Elmwood, the highly anticipated new restaurant from Niche alumni Adam Altnether and Chris Kelling, opens tonight (Jan. 22) at 2704 Sutton Boulevard. Altnether and Kelling announced Elmwood back in December 2017, and in the 13 months since then their idea of the restaurant hasn't changed: a place equally suited to be a neighborhood hangout and a special-occasion splurge.
“We want people to be comfortable showing up in jeans,” says Kelling, who was the general manager at the late, acclaimed Niche and its successor, Sardella. His resume also includes the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Calif., which holds 3 Michelin stars.
The dining room's layout reflects Elmwood's different possible identities. The single large space includes a communal table, a banquette and booths. There are small dining tables along the front window and large, round tables in the back. The bar features seats and standing room.
Elmwood is a return to restaurant cooking for Altnether, who was the chef de cuisine at Niche at the age of 22 and was named a “30 Under 30” rising star by Forbes magazine in 2014. He left the Niche Food Group in 2015.
As with Elmwood's design, Altnether's menu is meant to appeal to both casual dining (there will soon be a burger on the menu, of course) and plan-months-ahead visits (a whole grilled fish, a dry-aged rib-eye steak for two). Expect frequent changes.
“What hits the menu is what keeps (us) engaged in the kitchen,” Altnether says.
Altnether and Kelling are eager to show off the heart of the kitchen, a Josper-brand charcoal-burning oven and grill from Spain. It features hand cranks to raise and lower the grill beds, and as Altnether notes, there is no electrical or gas assistance. The cooks must start the charcoal burning in a grill chimney just as you would when grilling in your backyard.
Elmwood is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are available through Tock. The phone number is 314-261-4708.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to clarify that there will be a burger on Elmwood's menu soon rather than when the restaurant opened. The burger is still in research-and-development, Kelling told Off the Menu.
A single grilled spot prawn bathed in a sauce of its own roe. A fresh cheese — fresh, as in made to order — paired with a cheese aged three months, both accented by grilled fennel and fermented chiles. A roasted sunchoke warmed up in chicken fat, topped with crisp chicken skins and served in a barbecue sauce made from parsnips cooked for 90 days.
A list of dishes can't do Logan Ely's Savage justice, not least because the menu changes often. By the time you dine there — and if you are passionate about restaurants in St. Louis, you must — these probably will have been replaced by other marvels.
But there is no easy way to describe Savage, a tasting-menu restaurant without tasting-menu luxuries or pretensions. The décor is minimal, as is the staff. Ely himself designed the space (a former corner market in Fox Park) and built it out with a few friends.
Ely focuses on local, seasonal produce, both what is fresh and what he has preserved. You're more likely to eat yeast than meat. Memories of that yeast mousse with slivered turnip, preserved onion and grilled-onion oil, memories of the spot prawn, the cheeses, the roasted sunchoke, will linger over your other meals for weeks and months to come.
There is one easy way to describe Savage: the best new restaurant of 2018.
Where Savage, 2655 Ann Avenue • More info 314-354-8488; savagestl.com • Menu Often-changing tasting menus of local ingredients • Hours Dinner Thursday-Sunday (open at noon for drinks and limited a-la-carte menu)
2. Nippon Tei
Nick Bognar was 10 years old when his mother, Ann Bognar, opened Nippon Tei in a Manchester Road shopping plaza. He grew up in the restaurant, learned from its sushi chefs and helped open its adjacent ramen concept. He left St. Louis for Austin, Texas, where he worked at the acclaimed sushi chef Tyson Cole's Uchiko and learned, as he told me in an interview earlier this year, “Anything can be improved. Anything can be pushed to its limits.” His mother thought her restaurant could benefit from a fresh approach, and over the past year the now 27-year-old Bognar has transformed Nippon Tei into St. Louis' best sushi restaurant.
Bognar's method is exacting: the right amount of aging and the right accent for each piece of fish. His work is also refreshingly accessible. His omakase menu of the day's five best pieces of nigiri sushi is only $18.
Nippon Tei isn't a new restaurant, of course, but Bognar's work has made it as important to 2018 as any of the year's actual debuts.
