A-List Awards 2017: Food & Nightlife

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Pickup Food

Crave

“Inspired by Street Food.” Though that might be true, consider the deep-fried chimichanga equivalent of a quesadilla, which the restaurant has dubbed the Phatada. With late-night hours on the way, induced cravings are sure to be fulfilled. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Spicy Sandwich

The Wood Shack’s Ragin’ Cajun

You might not witness the actual smoking of the meat, but there’s evidence in every bite, from the turkey breast’s distinct pink smoke ring to the smoky scent and flavor. The sandwich, which sits on a perfectly soft French roll, is topped with bourbon bacon jam, Havarti cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and creamy pink peppercorn dressing—a Southern-style masterpiece. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Pizza at a Bakery

Union Loafers Café & Bread Bakery

For those aware of head baker Ted Wilson’s past as a pizzaiolo at The Good Pie, the craft beer selection was an obvious wink at things to come. Served Wednesday through Saturday, pies are the midpoint between Neapolitan and New York. On day one, they were among the best in the city.

Apropos Item

Guerrilla Street Food’s 800-lb Guerrilla

Once a hush-hush menu item, the 800-lb Guerrilla is no longer under wraps. Chicken adobo and slow-roasted pork meet over rice topped with a runny-yolk egg, fried garlic, hoisin sauce, and sriracha. What could be better? “Our new secret menu item: the Silverback,” says chef Brian Hardesty. “It’s twice as big.”

Vegetarian Tacos

Cha Cha Chow

Vegetarians still sometimes feel like second-class citizens in a town where meat reigns supreme. Enter the Curried Sweet Potato Tacos at Cha Cha Chow. A grilled flour tortilla envelops roasted sweet potato mash topped with salsa verde and white cheddar. Grab one to go or to carry into the adjacent Gaslight Lounge. Know that your vegetarian option is as good as—if not better—than whatever your carnivorous friend is eating. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Dining Dream Team: Visionary Chef

Michael Gallina

Earlier this year, Gallina and his wife, Tara Gallina, opened what’s become the year’s most talked-about restaurant, Vicia, in the Cortex district. With a wood-burning grill, Gallina prepares proteins and vegetables in revolutionary ways: slow-smoked above the grill, seared on the embers, cooked in the ash. The lunch and dinner menus are innovative, refreshing, and constantly changing, and the chef is eager to engage, explaining his means and methods while working the pass or at the grill. In the past three years, two St. Louis chefs (Gerard Craft and Kevin Nashan) have won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest. It woudn’t be a stretch to see Gallina bring one home as well. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Weekend Hangout

Bar Limón

Ben Poremba continues his takeover of the Botanical Heights neighborhood with Nixta, his modern Mexican restaurant in the former Old Standard location. At night, he shakes it up with Bar Limón, moving out the tables, turning up the music, and breaking out salsa dancing and Latin-inspired specialty cocktails and beer.

Mini-Waffle

Boardwalk Waffles & Ice Cream

Waffles for breakfast? Yawn. Mini-waffle ice cream sandwiches are the way to go. Boardwalk Waffles, located in Maplewood, offers rotating flavors of Serendipity ice cream to complement its made-to-order Belgian waffles. The mini-waffle with gooey butter cake ice cream is a perfectly portable treat for perambulating along Manchester’s specialty storefronts. (If you end up buying a second mini-waffle sandwich afterward, we won’t judge.) (Photo by Carmen Troesser)

Upscale Slider

801 Chophouse’s Tenderloin Sliders

A little beef-and-bleu with fries for only $6—at one of the city’s pricier steakhouses? It’s a deal too delicious to miss. During happy hour, 4–6 p.m. Sunday–Friday, 801 Chophouse offers the perfectly seared double slider. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Deviled Eggs

Juniper

Grandma was apparently in the kitchen, turning out her famous deviled eggs, when they were hijacked by a crazed scientist who started monkeying, adding to the satiny filling everything from kimchi to slivered leeks to maple sausage to a dash of smoked salt—or at least that’s our theory. The resulting eggs are entirely unpredictable but invariably delicious.

Soup

Khao Soi at Fork & Stix

The aroma of the chili-specked russet broth rises from the bowl in an exotic wisp. A spiral of delicate noodles coils beneath a bouquet of cilantro and ginger. It’s a composition appealing to every sense, and it plays on the palate like a symphony—an authentic curry-spiked thing of beauty.

