 45 minutes away. Still not convinced? Get in the car. I’ll drive. —George Mahe
Writer's Pick: Riverbend Restaurant & Bar
A smoky gumbo, cochon de lait poor-boys, and sweet crawfish étouffée—only beads and watered-down booze could make this spot any more like New Orleans. —Dave Lowry
Writer's Pick: Water Street
Gabe and Maria Kveton get it right here—food, drinks, service, and atmosphere—and do it in such an unassuming and polished way that you can’t help wanting to bring friends and spread the word. —Jenny Agnew
$$$ On a Third Date
Franco is our go-to place, one that we often recommend because it never fails to generate a chorus of raves and thank-you phone calls. The design is what we call “modern Soulard”: a mix of old brick, laminated waves of wood, and a bar cobbled from an old barn (courtesy of Franco’s electrician). Choose, if you can, from an array of bistro bests: a perfect cassoulet, a luxurious lamb shank, and sweetbreads that defy description. Just go. (We’ll be expecting your phone call.) 1535 S. Eighth, 314-436-2500, eatatfranco.com.
Vin de Set
Like St. Louis itself, Vin de Set embodies both French and Midwestern mores. Très français: delicate French fare like escargots, vichyssoise, and tarte flambée. Totally St. Louisan: locally sourced pork and beef (not to mention the restaurant’s very name, an inaccurate phonetic spelling of its building’s street number en français). But it’s the view of downtown St. Louis, breathtaking and beautiful, that really combines the two: Nobody appreciates such romance like the French, and nothing says St. Louis like the Arch. 2017 Chouteau, 314-241-8989, vindeset.com.
The Tavern Kitchen & Bar
One year after its Restaurant of the Year win in these pages, The Tavern has not fallen into a post-award slump. Instead, the Valley Park restaurant continues to impress with seasonal menu changes and the Sunday Fixe: Choose any appetizer or salad, entrée, and dessert for $35. The wide range of stellar menu items (we sometimes dream about the skillet bread), including vegetarian and gluten-free choices, and the restaurant’s versatility (sit alone at the bar or in one of the cool semiprivate dining areas) make this a monthly destination. 2961 Dougherty Ferry, 636-825-0600, tavernstl.com.
Almost two years after its change of ownership, Harvest’s continued evolution and style is a tribute to the professionalism of chef/proprietor Nicholas Miller. The restaurant’s increasingly eco-friendly position is nice, but for us, the real proof is on the plate. Even the wellness-spa menu has several items that’ve become popular—something that only happens in this economy if there’s sufficient demand—and they’re alluring. We’d never have thought jerked organic local tempeh would seduce us. (But so does the foie gras on a Belgian waffle.) 1059 S. Big Bend, 314-645-3522, harveststlouis.com.
Don’t let the beautiful room, intimate back patio, and nicely dressed clientele sitting out front make you think Scape doesn’t focus on the food. For a menu that ranges as widely as this one, Scape covers all of its options well, including a deeply intriguing set of raw-food items that are worth investigating for the culinarily curious and adventurous eater. An elegant, relaxed brunch deserves similar attention. 48 Maryland Plaza, 314-361-7227, scapestl.com.
Brasserie by Niche
It’s not Brasserie Lipp on the Left Bank’s Boulevard Saint-Germain, but it’s close (and far easier to visit). From pillowy gougères to silky chocolate mousse—served on close-set, paper-topped tables in a lively, always-packed room—a meal here is as good for the soul as a trip to Paris, start to finish. A three-for-$30 menu du jour keeps French comfort food within weeknight reach, which our wallet prefers over the current price of airfare. 4580 Laclede, 314-454-0600, brasseriebyniche.com.
Meat-lovers will find plenty of land-based protein on the menu, and vegetarians will be pleased with the offerings of seasonal produce, but why anyone would pass up the seafood on this menu is beyond us—it’s among the freshest, most interesting, best-prepared in town. The fact that it’s served in a space worthy of a spread in Architectural Digest only baits the line; be sure to put this Clayton highlight into your lunch and Sunday brunch rotation, too. 44 N. Brentwood, 314-721-9400; 16125 Chesterfield Parkway West, 636-536-9404; oceanobistro.com.