Where Nippon Tei, 14025 Manchester Road, west St. Louis County • More info 636-386-8999; nippon.teistl.com • Menu Sushi and other traditional Japanese fare • Hours Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday)
The latest chapter of the four-decades-long collaboration between restaurateur Zoë Robinson and chef Ny Vongsaly (I Fratellini, Bar Les Frères), Billie-Jean isn't a greatest-hits victory lap. It's the duo's best restaurant yet. The design is audacious even by Robinson's standards, a sleek, unapologetically grown-up parlor of Robert Motherwell prints, Harry Benson photographs and servers in bespoke jumpsuits. Vongsaly's cooking is as fresh and vital as any St. Louis chef's. He draws on the flavors from his native Laos and, more broadly, Southeast Asia (a pork-shrimp dumpling soup with lemongrass and lime leaf). He dispatches hearty fare with a light touch (braised short ribs with a horseradish gremolata). Forty years later, he and Robinson are still names you must know.
Where Billie-Jean, 7610 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-797-8484; billiejeanstl.com • Menu Contemporary American and Southeast Asian cuisine • Hours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday
Matt McGuire summoned the ghosts of his late, beloved restaurant King Louie's when he named his new venture Louie. But Louie is magical on its own terms, and only one year after opening, it seems like a timeless fixture of Clayton's DeMun neighborhood and of St. Louis dining as a whole. McGuire's peerless hospitality is a key reason why. He makes diners feel at home whether they have landed a coveted reservation or simply snagged a walk-in bar seat. Chef Sean Turner's Italian-influenced cooking is joyful and unaffected: wood-fired pizzas, the hearty, stew-like Roman gnocco and the best roast chicken (with rapini and its own jus) and pork chop (with chermoula) in town.
Where Louie, 706 DeMun Avenue, Clayton • More info 314-300-8188; louiedemun.com • Menu Rustic Italian fare HOURS Dinner Monday-Saturday, lunch Monday-Friday (closed Sunday)
5. J. Devoti Trattoria
Anthony Devoti closed his acclaimed Five Bistro in March after a 12-year run and reopened the space the following month as J. Devoti Trattoria. The difference between the two restaurants isn't stark. J. Devoti's menu leans into the Hill's Italian heritage and tradition of family-friendly restaurants, with pizza, pasta and a kid's menu. But Devoti's cooking remains devoted to seasonal, mostly local produce, and the pasta might resemble the lovely ravioli I ate this summer, folded over ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and goat cheeses, with chicken, a white wine-chive butter sauce and zucchini and shishito peppers. If not a wholly new restaurant, J. Devoti is a new reason to celebrate Devoti's talents and introduce him to a broader audience.
Where J. Devoti Trattoria, 5100 Daggett Avenue • More info 314-773-5553; jdevoti.com • Menu Contemporary American fare, with Italian influences • Hours Dinner Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday)
6. Cinder House
There is no guaranteed “can't-miss” idea in the restaurant business, but pairing acclaimed chef Gerard Craft with the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis comes pretty close. Cinder House is really two concepts in one dazzling space: a wood-fired steakhouse and a tribute to Craft's childhood nanny, Cecelia Assuncao, a Brazilian native and formative influence on his cooking. The two concepts overlap happily rather than fuse seamlessly, and the Brazilian fare is more compelling, especially moqueca (seafood stew with snapper, octopus and prawns) and Brazil's national dish, feijoada, here served with multiple cuts of beef and pork. Assuncao's cheese bread, which has accompanied Craft since he opened Niche in 2005, is a must-order.
Where Cinder House, Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, 999 North Second Street • More info 314-881-5759; cinderhousestl.com • Menu Brazilian dishes and wood-grilled meats • Hours Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily
7. The Benevolent King
The Benevolent King marked a return to the kitchen for chef-restaurateur Ben Poremba (Elaia, Olio, Nixta). Far more casual than his flagship Elaia, the Benevolent King features an oft-changing menu of Moroccan-influenced dishes. Highlights of my visits this summer included a tagine of lamb meatballs in tomato sauce and shrimp mogador. The best way to experience the Benevolent King might be grazing over its selection of small plates and salatim — among my favorites are the briouat (skinny phyllo shells stuffed with sardine or chicken), the fresh farmer's cheese jben and smoky, garlicky Romanian-style eggplant dip — while enjoying mixologist Tony Saputo's inventive cocktails.