Fast-Casual Idea

’ZZA

Chris Sommers’ new concept is so fast, they skip the first two letters. Pizzas emerge from the ovens before you can even order. (OK, that’s a slight exaggeration.) The oblong pies are long on unusual ingredients and seasonings. With a worthy beer selection, ’ZZA has become a go-to for a quick bite. (Photo by Carmen Troesser)

Sunday Supper

Head’s Store

A short road trip is worthwhile for what almost feels like supper with Granny. Argue over whether the fried chicken or catfish is tastier, then continue with biscuits versus hushpuppies. No leftovers? Pick up something from the grab-and-go cold case. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Whiskey Selection

Gamlin Whiskey House

Indecisive drinkers, beware. Gamlin offers one of the city’s premier selections of bourbon, scotch, and whiskey, with a few hundred options from which to choose: Jack Daniel’s, Laphroaig 32, and everything in between. New to the whiskey scene? The cocktail menu is a nice introduction.

Spin on a Classic

Circa STL’s Toasted Ravioli

Our city’s storied Chinese-Italian cuisine is familiar, so it should be little surprise to find toasted wonton ravioli here. Served between walls shingled with St. Louis memorabilia are several local delectables, including these big rectangular beauties—crispy brown, fat with beef, spinach, and cheese. The accompanying marinara dip perfects this classic.

Gluten-Free Baked Goods

Sucrose

Among the gluten-free offerings at Sucrose: a dozen flavors of French macarons, turtle cheesecake, almond and chocolate sweetheart cakes, mudslide cookies, florentines, fragrant chocolate and vanilla layer cakes… Bakers Agi and Aaron Groff tested, tasted, and perfected dozens of gluten-free recipes after their daughter was found to have celiac disease. The resulting pastries are indulgent, satisfying, and exceptionally delicious. (Photo by Aaron Groff)

Dining Dream Team: Bartender

Travis Hebrank

After graduating from law school and passing the bar, Hebrank decided to instead pursue the liquid arts. And though his collection of bitters, spices, roots, and barks above the bar at Polite Society says mixologist, he has the soul of a bartender. His specialty cocktails are wildly creative “but not at the expense of the guest experience,” he says. The 28-year-old feels that many mixologist’s creations are “too extreme, too bitter, or contain things that scare people away. The first thing I tell people is that my cocktails aren’t that way.” He points out that “the trendiest liquors and ingredients—the things that people feel they should like—are not often what they do like,” and don’t pass the ultimate acid test of them ordering a second round. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Brisket

Salt + Smoke

This isn’t the time to count calories. You want it like they want it in Texas: piled high. Order like a pro by pairing the brisket with the Ritz cracker–topped mac and cheese. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Wine Board

Louie’s Wine Dive

Not every chalkboard wine list offers a 12-year-old Barolo by the glass, but on any given night at Louie’s you’ll find some such classic. The entire wine list is also available by the glass if you order two glasses, at which point the rest of the bottle becomes available as onesies for a lucky connoisseur. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Fusion Food Addition

Kalbi Taco Shack

The inspiration and perspiration are a family affair at this Cherokee Street storefront. Sue Wong-Shackelford learned multiple Asian cuisines from her parents, who once cooked at Trader Vic’s. Daughters Olivia and Sierra Shackelford added a passion for Mexican food. And their father, Mark Shackelford, is a jack of all trades.

Smashed Burgers

Hi-Pointe Drive-In

Burgers at Hi-Pointe taste so right, they’re rad. “We use only three cuts in our grind: brisket, short ribs for beefy flavor, and chuck,” says chef/co-owner Mike Johnson. The burgers are charred over high heat, cradled in soft potato buns, and topped to order. Customers needn’t stop at one or two patties. “Order six high if you want,” says Johnson. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Hot Wings

Southern

By the plate or piece, Southern’s wings come in six degrees of heat, whether for pepper-pikers or for hotheads who live for the burn. Southern coaxes maximum flavor from the wings with the use of marinades, spice rubs, and chili oil. The other secret? The wings are fried one minute longer than necessary, resulting in a crispier treat. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Restaurant Bar

Herbie’s

Has Clayton welcomed the restaurant’s move? Just drop by late on a Friday afternoon. You’ll find all-you-can-drink sangria, a cocktail and a slider du jour, and flatbreads, notably a short rib–sriracha honey version.

Boozy Frozen Drinks
 

★ Narwhal’s Crafted Urban Ice’s Hurricane Tony is as dangerous as it sounds. It features spiced and coconut rums, orange juice, the house blueberry simple syrup, and lemon juice. (For safety, grab the garnish of a pineapple wedge and cherry.) ★ Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery adds 4 Hands’ Milk Chocolate Stout to produce one of its “naughty” ice creams. ★ The Fountain on Locust’s Toblerone one-ups the classic martini with coffee and hazelnut liqueurs, dark crème de cacao, and Zanzibar chocolate ice cream. ★ Serendipity recently brought in Retreat Gastropub bar manager Tim Wiggins to reinterpret his cocktails as “Spirited Shakes,” among them The Brain Freeze Culprit, featuring rum, sherry, cacao, pineapple, matcha, coconut, and ice cream (of course). (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Shrimp & Grits

Scape

The shrimp and grits could be Scape’s signature dish. The app portion includes three fat crustaceans, sprawling in a buttery sauce, with andouille sausage and succulent grits. (Note: It’s two syllables for “gree-yuts,” or you have to call it polenta.)

Ceviche

Mango

Forget those martini glasses of rubbery fish you’ve come across; Mango’s ceviche de Pescado is remarkably different. It’s the size of a lunch entrée and sports what you might find in Peru—fish, yes, as well as sweet potato for creamy texture and choclo, Peruvian corn, both fresh and fried. At market price, it’s not cheap, but it’s well worth it. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Beverage Concept

Tapped

Combine wood-fired pizza with self-pour beer, wine, hard cider, and even coffee, and the result is Tapped, Maplewood’s newest and most unusual bar/restaurant. Digital wristbands monitor how much beverage each patron takes, but there’s no limit on how much beer-battered cod, lager-marinated wings, or Neapolitan-style pizza one consumes. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Indulgent Appetizer

Kirkwood Brewhouse’s Candied Bacon Basket

If the concept of candied bacon seems madly extravagant to you, there’s no point in trying this starter. Not only does Kirkwood Brewhouse add a delicate shellac of brown sugar sweetness to the apple wood–cured side meat, but it’s also served with a preposterously rich maple syrup cream.

Old-School Cool

Twisted Tree

The three C’s—croutons, crusted onion rings, and cocktails—announce Twisted Tree as a classic steakhouse even before you get to the ribeyes, strips, and prime rib. It’s largely old-style, with a relaxed country club atmosphere, a splendid wine list, and don’t-miss desserts. (The legendary batter-fried lobster tail deserves its own A-Listing.) (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Grab-and-Go Mexican Food

Mayana Mexican Kitchen

Mayana doesn’t mean mañana. This fast-casual Hacienda spinoff boasts burritos, bowls, and salads made with such freshly cooked proteins as citrus-marinated chicken, lime-seared shrimp, and grilled calabacitas (fresh vegetables), which are ready before you can say, “And a sopapilla for dessert, please.”

Dining Dream Team: GM/Server

Stacey Garrison

A good restaurant employee knows when to shift into high gear and make it look so natural, nobody knows it. Doing so involves several skill sets, and Garrison has all of them. The working manager at Pueblo Solis, Garrison is personable, humble, and efficient—and lightning quick when necessary. Hyperaware but not hyper, she’s the one who leaves the kitchen with her arms full and returns the same way. After 12 years under the same roof, many staffers would become jaded and succumb to the routine; Garrison is the opposite, speaking as proudly and reverently about the 19-year-old landmark as a new hire—a trait that’s not lost on owner Al Solis. “If something ever happened to me, Stacey could easily take over,” he quips. “She has the key.” (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Korean Fried Chicken Slider

Vista Ramen

These sliders are from chef Chris Bork, not the Colonel. Crispy chicken thighs are deep-fried to a glorious golden hue. Fish sauce pickles make the mouth water, and the drizzled crimson glaze made with Korean gochujang and honey adds high-wattage flavor. Delivered on a downy-soft, sweetly fragrant Hawaiian roll, these are fried chicken sliders grown up, smartly dressed, and finger-licking delicious.

Under-the-Radar Spot

Local Chef STL

Chef Rob Uyemura (pronounced “Wimra”) is the best chef you’ve likely never heard of. After working at Café Eau and YaYa’s, he now serves up dishes made from local ingredients (and sells them at retail) in a homey diner and grocery in a nondescript, well-seasoned Ballwin strip mall.

Asian Appetizer

Asia’s Wontons

Nestled in a ceramic “takeout box,” these juicy dumpling jewels have a delightfully pliable yet firm texture. Bulging with a pork/shrimp filling and stippled with fiery Szechuan peppercorns, fried onion nibbles, and cilantro, the wontons are the only way to commence dinner at this casino eatery. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

New Brew
 

★ Two Plumbers Arcade + Brewery: That magic trifecta of barroom bonhomie—games, pinball, and brewskis—catapults into the stratosphere at Two Plumbers. Microbiologist John Simon brews such beers as St. Porkins smoked porter on site and curates the guest taps; animator Robert Schowengerdt skillfully rebuilds motherboards of ancient and rare games scavenged from around the globe. It’s nirvana for game geeks and beer nerds alike. twoplumbers.com. ★ Friendship Brewing Company: “Our vision was to create a gathering place, to foster friendship,” says Brian Nolan, one of four friends who opened the brewery roughly a year ago. They renovated a 1914 ice factory in downtown Wentzville; packed it with vintage beer collectibles, creative beers, and a delightful food program; and established a thriving community—as the name implies.

Uni Risotto Balls

Sardella

Think of them as amazing arancini, glossy rice spheres wrapped in lacy crispness—with that seashore iodine burst of uni, rich and coppery, taking things to a whole new level. An aioli dip, with a few tears of hot sauce, is the perfect complement.

Salad Selection

Wicked Greenz

The new storefront’s 11 signature options run the gamut of greens—from a classic Caesar to a taste of the islands—with plenty of room for personalization. It’s a fast, fresh answer for those on the go.

Pop-up Restaurant

Square1 Project

Not to be confused with Square One Brewery and Distillery, Square1 Project is only open on Friday and Saturday nights, with locations announced on Twitter. With a limited number of seats, it’s the hottest popup ticket in town.

Smart Concept

Shift, Test Kitchen & Take Out

Wanna know what people want? Ask ’em. Fast, fun, and adventurous, Shift probes the mind with delicious experiments for future menu items at Dave Bailey’s many eateries. “We’ve moved from weekly to monthly menus,” he says. “Customers like change, but not so fast.” It’s a savvy shift.

Riverside Dining

Grafton Oyster Bar

Sunday afternoon. The Mississippi is rolling by just feet from your table, which is loaded with oysters and frosty beers. A local band’s warming up. The atmosphere is folksy-familiar. What’s next? A shrimp-loaded po’ boy, maybe, or crawfish jambalaya. Contemplate your choices with a Horny Gator or Voodoo Punch. New this year: The region’s most relaxed—and delicious—riverside restaurant has added 70 seats to its deck.

New Wine Bar

Scarlett’s Wine Bar

It’s that place. The one where you go for a long light meal while relaxing on the patio or gathered around a table with friends. The wine list has just what you like, and there are lovely cocktails, as well as plates for sharing or for a full dinner. It’s comfort defined, for couples or groups. That place. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Dining Dream Team: Developer

Bob O’Loughlin

Since 2010, Lodging Hospitality Management’s chairman and CEO has spearheaded the purchase of three iconic properties: The Cheshire, Union Station, and Westport Plaza. He’s renovated, added, or planned landmark restaurants for each. The Cheshire is home to Boundary, Basso, and the enduring Fox & Hounds Tavern. At Union Station, the Grand Hall combines small plates, train-themed cocktails, and a laser light show on the arched ceiling. (Joining the aquarium and Ferris wheel in 2018 will be food vendors inside converted train cars.) At Westport Plaza, plans call for new restaurants and a 12,500-square-foot food-and-entertainment complex. The pioneer’s highest achievement (literally) is Three Sixty, the award-winning 26th-floor panoramic rooftop restaurant bar that overlooks Busch Stadium. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Fried Green Tomatoes

Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.

One of the tastiest, least expensive side dishes in town starts with pickled green tomatoes dipped in buttermilk. The thick slices are then double-dredged in cornmeal with two kinds of flour and chimayo chilies, just the kind of wondrous divergence you’d expect from owner/chef Kevin Nashan, winner of the 2017 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest.

Atmosphere

Parigi

Restaurateur extraordinaire Ben Poremba worked with architecture and design firm Mitchell Wall to create a visual (and culinary) masterpiece in Clayton. Even if the Sistine Chapel served rabbit roulade and lobster risotto, the Parisian-inspired eatery would still be in the running of the Most Interesting Ceiling competition. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Cookie

Cibare Italian Kitchen’s Chewy Mooey

River City Casino executive pastry chef David Laufer calls it “the best chocolate chip cookie you’ll ever eat,” and we concur: browned at the edge and soft in the center, bearing discs of 60 percent cacao chocolate, butterscotch chips, and pecans—all topped with a mini-pretzel.

New Bakery

Like Home/Comme à la Maison

Mother-daughter duo Christine and Clémence Pereur chose a cozy light-filled spot in Midtown for their new bakery, which is a pleasure to the eye, nose, and palate. Pastries (especially macarons) are mandatory, but don’t forget the bread and light lunch options.

Buffalo Balls

Snax Gastrobar

They look like planets atop a bed of clouds. The flavor is other-worldly, too. The chicken and pork meld to provide the consistency you might find in spaghetti but with the sweet, slightly spicy flavor typically reserved for wings. Topping it all off? Blue cheese and green onions for added contrast.

Charitable idea

Wine Down Wednesday

Private event space Oliva on the Hill opens its wisteria-covered patio to the public for Wine Down Wednesday, a pop-up wine bar from 5–10 p.m. Veteran chef Lisa Slay creates a small-plates menu in the inviting space, which is dog-friendly. The best part: 50 percent of sales are donated to charity.

Party DJ

DJ Deception

A native of Hawaii, Tony Balbuena (a.k.a. DJ Deception) began DJing in California in the mid-’90s. As part of the Nocturnal Sound Krew, he claimed the International Turntablist Federation title two years in a row. In 2005, Balbuena set up shop in St. Louis, DJing at Home Nightclub, Social House, Fusion Nightclub, and Area 14 over time. In 2011, he topped seven other local DJs to make it to the Red Bull 3Style national finals. Nowadays he’s a draw at The Pepper Lounge, regularly spinning at the popular industry night’s Sunday Skool.

Party Band

Whiskey Morning

You probably recognize the lead singer. That’s because Suzy Bacino is a busy woman—she’s worked as a model, stylist, and fashion editor (including a stint for SLM before starting the band in 2010). Alongside country music veteran Bob Breidenbach, guitarist/vocalist Michael Eisenbeis, bass player Kevin Gagnepain, and drummer Ron Krazer, she cranks out “country like country when country meant country.” Last year, Whiskey Morning released its debut album, The Here and Now, with all 10 tracks penned by Bacino herself.

Trend

Game Cafés

More bars are inviting guests to step away from their cellphones and back in time. A family-friendly bar/café in Soulard, Pieces is built around an extensive library of board games. If you’re in the mood for nostalgia but want a little less Sorry and a little more Skee-Ball, Orbit Pinball Lounge, in Maplewood, offers an outlet. Downtown’s Start Bar further charges the idea, enticing children of the ’70s and ’80s with Donkey Kong and exciting millennials with Xbox. By the end of the year, The Grove and the Central West End plan to offer similar options, with Parlor and Up-Down, respectively.

Comedy

The Improv Shop

With a recent move from the Central West End to The Grove, The Improv Shop harnesses the energy of a new neighborhood and increases its performance space. The move adds 70 seats, event space, a separate bar area, a kitchen, and dedicated parking space—perfect for improv lovers and aspiring comedians alike.

Don’t-Miss Patios
 

Anyone can set up tables on a sidewalk, but creating a nice patio is a challenge. May we suggest a few?
★ Rock & Brews is screened (hooray), has a fire pit, and is even dog-friendly. ★ Pretend you’re in La La Land now that The Chase Club operates poolside and with a new menu. ★ A lovely fountain marks the patio at Square One Brewery & Distillery. ★ Last fall, Truffles added a 32-seat patio, replete with planter boxes. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

Dining Dream Team: Chef/Owner

Katie Lee Collier

Restaurants that get off to a great start either maintain their quality and consistency or, as time passes, begin to slip a little. Very few continue to improve. Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria (which could win an award for best-looking restaurant and patio in a strip center) is a case in point. The tables and chairs might be mismatched, but Collier’s food and the restaurant’s mission have never been more focused. The fresh pasta is consistently well executed, the pizza has a perfect crust, and the salads and hospitality—well, they were always pretty good. During monthly Giveback Tuesdays, Katie and her husband/partner, Ted Collier, donate the day’s profits to a different local charity (more than $100,000 to date). the second Katie’s location is slated to open in Town and Country later this month. (Photo by Kevin A. Roberts)

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