Balaban’s Wine Cellar & Tapas Bar
The atmosphere takes a little getting used to, as you’re dining beside retail wine racks and shoppers. But the remarkable food—including thick, juicy chops and legendary beef Wellington—keeps Balaban’s on this list. We still remember a seasonal bruschetta with pungent goat cheese, a drizzle of truffle oil, and a bush of wild mushrooms that we paired with a pour of Siduri pinot noir. Then we took a bottle of that Siduri home. 1772 Clarkson, 636-449-6700, balabanswine.com.
Paul Manno’s Café
An unexpected gem in a nondescript strip mall, the place is obviously ripped from New York City, with its wonderful wine list, decor, and Nonna’s recipes. Operated by second-generation owner Paul Manno Jr., the restaurant has a Sicilian-influenced menu that’s consistently superb. Tender tubes of meat-stuffed house cannelloni, slathered in a light red, cream-heavy Bolognese sauce, are a must-try menu item. Paul Manno’s is inevitably busy, but the service here makes it feel like you’re the only one in the place. 75 Forum Shopping Center, 314-878-1274.
Traditional, iconic Italian fare—served in a room about the size of an SUV—is the draw here. It’s comfy but formal. Sausage lasagna and linguine with clam sauce beckon, but take a chance on the rabbit-and-spinach ravioli, buttery soft with a touch of sage and just enough texture, or a juicy duck breast fanned atop wild-mushroom risotto. Watching veteran servers anticipate a fellow server’s next move reminds us of exactly why I Fratellini is one of the region’s finer restaurants. 7624 Wydown, 314-727-7901, ifratellini.com.
The only consistency in this stylish bistro is quality. The menu changes continually. One night, the surprise is a charcuterie with a stunning, succulent rabbit confit; the next, it’s handmade tagliatelle with oyster mushrooms. Local pork (like a hefty chop atop polenta) and beef (like an onglet steak with roasted cauliflower) are regularly featured on the menu. Five is one of the few places that never gets too familiar, as well as one of the rare restaurants that never disappoints. 5100 Daggett, 314-773-5553, fivebistro.com.
Writer’s Pick: Cardwell’s at the Plaza
Bill Cardwell, one of the forces who led St. Louis’ dining revolution decades ago, continues to impress in Frontenac, where a consistently strong kitchen produces creative dishes made with local ingredients. —Katie O’Connor
Writer's Pick: Atlas Restaurant
Located on a quiet street, this CWE paragon has tasty, bistro-esque options for preperformance dining or catching-up dinners with pals, since conversation is actually audible. —Ann Lemons Pollack
$$$$ On a Special Occasion
Cielo and Fabrizio Schenardi—both the restaurant’s and the chef’s names are Italian and elegant, with sexy sounds rolling off the tongue (once you know how to pronounce them), suggestive of the dining experience. Add the Sky Terrace, which offers a spectacular view of downtown and the Arch, and you’re in for an evening molto speciale. For the utmost indulgence, put yourself in Schenardi’s talented hands for a multicourse tasting after you’ve enjoyed a massage at the Spa at the Four Seasons. You just might never leave. 999 N. Second, 314-881-2105, cielostlouis.com.
Having turned itself into a surf-and-turf restaurant of sorts, Truffles continues to delight in Ladue with its latest meatcentric incarnation—complete with on-site aging of USDA Prime beef classics like New York strips and rib-eyes, as well as a monstrous 36-ounce Wagyu steak for two. Not to be missed, however, is the Elysian Fields Farm rack of lamb: Truffles is one of the few restaurants not owned by Thomas Keller to serve the dish. 9202 Clayton, 314-567-9100, www.todayattruffles.com.
The linen-and-crystal ambience here makes this Clayton restaurant a standout for serious eating. Conversation is subdued; there’s an unfussy graciousness about the place that defines civilized dining. Expertly presented, luxurious dishes—like foie gras in a sherry vinaigrette, duck breast with a duck confit ragu, and the area’s most perfect Caesar salad—add to the upscale atmosphere. The four- and seven-course tasting menus are a happy way to spend an evening amid The Crossing’s sophisticated charm. 7823 Forsyth, 314-721-7375, fialafood.com/the-crossing.
Though a number of restaurants have been important to St. Louis’ dining revolution, it was Niche that landed Gerard Craft—and in turn, St. Louis’ dining scene—on the map. And while competition has heated up around town since its opening and Craft now has an empire to call his own, it’s his first restaurant that continues to set the tone for St. Louis dining on the national stage. It’s also the first recommendation to make when looking to impress. 1831 Sidney, relocating to Centene Plaza, nichestlouis.com.
Herbie’s Vintage 72
Yeah, we remember 1972: streaking, Jonathan Livingston Seagull—it wasn’t all that vintage. That said, the draw at this reincarnation of a Central West End icon is the atmosphere. Brick walls, French posters, and mellow lighting combine with starched linens and service that’s somewhere between friendly and professional. It’s possibly the most romantic dining in St. Louis. The food, like coq au vin and Ligurian shrimp pasta, conjures 1972; the evening specials, like the bacon-wrapped quail stuffed with wild-mushroom bread pudding, remind the diner that it’s not. 405 N. Euclid, 314-769-9595, herbies.com.
Sidney Street Café
Given the spot’s decades-long status as a special-occasion mainstay, chef Kevin Nashan was careful to make change gradual after purchasing Sidney Street Café in 2003. And though vestiges of the old menu remain, you’d sell yourself short not to ask what’s best today. Nashan is a chef’s chef, and his kitchen staff—seemingly never satisfied—is continually pushing to turn out one of the most skillfully crafted menus in town. 2000 Sidney, 314-771-5777, sidneystreetcafe.com.
Tony’s is the senior senator of the group, dignified but charming and warm, with a long sense of tradition and knowledge about how things work (and don’t work) in this bailiwick. The food is elegantly tailored, with first-rate ingredients, and prepared the way that customers want, even if it isn’t on the menu (rather like the senator’s fine suits). As the next generation of the Bommarito family plays a larger role, things might change, but we’re confident the standards will never relax. In the meantime, you won’t go wrong with the fillet of swordfish or the lobster Albanello. 410 Market, 314-231-7007, tonysstlouis.com.
Stone Soup Cottage
No other restaurant in St. Louis has environs like this one. Set in an 1850s farmhouse, the menu is a multicourse chef’s degustation, served slowly, lovingly, to little more than two-dozen lucky diners per night. A candlelit dining room glows. Presentations are perfect. The food—like tomato-ginger bisque, chili-braised halibut with lime butter, and duck crepes—is the stuff of gastronomic dreams. A premier dining spot for St. Louis connoisseurs and a former SLM Restaurant of the Year, it is, we believe, among the best restaurants anywhere in the nation. 5525 Oak, Cottleville, 636-244-2233, stonesoupcottage.com.
The menu at Annie Gunn’s might be inspired by “the richness of country life,” but chef Lou Rook III skillfully keeps diners guessing which country the kitchen is referring to. A hyperlocal list of ingredients captures the best of Missouri, while side trips to the American South, Mississippi Delta, Ireland’s rolling hills, and Vietnam’s terraced fields feel right at home at this longtime Chesterfield Valley favorite. 16806 Chesterfield Airport Rd., 636-532-7684, anniegunns.com.
2012 Restaurant of the Year: Home Wine Kitchen
A place with butcher paper on the tables is Restaurant of the Year? Indeed. A standout among the constellation of estimable eateries in Maplewood, Home Wine Kitchen shows that neither swank settings nor pretentious gastro–razzle-dazzle are necessary for restaurant excellence.
The setting’s deceptively modest. The weathered wooden walls and floor look vaguely barnish. Gauzy-focused farmyard photos add to the Green Acres ambience. There are tables for maybe 50 diners and a room-long church-pew banquette on one wall, as well as a chalkboard advertising specials. Yet there isn’t much that isn’t special here—unless you think buttery, bread crumb–topped sea-scallop gratin is ho-hum fare, or if an average meal for you is risotto studded with caramelized onions and glossy with pungent brie.
The food, presented with artistic verve, is exciting and satisfying—and continually changing. Menus—often determined by the availability of the best ingredients—have a weeklong lifespan. One night, you can order a dollop of rillettes of smoked goose. The next night, you can have slivers of delicate duck prosciutto. In autumn, it might be Ozark black walnuts paired with a fluffy, aromatic blue-cheese soufflé. Next spring, it could be the season’s first lamb chops, with a confetti of mint and scoop of yogurt. Your friend raves over a juicy veal porterhouse that’s disappeared when you visit next—but your disappointment evaporates at the menu’s promise of a lamb-and-pork ragu atop wide ribbons of pappardelle.
It’s not only inventive ingredients that distinguish Home; there’s an intensity of flavor in dishes here. A pea consommé captures the essence of the green pearls. Local pears, poached in Riesling and served with chocolate cake, taste like summer’s most perfect fruit.
It’s also a succession of details—a top-notch wine list and a dozen unexpectedly rewarding beers—that separate Home from other Bests. When the kitchen scores something unusual like pork collar, it appears as long as the supply lasts. There’s an emphasis on (but not an obnoxious obsession with) local food. Sides, like finger-thick carrots, green beans, and Brussels sprouts—all roasted to bring out their natural sugars—or sweet, crunchy fried okra are delightful.
Home’s No Menu Mondays are unique in St. Louis: Answer five questions, and the chef constructs a three-course meal for you. Brunch here is loaded with notable dishes like pork hash and eggs Benedict with grits and spicy tasso. Lunch packs ’em in with superb meals like fried chicken with corn pudding. (The cheeseburger’s legendary, the patty topped with roasted-garlic aioli and a fried egg.)
St. Louis is blessed with no shortage of remarkable restaurants—some of which even have butcher-paper tablecloths. 7322 Manchester, 314-802-7676, homewinekitchen.com.
Top Sandwich Shops
Five spots that serve it up right between two slices
Carl’s Drive In
This small restaurant, located along Route 66, owes its longevity to tall mugs of house-made root beer and those burgers, pressed oh-so-thin on a rocket-hot flattop until the edges caramelize to crispy perfection. 9033 Manchester, 314-961-9652.
Fozzie’s Sandwich Emporium
Calling yourself a “sandwich emporium” sets the bar pretty high, but Fozzie’s oft-inspired combinations of ingredients—including veggies from a backyard garden—deliver a dizzying array of choices. 1170 S. Big Bend, 314-932-5414, foodatfozzies.com.
Blues City Deli
The wait’s always worth it for an Italian beef sandwich when, midbite, we feel that first drip of spicy jus run down our chin. (It’s a delicious reminder that we forgot to grab extra napkins again.) 2438 McNair, 314-773-8225, bluescitydeli.com.
The Woofie dog has been packing in, well, everyone, for lunch since the late ’70s—proof positive why Woofies remains the only local inductee into the Vienna Beef Hot Dog Hall of Fame. 1919 Woodson, 314-426-6291, woofieshotdog.com.
The identities of Faz, Sunny, and Big Jack are a mystery to most, but we thank them for lending their names to the deepest bench of Italian-inspired sandwiches on The Hill. 5101 Shaw, 314-773-3833, adrianasonthehill.com. —A.M.V.
What it was, why (we think) it closed, and where to go now
Last Meal Served: March 11
Why (We Think) It Closed: The switch to a more appealing menu with lower price points never really caught on.
Why We’ll Miss It: Monarch had one of the more attractive bars in town and one of the better chefs in Josh Galliano.
Where to Go Now: Look for a new Josh Galliano restaurant soon. Then go there.
1135 S. Big Bend
Last Meal Served: February 9
Why (We Think) It Closed: The financial plug was pulled unexpectedly, after only three weeks.
Why We’ll Miss It: The concept—“Old World American”—never really had a chance to take off.
Where to Go Now: A restaurant that doesn’t shy away from wild game; Annie Gunn’s comes the closest.
Walkers Restaurant and Bar
Last Meal Served: February 12
Why (We Think) It Closed: The young owners failed to secure a favorable long-term lease.
Why We’ll Miss It: It was a neighborhood joint where “above-average pub food” was more than idle bar chatter.
Where to Go Now: Drive a half mile west on Gravois Avenue to Quincy Street Bistro, and raise a glass to Nathan and Griffin Walker.
5124 Natural Bridge
Last Meal Served: February 9
Why (We Think) It Closed: The owner retired.
Why We’ll Miss It: Mammer Jammer’s signature sandwich—thinly sliced beef, onions, and green peppers—could be ordered in eight levels of spicy heat.
Where to Go Now: You won’t regret ordering the Italian beef sandwich at Fozzie’s (but there’s no way to achieve the heat of the “It,” Mammer Jammer’s hottest version).
Last Meal Served: May 15
Why (We Think) It Closed: Its niche—fewer people are dining at pricey, special-occasion restaurants.
Why We’ll Miss It: Because every once in a while, all of us should don sport coats and dresses and actually dine out.
Where to Go Now: Head for Bistro 1130 in St. Louis County; in the city, go to Tony’s.
Day & Night
Creating a restaurant with dual lives
When Mike Randolph first spoke of Half & Half (8135 Maryland, 314-725-0719, halfandhalfstl.com), he talked frequently of breakfast tasting menus. But when the full force of the Clayton brunch crowd hit, the idea was quickly scrapped as the restaurant—blindsided by popularity—needed everything the staff had to keep up with the normal menu.
But Randolph still had a chef’s itch, and realizing he had a closed restaurant just sitting there at night, he took back his tasting menus in the evenings with his Frontera-esque take on high-end Mexican inside Half & Half, MEDIAnoche.
Sadly, the high quality of the food was no match for the public’s combined confusion over the concept and disapproval of the upscale price points in what was still, basically, a brightly lit brunch spot.
Named after a variety of heirloom corn, Little Country Gentleman is Randolph’s next attempt at scratching his itch with an evening restaurant aimed at serving (mostly) tasting menus of Midwestern-only products. And with a number of changes already made to the dining room to reflect an even more ambitious project, chances are, we’ll be talking about him again next year. —B.B.
Pop Goes the Restaurant
An underground restaurateur starts a new trend in St. Louis.
It was the penultimate night of Dining Under the Stars, a pop-up restaurant that magically appeared for a six-night run, secluded in a glen off a seldom-used chat footpath in Forest Park—the first time such a thing had ever been done. Pop-ups are a relatively new occurrence. A boutique, bar, or restaurant materializes for a short period of time and then disappears forever. Miss it, and you miss out. Adding to the mystery, the chef for this event wasn’t a true chef at all, but rather Sandy Talley, a chef trapped in an architect’s body. Talley engineered a superb seven-course menu—as well as the temporary (and reusable) structure that served as both prairie kitchen and dining area. The group of 20 diners agreed it was as special of a dining event as they’d ever experienced in St. Louis. Our guess is, they’re all awaiting Talley’s next adventure…wherever it may pop up. Contact Talley at email@example.com, or search for Demitasse Underground Restaurant on Facebook for information on future pop-up events.
Carving a New Niche
Gerard Craft relocates his nationally renowned restaurant.
Between launching his newest restaurant (Pastaria) in Clayton and moving his flagship (Niche) there as well, Gerard Craft certainly has attracted a lot of attention. So what exactly can we expect from Niche 2.0? We went to the source. —G.M.
How difficult a decision was it to move Niche?
You have no idea. But it was funny: When I first opened, it was “What the hell is this guy doing opening up this tiny little space in Benton Park? This guy is an idiot…” to “Oh my God, how the hell can you leave?”
What was the main impetus to move?
One, we needed enough space to do Pastaria, and good space costs a lot of money. And two, we found some folks who were willing to help us get to where we needed to go.
With Pastaria and Niche?
Yes. They were excited about two adjacent restaurants, which is how I like to operate, too: Niche and Taste were next door to each other; now Brasserie and Taste are the same way. My goal as a chef and a CEO is to always allow myself to cook, and if the restaurants are close together, that becomes easier.
How do you respond to the city-versus-county argument?
We’re moving to a beautiful, state-of-the-art building, certified as the most efficient large building in the area, completely different from my old building with old utilities and limited parking. People need to remember that Niche was a rehab—it was all new inside that shell, comfort that we created. People need to trust that we’ll duplicate that at Centene [Plaza], too.
What will be the same at the new Niche, and what will be different?
The food will be the same. We will, however, have a four-person counter there, which will help us explore our interactive side, something to start a dialogue between our cooks and guests. We’ll also have an island range in the center, made by Bonnet—so the cooks will be facing each other, cooking interactively, right in front of the diner.
What will happen to the old Niche space?
For the meantime, we’ll use it as prep space—which we need, especially for butchering, as we bring in whole cows and whole pigs. I have a million ideas for that space. Benton Park could use a cool, low-key neighborhood place, for example, that serves a great burger, a few affordable pastas and salads, and good, cheap wine…like a mini Pastaria.
Would you ever give up the Niche building?
Only if I felt there would be an awesome addition to the area. There are so many memories there… I remember the night I paraded our brand-new baby through Niche. I want to leave it in good hands.
Gerard Craft on the future of St. Louis’ dining scene
On the next food trend:
“For us, it’s regionalism—our region. The most extreme example may be Noma [in Copenhagen], where they used anything and everything they could find locally to completely reinvent and redefine Nordic cuisine. They realized that where they were was special, focused on that, and now have what to some is the finest restaurant in the world.”
On taking advantage of Missouri’s rivers through aquaculture:
“No one’s trying to make a really loud difference there. Well, I want to make a really loud difference. I want the rivers to be the spot, to be—ironically—part of what’s new.”
On his plans for the future:
“I have a million ideas and two hands. We want to take Niche to another level, but as it’s not finalized, I can’t say exactly what that is. We experimented with simpler food, and that isn’t what Niche is. We want to take Niche the other way, a step up the totem pole.”
On whether he’ll ever expand beyond St. Louis:
“As a restaurant group, who’s to say? But I know I’ll never leave.”
The Best Eats in St. Louis Beer-Tasting Rooms
A pint’s just one reason to visit some St. Louis breweries.
With more than 20 breweries in and around our fair city, we can’t think of a better time to be a craft-beer lover. We’re particularly taken with a handful of tasting rooms, offering flights of handcrafted suds and menus overflowing with dishes that feature the best in local ingredients and artisanal products. Drink—and eat—up. —A.M.V.
Perennial Artisan Ales
Beers featuring unique adjuncts like roasted squash and rhubarb set up an early connection between food and beer for Perennial Artisan Ales. The menu features snacks and hearty fare, but we prefer nibbles from the cheese menu, with products from Europe and the Midwest. Our favorite? The fragrant and tangy Prairie Breeze cheddar from Milton Creamery in Iowa. 8125 Michigan, 314-631-7300, perennialbeer.com.
The Civil Life Brewing Company
Civility, session beers, and Mike Bianco’s sandwich list anchor an afternoon invested in friends and family at The Civil Life. Split between snacks (flavor bombs like stuffed cherry peppers) and sandwiches (simple combinations served on great bread), the menu is a welcome addition to what’s become one of the city’s best hangouts. 3714 Holt, thecivillifebrewingcompany.com.
Urban Chestnut Brewing Company
Urban Chestnut’s recently opened beer garden and expanded menu options make this midtown brewery the gift from the local beer gods that keeps on giving. The microbrewery keeps the focus on St. Louis with meats from Volpi and chips from Billy Goat Chip Company. Our go-to order? The Bier & Brat: a mug of Winged Nut ale and a G&W weisswurst on a chewy Companion pretzel roll. 3229 Washington, 314-222-0143, urbanchestnut.com.
4 Hands Brewing Company
The welcome addition of Dave Bailey’s Fifth Wheel eatery to a solid lineup of craft beers solidifies 4 Hands Brewing’s spot on our list of well-executed brewpub eats—think wings, pretzels with rarebit, nachos, and sandwiches—to be had before heading to Busch Stadium to watch the Cards play. Or better yet, try going for brunch here on a lazy Sunday morning. 1220 S. Eighth, 314-436-1559, 4handsbrewery.com.
By Jenny Agnew, Bill Burge, Dave Lowry, Byron Kerman, Rosa Maura Lorre, George Mahe, Katie O'Connor, Ann Lemons Pollack, and Andrew Mark Veety. Photography by Jonathan Gayman, Greg Rannells, Kevin A. Roberts, and Carmen Troesser