Where The Benevolent King, 7268 Manchester Road, Maplewood • More info 314-899-0440; thebenevolentking.com • Menu Moroccan-inspired cuisine • Hours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday
8. VP Square
At a time when restaurants are more likely to focus on regional fare or even individual dishes, VP Square is an outlier, with a menu ranging across Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Sichuan and Japanese cuisines. Remarkably, not only does the new venture from siblings Victor, Duncan and Mina Pham of nearby sushi restaurant Cafe Mochi acquit itself well across these different cuisines, VP Square creates something unique from its influences. Duncan Pham, the chef, serves fine renditions of such familiar fare as tonkotsu ramen, banh mi and fried calamari, but the best dishes are his unique take on fried rice with smoked bacon, barbecue chicken and Chinese sausage and a frittata-like creation of shrimp dumplings set in fried eggs.
Where VP Square, 3611 Juniata Street • More info 314-833-4838; facebook.com/vpsquarestl • Menu Pan-Asian cuisine, including Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese dishes • Hours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday)
For the follow-up to their 2015 hit Retreat Gastropub, Travis Howard and Tim Wiggins partnered with “Top Chef” celebrity chef Richard Blais for the island-themed, seafood-heavy Yellowbelly. Once you get past the surface charms of the Instagram-ready décor and dishes (a roughly two-pound tuna steak attached to a beef bone!), the restaurant's true pleasures reveal themselves in the vivid flavors of such dishes as the Oysters & Pearls (raw Kumamoto oysters with spheres of liquid-nitrogen-frozen cocktails sauce) and the Wu-Tang Clams (clams with Chinese sausage in a briny, spicy broth). As at Retreat, Wiggins' cocktails are as essential as the food. Here rum is the focus, from tiki classics to Wiggins' clever creations.
Where Yellowbelly, 4659 Lindell Boulevard • More info yellowbellystl.com • Menu Seafood and rum-focused cocktails • Hours Dinner daily, lunch Wednesday-Sunday
10. Knead Bakehouse + Provisions
After selling their bread at farmers' markets for a few years, married couple AJ and Kirsten Brown opened Knead Bakehouse + Provisions in late 2017 in the old Salume Beddu storefront in Lindenwood Park. Knead would be a worthy addition to St. Louis rising artisan-bread scene if it sold only the Browns' signature rustic loaf and brioche bread, but the cafe menu also uses these breads as the base for a small menu of breakfast and lunch fare, from simple toasts topped with sunflower butter or chocolate ganache to a smoked-brisket sandwich worthy of your favorite barbecue joint. The Browns' baking skills extend beyond bread. The cinnamon roll here is the best I've eaten anywhere.
Where Knead Bakehouse + Provisions, 3467 Hampton Avenue • More info 314-376-4361; kneadbakehouse.com • Menu Breakfast and lunch fare • Hours 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday- Sunday (closed Monday)
Honorable Mention: Bakers & Hale
Rex Hale (Three Sixty, the Restaurant at the Cheshire, Boundary) and his longtime friend and kitchen lieutenant Kelsi Baker Walden joined forces to open Bakers & Hale in Godfrey this August. Hale's fans will note the influence of his farm-to-table ethos in the on-premises garden, but on my visits late this fall I was impressed at how Walden excelled at various dishes across a wide-ranging menu, from pizza to a smoked-brisket sandwich sharpened with gochujang to a lovely piece of grilled sea trout. (Note: Just before this article was published, Hale announced he had left Bakers & Hale.)
