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A-List 2016: Food & Nightlife

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    Dream Team: 5 Restaurant Pros

    Meet some of St.Louis' all-stars in the restaurant business. more

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    Secret Menu: Gioia’s Deli

    George Orwell famously wrote that if you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself. If that secret is the addictive sandwiches at Gioia’s, it’s not worth keeping. From the spicy Big George (beef, salami, and bacon) to the hearty Spaceball (meatballs, salami, and hot beef), a dozen secret combinations are simply too good not to share. Sorry, George. more

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    Poutine: Retreat Gastropub

    Spinning classic flavors is the specialty at Retreat Gastropub, and the restaurant’s take on Canada’s hangover cure mashes together well with St. Louis’ own diner classic, the slinger. Fingerling potatoes replace the traditional poutine’s fries, and mushroom-and-garlic demi-glace subs for the ubiquitous cheese curds and gravy. The mess is topped off with a fried egg. If you’re feeling extra wanton, add the chicken confit. more

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    New-Meets-Old Italian: Randolfi’s Italian Kitchen

    You could almost believe it’s a classic Italian-American joint: crowded, convivial, informal. But what comes from the tiny, exposed kitchen—and from the roaring wood-fired oven—tells the real story. Magnificently charred pizza and familiar pastas are paired with spectacular ingredients and inventive presentations. Gnocchi is covered in chicken liver mousse. Clams are baked with breadcrumbs and lemon. Every offering tempts. And cocktails are mandatory. more

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    Late-Night Lounge Spot: Tani Sushi Bistro

    This acclaimed Clayton dining destination features a stunning interior designed by acclaimed artist Hee Jung Chung. At once comfortable and cutting-edge, it’s an elegant respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown Clayton. But Tani isn’t just another pretty face. The menu features an eclectic mix of nigiri, maki, and custom sushi creations, including the incendiary Oh My God roll. more

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    Pork Steak: BEAST Craft BBQ

    The slogan is “All killer. No filler.” Pitmaster-owner David Sandusky delivers no less on every item. There’s nothing extraneous in his thick-cut pork steak with its caramelized crust and just-right char. The spices meld to the meat, the fat melts like a glaze, and the flavor demonstrates the pitmaster’s skill. Tender? You can cut this bad boy with a fork. Bring your big appetite. more

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    Fresh Concept: Porano Pasta

    St. Louis is sometimes behind the times, but we’re leading the pack with fast food from a James Beard Award–winner. Gerard Craft’s new Italian fast-casual spot meets his high standards, making it the go-to place to take a hungry family when quality is as important as price. more

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    Photo by Kevin A. Roberts

    Local Menu: Five Bistro

    Sit down with chef Anthony Devoti to discuss locally sourced produce and meats, and you’ll quickly understand that he’s a man pained when anything on Five’s menu isn’t grown or raised by a person he knows. No restaurant in town is more local, and his ethos is on full display in his Instagram photos (@obiwandevoti), consisting largely of the impressive garden that he and his two children tend at their home near the restaurant. more

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    Two Microbreweries Face Off

    Earthbound and Modern Brewery are small-but-mighty forces in the St. Louis beer scene. more

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    Bloody Mary: Gallagher’s Restaurant

    There’s been much ballyhoo over Gallagher’s Sunday supper of fried chicken, but the hidden gem is the house-made Bloody Mary, whipped up by manager-bartender James Gallagher. A blend of pickled vegetables is ground up for the base, and a splash of Guinness keeps it earthy. And to top it off: a garnish of cured sausage that, on your lucky day, is venison. more

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    Patio: The Slider House

    The Slider House might originally be from Nashville, but this patio is all St. Louis. With two garage doors opening up to a large grassy area, fire pits, and a flat-screen TV, there’s room for kids to burn off energy while parents grab a craft beer and the don’t-miss Brussel sprout–and–artichoke dip. more

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    DJ: Chris Brown

    A Chicago native, Chris Brown grew up listening to the lilt and weave of reggae (his mother’s from balmy Jamaica) and the driving beat of Chicago house music. His high-energy style reflects both influences, but he stays wide open, keeping his music fresh for clubs across the Midwest, sorority parties, downtown restaurants, events at Saks Fifth Avenue... more

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    Bread Service: Bread Basket at Juniper

    The angel biscuits are the delicate, yeasty spawn of rolls and buttermilk biscuits. Rough, fragrant cornbread turns brighter gold with butter. Sweet Sally Lunn bread is spun from a rich butter. Airy popovers, still warm from the oven, are the color of a suntan and served with tubs of glossy, thick jams. Bread is so often little appreciated. But at Juniper, it can be dinner. more

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    Unexpected Side Dish: Beet Fries at Copper Pig

    Who knew that the humble red beet could shine as brightly as it does at Nhat Nguyen’s South City restaurant? Even if you think you don’t like the ruby root vegetable, try the fries, which are cut fresh, roasted, fried, and served with goat cheese. The taste is sweet, the texture is crisp, and the color is gorgeous. more

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    Photo by Kevin A. Roberts

    Spicy Chicken: Southern

    The original chicken—marinated, dry-rubbed, and dredged in seasoned flour—emerges from the fryer crispy, mildly peppery, and delicious. The real heat comes from chef Rick Lewis’ seasoning. Mild registers nicely hot. General Tso’s adds sweetness and a bit more heat. Medium blends cayenne pepper and habaneros for a wickedly hot punch. “Cluckin’ hot” is screamin’ hot, leaving the lips tingling for hours. Choose your level of heat, and revel in it. more

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    Fun Food: Byrd & Barrel’s Tickled Pickle

    House-made pickles can be serious business, but chef Bob Brazell takes Byrd & Barrel pickles to hilarious extremes. He stuffs a hot dog inside a hollowed-out dill pickle, breads the result, and throws it in the deep fryer. The Tickled Pickle is then sliced, fanned out, and topped with slivered pepperoncini. Voilà! The result, with its concentric circles of pink, green, and yellow, resembles a 1960s pop-art poster. more

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    Shrimp Cocktail: 801 Fish

    Jumbo shrimp? These shrimp keep jumbo shrimp for pets. Hefty as lobster heinies and boiled perfectly, their tails are both meaty and delicate. A quartet of them are hooked over the rim of a big chilled bowl and served with a sauce that balances tangy and sweet against the subtle heat of fresh horseradish. It’s an impressive rendition of a classic. more

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    Pastries: Delicious Lee Desserts

    It’s common for a sales rep to bring something sweet to a client but extra special when the goodies are homemade. That was Lee Haynes’ approach. This year, the ebullient baker set aside her sales job to introduce Delicious Lee Desserts, headlined by 12 flavors (in five sizes) of gooey butter cake. Yum. more

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    Beef Jerky: Mother of All Beef

    Matt Edwards’ snacks contain no sodium, artificial ingredients, or MSG—and the flavors can’t be beat. MOAB’s slabs deliver a clean, meaty taste and a quick pop of protein, coupled with a softer, long-lasting chew. more

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    Filipino Tradition: Kamayan Dinner

    “Hands-on” gets a whole new meaning when the Filipina chef at Hiro Asian Kitchen takes over, presenting a staggering array of classics such as roast pig and fried fish and fresh and cooked vegetables. Dinner is piled on banana leaves. Diners gather, eat, talk, and eat some more—sans utensils. It sounds weird, but it tastes wonderful. Kamayan dining is meant to strengthen friendships and make new ones. It’s among the most enjoyable dining experiences in town. more

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    Baby back Ribs: Fried Ribs at Edibles & Essentials

    Chef Matt Borchardt starts by slathering slabs with a housemade rub, followed by a slow smoke over a cherrywood fire. Then the fun begins: The ribs are cut, breaded, flash-fried to order, and finished with a white Alabama barbecue sauce. Toothsome and first-class, these ribs electrify an old back- yard favorite. more

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    Unsung Pizza: Felix’s Pizza Pub

    Done in a well-executed version of the bendy-crust New York style, Felix’s 16 house-specialty pizzas have some things for the purist (the Dogtown includes Italian sausage, Volpi pepperoni, and pepper bacon) but tend more toward the adventurer (the signature Baby Back Pie is crowned with a half-slab of rib meat). And to top it off: 21 craft beer taps. more

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    Restaurant Meets Wine Store: Balaban’s

    “It’s not the old Balaban’s.” OK, we get that. But it is a well-thought-out blending of some of the original’s classics and a modern bistro style. The astounding part is hidden in a walk-in glass room in back: the Library Collection of mature retail-priced high-end wines from the cellar at the old place—that you can drink with your meal for just an $8 corkage fee. more

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    Photo by Kevin A. Roberts

    New Bakery: Union Loafers

    This café-bakery meets all the criteria for hip. It boasts a painstakingly restored storefront in the trendy Botanical Heights neighborhood, with a side entrance for takeout. The waitstaff wears plaid shirts and skinny jeans. Artisan sandwiches comprise high-end proletariat ingredients, such as smoked beets and sauerkraut. And pickles double as condiments and sides. These days, “hip” is often a simulacrum for quality, but Union Loafers is the real deal, with the best bread in town. more

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    Tamales: Juan More Tamale

    Working from a stand at the west end of Soulard Market on Saturdays, Juan More Tamale sells just four varieties of tamales and the agua fresca of the day. The tamales are magnificent, with a rich, slightly coarse masa and flavorful fillings. We’re rather partial to the pork with a citrusy tomatillo sauce, but the cheese-jalapeño is nearly as wonderful. more

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    Plant-based Entrée: Plantasagna at Fred and Ricky’s

    The classic lasagna is back! Layered with whole-wheat noodles, fresh tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, and a tofu mixture with mushroom, onion, and zucchini, this Italian favorite is a guilt-free pass to a dish steeped in tradition. It’s rich with flavor, yet void of copious amounts of calories and fat. more

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    Chocolatier: Rick Jordan Chocolatier

    The first thing that catches your eye in this chocolate “boutique” will probably be the gems housed in a line of jewelry cases. But those aren’t actual gems; they’re chocolates, turned into something precious through the use of what Jordan calls “chocolate alchemy.” It’s a true bean-to-bar operation. A major trade magazine named Jordan one of the top 10 chocolatiers in North America. more

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    Champagne Bar: Fox Theatre’s Curtain Call Lounge

    St. Louis’ first champagne bar offers a lengthy list of bubblies (from glasses to magnums), as well as wine, beer, cocktails, and small plates. With its classic Art Deco décor and romantic atmosphere, it’s the perfect spot for a drink and a nosh before or after a show in Grand Center. And if you want the place all to yourself, Curtain Call is available for special events. more

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    Side Dish: Tartiflette at Boundary

    The potato reaches peak performance in Boundary’s tartiflette. Spuds are combined with bacon, cheese, and onions in a perfect ratio. The dish, residing on the brunch menu, is topped with sausage and a perfectly poached egg. The tartiflette might just rival the slinger as a hangover cure. more

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    Ramen Nagasaki: Champon Ramen at Midtown Sushi

    Ramen’s like BBQ: There are regional differences, each with its fans. Nagasaki’s version is iconic; its origins come from that city’s Chinese cooks. Thick noodles are braised in the same pan used to sauté seafood, pork belly, cabbage, onions, and carrots. Served in a generous bowl, the presentation is hearty, fragrant, and a stunning example of this noodle favorite. more

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    Photo by Kevin A. Roberts

    Creative Concept: Milque Toast Bar

    Whether you like your toast spiffy or simple, your milks nutty or not, it’s likely that you’ll want to order one of everything. The thoughtful, well-rounded flavors at Milque Toast are unlike anything else in our current culinary scene, with house-made rye bread, a capper of crawfish, and the addition of hibiscus syrup in tea. The place possesses the bizarre ability to be simultaneously adventurous, epicurean, and comforting. more

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    Romantic Terrace: Bar Les Frères

    The sumptuous, sexy interior of Bar Les Frères—with its red walls, marble tabletops, and forgiving lighting—begs for date night. But the best spot for romance is outside, on the popular terrace. It offers just enough privacy for a kiss, but you’re still able to people-watch along Wydown. more

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    Pop-Up Restaurant: Ben Grupe Dinner Series

    Ben Grupe has credentials up to his chin—he’s a culinary Olympian, for crying out loud—but the 34-year-old chef fled the constraints of country clubs to begin a series of well-received pop-up dinners. Despite Grupe assuming the executive chef role at Elaia and Olio earlier this year, the dinner series will continue, except in October, when he takes his six-man team to Stuttgart in an attempt to bring home culinary Olympic gold. more

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    Culinary Couple: Christine Meyer and Mike Miller

    Armed with a hot dog cart, chef Mike Miller and one of the city’s best servers, Christine Meyer, morphed their Tower Grove Farmers’ Market business into a catering juggernaut and weekly pop-up gig at Sump Coffee. A throng of hopeful fans pleaded for a restaurant home to get the Asian-influenced food all week long, and the dream has finally been realized with the opening of Kounter Kulture in Lindenwood Park. more

  • Gyro: The Gyro Company

    The Gyro Company deserves an award for art. The Supreme Gyro is a masterfully constructed sculpture, with slabs of aromatic meat, tomato slices, red onion, and lettuce rolled into a split pita with a blizzard of feta sprinkled on top. This is less sandwich, more tzatziki-slathered artistic statement. Chicken- and beef-stuffed doner use a thick Bosnian-style bun that adds to the charm. more

  • Distillery: StilL 630

    Nestled in the shadow of the monument that inspired its name, StilL 630 does its muse proud. (StilL is a shoutout to STL; the Arch measures 630 feet wide and 630 feet tall.) Owner David Weglarz gave as much careful consideration to the name on his bottles as he does to the award-winning double-distilled bourbons, whiskeys, and rums that fill them. more

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    New Food Truck: Frankly Sausages

    Chef-owned and operated Frankly Sausages is driving the dog to new heights. It’s a take on the corner stand—but a far cry from vats of boiling water. With sauerkraut and stone-ground mustard, the SMB Beer Brat makes a good staple. Feeling more adventurous? The Chili Verde Pork Sausage offers south-of-the-border gourmet flair. more

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    Whimsical Décor: El Burro Loco

    What’s in a name? At El Burro Loco, it’s a good indication of what’s behind the doors. The namesake “Crazy Donkey” mural takes center stage at the most visually stimulating restaurant in town. Images of Mexican dignitaries appear alongside nods to local establishments. (The Cards’ logo has a place of honor over a central door.) Only at El Burro Loco can a neon-green bar blend seamlessly with both the décor and the margaritas. more

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    Taco: Fort Taco

    There’s no more versatile food than the taco, given the limitless options for the ingredients. That’s what makes this burgeoning chain so impressive. Fort Taco’s sparse menu steers diners toward the specialty, the Puffer Taco, with a mere four variations. Choose beef or chicken, along with chili verde or chipotle sauce. The crispy shells, delicious fillings, and giant servings are a perfect, simple distillation. more

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    Top-Shelf Bartender: Zachary Bristol

    If you’ve had a drink or enjoyed a meal in Edwardsville over the past decade, odds are good that Bristol has made sure that your order is right. From his early days at Erato Wine Bar to his current gig at 1818 Chophouse, he’s been the guy who chills the wine, creates the cocktails, and even washes dishes. To customers, he’s the best; to restaurant owners, he’s the irreplaceable swingman. more

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    Historic Hangout: The Grand Hall at Union Station

    Perhaps the people-watching isn’t quite as intense as it was when some 100,000 passengers a day passed nearby, but Union Station’s Grand Hall is still captivating with its ornate frescoes, stained glass, and 65-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling. Sit, eat, and enjoy railroad-themed cocktails—although you might want to cut yourself off if you see a tuxedoed Jack Nicholson standing in the corner of this shining renovation. more

  • Comedy Club: Helium Comedy Club

    Helium is no dingy two-drink- minimum joint. The upscale venue recently opened downstairs at the Saint Louis Galleria, with plenty of room to host a bevy of laugh-out-loud acts, from open-mic nights to the best national comedians. The club’s Elements restaurant and bar serves up smile-inducing cuisine and libations. more

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    St. Louis-style Ribs: St. Louis Ribhouse

    Barbecue guru Steven Raichlen credits Super Smokers for “the rebirth of St. Louis barbecue.” And with Super Smokers co-founder Terry Black’s transformation of the former Highlander into St. Louis Ribhouse, we also credit him with the rebirth of St. Louis–style ribs. Unlike the baby backs favored by most rib shacks, Ribhouse leads with the modified spare ribs called the St. Louis cut. more

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    Kolache: Pappy’s Brisket at St. Louis Kolache

    Everything Pappy’s Smokehouse touches turns to gold—or at least goes up in smoke in the best possible way. Enter its collaboration with St. Louis Kolache, in which its superlative smoked pork and beef brisket are fillings—along with Pappy’s popular Jane’s Sweet BBQ Sauce—for the Eastern European pastries. Czech, please! more

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    Brunch: Parigi

    Brunch is to dining what a nap is to Saturday afternoon. And here it assumes a sophisticated Continental flavor. The menu includes farro-and-vegetable hash, charred romaine with anchovies, citrus-cured salmon… The setting matches the food, with a sleek interior, widely spaced tables, and the coolest restaurant ceiling in town. Glass walls afford a view of Clayton. Iconic cocktails don’t hurt. It’s all so civilized. more

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    View for All Seasons: Death in the Afternoon

    With floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto Citygarden, Death in the Afternoon is never more attractive than on a rainy day, when the garden turns into a wet Monet. Steamy ramen or hot pastrami on a pretzel roll is satisfying fare for the pensive pondering occasioned by every precipitation between drizzle and downpour. And what goes better with low gray skies than a wonderful lemony, honeyed hot toddy? more