This year, the STL 100 celebrates the St. Louis people, restaurants and foods we love and have missed. No awards, no rankings — just appreciation.
(100) updates to this series since
The publication date of this special edition of the STL 100 marks 400 days since the last time I ate inside a restaurant dining room. As you can imagine, the seventh annual STL 100 is a vastly different kind of project from the previous six.
I have eaten many great takeout meals over the past 400 days, from both old favorites and restaurants that managed to open during the pandemic, but it isn’t yet the time — and the 2021 STL 100 isn’t the place — for a return to reviews, stars and rankings.
Instead, my colleagues and I wanted to celebrate the people, restaurants and foods we love and have missed. You will find stories of pandemic endurance, pivots and community stories. There are chats about cevapi and snoots, zero-proof cocktails and toasted ravioli, seasoning turkey and shipping chocolate.
Even a robust 100 items — well, 99 after this introduction — can’t cover all of our enthusiasms. We know you will suggest what should be Nos. 101, 102, 103 …
We will keep eating and talking and writing about St. Louis foods and restaurants and the people who make them.
And, as for myself, after the past 400 days, I’m hungrier than ever. By Ian Froeb
There were projects that had already been underway for months (Logan Ely’s the Lucky Accomplice; see No. 7) or more than a year (acclaimed chef Ben Grupe’s solo debut, Tempus).
Some concepts leaned into the moment with takeout-only storefronts (Jason Lamont’s Love at First Bite in St. Ann). Others made unabashedly splashy debuts (Casa Don Alfonso and Tony’s in Clayton, see No. 10).
In a year when we were primed for restaurant closures — and counted more than we would have liked — the number of restaurants that opened in spite of the pandemic was as heartening as it was surprising. By Ian Froeb
"They’ve been knocking on the door every day, asking when I’m opening,” Joe Dixon told the Post-Dispatch last November as he prepared to debut Dixon’s BBQ in Overland.
Dixon was talking about his restaurant’s new neighbors, but he just as well could have been addressing all of us who had been craving his signature burnt ends and chicken tips since he had closed midtown’s Dixon Smoke Co. in 2018.
Restaurant comebacks are not unheard of, but they should never be taken for granted.
Dixon’s returned after two years and change. Midtown movers-and-shakers lunch institution Beffa’s had been silent for nine years when it reopened in March 2020.
Fourth-generation owner Paul Beffa was in high school when his parents closed the original restaurant, ending a 113-year run. After studying real estate and finance in college, he decided he wanted to take a shot at bringing the family business back.
“My dad was all for it,” he told the Post-Dispatch this year. “And my mom was like, ‘Uh, are you crazy?’”
This year has already teased another possible comeback. Anthony Ellerson staged a February-long pop-up of the Kitchen Sink, the acclaimed Cajun- and Creole-influenced restaurant he operated from 2012 to 2017.
This summer, Ellerson told the Post-Dispatch in February, “the Kitchen Sink will be back 100%.” By Ian Froeb
Where Dixon’s BBQ, 2549 Woodson Road, Overland • More info 314-395-2855; facebook.com/dixonbbq1
Where Beffa’s, 2700 Olive Street • More info 314-571-9367; beffas.com
More than once while sitting outside the Banh Mi Shop, Jimmy Trinh has watched Washington University students walk by his Delmar Loop restaurant lugging suitcases.
“I stopped one,” Trinh says, “and I was like, ‘Where are you guys going? You guys getting kicked out of your dorm or your apartment or whatever?’”
Instead, he says, the students were going to Costco or Sam’s Club to fill those suitcases with as much food as they could possibly buy.
It was a stark example of pandemic economics. Not that Trinh needed a reminder. He opened the Banh Mi Shop on Feb. 25, 2020, as the pandemic was bearing down on the United States.
The Banh Mi Shop is a small restaurant with a compact menu — banh mi, of course, noodle bowls and spring rolls — and Trinh has kept its dining room closed since last March. Social media has helped boost takeout sales over the past year.
“I think it was partially because people had their phones in their face so much more than they did before already,” Trinh says.
When the restaurant promoted a call-in-only special online, he saw a response.
“People actually saw it, liked it — and genuinely liked it, instead of, like, OK, double-click and scroll through,” he says.
After the most brutal months of the pandemic, Trinh is starting to see the Loop return to something like normal.
“There’s definitely more people that are just out and about, just wanting to walk or stick their heads into local businesses (and) give a warm, keep-going kind of attitude” to those inside, he says. By Ian Froeb
Where The Banh Mi Shop, 567 Melville Avenue, University City • More info 314-390-2836; thebanhmishopstl.com
While the pandemic might have disrupted the literal meaning of “counter service” in some cases, the format remains a force in St. Louis dining, from the curries and dosas of the Curry Club in Chesterfield to the kimbap, rice bowls, and Korean soups and stews at Sides of Seoul in Overland to the nationally acclaimed Balkan Treat Box in Webster Groves. More recent additions to the category include two Central West End standouts: ReVoaked Sandwiches from chef Stephan Ledbetter (Oaked, the Gamlin Restaurant Group) and Zenwich, with ramen and sandwiches from Blue Ocean Sushi owner Chai Ploentham. By Ian Froeb
What are the “best new restaurants” of the past year? I don’t know. Frankly, with vaccination ongoing and many dining rooms operating below 100% capacity (and some remaining temporarily closed), it doesn’t feel appropriate or practical to evaluate such a question yet.
Pandemic pivots aside, what 2020 dining development will make the greatest impact on St. Louis’ restaurant scene? Here I’ll wager a guess: 9 Mile Garden, the food-truck park and entertainment venue that opened last summer in the Affton area.
9 Mile Garden would have been a smart idea even if an outdoor dining space with ample room for spreading out hadn’t become a necessity, even if food trucks hadn’t seen many of their usual haunts empty out as people worked from home.
The appeal is clear: a daily lunch and dinner spot offering a rotating roster of trucks, some of which diners might not have the opportunity to track down elsewhere.
The appeal also seems to be growing. The list of participating trucks curated by 9 Mile Garden managing partner Brian Hardesty (himself co-owner of the first-generation St. Louis food truck Guerrilla Street Food) has increased from around two dozen last year to more than 40 this season. By Ian Froeb
Where 9 Mile Garden, 9375 Gravois Road, south St. Louis County • More info 314-390-2806; 9milegarden.com
When Logan Ely announced his plans to open the Lucky Accomplice, a more casual sibling to his acclaimed Fox Park restaurant Shift (originally known as Savage), it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Shift is a terrific restaurant — I ranked it No. 2 in 2020’s STL 100 — but Ely’s ambitious, vegetable-heavy tasting menus aren’t an everyday meal.
What was surprising was Ely’s timing. He made his announcement on March 23, 2020, less than a week after the pandemic had forced area restaurants to close their dining rooms.
Ely had already signed a lease and begun construction, he told the Post-Dispatch at the time: “(We’ve) been in here a couple months, so there’s kind of no turning back.”
A year later, and six months after the Lucky Accomplice opened, Ely has no regrets.
“Did I think that we would still be in the same boat, like a year later?” he says. “No. Hell, no.” ...
“Anyone missing a food delivery?”
The question popped up semi-regularly over the past year on neighborhood message boards. A neighbor opens the front door, looks down and discovers a plastic bag containing Styrofoam containers of cashew chicken or fried rice. Or sometimes, several bags with an entire grocery order.
Efforts to find rightful owners turn into a who-ordered-it mystery (“Did you look for a name on the order? The first two initials? Did somebody mix up the house number?”) that occasionally ends with a reunion — or the sharing of grocery spoils (“I don’t do Brussels sprouts”).
Hey, we get that food-delivery people are a harried bunch.
But sometimes, there is such a thing as a free lunch. By Valerie Schremp Hahn
The Zacchi food truck is like a Middle Eastern kitchen on wheels, offering falafel, shawarma and such hybrid treats as baklava milkshakes, wherever the roads will take it.
We talked to Murad Yacoub, 48, who owns the truck with his wife, Kelly.
Q • What is your background?
A • I was born and raised in Jordan and came to this country in ’96. I like to say I’ve lived half of my life in Jordan and half of my life here.
Food was my passion, but I went to business school. I worked for Frito-Lay as a sales rep and had other jobs, but my wife and I decided to go for a food truck. I have the brains to cook, and she has the talent to manage. We are a perfect team. ...
No one knows exactly what the post-pandemic dining landscape will look like — or when the post-pandemic period will begin — so I admire the courage of the restaurants betting on at least some demand for a luxury experience.
Fine-dining institution Tony’s, which relocated in March from downtown to the Centene Plaza tower in Clayton, boasts a dining room with $2,300 chairs and a wall-sized painting commissioned from Los Angeles artist America Martin.
Meanwhile, the nearby Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis has turned to a Michelin-starred establishment, Don Alfonso 1890 in Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi, Italy, for its new restaurant, Casa Don Alfonso. By Ian Froeb
Where Tony’s, 105 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton • More info 314-231-7007; tonysstlouis.com
Where Casa Don Alfonso, 100 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton • More info 314-719-1496; casadonalfonsostlouis.com
Look: I don’t know when I’ll be ready to plunge into a teeming mass of people again, even post-vaccination, but I suspect the return of our great festivals — the various Greek festivals, the Japanese Festival at Missouri Botanical Garden and especially the greatest of them all, the Festival of Nations — will do the trick. The food. The music. The arts and crafts. Did I mention the food? Mostly what I miss is the sense of possibility at each. Also: the food. By Ian Froeb
Earthbound Beer installed its walk-up window a few years before the pandemic, during the renovation of the Cherokee Street building that is now its brewery and tasting room. Inspired by the window at Civil Life Brewing Co., co-owner Stuart Keating imagined patio customers never having to go inside on gorgeous days.
Earthbound’s bartenders nixed that idea, Keating says. Their hands were already full working the regular bar. The walk-up window was essentially forgotten.
Then, Keating says, “the pandemic hit, and everyone turned and looked at the window and was like, ‘Oh, thank God.’”
Earthbound’s pivot to window service was not an executive decision but a sort of experiment in employee-led management.
“We got everybody together as safely as we could, and we let them decide how we were going to handle the pandemic,” Keating says.
“And I think that if (we) hadn’t had that to-go window, we probably would have just fully shut down and just ceased operations for a good long while because nobody wanted to have people inside at all.”
Keating has been impressed with how customers have responded to the walk-up window.
“Our customer count is incredibly down, but our ticket prices are way up because people have been very generous and really going out of their way,” he says.
That generosity includes tips, of course, but also buying beer to go as well as to drink on the patio, buying beer to give as gifts and bringing Earthbound employees takeout food.
One regular recently dropped off sunchokes from his garden, Keating says.
“I was like, ‘Sure! I’d love some sunchokes!’” By Ian Froeb
Where Earthbound Beer, 2724 Cherokee Street • More info 314-769-9576; earthboundbeer.com
The kitchen at Liliana’s Italian Kitchen is small — it has only six burners, for example — but during the pandemic it has found a way to stretch to handle dine-in service, delivery orders and customers at the drive-thru window.
“It took some strategy, let’s just put it that way,” owner Tim Pieri says.
He and his wife, Kathy, inherited the drive-thru window from a previous tenant of the South County storefront, and before the pandemic, drive-thru customers accounted for around 20% of Liliana’s business.
At the height of last year’s shutdowns, that figure rose to 80%. Even now, as indoor-dining capacity expands, it remains at about 60%.
For Liliana’s, Pieri says, “the new normal is definitely going to (include) pickup. I’d say it’s probably going to be 50-50 — maybe 60% dining room.” By Ian Froeb
Where Liliana’s Italian Kitchen, 11836 Tesson Ferry Road, south St. Louis County • More info 314-729-1800; lilianasitaliankitchen.com
The walk-up window, the drive-thru lane — even a folding table set up outside a restaurant’s front door. Such pandemic pivots have been essential for the businesses that could turn to them or, in some cases, newly install them.
When dining rooms were closed to all and even now for those not yet comfortable dining indoors, these have been windows into a lost world, a chance, if fleeting, to make eye contact and say a mask-muffled hello and thank-you to those who have kept working in restaurants this past year. By Ian Froeb
Baked goods have provided comfort for many during the pandemic, and for a group of St. Louis-area bakers, they also helped advance social justice efforts.
Bakers for Black Lives founders Hannah Kerne and Sharon Harter responded to our questions by email about what they’ve done and where they are headed with the venture.
Q • When did Bakers for Black Lives begin, and what is the mission?
A • We started in the aftermath of the (killings) of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in June 2020. What started as an idea to have a bake sale on our lawn turned into us raising $15,000 in two hours for our first event. Our goal is to mobilize home bakers’ and restaurants’ joy and commitment to antiracism to host social justice food celebrations. ...
Pop-up food pantries aren’t necessarily new — if you look in alleys or on curbsides, you’ll sometimes find a cabinet, table or box with food for the taking. It’s similar to the Little Free Library concept, where neighbors are also encouraged to donate. It’s a give-and-take that can fill a need without a regular food pantry’s red tape.
Mark Moore, 43, of Tower Grove South saw his photography business slow during the pandemic, so he started a food pantry of sorts outside his home. He started by grabbing leftover food boxes that had been delivered to Pride St. Louis and the Urban League and gave away the contents to elderly neighbors. He put the leftover food on his front porch and made a post in his neighborhood Facebook group telling people to help themselves.
“It went super fast,” he says. He picked up a few more boxes and sorted the food, then posted again. “I had a line (of people) at my front porch. It was gone.”
Collecting, sorting and distributing food became a goodwill hobby. He bought watertight plastic containers and added labels. He welcomes drop-offs and buys food and hygiene products with monetary donations. In colder months, donors added hats and scarves.
He regularly posts directions to the spoils. “No need to knock,” he writes. “No questions asked. Help yourself.”
He figures he helped feed between 250 and 300 families in the last couple months. And people tell him they’ve been inspired to make pantries of their own.
“People need some help,” he says. “We all do at some point, right?” By Valerie Schremp Hahn
Community Carry Out STL, a charitable giving concept created by Liz Kniep Engelsmann to help locally owned restaurants and food insecure people weather the pandemic, quickly became a favorite initiative in recent months.
She and her brother own Pinnacle Imports, which distributes wine and has established relationships with local restaurants.
“Last year, around Thanksgiving, I thought about how I might personally help our friends in the restaurant industry by paying them to prepare holiday meals and then donating those meals to families in need,” she says. “Then the idea spiraled, and I thought more people would find this an appealing opportunity and contribute.”
They did. In December, Engelsmann partnered with the St. Louis Community Foundation, leveraging its experience and nonprofit status to host the fund.
Originally scheduled to end March 30, the successful fund has been extended until June. At least $312,500 has been donated and 15,625 meals delivered.
Forty-eight restaurants and caterers have received grants of $5,000 or $10,000 in exchange for 250 to 500 healthful meals delivered to participating nonprofits to distribute to those in food assistance programs.
It’s a win-win for both restaurants and clients. For Engelsmann, a favorite memory comes from a conversation with a member of the advisory board.
“He said that the recipients of the meals had never had an opportunity to dine in any of the restaurants that are providing the meals,” she says. “It was such a treat to experience what they consider fine dining in their homes.”
Donations are accepted at stlgives.org/give-today; select Community Carry Out as the “fund designation.” By Pat Eby
Some St. Louisans have long engaged in a spicy love affair with Old Vienna’s Red Hot Riplets potato chips. But when the company started selling containers of its seasoning in 2017, well, more of us couldn’t resist the temptation.
It’s a spicy sweetness with a cayenne pepper heat that kind of hits you on the back end.
Company director Andy Doyle says the seasoning is a more granular version of what’s used on the chips (that’s more powdery and pulverized) and has made more headway into the restaurant and food manufacturing world. Mama Lucia makes a frozen Red Hot Riplets chicken pizza, and a fall collaboration with Happy Apples is in the works for a caramel-Riplet apple.
Doyle likes the spice on green beans or blended with mayo for a burger topping. He even mixes crushed chips with the ground beef.
“Really, we’ve always been a St. Louis thing, but the spice kind of put us back on the map — kind of got people more excited about the brand,” he says. “In St. Louis, it seems like everybody’s got each other’s back. Everybody’s there to help each other out. We use that to grow the brand and embed ourselves in the market.” By Valerie Schremp Hahn
Red Hot Riplets — both the chips themselves and the signature sweet-and-spicy seasoning — have become a go-to move for local restaurants, from Byrd & Barrel’s Mother Clucker fried-chicken sandwich (a St. Louis two-fer, with Provel “cheez wiz”) to Gioia’s King Cod sandwich (a Lenten special with fried cod topped with chips and mac and cheese).
For the purest Red Hot Riplets experience outside of eating an entire bag yourself, visit Mac’s Local Eats or St. Louis Wing Co. At the former, the seasoning amps up the burger joint’s already perfect fries. Meanwhile, at Wing Co., Bobby Tessler offers up both Riplets-zinged wings and a fried-chicken sandwich. By Ian Froeb
Where Mac’s Local Eats, 1821 Cherokee Street • More info 314-479-8155; macslocaleats.com
Where St. Louis Wing Co., 9816 Manchester Road, Rock Hill • More info 314-962-9464; stlouiswingcompany.com
When Joel Crespo and Brian Hardesty launched Guerrilla Street Food in 2011, there were few other food trucks in St. Louis — and even fewer restaurants serving Filipino cuisine, if there were any at all.
By January 2020, with the opening of its new storefront in Webster Groves, Guerrilla Street Food had expanded to include four brick-and-mortar locations and a stand inside 2nd Shift Brewing’s tasting room in addition to the truck. Its Filipino-American fare was a fixture of my STL 100, ranking as high as No. 15 in 2018.
But even before the pandemic arrived in March, Crespo and Hardesty faced a reckoning. The scale of the Guerrilla Street Food operation — the amount of ingredients needed for multiple locations, the desire to keep prices low — was overwhelming. ...
The pork steak is a staple of backyard grilling in St. Louis, but as with most things pig, it reaches its full potential in the smoker. And while the pork steak might not (yet) have the barbecue cachet of ribs or brisket, in the hands of Anita and Kenneth Matthews, the cut has become the signature dish of Ms. Piggies’ Smokehouse.
The success of Ms. Piggies’ pork steak begins with the quality of the meat itself, Anita says. Each steak is cut by hand to the restaurant’s specifications. The Matthews season each with Ms. Piggies’ dry rub — a secret recipe, naturally — and then smoke it with hickory wood for 12 to 14 hours.
The result should be a tender pork steak, Anita says, “but you still want a little firmness there that they can chew on it.”
The Matthews opened Ms. Piggies’ in 1999. It marked a second career for both. They had each worked a corporate job; they hadn’t wanted to pursue their barbecue dream while also raising children.
“So we waited until they graduated from college and started their own lives and said, ‘OK, let’s do it,’” Anita says. “If we fail, it’ll just be us.”
To guide Ms. Piggies’ pork steaks and other meats, she still thinks back to the advice a longtime pitmaster offered her and Kenneth when they were starting out:
“He said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t let nobody touch your meat. One person. You do it yourself. Don’t let nobody touch it because it won’t be the same.’
“And you know, that’s a true statement.” By Ian Froeb
Where Ms. Piggies’ Smokehouse, 10612 Page Avenue, St. Louis County • More info 314-428-7776; mspiggiessmokehouse.com
Fire is hot.
This brilliant insight drives me to ask Vicia’s Michael Gallina what the greatest challenge of wood-fire cooking is, to which I add the dumbest follow-up question in a career with no shortage of contenders: Is it just, like, not burning yourself?
“It’s definitely probably the summer, standing in front of that fire, especially when you’re the person working that station during service,” Gallina says.
Practically, though, the greatest challenge is organization. At Vicia, Gallina and his team have won national acclaim for using the restaurant’s wood-fire grill to coax brilliant flavors from animal and vegetable alike, often cooking the former above the latter so that dripping fat becomes a crucial seasoning.
The cooks need to know what goes where on the grill and when. Controlling the heat is key.
“You build a big fire at the beginning of service, and then you’ve got to know what you’re doing throughout the course of the day and schedule your time almost around the fire,” Gallina says.
He traces his passion for wood-fire cooking back through his previous posting at the renowned Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, New York, to a meal at Etxebarri, a restaurant in Spain that is one of the world’s epicenters of wood-fire cooking.
“Every different course (there) is cooked on a different kind of wood or just in a different way involving woodfire,” Gallina says. “And just tasting the small nuances of flavors and the differences in each course was just kind of really eye-opening and amazing.” By Ian Froeb
Where Vicia, 4260 Forest Park Avenue • More info 314-553-9239; viciarestaurant.com
The low heat of an offset smoker smoldering overnight. The crackling, 900-degree flames that can bake a Neapolitan-style pizza in 90 seconds. The brilliant pink smoke ring around a luscious slice of brisket and the leopard-print char across the crust of freshly baked somun. The alchemy of wood, fire and smoke is transformative by definition; it has transformed St. Louis dining for the better. By Ian Froeb
On Wednesdays, we eat kibbe.
“It’s the tradition,” says Denise Seifert of Imperial. “It’s passed down generation to generation.”
Midweek luncheons at St. Raymond Maronite Cathedral started almost 80 years ago, when women sold traditional Lebanese food in the neighborhood south of downtown to help pay the church’s bills.
Seifert’s grandmother was among that enterprising group. Seifert, a retired schoolteacher, is a third-generation parishioner and one of the volunteer managers overseeing the Middle Eastern menu of spinach pies, cabbage rolls, lentils and rice, and baklava.
And the kibbe, of course.
She prefers kibbe nayee — ground sirloin with wheat, onion and spices, served raw. But the real crowd-pleasers are what everyone refers to as “the footballs,” Seifert says. Kibbe aras are pockets of meat dough stuffed with a meat filling, then deep fried.
Calories don’t count on Wednesdays.
Pre-pandemic, St. Raymond’s lunches were served cafeteria-style in the banquet hall. A line of families and downtown powerbrokers would stretch out the door. Since June, a slightly pared-down menu has been offered for curbside pickup, with pre-orders taken online through Tuesday night.
“It’s been a positive learning experience,” Seifert says. “Our regulars have been supportive. People have been very receptive.”