Where Bakers & Hale, 7120 Montclaire Avenue, Godfrey • More info 618-433-9748; bakershale.com • Menu Seasonal American fare, with pizza, tacos and more • Hours Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Saturday, brunch Sunday (closed Tuesday)
Honorable Mention: The Clover & the Bee
Someone ask Mark Hinkle and Jesse Mendica for the next winning Powerball numbers. Introduced in late 2017 as a more casual spinoff of their Webster Groves blockbuster Olive & Oak, the Clover & the Bee has proven so popular that reservations for weekend brunch are more or less mandatory. The daytime menu, overseen by chef Mike Risk, features excellent renditions of such beloved dishes as grits, smoked salmon and a sausage-egg biscuit sandwich. Since I reviewed the Clover & the Bee, the dinner menu has expanded and taken on an Italian inflection.
Where The Clover and the Bee, 100 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves • More info 314-942-1216; thecloverandthebee.com • Menu Casual bistro fare • Hours Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Wednesday-Sunday
Honorable Mention: The Frisco Barroom
If you're going to add yourself to St. Louis seemingly endless roster of gastropubs and taverns, you should at least go bigger — and better — than most. The Frisco Barroom sprawls over two handsome floors (with both a rooftop deck and patio to boot) in Webster Groves, and while its menu doesn't break new ground, it delivers very good roasted- and smoked-meat sandwiches, a satisfying tri-tip steak and smashed burger and such slightly outside-the-box starters as Cornish pasty and smoked-whitefish dip. Don't skip the housemade charcuterie, especially duck rillettes and smoked-venison sausage.
Where The Frisco Barroom, 8110 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves • More info 314-455-1090; thefriscostl.com • Menu Classic pub fare • Hours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday)
Honorable Mention: Hamilton's Urban Steakhouse & Bourbon Bar
A new venture from Paul and Wendy Hamilton of Eleven Eleven Mississippi and Vin de Set — though not their newest, as the couple have since opened Rhone Rum Bar on the same block — Hamilton's Urban Steakhouse is a cozy nook rather than the usual big, brawny steakhouse. (The cost isn't as exorbitant as at the upscale steakhouse chains, either.) The steaks, wet- or dry-aged from heritage-breed Black Angus cattle, are very good, and the lamb chops (if available) are superb. The bourbon list might lack trophy bottles, but the casual bourbon fan will find plenty of fairly priced pours.
Where Hamilton’s Urban Steakhouse & Bourbon Bar, 2101 Chouteau Avenue • More info 314-241-2333; hamiltonsteak.com • Menu Steaks and other chops • Hours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday)
Honorable Mention: Levant
Ahmad Hameed's culinary career took him to a seven-star hotel in Abu Dhabi and also to Thailand before he joined his family here in St. Louis, where his brother runs the University City Syrian restaurant Ranoush. For all his travels, the debut restaurant from the Damascus, Syria, native features what he calls homestyle cuisine, the food he ate growing up. These are straightforward, deeply satisfying dishes: dawood basha, meatballs in a garlicky tomato sauce; okra stew; freekeh with beef or chicken. Hameed also turns out top-notch grilled meats (beef kabobs, shish tawuk), hummus and baba ganoush.
Where Levant, 386 North Euclid Avenue • More info 314-833-4400; levantstl.com • Menu Homestyle Syrian fare • Hours Dinner daily, lunch Friday-Sunday
Honorable Mention: Simba Ugandan Restaurant
Christine Mukulu Sseremba first introduced St. Louis to her cooking in 2015 at Olive Green International Plaza in University City's unofficial restaurant incubator, Jeffrey Plaza. She closed that restaurant in 2017 to move just across the street to a standalone building, which opened this February as Simba Uganda Restaurant. The menu of Ugandan fare is tight and appealing from top to bottom. Start with a rolex, a classic Ugandan street food that wraps a skinny vegetable omelet inside chapati. Goat curry shows the Indian influence on Ugandan cuisine, while mbizi enjokye delivers garlicky, peppery roasted pork ribs as flavorful as your favorite smoked ribs.
Where Simba Uganda Restaurant, 8531 Olive Boulevard, University City • More info 314-484-2530; facebook.com/simbaugandanrestaurant • Menu Traditional Ugandan fare • Hours Lunch buffet and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday)