Eating like a local:- Seeing whats new in Da Lou
Regional food specialties
Regional food specialties
It had been a while since I found myself down in St. Louis but a friend of the wife had a wedding we attended this past summer. We took a ride down for the wedding which was wonderful and about as St. Louis as it gets with Imo's Pizza, Fried Rice, Ribs, Buttercake and more being served at the ceremony which took place at the quirky City Museum. Of course there was some Nelly as well. We had the luxury of staying at my friends place and he knows his way around there like I know my way around here so of course we would eat real well. As far as cities it's size go, STL packs a punch when it comes to the good stuff. Even though we only had two nights we still put a dent in the scene.
Our first stop upon arrival was actually a schlep out to da burbs. Pastaria is Chef Gerard Craft's ode to pasta. It's located in the rich suburb of Clayton where it sits in a large, light space. They recently opned a location in Nashville just in case anyone finds themselves down there. We took a seat at the bar and peeked the menu which has quite a large selection of different pasta choices. We started out with an order of the Crispy Risotto Balls and they rocked. Fresh from the fryer and full of flavor.
Crispy Risotto Balls
Moving onto the pasta we were rec'd the Bucatini All’ Amatriciana by the bartender and he was very enthusiastic in doing so, thus I had to see for myself. Well done. It was pretty much what I was expecting. The pasta was al dente with the rest of the ingredients working in perfect harmony with it.
Bucatini All’ Amatriciana
Moving on we had reservations on our first night at Nixta. This was the place I was most looking forward to trying. So much so I made the reservations not long after I learned of the wedding and it's location in St. Louis. Some time before our visit Nixta was named one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country according to Bon Appetit. This is Chef Ben Poremba's 5th place in St. Louis. The award winning chef is highly respected in the field. While Poremba owns Nixta he isn't/wasn't the lead chef. That was Chef Tello Carreon and I use was bc he left not long after our visit. Too bad bc his food was fantastic. Maybe St. Louis will gain yet another great spot should he open his own place.
Hand-Made Empanadas (cochinita pibil, salsa loca)
Flautas (local mushrooms, spinach, three cheeses, mushroom crema)
It was tempting to just order the entire menu as all 13 items on it sounded delicious. The dishes were inspired by Chef Carreon's hometown of Guanajuato, Mexico. We ended up getting about half of those and there really wasnt a dud in the bunch. The empanadas were as delicate an empanada as I can remember but they still held up perfectly. Perhaps the best part about them was the fantastic black bean spread that came decorated on the plate. Some of the best empanadas I've ever ate. The same can be said for the flautas which were full of fungus flavor and I mean that in the best way possible.
Pulpo (crispy octopus, fried potato, charred lettuce, mole almendrado)
Moving on I thought an octopus dish was good but just not up to the level of good the previous two dishes were. For instance I wouldn't have ordered it again like I would have done for the first two plates of food we tried. However when it came to the lamb tacos I was tempted to get two more orders so I could have four more. You'll see those on my year end 'best of' list in the tacos section. Lastly was a plate of duck carnitas that came with 3/4 handmade corn tortillas. By my estimation it would be hard to mess up this dish. What's not to love about fried duck? In tortillas nonetheless.
Lamb Tacos (braised lamb shoulder, guajillo salsa, herb salad)
Duck Carnitas (pulled duck, apple-poblano slaw, house salsas)
I heard some wonderful things about a new pizza place that was must stop. But not for St. Louis style pie. St. Louis is no doubt about it a bread town with some great bakers supplying loafs to the masses. Union Loafer is a bakery that started to serve pizza at some point. That pizza is served at night (sandwiches by day) and it's gained plenty of fans since it's debut. They serve a NY style pie that comes with a char job like that at Pequod's. As you can imagine it's the dough that shines. This pizza was cooked perfectly to the point where anymore and it was overdone. This is the way I like it.
Pepperoni Pizza at Union Loafers
St. Louis has a big Bosnian population and they've started to open restaurants over the last five years or so. I searched around for the best cevapi and lots of spots popped up but this one stood out. I think it was the fact it doubled as a sub shop and it was open late that did it. Yapi was the perfect stop for some post cocktail sausages. Cevapi are skinless beef sausages and big in countries like Bosnia and Croatia. They typically come served with a butter like blend called kajmak that's made from cheese. The Cevapi at Yapi are loaded with spices particularly black pepper. The food was delicious and the service was friendly. It's the type of place I wish we had in Chicago. Next time I'll try a sub.
Cevapi at Yapi
I may or may not have visited this place years ago. I wanna say I did but there's no evidence of my doing so. Either way I knew about it before they won the 2017 James Beard Award for being an 'American Classic'. But then when they won it further peaked my interest and I made sure to stop in and document this trip. Gioia's is located in the extremely Italian 'The Hill' neighborhood. It was built in 1918 and it still stands in the same place today. There's lots of spots like this in the neighborhood but these guys have a loyal following for their sandwiches. Particularly the hot salami. They have quite a few options but as I heard the people before me ordering it became apparent the thick cut hot salami was the way to go. It's only hot in temp so if you're not big on heat you need not worry. Even though I'm not big on St. Louis style pizza I decided to get my sandwich with provel cheese blending in with the other locals in line. The cheese didn't do anything as far as damaging this sandwich. It was one to remember for sure. In fact I still think about this one. I'll be returning here each trip in.
Hot Salami Sandwich at Gioia's Deli
There's a great local food publication in Missouri called Feast Mag. It focuses on all the current food trends in St. Louis, Kansas City, and some vacation destinations in-state. She saw an article about boozy ice cream and wanted to get some on what was a hot and humid august day. Clementine's sits in a historic building and has the classic charm of an old time ice cream parlor. But this place is new school when it comes to it's flavors. Some of which include booze. I sampled an alcohol free scoop of buttercake that was every bit as decadent as the local specialty is when eaten in cake form. She had a bourbon based flavor I cant remember but it blended up well. You could barely taste booze.
Boozy Ice Cream at Clementine's
Over the last year or two the Chinese street food known as Jianbing has gotten very popular. We had a spot in Chicago's Richland Food Court but the guy disappeared which is a shame bc his jianbing was fire. Admittedly it was the only jianbing I've ever had so I made it a point to try this new place called Bing Bing over by University Village. Here they're offering two kinds of classic Jianbing and you can stuff it with a whole bunch of things. The classic way of eating these Chinese breakfast crepes is with nothing but a few sauces, herbs, and crackers inside the rolled up crepes. Here they let you stuff meats into them but I liked the original way when I tried so that's what I rolled with here.
Bing Bing offers their jianbing in two different ways. "Shandong style jianbing is a yellow corn, soybean and wheat flour-based crepe with scrambled egg, sesame, scallions, cilantro, lettuce, Chinese pickles and crunchy wonton. Tianjin-style jianbing is a mung bean, wheat and rice flour-based crepe." I got the traditional shandong style with traditional sauce and enjoyed it. Maybe not quite as good as that guy long gone from Chinatown. But still it was something I wish I had easier access to. My buddy got the Tianjin style with crispy chicken. It was good but my hunch was right in that they're better without the meat which is the the way they're ate on the streets of China.
Tianjin Style Jianbing at Bing Bing
Mac's Local Eats
Out of all the stops from this trip this is the spot I would first rec to someone asking for a spot to eat in STL. Mac's Local Eats reminds of the type of spot you'd find in a place like Austin. It's run by a guy (Mac) who's a butcher turned restaurateur. He started off supplying meats and soon decided to start cooking and selling them too. He runs his station out of a local watering hole called the Tamm Avenue Grill. It's the perfect marriage as his upscale bar food is some of the best food I've ate this year. Just look at this French Dip with pork switched for beef. It was every bit as good as it looks.
French Pig Sandwich at Mac's Local Eats
Chris McKenzie aka Mac grew up eating the Steak N' Shake style smashed burgers I love so much. Apparently he shares that love bc that's the go-to item at his establishment. Dry Aged beef is smashed crispy and as always with this style the only way to go is a double. I was tempted by a pimento cheese offering however I thought it was appropriate to go classic on my first try. Best burger I've had in a while. The type that can only be made by someone who shares a similar passion.
Double Cheeseburger with Mustard, Onion, Pickles
My buddy kept going on and on about what he described as the best cheesecake in the world. I'm not a big cheesecake guy but he knows his stuff and this cake made by a sibling of one of Mac's friends is said to be as good as the burgers. I tried it and it was delicious. Great way to end your meal here.
Famous Cheesecake at Mac's Local Eats
Two things big in the food world right now. Heck make it three. 1) Scandinavian cooking. 2) Open Faced Sandwiches and or 3) sandwiches served on toast. Milque Toast is the kind of spot emblematic of St. Louis these days. It's cute and it's hip and it's got some food food to boot. They're doing fresh milk and sandwiches served on toast. It's not exactly Smørrebrød but it's similar. One way they're different is in size. These are some big ass sandwiches. Pic'd below is a beef summer sausage special topped with caramelized onions, and some crumbly cheese. The bread was fresh.
Smørrebrød at Milquetoast
I had to get the gravlax option and it too was delicious. This place has a great outdoor dining area and while service was a bit slow the food and housemade teas were terrific. This is one of those spots that would fit in pretty much anywhere from NYC to LA. Great stop on a sunny day.
Grvlax and Cucumber at Milquetoast
The Taco & Ice Cream Joint
Here's a place I saw in that Feast Magazine I mentioned earlier. Paletas (Mexican Popsicles) and Paleterias (Mexican ice cream shops) are big right now and tacos will always be big so the people behind a local supermercado opened this place slanging both tacos and ice cream. Awesome. It's a huge open space and they have a ton of options in paletas, ice cream, and tacos. I got a couple tacos and they were ok. Not the best but by no means bad. What I liked about them was the supersized condiment bar that allowed you put whatever you wanted on them. Paletas hit the spot.
Cochinita Pibil (L) Carne Asada (R) with Watermelon Paletas
Peacemaker Lobster & Crab
Last stop before heading back to Chicago was a spot in the neighborhood that my friend loves. Last trip in we didn't get a chance to check out Peacemaker so we made sure to do so this time. In previous posts I've talked of St. Louis' deep connections to New Orleans. It was founded by some brothers from Nola. It has the second biggest Mardi Gras party in the country and there's handfuls of Cajun/Creole and Nola style cooking spots found all over town. Peacemaker is one of them.
a peek inside
This place is as well designed as anyplace I've been to. I loved the light and the fact it felt so stylish. We opted to sit outside and it was like we were in a little private garden out in front. We did some good damage and bc my buddy is a regular here we were comped some steamed shrimp as well as dessert. After a starter of fresh steamed, well spiced shrimp me and her got some oysters. I forget where from but they were also fresh. Hush Puppies would also hit the spot. So far, so good.
Fresh Shucked Oysters at Peacemaker
Hush Puppies at Peacemaker
Peacemaker has quite a few Po' Boy selections as well as lobster rolls. While I'm always down for a Po' Boy especially one like the fried oyster namesake option the wife got, I opted for a lobster roll. I hadn't had one all summer and it seemed like the perfect day to do so. I think I made the right call. It's not the lobster that's hard to mimic in a good lobster roll but rather the bread. As I said this is a big baking town so it's no surprise to find they have the buttered roll here down pat. That paired with big chunks of lobster and some fresh fried chips made in-house made for a great lunch. To end they sent some homemade Maine style whoopie pies. If you need a slightly upscale spot in STL go here.
Peacemaker Po' Boy at Peacemaker
Lobster Roll at Peacemaker
Note: Please use google for addresses. Previous posts on St. Louis found HERE. See ya next time!