The Wednesday tradition lives on. By Colleen Schrappen
Vito’s in the Valley offers an extensive menu of family meals — pizzas, pastas, appetizer and charcuterie trays — but while St. Louis County closed indoor dining from mid-November until early January, one dish especially buoyed the Chesterfield restaurant.
Lasagna, owner Jessica LaFata says, was the MVP of those weeks “because everybody loved eating it at home, and it was perfect for the holidays.”
The dish is popular with dine-in guests at Vito’s, she says, “but for some reason, there’s just something more about being at home and enjoying lasagna.”
LaFata and her husband, Giovanni, had wanted to introduce family meals before the pandemic but weren’t sure how to launch the idea.
“Then when COVID came and really took over, it was like, ‘OK, we’ve got to get this going,’” she says.
Even then, she says, “it didn’t actually get rolled out until so many people kept asking (for it).”
As indoor dining has reopened and expanded, demand for Vito’s family meals has not waned. It can be more convenient for some customers, LaFata says, while others might not yet be ready to dine inside.
Family meals, curbside pickup, to-go cocktails, build-your-own pizza kits: The LaFatas see a post-pandemic future for all of the pivots of the past year.
“I would have definitely preferred to come about them in a different way,” she says. “However, all of it’s here to stay, and all of it (has been) wonderful growth for our business.” By Ian Froeb
Where Vito’s in the Valley, 138 Chesterfield Towne Centre, Chesterfield • More info 636-536-3788; vitosinthevalley.com
Family ordering made easy with meal packages
Among restaurants’ many pandemic pivots, family-meal packages are not the most innovative. Depending on what the restaurant did pre-pandemic, it might not even be a pivot.
Still, for those of us managing quarantine, work and children, family meals have been a lifesaver over the past year, getting everyone happily fed with minimal debates over who is ordering what.
My own family’s favorites include the deals at Salt + Smoke (2 pounds of meat, 2 quarts of sides and Hawaiian rolls for $49.99) and the Pat Connolly Tavern (12 pieces of fried chicken and two sides for $25). By Ian Froeb
Vegetarian. Vegan. Plant-based. However you describe your diet — or whichever diet has intrigued your omnivorous self — St. Louis chefs have the range to impress or convince you: Reine Bayoc of SweetArt in Shaw, Natasha Kwan of Frida’s in University City, Bay Tran of Tree House in Tower Grove South.
The future looks bright. The past year has seen faux-meat whiz Chris Bertke popping up his Vegan Deli & Butcher concept following stints at Utah Station in Benton Park and inside Peace Love Coffee in St. Charles. Love at First Bite, which opened in September in St. Ann, serves meat — plenty of it — but chef-owner Jason Lamont also offers a vegan St. Paul Sandwich.
“You can’t get that anywhere (else) in St. Louis,” he told the Post-Dispatch last year. “Not yet.” By Ian Froeb
Before the pandemic, food service was 90% of Newman Farm’s business.
“All of that went dead instantly” in March 2020, David Newman says. “And what was crazy is, it wasn’t like gradually dead. It just all died in five days. Our orders went to nothing in five days.”
Newman is a third-generation farmer. For the past 25 years, his family’s farm in Myrtle, Missouri, has focused on heritage-breed Berkshire pork. The meat has been showcased at such nationally acclaimed, ingredient-conscious restaurants as Vicia in the Central West End.
Newman met with his small staff. The path was clear: “In order to survive, we are going to have to pivot.” ...
If Instacart and a community grocery store had a baby, it would be Tower Grove Farmers’ Market Delivers. At least, that’s what director of operations Dee Ryan thinks.
“We’re giving all these local vendors and farmers that are already at the market an opportunity to have their items delivered to people who have been really careful during COVID times,” Ryan says. “And what we found is people love this service.”
Last year, the pandemic forced farmers markets to get creative, enacting mask requirements and one-way foot traffic. Tower Grove Farmers’ Market did that — and took it a step further, teaming with Eat Here STL owners Preston and Megan Walker to deliver produce boxes.
A year later, there’s no end in sight. ...
St. Louis didn’t need Food & Wine to tell us we have three of the country’s best butcher shops, but we’ll gladly accept the love — and the envy of less fortunate cities. The magazine named Beast Butcher & Block, Bolyard’s Meat & Provisions and Kenrick’s Meats & Catering in its November 2020 feature “The Best Butcher Shops and Meat Markets in America.” To that you might add other St. Louis institutions such as Baumann’s Fine Meats and G&W Meat and, if you like (we do), expand the definition to include the farmers who sell their meats directly at our farmers markets. By Ian Froeb
Pastaria Deli & Wine is technically a pandemic pivot for Gerard Craft. Once the acclaimed chef decided not to reopen his Italian restaurant Sardella after the initial dining-room shutdown last March, he debuted the deli-market hybrid in its Clayton address, first as a curbside-pickup service in June, then as a brick-and-mortar business in October.
Still, Craft and his team were already talking about the idea a year before the pandemic.
“I think, especially once — once? if? — people come back to work in that area, it’ll be a much-needed addition to the work community,” he says.
The concept is straightforward: Offer the ingredients Craft’s own restaurants use and love to the public. So in addition to the menu of prepared sandwiches and a few take-and-bake meals, Pastaria Deli & Wine sells balsamic vinegar, wheat flour and canned tomatoes imported from Italy, local honey and jams, and fresh pasta, jarred sauces and more staples from its adjacent namesake restaurant, Pastaria.
“With more people cooking at home and stuff like that, I think that’s such a great option for people to go in and be able to talk to somebody and maybe even talk to one of the chefs about why it’s such a great ingredient,” Craft says.
The wine follows the same model: a selection not meant to cover every base, Craft says, but bottles with “our personal stamp of approval.” By Ian Froeb
Where Pastaria Deli & Wine, 7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-773-7755; pastariadeliwine.com
You’ve probably spotted Pappy’s Smokehouse barbecue sauce or Andria’s steak sauce at your local supermarket. You can also purchase signature sauces, spices and more directly from some St. Louis restaurants: dry rubs from Grace Meat + Three; spice blends and signature Voodoo Sauce from food truck the Crooked Boot; and the stir-fry and pad thai sauces from Rice Thai Bistro in Winchester. By Ian Froeb
Looking for an unusual ingredient that is used only in the cuisine of a specific region, country or ethnicity? Don’t worry. You can find it here.
The St. Louis area boasts a tremendous number of international markets offering food items from every corner of the world. It’s like shopping in Brooklyn, without the pretentions.
Some offer deep dives into a specific country, region or even continent: Mexican foods are available from any number of specifically Mexican markets; Bosnian, Afghan, Indian and Arabic foods are well represented; other markets specifically target all of Africa or Asia.
And of course several stores offer a broader selection, a little bit of everything from everywhere.
You can get salted jellyfish, duck heads, chicken feet, roghni naan — anything you want. You don’t even have to ask about preserved grinded snake-head fish in brine. You can get that, too. By Daniel Neman
Even before the pandemic, a few of St. Louis’ most acclaimed chefs had entered the market, uh, market. At Winslow’s Table, Tara and Michael Gallina offer staples, baked goods and grab-and-go items alongside a (for now) limited restaurant menu. Ben Poremba’s AO&Co. includes prepared foods from the chef’s Elaia, Olio and Nixta as well as wine, cheese and other essentials and even Poremba’s own label cigars and domestic caviar. Last year, Gerard Craft turned his restaurant Sardella into Pastaria Deli & Wine, a deli-market hybrid (see No. 33). By Ian Froeb
Where Winslow’s Table, 7213 Delmar Boulevard, University City • More info 314-725-7559; winslowstable.com
Where AO&Co., 1641 Tower Grove Avenue • More info 314-899-0991; aoco-102080.square.site
Where Pastaria Deli & Wine, 7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-773-7755; pastariadeliwine.com
Local supermarkets have stepped up to support St. Louis restaurants during the pandemic. Schnucks has been stocking prepared food from both established restaurants such as Nudo House and Seoul Taco and newer ventures, like Bold Spoon Creamery ice cream, Crispy Edge Global Potstickers and the Filipino pop-up restaurant the Fattened Caf, while Dierbergs has been distributing the frozen pizzas that have been the essential pivot for Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria (see No. 46). By Ian Froeb
Corned beef is by far the bestseller at Protzel’s Delicatessen — some 600 to 800 pounds a week, co-owner Max Protzel estimates.
Want to know the corned beef’s secret? Get in line.
“So there was another deli man, right around the time my grandparents started it, and he was getting out of the deli business,” Protzel says.
“And the story goes from this gentleman (that) this recipe was handed off to him and with the understanding when he retired, he would pass it off to someone as well.
“So he passed it off to my grandfather. And then naturally my grandfather passed it off to his kids.”
Fine. It stays a secret. Protzel does venture an additional explanation why the corned beef is so good. The deli doesn’t inject it with chemical preservatives. You get the meat, the other (secret) ingredients, the brine.
Max and his sister, Erica, are third-generation owners of the Jewish deli Bob and Evelyn founded in 1954, a legacy he embraces. There are still customers who knew his grandparents.
“It’s kind of like family,” he says. “There’s so many families that continue to come in the deli, first through fourth generation now.”
There is one Protzel’s tradition he is uncertain will persist: chopped liver.
“Lots of older people love it,” he says. “Not so much the younger people. Myself included.” By Ian Froeb
Where Protzel’s Delicatessen, 7608 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-721-4445; protzelsdeli.com
Traditions need new voices to thrive rather than merely persist. In St. Louis, rising-star chefs have given a jolt to two classic dishes.
At the barbecue restaurant Stellar Hog, Alex Cupp brines brisket for a week before smoking it. The result can stand with both any other corned beef in town and any other smoked brisket.
When Tommy Andrew opened Nomad inside Dogtown’s Tamm Avenue Bar last year, he decided he wanted to be “the pastrami guy.” He is succeeding, thanks to brisket brined for seven to 10 days, seasoned with black pepper and coriander, and smoked 12 to 14 hours. By Ian Froeb
Where Stellar Hog, 5623 Leona Street (temporarily closed) and 40 Clarkson Wilson Center, Chesterfield • More info 636-778-9204; thestellarhog.com
Where Nomad, 1221 Tamm Avenue • More info 314-696-2360; nomadstl.square.site
It doesn’t smell good, exactly. It certainly doesn’t put me in the mood to crack open a cold one. And no matter how much I’ve learned about beer and brewing since I moved here, I’m still stuck on what I thought when I first smelled it nearly two decades ago: like wet wool, but sweet? However you describe it, when the Anheuser-Busch brewery hangs heavy in the St. Louis air, it smells like home. By Ian Froeb
Calling La Tejana Taqueria a restaurant is like calling Forest Park a park. Technically true, but it glosses over a few vital details.
From a small Bridgeton shopping plaza, Brenda and Antonio Garcia offer a hub for St. Louis’ Hispanic community, including a restaurant and liquor store, a grocery and butcher shop, and a tax agency.
During the pandemic, as restaurants and hotels laid off workers, the Garcias heard from many of their customers, Brenda says. A good percentage of those customers are living in the country without legal permission.
“So there really wasn’t any relief for them at all, as far as unemployment or resources,” she says. “That was really difficult to deal with — to have to tell them there just wasn’t anything available for them at all. It was heartbreaking.”
(One qualification, Garcia notes: Children born in the United States did qualify for food-assistance benefits.)
As for the Garcias’ businesses, Brenda says: “We are so blessed with our customers, because they came out and they supported us. I mean, I didn’t have to let go of my employees. I cut hours. But the Hispanic community and the surrounding communities were great in supporting us throughout the whole pandemic.”
Brenda has even come to like the pandemic-shortened hours. She says she would tell her husband: “This is perfect. We close at 8, we all can go home to our families, there’s less stress, and our employees are happy.”
Whether those shortened hours continue is up for debate.
“Tony’s all about customer service,” Brenda says. “He’s like, ‘Yes, but if two customers come in (late), and we can service them, that’s customer service.”
All things considered, though, and especially after enduring St. Louis County’s indoor-dining shutdown at the end of 2020, she says, “We’re just blessed. That’s the only (way) I can describe it.” By Ian Froeb
Where La Tejana Taqueria, 3149 North Lindbergh Boulevard, Bridgeton • More info 314-291-8500; latejanastl.com
Gus’ Pretzels in Benton Park turned 100 years old in 2020, and, well, the celebration didn’t go as planned.
Starting last March, the shop planned a series of weekend parties pairing up with local businesses: Woofie’s Hot Dogs, Fitz’s Root Beer, 4 Hands Brewing Co.
“Everything we planned had to deal with friends and family and bringing in big numbers,” says president and CEO Gus Koebbe III, 35. “Unfortunately, we had to cancel that.”
The business closed its doors last April to reassess and focus on its wholesale side. It reopened in May. Sales declined, but the company paid employees for hours not worked. It was important to keep the team together, Koebbe says.
Gus’ has definitely missed Cardinals baseball and tourists, but it’s seen an uptick in sales of frozen pretzels that people can make at home. And at the beginning of the pandemic, Koebbe was puzzled by the uptick in individual bagged orders, especially of treats like cinnamon-sugar-flavored pretzel “endz.”
“I was like, what is going on? What are they doing?” he says. “It turns out they were going around the neighborhood, dropping them off on people’s doorsteps.”
Last year brought some positive changes: Koebbe’s father, Gus Jr., who bought the business from his father in 1980, retired in December. And in September, Gus IV was born. Koebbe says he gets called G3, and they call the new baby Gussie.
Gus Jr. still pops in every so often to help at the shop. And yes, like the babies before him, Gussie gums on pretzels.
“That tradition still lives on for sure,” Koebbe says. By Valerie Schremp Hahn
Where Gus’ Pretzels, 1820 Arsenal Street • More info 314-664-4010; guspretzels.com
It was the great 20th-century philosopher Charlie Brown who put it best: “A hot dog just doesn’t taste right without a ballgame in front of it.”
Grumble about the prices if you must — Matt Carpenter’s $18.5 million salary isn’t going to pay itself — but there is nothing like the food that you eat at a ballpark.
Hamburgers are beefier, french fries are tastier and beer is colder at Busch Stadium.
If 2020 taught us anything, it was that although we could live without seeing a baseball game in person, life is better when you can be there.
Here’s to pretzels and popcorn and ice cream, all enjoyed — as they should be — in front of one of life’s grandest spectacles. By Daniel Neman
Civil Life Brewing Co. owner Jake Hafner misses the constant flow of people in and out of his Tower Grove South brewery, the thread of conversations and connections.
That, he says, is what “a good place really does achieve, where people can come and enjoy (themselves), whatever is going on in their life, whether it’s good or bad, and then connect with a person that’s also there serving them.
“And you just can’t get that right now.”
Civil Life will celebrate its 10th anniversary in September. Hafner has officiated a few customers’ weddings over the past decade, and his brewery’s pub and patio have nudged along who knows how many more.
“I hear from a lot of people that have had their first date here over the course of years,” he says. “So that’s an important role that you play in someone’s lives, too, that you don’t even realize.” By Ian Froeb
Where Civil Life Brewing Co., 3714 Holt Avenue • More info thecivillife.com
Of course, we love St. Louis’ craft breweries for the incredible quality and variety of the beers they make. We have quaffed more than a few in quarantine. But right now we are dreaming of their public spaces, where we can finally pop our bubble and laze away a sunny summer Saturday with friends old and new, our pints held high to say “Cheers!” again. By Ian Froeb
Had we filled this entire issue with pandemic pivots, I doubt anything would have matched the arc of the past year for Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria.
In March 2020, Katie and Ted Collier’s restaurant was one of several establishments to turn to frozen pizza to make up for lost revenue. The Colliers had an advantage: walk-in freezer space and packaging left from their attempt to start a home-meal-kit service.
“We’ve had all this debt from that, and now that’s the silver lining,” Katie Collier told the Post-Dispatch last March. “We’re getting to use this stuff and repurpose it and keep as many jobs as we can.”
By May, Katie’s had sold more than 40,000 frozen pizzas, and Collier said she wasn’t sure the restaurant would still be open without those sales. Demand led to the introduction of shipping nationwide.
“We’re getting this incredible amount of orders from places that I’ve never heard of,” she said. “I mean, I just don’t even know how they’re finding us.”
In December, Dierbergs began selling Katie’s frozen pizzas, providing the restaurant with additional, consistent revenue.
Meanwhile, Katie’s had been using its dining rooms for frozen-pizza production, a situation that would no longer be tenable as indoor dining gradually reopened.
The Colliers didn’t want to stop selling frozen pizzas, so they decided to turn what had been the base of their meal-kit service into their frozen-pizza headquarters, with its own kitchen.
Frozen pizza, Katie Collier said in January, “has definitely kept us in business and kept people working and also has proven that it is something that can kind of stand on its own as well.” By Ian Froeb
Where Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria, 9568 Manchester Road, Rock Hill • More info 314-942-6555; katiespizzandpasta.com
Where Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria, 14171 Clayton Road, Town and Country • More info 636-220-3238; katiespizzandpasta.com
Detroit-style pizza isn’t new to St. Louis. To name the most obvious example, Jet’s Pizza, the chain based in the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, Michigan, has been operating here for nearly a decade now.
But there has been an uptick lately in interest in the rectangular, thick-crusted, cheese-laden pies. At Revel Kitchen in Brentwood, which last year launched the Motor Town Pizza ghost kitchen, the style followed from pandemic necessity and Revel’s underused oven. Owner Simon Lusky had never eaten Detroit-style pizza before he started work on the concept.
“All I had to do is get these pans,” Lusky told the Post-Dispatch in October. “So I bought a couple pans, tried a couple recipes and just fell in love with it really quick.”
At Pie Guy Pizza in Forest Park Southeast’s Grove district, which since 2018 has made its name on owner Mitch Frost’s New York-style pies, the new Detroit-style pizza features a St. Louis twist: The cheese is a blend of mozzarella and Provel that makes a convincing substitute for Detroit’s traditional brick cheese. By Ian Froeb
Where Motor Town Pizza, 8388 Musick Memorial Drive, Brentwood • More info motortownpizza.appfront.ai
Where Pie Guy Pizza, 4189 Manchester Avenue • More info 314-899-0444; pieguystl.com
👎 No thank you
When I first came to St. Louis, the newsroom features department welcomed me with a pizza from Imo’s. One colleague discreetly sent me an email.
“Do not, in your innocence, ask if that is melted plastic on top. They will not find it funny,” she wrote.
The sentiment has stayed with me for seven years, and unfortunately so has the aftertaste.
I know cheese. I like cheese. I eat a borderline-obscene amount of cheese. Provel is not cheese.
I recognize that if you grow up with a specific type of food, you are going to love it your whole life, no matter how inedible it seems to others. Pennsylvanians love scrapple. Southerners enjoy pickled pigs’ feet. I personally crave cinnamon-and-clove-spiced chili served over spaghetti and topped with shredded cheddar cheese.
So I fully understand St. Louisans’ devotion to their gooey blend of white cheddar, Swiss and provolone.
I just don’t respect it. By Daniel Neman
👍 It'll do
It gets you first in a salad, flecks you can easily mistake for shredded mozzarella.
Then you’re eating a sandwich — a stack of Italian cold cuts, say, served hot on crusty bread — and you’re wondering how your sandwich manages to capture the gooiness you get from American cheese melted on a burger patty and the creaminess of mayo, even though you ordered vinegar-and-oil, not mayo, and it hits you.
Then one tired evening you grab a frozen pizza at the store and throw it in the oven at home and leave it in there maybe a couple minutes longer than the instructions suggest, though the surface gets brown and splotchy like “real” cheese, and you can admit it.
It’s fine. Provel is fine.
It’s fine. By Ian Froeb
The days of frozen pizza being a disappointing last resort for dinner are over. A few St. Louis restaurants have joined the ranks of other local frozen-pizza manufacturers to make their pies available in supermarkets, pubs and other outlets. Here are a few local brands to try. By Gabe Hartwig
Broadway Oyster Bar • Sold at Fields Foods stores • broadwayoysterbar.com
Dan O’s Pizza • Sold at Dan O’s Pizza (3477 New Town Boulevard, St. Charles), in supermarkets, including select Schnucks stores, and at bars and entertainment venues • danos-pizza.com
Dogtown Pizza • Sold in supermarkets • dogtownpizza.com
Gallagher Bros. Frozen Pizzas • Sold in supermarkets, bars and entertainment venues • facebook.com/gallagherbrospizza
Gioia’s Deli • Sold at select Schnucks stores • gioiasdeli.com
Imo’s Pizza • Sold at Imo’s retail store (800 North 17th Street), in supermarkets and online • shop.imospizza.com
Lena’s • Sold in supermarkets • lenaspizzastl.com
Mama Lucia’s and 4 Hands Brewing • Sold in supermarkets • luciaspizza.com
“Every cuisine has its own form of dumpling” is one of those food writer-isms that could probably stand some vetting. But let’s play along. We can’t claim the crab Rangoon as our own (see No. 61), so we’ll, uh, squint and pick the toasted ravioli. Is there a more iconic St. Louis food photo than the gosh-darn Stanley Cup filled with T-ravs? No other cuisine can claim that. By Ian Froeb
Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill celebrated its 40th anniversary this March, though the restaurant’s legacy reaches back to 1947, when a cook at its Shaw Avenue predecessor, Angelo’s, purportedly dropped a ravioli into hot oil by accident. Thus: the toasted ravioli.
(Yes, there is another claimant to the T-rav origin story. You may debate the history on the internet forum of your choosing.)
Which makes Charlie Gitto Jr. not only the eponymous chef and owner of the Hill institution, but the keeper of the original secret toasted-ravioli recipe. (Charlie Gitto Sr. died in July 2020.)
“I have just a few people that know it, and then it’s very confidential,” Gitto says. “I’ve made it on the Food Network a couple times and on the Travel Channel, but I didn’t disclose all of the ingredients.”
The not-so-secret to Gitto’s T-ravs? The restaurant uses good meat and fresh vegetables, he says, and the kitchen makes them three times a week.
“And our technique is, I think, tremendous,” he says. “Our dough is tremendous.”
Gitto figures 50% of his restaurant’s tables order the appetizer on any given night: “We sell so many toasted ravioli it’s unbelievable.”
The recipe isn’t sacrosanct. After the Rams lost Super Bowl XXXVI to the Patriots in 2002, Gitto sent Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift toasted ravioli to settle her bet with Missouri Gov. Bob Holden. Swift called Gitto to say thanks — but she couldn’t eat gluten.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll make them for you,’” Gitto says. “And I never made them before in my life. So I went into my test-kitchen mode, and I ended up producing a really good gluten-free toasted ravioli, and I shipped her another 500 of them.” By Ian Froeb
Where Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill, 5226 Shaw Avenue • More info 314-772-8898; charliegittos.com
One of St. Louis’ most acclaimed breweries, Perennial Artisan Ales, has made its name over the past 10 years for its Belgian-style ales, sour beers and world-beating imperial stouts including Abraxas and Sump Coffee Stout.
So of course I called Perennial owner Phil Wymore about Pils, the brewery’s dry-hopped, unfiltered pilsner. It is, to use a technical brewing term, yummy.
Sure, Wymore says, Perennial is known for those styles I just mentioned, but there’s also a social component of brewing — traveling to other breweries for collaborations: “You know, you do drink some beers.”
And if the brewing day starts early, he says, “you want to drink something that’s easygoing and lower alcohol percentage and just something really smooth, lagers tend to scratch that itch.”
Impressed by the lagers some of their peers were brewing, the Perennial team decided to give it a try a few years ago. Jonathan Moxey, now head brewer at Rockwell Beer Co., developed the recipe.
“It’s something that we knew we wouldn’t be known for or might not be a big seller for us, but it’s kind of surprising how the category has really started to grow,” Wymore says.
Attention to detail is vital when brewing a lager: the water’s pH level, the types of salt you add to the water, the water’s temperature.
“You have a little bit less room for error in terms of making the style,” Wymore says, “There’s not a lot of alcohol or body and other things to hide behind.” By Ian Froeb
Where Perennial Artisan Ales, 8125 Michigan Avenue • More info 314-631-7300; perennialbeer.com
As much as I enjoy the amazing range of styles St. Louis’ craft breweries produce, from dark to sour to hoppy to very hoppy to “maybe this one has too much hops in it?,” when I’ve wanted a beer this infernal year, I’ve only wanted icy, crisp lagers. Fortunately, our breweries do these well, too, and my fridge sees a heavy rotation of Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. Zwickel, 2nd Shift Brewing Technical Ecstasy, Rockwell Beer Co. Stand By and Perennial Artisan Ales Pil. By Ian Froeb
I can’t think of a dish that has become popular as widely and as quickly as birria has over the past year or so. To be precise, birria in this context is not the traditional Jalisco stew of goat or beef, but a shorthand for Tijuana-style birria de res tacos: beef folded into a corn tortilla that has already been dipped in the consommé in which the beef braised. You eat the tacos alongside a cup of that chile- and spice-laden consommé for dunking and sipping.
Driven by Instagram and TikTok, birria tacos have moved into established restaurants and food trucks and have boosted home-based operations that rely on social media for word of mouth.
For Tacos la Jefa, birria has laid a path from backyard taco pop-ups to a brick-and-mortar stand at Urban Eats, the shared kitchen and business incubator in Dutchtown. Heriberta Amezcua is la Jefa of the family business. Tacos La Jefa is her first restaurant, but she has been selling her food at area Hispanic festivals (and then out of her house, too) for several years.
“Because we migrated from Mexico, we’ve been looking for authentic Mexican food, and of course there’s really good places out there,” her granddaughter Michelle Guzman told the Post-Dispatch in November. “But, you know, it’s nothing like your grandma’s home cooking.” By Ian Froeb
Update: On April 18, Tacos La Jefa announced the death of Heriberta Amescua.
Where Tacos la Jefa, 3301 Meramec Street • More info facebook.com/tacoslajefastl
No order of cevapi is complete without somun to soak up the sausages’ juices — and to enjoy for the bread’s own charms.
At Balkan Treat Box in Webster Groves, chef and co-owner Loryn Nalic begins each day’s somun with a potent starter and a good, high-protein flour.
“It isn’t somun without a wood-fire oven,” Nalic says, “and it has to be baked at 900 degrees for it to be perfect.”
The somun should bake quickly, yielding a crust that is pale but still spotted with char.
The interior, Nalic says, “definitely has a give (to it) and kind of a more luscious texture than your average pita bread.”
Balkan Treat Box has refined its production of somun, which is proofed twice before it is baked. The restaurant used to begin making somun at 4:30 or even 4 a.m.
“On a good day, we’re starting at 5 now,” Nalic says. “We figured it out.” By Ian Froeb
Where Balkan Treat Box, 8103 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves • More info 314-733-5700; balkantreatbox.com
Fat cevapi sausages, grilled over an open fire and packed into a thin somun bread pocket come to the table still glistening, served with finely chopped yellow onions and thick, buttery kajmak on the side.
Chef-owner Zamir Jahic and his wife, Josi, built their business by making everything fresh, in house, at J’s Pitaria.
“My cevapi recipe was given to me by a friend; it’s from one of the most famous restaurants in Sarajevo,” Jahic says. “He said: ‘It’s simple, but don’t expect to get it overnight. It’s going to take you months and months to perfect it and make it your own.’ He was right, and we did it.”
It takes three days to make the skinless, finger-size sausages. “My kitchen is kind of limited here, so one batch is about 40 kilos, somewhere between 70 and 100 pounds of high-quality beef,” he says. “We don’t start with ground meat. I grind the beef — twice.”
Jahic cuts and trims the meat into small cubes on the first day. Then he adds salt and pepper, grinds the mixture and refrigerates for a full day. The next day he adds more salt, pepper and spices, then grinds it again. On the third day, he hand-forms the sausages, which are grilled to order.
“Some Bosnians don’t like our style of cevapi or somun — there are so many variations in Bosnia, north, south, east and west,” he says. “Ours is specific to Sarajevo. Our somun is very thin, not bready. Foodie people seem to like our thinner bread and our cevapi.”
When you visit J’s, here’s how to savor cevapi: Grab one with your fork, dip it in kajmak, tear a piece of somun big enough to wrap around it, then top with chopped yellow onions. By Pat Eby
Where J’s Pitaria, 91 Concord Plaza Shopping Center, south St. Louis County • More info 314-270-8005; jspitaria.us
Cevapi recipes and styles vary widely, but home cooks can find them at a few St. Louis-area butcher shops and markets. By Pat Eby
Where Lemay Meat, 2201 Lemay Ferry Road, south St. Louis County • More info 314-416-1044; facebook.com/lemaymeat
Where Oaza Ethnic Food Supermarket, 6620 Gravois Road • More info 314-752-7877; facebook.com/oazasupermarket
Where USA Halal Meat Inc., 2925 Lemay Ferry Road, south St. Louis County • More info 314-939-1194
It was roughly 10 years ago when I first ordered from the Sichuan menu at Joy Luck Buffet, the Brentwood restaurant I had known only for its buffet of American Chinese fare. I was annoyed with myself for not having learned about the Sichuan menu sooner. Mainly, though, I was grateful to be eating Joy Luck’s Chengdu spicy beef, Chongqing chicken and other mala standouts.
With Joy Luck’s Sichuan menu, the Wei family anticipated the past decade, which saw restaurants featuring regional Chinese cuisines flourish in St. Louis. The Weis themselves opened (and then expanded) a second restaurant, Corner 17 Noodles & Bubble Tea in the Delmar Loop. Hand-pulled noodles are the specialty of its expansive menu.
Xin Wei, who operates the restaurants with his parents (the 17 in Corner 17 refers to his age when he emigrated to the United States from China’s Fujian province), thinks the market for Sichuan cuisine is saturated now. ...
Will this be the year the fate of Jeffrey Plaza becomes clear? If so, let this stand as a tribute to the shopping strip at Olive Boulevard and Woodson Road that has been home to so many great restaurants, both present (Nobu’s Japanese Restaurant, De Palm Tree, Pho Long) and past (Famous Szechuan Pavilion, Indian Food and, if you add the vacant building across Woodson, Simba Ugandan Restaurant and Taqueria La Monarca). You can’t plan for this kind of alchemy. It just happens — until it doesn’t. By Ian Froeb
I think the Post-It note might still be on my newsroom computer. (I have visited my desk three times in the past year). “SEAFOOD BOILS,” it reads — or something similar. That was the project I planned to undertake after I finished last year’s edition of the STL 100 until the pandemic intervened. It is a bona fide boom — or maybe what is bigger than a boom, from homegrown restaurants (the Mad Crab, Joyful House, Cluster Busters) to national chains (Hook & Reel, Storming Crab).
I will finish that project one day, I swear, but here’s a sneak preview: Keep an eye out on social media for the Korean seafood boil that Melanie Meyer occasionally runs out of Tiny Chef, her restaurant inside the Silver Ballroom. I might need a year just to find the words to describe it. By Ian Froeb
Where Tiny Chef at the Silver Ballroom, 4071 Morganford Road • More info 314-832-9223; facebook.com/tinychefstl
St. Louis isn’t the birthplace of crab Rangoon — according to the prevalent theory, that would be a Trader’s Vic restaurant circa the 1950s — but I challenge any other city to match our devotion to these perfect sweet-and-savory fried morsels.
Crab Rangoon follows what I’ll call the Old-School St. Louis Doughnut Principle: Everyone has their own favorite spot for them, and no one is wrong (see No. 93). I can’t pick one favorite myself. Sometimes I crave the classic wonton purses from Shu Feng in University City, sometimes the lighter, crackling cylinders at Rice Thai Bistro in Winchester.
You can get luxe Rangoon with lobster at Akar in Clayton, crab Rangoon pizza at the Grotto Grill in Wentzville and, of late, crab Rangoon nachos at the new Loaded Elevated Nachos in St. Charles.
You should get crab Rangoon whenever you can. By Ian Froeb
So. Bleeping. Tired.
Libby Crider wrote something other than “bleeping,” but you get the gist. The context was a problem with the patio setup at 2nd Shift Brewing, the brewery she and her husband, Steve, operate on the Hill, but the candor was typical.
For much of the pandemic, Crider didn’t hesitate to share her fears, frustrations and even moments of joy and gratitude on social media.
“I was always so frustrated to see the shiny, happy facade of any sort of hospitality industry,” Crider says, “and working in it for so long and seeing the trials and tribulations, seeing people with severe alcoholism (and) depression, (I know) that there’s a really nasty underbelly that just never really gets discussed.” ...
Prepare your shocked face. At Parker’s Table, the Richmond Heights wine, beer and spirits shop and specialty market, there has been a “good uptick” in wine sales during the pandemic, owner Jonathan Parker says.
In addition to natural wines, which were already becoming popular before the pandemic, Parker says, “there’s been a big move to comfort wines, to wines that people know and feel good drinking.”
Parker points to inexpensive but rich California red blends as one example of a comfort wine.
Also, he says, “rosé still held (its sales) really well. Rosé didn’t slip off.”
One of Parker’s favorite finds over the past year is Veloce, a wine made by Bobby Stuckey, master sommelier and co-owner of the acclaimed Boulder, Colorado, restaurant Frasca Food & Wine.
(St. Louis trivia: Frasca’s chef and co-owner, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, began his culinary career at Old Warson Country Club.)
Stuckey’s Scarpetta Winery made Veloce specifically for American Airlines. When American suspended in-flight service during the pandemic, Parker says, “we were able to buy pallets of (these) Italian white and red wines.” By Ian Froeb
Where Parker’s Table, 7118 Oakland Avenue, Richmond Heights • More info 314-645-2050; parkerstable.com
Surely one of the first things to suffer in a pandemic spread by an airborne virus would have been winery tasting rooms, where mouths are uncovered and drinks consumed amid lively conversations about tasting notes, aging barrels and viticulture regions.
But not so, says Lynne Gray, front of house manager at Defiance Ridge Vineyards on the Augusta Wine Trail. “It’s been our busiest year ever,” she says. She suspects people just want to get out and that they like that most of the winery’s tables are outdoors.
Defiance Ridge shut down last year from March until early May. It reopened with tables spaced 6 feet apart but few other restrictions, as it’s located in St. Charles County, where there was never a mask mandate or much guidance about how restaurants should operate.
Gray and her crew wear masks, but tasters do not. “The tasting experience is pretty much the same now as it was” before the pandemic, she says.
Other wineries echo the sentiment about busyness.
Shannon Cooney, owner and winemaker at Crooked Creek Winery in Centralia, Illinois, said it was the busiest summer ever. His winery was closed for winter, but the tasting room reopened April 3. As for last summer, he said: “I think people just wanted to get out, and we have a 30-acre farm, so they could really spread out and feel safe. ... I also think people were excited to be drinking during the pandemic.” By Amy Bertrand
Where Defiance Ridge Vineyards, 2711 South Missouri 94, Defiance, Missouri • More info 636-798-2288; defianceridgevineyards.com
Where Crooked Creek Winery, 24585 West 10th Street Road, Centralia, Illinois • More info 618-267-6792
A year of quarantining has restricted travel, of course, but it has also curtailed the more modest trips this restaurant critic took for granted. I used to think nothing of jetting across the Mississippi to visit the Mexican restaurants of Fairmont City or the Main Street charms of Edwardsville. I want to block out the couple of hours or so for a round trip to Waterloo for the fried chicken at Gallagher’s or, an addition since my last visit, the brick-and-mortar version of Pie Hard Pizzeria. I’ll be gassing up the car soon, I hope. I’m sure the interstates have been all patched up in the meantime. By Ian Froeb
Now here’s a doozy of a St. Louis restaurant what-if: Gerard Craft once explored opening a combination barbecue restaurant and distillery downtown
“For a number of reasons, it just didn’t work out for us right then,” Craft says, but the distillery idea stuck with him and eventually led to December’s launch of La Verita Distilleria.
It’s a pandemic pivot within a pivot if you like: La Verita’s selection of bottled liqueurs and nonalcoholic cordials is available through Craft’s new Pastaria Deli & Wine (see No. 33).
Actually, Craft and his team had started initial discussions about La Verita right before the pandemic hit. As the pandemic persisted, he saw a perfect opportunity for Meredith Barry, whom his restaurant group had laid off as bar manager of Taste. He trusted her palate to take La Verita to the next step. ...
Early in the pandemic, as restaurants and bars were figuring out a way forward amid dine-in restrictions, to-go cocktails got the legal go-ahead on both sides of the river. We asked Keith McGinness, co-owner of Cleveland-Heath in Edwardsville, about the innovation.
Q • How have to-go cocktails helped you during the pandemic? Did it keep you in business?
A • It was huge. It was a big revenue source, especially when we were takeout only. It has fallen off, as has takeout, since we opened up the dining room. I don’t know if we would have closed without it, but it sure didn’t hurt.
Q • How do you keep the drinks cold?
A • We build them to order. It depends on the cocktail — we have some that do not require refrigeration. I don’t think it’s any different from going to the grocery store and having groceries in your trunk for 20 minutes before you get home.
Q • Are to-go cocktails here to stay? Do you want them here to stay?
A • Fingers crossed. I don’t see a reason why it should go away. If it was OK then, it should be OK now. By Daniel Neman
Natasha Bahrami, owner of the Gin Room, was recently inducted into the Gin Hall of Fame. She is the first and only American to be so honored. Her bar boasts more than 300 types of gin, so we asked about some of her favorites. By Daniel Neman
Favorite botanical gin • Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin
Favorite floral gin • G’Vine Floraison
Favorite citrus gin • New Holland Knickerbocker Gin
Favorite savory gin • Moletto Gin
Best with olives • Edinburgh Gin
Best with cocktail onions • Plymouth Navy Strength Gin
Favorite cheap gin • Gordon’s London Dry Gin (glass bottle only)
Favorite expensive gin • Nolet’s Silver
Where The Gin Room, 3200 South Grand Boulevard • More info 314-771-3411; natashasginroom.com
Is a concept spun off from an existing independent restaurant a true “ghost kitchen”? Or should we save that term for such slick, corporate, delivery-only “restaurants” as Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen, which rolled into town earlier this year?
Does it matter? One of the few bright lemonade-from-lemons spots during the pandemic has been restaurants turning necessity into creativity, branching out from upscale dining to sandwiches (Polite Society’s Sub Division Sandwich Co.), barbecue to hot wings (Beast Butcher & Block’s Wing Runner STL), grain bowls to Detroit-style pizza (Revel Kitchen’s Motor Town Pizza). By Ian Froeb
If you want to feel bullish about the growth of Korean fried chicken in St. Louis, look to O’Fallon, Illinois, where BB.Q Chicken opened in September. The South Korean chain boasts more than 2,100 locations worldwide; its menu features fried chicken in various sauces. (In a September interview with the Post-Dispatch, an exec for its American operations recommended beginning with the Secret Spicy sauce.)
Meanwhile, after winning fans for its Korean fried chicken at its original Laclede’s Landing restaurant, Munsok So’s Kimchi Guys plans to expand with a location near Washington University in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood. (See No. 71.)
Sungmin and Michelle Baik opened the small, takeout-only Fire Chicken last summer in Overland. The Baiks’ specialty is chicken gangjeong, bite-size pieces of fried chicken slicked with the restaurant’s sticky, spicy-sweet Fire (jalapeño, garlic, sweet soy sauce) or Red (gochujang-based and spicier) sauces. By Ian Froeb
Where BB.Q Chicken, 1334 Central Park Drive, O’Fallon, Illinois • More info 618-589-9909; bbqchickeneats.com/ofallon
Where Fire Chicken, 10200 Page Avenue, Overland • More info 314-551-2123; facebook.com/firechickenstl
The pandemic hasn’t slowed the growth of Kimchi Guys, the fast-casual restaurant that Drunken Fish owner Munsok So opened two years ago on Laclede’s Landing.
Korean fried chicken is Kimchi Guys’ specialty: dredged in wet potato-starch batter, fried first at low temperature and again at high temperature, and then tossed in your choice of four sauces. (The signature gochujang-amped Original Spicy is great, and I also love the fiery, tangy Korean Buffalo.)
“We have a pretty unique batter recipe that we’ve been using, and we’ve been perfecting it for the last couple of years, and it’s working out really well,” So says.
As Kimchi Guys’ takeout business grew and traveled farther to customers, So did worry about the quality of the restaurant’s fried chicken on arrival. ...
They keep coming, these fried chicken sandwiches. Jolted with Sichuan peppercorn at Perennial on Lockwood in Webster Groves. Perched between waffle wedges at Freddie G’s Chicken & Waffle in Hyde Park. Blasted with Nashville-style heat or smothered in cheese sauce or tossed in Buffalo sauce at Chicken Out in the Delmar Loop. (Chicken Out, you might have guessed, specializes in fried chicken sandwiches.)
These are just some of the newest examples. I’m sure the list will expand this year. We should also be welcoming back two contemporary classics, the fried chicken sandwiches at Southern in midtown (temporarily closed) and at Byrd & Barrel (relocating from Marine Villa to Southwest Garden). By Ian Froeb
A squeaky cushion. A stranger’s swiveling shoulder brushing against my own. A smashed burger or two eggs sunny-side-up sizzling on the flattop. I’ve never wanted a backache more. By Ian Froeb
For Steve’s Hot Dogs, 2020 was almost the year that wasn’t.
Owner Steve Ewing, who is also well known as a musician, fronting the Urge and several bands of his own, announced late last January that he’d be shuttering his Tower Grove East restaurant. That followed the closing of the original brick-and-mortar location on the Hill in 2019. Ewing had grown the business from a hot dog cart he started in 2008.
But as soon as he decided to close, two things happened: First, the public turned out in force to get one more taste of the restaurant’s gourmet hot dogs, burgers, mac and cheese bowls, and more.
“The community outpour was incredible,” Ewing says. “A week running up to the closing, we had record sales. I mean, like four or five times record sales. It was insane.” ...
Any discussion of homegrown St. Louis fast food must begin at Lion’s Choice, which manages the tricky trifecta of multiple locations, slick branding and, in its roast beef sandwich, a consistently excellent signature product.
Look beyond the Lion king, and you will find even more faster-than-fast-casual delights around town, from institutions like Woofie’s Hot Dogs to drive-thru puffy tacos at Fort Taco to the bulgogi burgers, spicy pork burritos and other Korean-American-Mexican-fusion fare at Kimcheese.
And if you insist on a fast-food burger and fries? Bus Loop Burgers serves gorgeous, lacy-edged patties — you’ll swear you can hear them sizzling even as you take a bite — and perfectly crisp fries. By Ian Froeb
Where Woofie’s Hot Dogs, 1919 Woodson Road, Overland • More info 314-426-6291; facebook.com/woofieshotdogs
Where Fort Taco, 8106 Manchester Road, Brentwood • More info 314-647-2391; forttaco.com
Where Kimcheese, 13435 Olive Boulevard, Chesterfield • More info 314-485-1408; kimcheese.net
Where Bus Loop Burgers, 10462 St. Charles Rock Road, St. Ann • More info 314-395-0344; busloopburgerstogo.com
Until recently, I would have argued you don’t need to pay homage to the iconic Lion’s Choice roast beef sandwich when the real thing is so readily available. Leave it to not one but two restaurants in the Grove to prove me wrong.
The (deservedly) self-described “Sandwichkingz” at the Gramophone smother seasoned, tender roast beef with Provel, Cheez Whiz and the restaurant’s mac and cheese sauce for the big-winkingly named Tiger’s Decision. Don’t forget to dunk this behemoth in its side of jus.
When nearby Beast Butcher & Block suspended its barbecue menu during the pandemic winter, David Sandusky launched a sandwich pop-up menu out of the restaurant’s on-site butcher shop. The featured dish is a tribute to both Lion’s Choice and Baltimore-style pit beef, with chuck eye cooked directly over the coals.
The result is both a successful tribute and a singular sandwich, a stack of thin, juicy slices of roast beef capped with a silken white-cheddar cheese sauce and imbued with a potent, lingering smokiness. By Ian Froeb
Where The Gramophone, 4243 Manchester Avenue • More info 314-531-5700; gramophonestl.com
Where Beast Butcher & Block, 4156 Manchester Avenue • More info 314-944-6003; beastbbqstl.com
At some places in the country, you can’t get Fitz’s Root Beer or Cream Soda, Ginger Ale or Key Lime soda.
At some places in the country, you can’t get Vess’ Black Cherry or Strawberry pop. You can’t get Vess Up or Vess Grape.
At some places in the country, you can’t get Calvin’s 1836 Barrel-Style Root Beer.
At some places in the country, you can’t get Lucky Club Cola, Blueberry Breese or Million Dollar Orange. You can’t even get Ski.
Some places in the country don’t have any regional sodas at all.
Don’t you feel sorry for some places in the country? By Daniel Neman
The pandemic hasn’t kept Smoki O’s customers from their snoots. Earline Walker says since March of last year there has been “overwhelming demand” for the signature dish at the Near North Riverfront barbecue restaurant she and her husband, Otis, own.
The challenge has been getting those snoots to Smoki O’s. During much of the pandemic, the cut has been unavailable from the restaurant’s usual pork vendor — the company “couldn’t find individuals to cut those (pig) heads off,” Walker says — forcing Smoki O’s to look elsewhere.
“The quantity is different” from the alternate vendors, Walker says. “The price mark is really different. Where we used to get a 30-pound case of snoots for like $26 for the case, now we’re paying $56.”
Smoki O’s has raised the price of its snoots, though Walker says the restaurant has tried to keep the cost reasonable.
“Like I said, it’s in great demand, so we are continuing to produce the product,” she says. “But it’s challenging. It’s very challenging from a price perspective as well as productivity.”
The Walkers launched Smoki O’s in 1997 at Soulard Farmers Market. Two years later, they moved to their current location. At first, they grilled their snoots, but Walker says they now use a secret process developed by their late son, Christopher.
“The grilling of the snoot does not give it the life that the process that Christopher came up with (does),” she says. “The Christopher process allows us to maintain this product for six months to a year and safely have the same freshness it did the day it came off the line.”
Walker acknowledges that not many places still make snoots, but she doesn’t see the tradition fading away.
“As far as the consumer (goes),” she says, “they love it, and they seek it.” By Ian Froeb
Where Smoki O’s, 1545 North Broadway • More info 314-621-8180
DeMarco Howard estimates he goes through 500 pounds of turkey tips each week at Gobble Stop Smokehouse.
“And if you multiply that up for the rest of the year, it adds up,” he says.
These dark-meat bites are just one of the signature dishes at the turkey- and chicken-centric restaurant Howard opened in 2012 near Creve Coeur. There are turkey “ribs” (white meat from the bird’s scapula), turkey sandwiches, turkey burgers — well, you get the point.
If you want to talk turkey, you want to talk to Howard.
For Howard, there are four keys to seasoning turkey: “There’s the salt, the heat, the garlic and the herb.”
The specific herb varies, though Howard always likes thyme and rosemary.
“Those two really permeate the meat,” he says.
We are celebrating turkey in this year’s STL 100 (see No. 80), but Gobble Stop’s chicken wings are a favorite of this critic. These remain popular, Howard says, and his restaurant generally draws “a lot” of customers looking to turkey and chicken as alternatives to pork or beef.
What’s more, Howard says, “I’m looking forward to bringing out some new things.”
(Depending on when you read this, you might have already enjoyed them.)
When we spoke in mid-March, Howard said one dish he is working on developing is a turducken burger. By Ian Froeb
Where Gobble Stop Smokehouse, 1227 Castillon Arcade Plaza, west St. Louis County • More info 314-878-5586; gobblestopsmokehouse.net
Each Thanksgiving, reader demand compels the Post-Dispatch to list restaurants’ turkey dinners, both dine-in and (especially this past year) take-home. We’re happy to oblige, but we wish you’d ask us about turkey the rest of the year.
You’ll hear about Gobble Stop Smokehouse in Creve Coeur, where DeMarco Howard has built an entire restaurant around smoked turkey and chicken. (See No. 79.) In fact, you should try the turkey wherever your favorite barbecue spot is; it might not be as sexy as brisket or ribs, but it can convey a smoky wallop.
We’ll also tell you about Lona’s Lil Eats, where smoked turkey is the backbone of one of Lona Luo’s signature dishes, the Lemongrass Turkey Wrap, a plump rice-paper wrap with turkey, lemongrass pesto and jasmine rice. By Ian Froeb
Where Lona’s Lil Eats, 2199 California Street • More info 314-925-8938; lonaslileats.com
In February, the New York City branch of the influential dining website Eater caught my attention with this bizarre headline: “St. Louis-style wings take flight in NYC — but do they exist?”
Do they ever?! Is the Big Apple now home to the ideal balance of heat, sweetness and acid that defines the wings at O! Wing Plus in Overland? The vibrant playfulness of the flavors at St. Louis Wing Co. in Rock Hill? The smoky-spicy wallop of the jerk wings at Jerk Soul on Cherokee Street or the dry-rubbed wings at Sister Cities Cajun in Marine Villa?
Turns out Eater was referring to trashed, or double-fried, wings. Yeah. Those can be pretty good, too. By Ian Froeb
St. Louis influencers are helping Instagram users discover new places to eat, uncovering hidden gems on the food scene and creating a passionate (and hungry) community of foodies. Here are 10 accounts to follow for a visual feast. ...
When the pandemic first hit, the restaurant industry was one of the biggest victims. Soon, groups sprang up on Facebook to support restaurants by helping spread information about which ones were open.
Perhaps the first in St. Louis was Support STL Restaurants, created by Sauce Magazine. It began at the start of things, on March 17, 2020, according to Sauce publisher Allyson Mace.
“The restaurants were in a downfall — they were spiraling down,” she says. “These people are the backbone of the community.”
Support STL Restaurants stepped in as a place for restaurateurs to announce hours, specials and whatever else they were doing to get people into their doors, at their drive-thru windows or on the sidewalk for curbside pickup.
The response, Mace says, was “huge. We had an amazing amount of people. I think within 15 days we had upwards of 6,000 to 7,000 followers. It’s almost 13,000 now.”
One of the group’s early driving forces was its Sauce Supports Initiative, which offered free advertising for restaurants. The program is still in effect for the print edition of Sauce. The initiative resulted in lost revenue for the magazine, but that wasn’t the point.
“Everybody was losing,” Mace says. “It just made sense to use the power of what I’ve built in 21 years to help people. It wasn’t about making money; it was about helping people.”
Mace says the response to the Facebook group has been “overwhelmingly supportive. The restaurants are very grateful for this.” By Daniel Neman
At Crown Candy Kitchen, Christmas is traditionally the busiest season for shipping chocolate. But when the pandemic arrived a few weeks before Easter last year, owner Andy Karandzieff knew the Old North St. Louis institution needed to pivot. His wife, Sherri, bulked up the selection of items available online for ordering.
“And I think in about a two-week period, she shipped about 1,100 packages for Easter, which was unheard of,” he says.
That is an understatement. In a normal year, Crown Candy might have shipped 50 packages for Easter, 75 tops. The Karandzieffs understood they needed to upgrade their website; the pandemic would not be going away anytime soon.
By December, Crown Candy was prepared for what Andy describes as “probably our biggest Christmas shipping ever.” Even Valentine’s Day, not typically a big shipping event for the restaurant, was a “positive surprise.”
Karandzieff does not know when we speak whether this Easter will match last year, since customers can now come inside the restaurant, but Crown Candy is shipping packages daily.
“(Sherri) has really got this down to a science,” he says. “I mean, this is all her.”
Shipping chocolate does have its quirks.
“Somebody just bought an $8 (chocolate) bunny,” Karandzieff says. “It’s going to cost them $12 to have it shipped.”
If you are willing to pay that shipping, why not buy more chocolate to make it worth your while?
“So sometimes that’s what kind of makes us a little bit crazy,” Karandzieff says. “But we’re happy to do it.” By Ian Froeb
Where Crown Candy Kitchen, 1401 St. Louis Avenue • More info 314-621-9650; crowncandykitchen.net
We are all counting down the days until we can safely visit our out-of-town family and friends and they can come see us. In the meantime, there is always food.
You likely already know you can ship chocolate from such local institutions as Crown Candy Kitchen, Bissinger’s and Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Co. nationwide.
You can also send the gift of smoked meat directly from Salt + Smoke or, via the website Goldbelly, from Pappy’s Smokehouse. Goldbelly also lets you ship pies from Kimmswick’s Blue Owl Bakery and pizza, toasted ravioli and even a 10-pound block of Provel from Imo’s Pizza. By Ian Froeb
Jack Parker, the longtime owner of O’Connell’s Pub, died last year. But I’d like to recognize another death in the O’Connell’s family: Kenny Thone, who died behind the bar he tended for 14 years.
After Thone’s fatal heart attack in 2015, friends, acquaintances and regulars at the bar were effusive with fond memories and praise about what a good man he was.
I never saw it. I was not a regular enough customer to be a regular. It was my experience that he was massively impassive, that even the smallest attempt to be interested in me would not be worth the effort it would cost him.
And yet there was something about the man that spoke to a reserve of hidden greatness. Something about him that showed him to be the consummate bartender. Something about him that made me want to break down his wall of reserve.
A photograph of Thone hangs behind the bar at O’Connell’s. Whenever I am there, I raise my glass and give him a silent nod of respect. By Daniel Neman
Where O’Connell’s Pub, 4652 Shaw Avenue • More info 314-773-6600; oconnells-pub.com
I spotted it on social media and knew I had to see it up close, even just to poke my head inside for a second and order takeout from the doorway.
Just inside the entrance of La Manganita, a new Cherokee Street restaurant, is a trompo for tacos al pastor. The layered pork topped by a whole peeled pineapple spins slowly in front of the glowing burner, the meat crisping here and there, its juices accumulating in the pan below.
The trompo. The spits for beef and chicken shawarma at Medina Mediterranean Grill, for beef and chicken doner kebabs at J’s Pitaria. It isn’t about missing one restaurant or dish — there is always takeout, after all — but missing those moments when you can lose yourself for a little while, mesmerized by this convergence of technique, architecture and time. By Ian Froeb
Where La Manganita, 2812 Cherokee Street • More info 314-571-9930; facebook.com/lamanganita
Where Medina Mediterranean Grill, 1327 Washington Avenue • More info 314-241-1356; medinagrill.com
Where Medina Mediterranean Grill, 5 Maryland Plaza • More info 314-240-5301; medinagrill.com
Where J’s Pitaria, 91 Concord Plaza Shopping Center, south St. Louis County • More info 314-270-8005; jspitaria.us
Hamburger, hash browns,
Chili and cheddar and egg.
By Daniel Neman
There’s never been a better time to be sober, Mormon or Muslim.
If you avoid alcoholic drinks for reasons ranging from health to religious, your beverage options once upon a time may have been soda, juice, tea or water.
Now, there’s an entire Mocktail Lounge in St. Charles that serves craft alcohol-free cocktails. You can relax and sip on the Love Happy, which mixes blackberries, lime and ginger ale, or the Cary Grant, a faux dirty martini with a bamboo skewer of olives and one giant diamond ice cube.
That sounds far more interesting than a seltzer with lime. The trend appeals to more than those who abstain completely or those who are pregnant. There’s a new movement around “mindful drinking” that has attracted followers even in a town famous for its beer.
Sans Bar STL suspended its in-person events during the pandemic but still offers catering for those hosting parties (following CDC guidelines) without booze. Pop’s Blue Moon had hosted alcohol-free Saturday nights featuring nonalcoholic craft beers, mocktails and other drinks.
It’s an opportunity for bartenders to let their creative juices flow, so to speak.
Consider the Reviver mocktail at Planter’s House: Old El Paso Taco Agave, tomato-blueberry shrub, ghost pepper and club soda. This is not your tween’s Shirley Temple.
We’ve also asked bartenders to whip up something tasty to sip without the booze. They’ve been happy to oblige, and we have always been pleased by how great these drinks turn out. So to the alcohol abstinent or mindful drinkers among us: Cheers! By Aisha Sultan
However you build a nonalcoholic cocktail — zero-proof, to use the term of the moment — Bulrush bartender Andy Printy says you want to be sure you don’t just end up with grenadine and Sprite.
“It still needs to have that drama, or that kind of appeal that when you get a cocktail, it’s alluring a little bit,” he says.
While bartenders can turn to zero-proof “spirits” as a cocktail base, there are only a couple of these that Printy likes to use.
“If we want juniper (flavor) for a gin drink, we can bring that in without necessarily buying” the nonalcoholic brand, he says.
Printy’s approach at Bulrush won’t surprise those who have eaten at the acclaimed restaurant, where chef and owner Rob Connoley favors housemade, locally farmed and foraged ingredients in his exploration of Ozark cuisine. Printy makes syrups and uses Champagne yeast to create natural sodas.
“Sometimes (I look) for things like coffee or honey, which I know when shaken like a cocktail will create a different texture or a different delivery system,” he says.
Printy says customer interest in nonalcoholic pairings with Connoley’s dinner menu has increased substantially recently. Where he still sees resistance to zero-proof cocktails is within the larger community of his fellow bartenders. Some agree that a cocktail list requires nonalcoholic selections now.
“Then I run into people that (think), ‘Hey, people want soft drinks, we have Coca-Cola,’ you know?” he says. “And there’s really no middle ground there. Either people are engaged in it, or they refuse to do it.” By Ian Froeb
Where Bulrush, 3307 Washington Boulevard • More info 314-449-1208; bulrushstl.com
Look. I’m a rational man. I have visited Philadelphia more than once, I have friends who live there, I have eaten a cheesesteak or two in the City of Brotherly Love. I wouldn’t expect to find a better version of Philly’s signature sandwich in St. Louis.
But for those of us desiring something comparable to that Whiz-slicked monster, the past few years have been a boon. Back in 2017, Crystal City institution Gordon’s Stoplight Drive In spun off the walk-up stand Gordon’s Cheesesteaks, slinging a proper Whiz wit’.
More recently, Mel Harlston decided the best way to get a cheesesteak prepared the way he likes it was to open takeout-only Phillies Cheesesteak in University City. Harlston serves up an overstuffed Philly with Cheez Whiz and onion as well as variations with Buffalo chicken and chicken teriyaki.
Mike Risk is making his own version of Cheez Whiz for the cheesesteak at the Clover and the Bee in Webster Groves. This is a luxe cheesesteak, with shaved rib-eye, caramelized onion and Mama’s Lil-brand pickled peppers on a Union Loafers hoagie roll.
I had been waiting for Risk to weigh in. Thirteen years ago, my hunt for the best cheesesteak in St. Louis ended with what Risk was serving then at 9th Street Deli in Soulard.
We cheesesteak aficionados always remember. By Ian Froeb
Where Gordon’s Cheesesteaks, 518 Bailey Road, Crystal City • More info 636-933-9192; facebook.com/gordonscheesesteaks
Where Phillies Cheesesteaks, 6800 Olive Boulevard, University City • More info 314-925-8676; philliescheesesteaks.com
Where The Clover and the Bee, 100 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves • More info 314-942-1216; thecloverandthebee.com
People have driven from as far as three hours away to eat the fried brain sandwich at Schottzie’s Bar and Grill, owner Mike Carlson says.
For much of the pandemic’s duration, that trip would have ended in frustration. Shortages at meatpacking plants forced the South County mainstay to take brains off its menu.
“We felt bad, you know, especially if you drove 2½, three hours away to get something, and then we didn’t have it,” Carlson says.
Did customers ask about the sandwich during its absence?
“All the time,” he says. “All the time.”
Fried brains returned to Schottzie’s around the beginning of March, and the restaurant remains one of the very few places keeping the tradition of this once popular dish alive.
Schottzie’s switched from beef to pork brains about 16 years ago, Carlson says, due to availability and concerns about mad cow disease. He doesn’t think that change has made much of a difference.
“It’s really our breading and our seasoning that really gives the distinct taste to them,” he says. By Ian Froeb
Where Schottzie’s Bar and Grill, 11428 Concord Village Avenue, south St. Louis County • More info 314-842-1728; schottzies.com
Jason Bockman shook hands with the previous owner of World’s Fair Donuts, Terry Clanton, in the back of the shop. His first thought? “Here we go again.”
Bockman has managed a year of balancing World’s Fair Donuts and his other business, Strange Donuts. The year has been nothing short of a roller coaster, he says. He’s had compliments and complaints. He’s changed very little about World’s Fair but has been able to bring new ideas to Strange Donuts. There have been ups, downs and everything in between, but Bockman has managed.
We talked to him about taking over a St. Louis staple. ...
Given all the buzz about buying local, honey fans will be happy to know there are plenty of hometown hives to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Check out any farmers market or locally focused storefront or website, and you are sure to find plenty of honey and creamed honey (basically crystallized pure honey). Some producers are even taking it up a notch with flavored varieties (strawberry, raspberry, even chocolate creamed honey).
These days, backyard beekeeping is booming, and it’s not just since the pandemic left us cooped up at our homes.
“I think people are more interested in what comes from their community and what has been grown nearby and what has been produced nearby,” says Elsa Stuart, a veterinarian who, along with her husband, fellow veterinarian Tom Millis, launched Millis Meadows last fall from their Kirkwood-area home.
Like many people, they started their apiary as an environmentally friendly hobby. Several years ago, they began building up their nearly 2-acre property with native flowers and plants. Beekeeping was a natural progression, as were the plentiful byproducts — honey, along with beeswax, which they use to make soaps, salves and balms.
Being able to buy straight from — and talk to — the beekeeper can give you a better sense of exactly what you are getting, and it allows you to ask some key questions, Stuart says.
Is it pure honey? (Some commercially sold varieties may include corn syrup or other fillers.) Has it been pasteurized? (The heating process lengthens the shelf life but can reduce some of the natural benefits.)
Millis Meadows’ honey and other products are available online, but Millis and Stuart also will debut their products this spring at Boulevard Farmers Market in Richmond Heights on the first Sunday of every month. By Cathy Hensley
Unlike many favorite St. Louis confections lost to time, the iconic split-layer cakes from the long-shuttered Miss Hulling’s Bakery live on — and not just in memory. The cakes defined generations of birthdays, showers, celebrations, dinner parties and personal indulgences and are among readers’ most-requested recipes in our Let’s Eat section. Most people don’t realize the cakes are available at Straub’s Fine Foods.
“Chocolate and lemon are by far the top sellers,” general manager Tim Hollenbach says. Other flavors include caramel, strawberry and coconut. By Pat Eby
Last year, summer in St. Louis was bereft of some of its most popular pastimes. No crowds at Busch Stadium. No goat feeding at Grant’s Farm. No Fourth of July fireworks illuminating the Arch.
But snow cones didn’t go anywhere.
They were there for us, with their reassuring stickiness and their momentary respite from the unrelenting humidity. We flocked to Pink’s Hawaiian, the Frozen Tiki, Tropical Moose and dozens of other shaved-ice huts, eager for a sugary balm to soothe the bitterness of canceled festivals, camps and vacations.
“Stands were going gangbusters,” says Billy Tomber, president of Rio Syrup Co. “They were doing great, because where else could you go?”
Unassuming snow cone shacks are made for social distancing. Spread out in line, grab yourself a wad of paper napkins and gaze upon a kaleidoscope of flavors in shades you’d never find in nature: chartreuse green apple, crimson Tiger Blood and electric blue bubble gum.
Tomber, the third generation to run the syrup manufacturer west of downtown, says the flavor of 2020 was ruby red grapefruit. Unexpected, tangy, but with a hopefully sweet undertone.
Rio supplies syrups, slush base and concentrates to all 50 states in 300 flavors, from almond to Wild Thing.
One constant since Tomber’s grandfather bought the business in 1940: Cherry’s on top.
“When we make cherry syrup, we make 500 gallons in a blink,” he says.
Tomber won’t predict which flavor will be the breakout of 2021. But he’s Orange Dream-ing of a better year for everyone. By Colleen Schrappen
Hot cocoa and marshmallows have been warming bellies on chilly days for centuries.
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that when the pandemic took hold, and the weather turned cold, isolating many of us in our homes, we turned in droves to the most delightful and soothing drink for kids of all ages: hot chocolate.
And we didn’t just turn to it; we weaponized it — encasing cocoa mix, marshmallows and other assorted goodies in a white or milk chocolate shell that when dropped in a steaming hot mug of milk detonated into a creamy concoction of pandemic-decimating deliciousness.
Behold the hot chocolate bomb.
“These hot chocolate bombs were exactly what the pandemic needed,” says Bri Delights, otherwise known as Bri Rubin, one half of the duo behind online bakery De’Lish Emporium (delishemporium.com), which took the creations to an inspired level of creativity.
Think Cheesecake Swirl, Vanilla Bean Macaron, Chocolate Hazelnut, White Chocolate Cocoa Pebbles, and even heart-shaped, strawberry-tinged delights for Valentine’s Day.
Near the beginning of the pandemic, Rubin and her fiance and business partner, Jay Sweets, aka Jeramy Perry, were in the same situation as many people, fearful and facing uncertainty. Hot chocolate bombs, which seemed to pop up online and in bakeries all over during the winter, provided a boost of comfort and cheer.
For Rubin and Perry, they also paved the way to a new beginning. The couple are busily preparing for an anticipated summertime opening of their bakery and event space, De’Lish Emporium, in St. Louis’ Benton Park neighborhood.
But are the bombs here to stay or just a viral fad? With endless flavor possibilities, Perry thinks they’re a keeper. Drop one in your coffee, he suggested; it’ll make your morning cup o’ joe sing. By Cathy Hensley
Cherokee Street fixture La Vallesana is perhaps as well known for its imaginatively flavored ice cream and paletas — fruit or fruit-and-dairy-based popsicles — as it is for its tacos and tortas. We asked which flavors are most popular among customers. By Daniel Neman
Paletas • Strawberries and cream, cookies and cream, mango
Ice cream — children • Cookies and cream, chocolate Oreo, strawberry swirl
Ice cream — adults • Pistachio, strawberry cheesecake, spicy mango
Where La Vallesana, 2801 Cherokee Street • More info 314-776-4223; neverialavallesana.com