Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Return to St. Louis
I had a chance to visit a good friend down in St. Louis earlier this month. I've been this way quite a few times over the years but it had been a year or two before covid since I was last there. I took the train from Union Station which was pretty easy and at just $30 for a one way ticket, much cheaper than driving (I rode home with my friend). I recently named STL fourth best food city in the Midwest but after this trip you could place it as high as two and wouldn't get an argument from me. One thing is for sure, it's an underrated food city. Actually it's underrated as a whole with it's collection of city parks, museums and charming neighborhoods like The Hill and Soulard, the former an Italian enclave and the latter where Anheuser-Busch is headquartered. It's a big city with small town charm. A mix of urban + suburban. I always enjoy visiting the Gateway to the West or is it the Backdoor to the East?
Sights from St. Louis
We're going to start off acknowledging the local baking scene. St. Louis is a big time baking city. It reminds me of San Francisco in that regard. I'm not talking about the St. Louis Bread Co. which most of us know as Panera. I'm referring to the handfuls and handfuls of places that are baking up exquisite stuff. We're talking Italian bakeries in The Hill and Asian ones out in the suburbs and everything in between. I really do think this city take's it's baking way more seriously than most. Here's a rundown of the bakeries and baked goods we tried on a recent visit. First up was a stop at the Missouri Baking Co. where cannoli and gooey butter cake are great as is the bread baked on site. Want French pastries? Check out La Pâtisserie Chouquette where pastry chef Simone Faure serves breakfast baked goods and desserts. You'll find The Foundry Bakery out in the suburbs but it's worth the ride for Taiwanese breads and treats like the lesser seen Pineapple Gem which is made with sun ripened pineapples caramelized to a golden amber color and balanced with rich and buttery shortbread crust. Want more? Head over to STL Filipino Bread for Filipino baked goods like Pork Adobo Bread and Ube Crinkle cookies. St. Louis' wealth of baked goods aren't limited to just it's bakeries. You'll find some delicious treasures hidden within the restaurants and coffee shops too. Spots like Coffestamp where two Honduran brothers roast beans from their homeland and serve up breakfast empanadas filled with baleada ingredients and more. We visited Sugarwitch at Carondelet Bakery on it's opening day and walked away with one of every ice cream cookie sandwich they offer.
Sticking with the baking theme. Songbird calls themselves "a community-focused restaurant serving locally-sourced breakfast and lunch cuisine, all freshly prepared to order." It's the type of place I've come to associate with St. Louis. It's the work of a few veterans of the city's dining scene that ran a few different projects leading up to Songbird. One of them was selling a breakfast sandwich called "The Combo" at a local farmers market. That sandwich became so popular they decided to put it front and center at Songbird. It consists of locally baked sourdough bread that's toasted and topped with a fried farm fresh egg plus bacon and aged white cheddar and drizzled with sea salt and honey. You can add a tomato too which I chose to do based off tomatoes being in season. This is a simple breakfast sandwich made with super high quality ingredients that go really well together. Cool spot.
The Combo Breakfast Sandwich
Knead Bakehouse + Provisions
Here's another great spot for baked bread and more. Knead Bakehouse opened back in 2018 which is when my visit took place. They sell fresh baked sourdough bread and more including sandwiches and stuff. The menu has definitely changed since it does with the seasons but both the baked goods and the sandwiches are stellar. So I'd suggest getting whatever you think you would like. It's all good.
Pastries and Sandwich at Knead Bakehouse + Provisions
Balkan Treat Box
If you’re in St. Louis and only have time for one meal without a reservation this is your spot. It’s both locally loved and nationally recognized so you can pretty much expect a line and that’s fine bc there should always be one. It’s that good. Long story short this is one of the great success stories of a food truck turned brick & mortar. The menu features popular dishes from the Balkan region and items like cevapi are served up next to Pide, Lahmacun Wraps and Döner. All the bread is baked on site in their wood burning oven and it’s some of the best you can find in a city with a strong baking culture. The wood fired pide with beef is one of the best things I’ve ate this year and I might’ve liked the lahmacun wrap with the same smoky beef even more. The huge döner sandwiches consist of spit roasted meat sitting in soft and sturdy somun. Whichever savory item you choose get the subtlety sweet and silky rice pudding with pistachio and rose petals to end your meal. What’s not to like? It’s pretty much perfect so order whatever sounds good. Balkan Treat Box is one of those spots that would be busy in any city but it fits in perfectly here in St. Louis where there’s a large and thriving Bosnian community.
Lunch at Balkan Treat Box
I originally had no plans to visit Gioia's but only because I've been there before. Then again it was the 2017 'Stop of the Year' here on the site so it was impossible not to stop in when I walked by on a stroll through The Hill, St. Louis' historic Italian neighborhood. Gioia's might be the most historic spot in the neighborhood dating back to 1918. People line up during lunch hours for some of the city's best sandwiches including their signature Hot Salami. The hot refers to the temp of the thickly sliced meat that some say resembles spam or baloney. Maybe but that doesn't mean it's not an awesome sandwich. I suggest trying it the traditional way which comes with deli mustard, onion, giardiniera, and the cheese of your choice, served toasted. I got St. Louis cheese aka Provel and it worked well.
Hot Salami at Gioia's
I can’t go to St. Louis and not stop in at Carl’s (it's a must stop spot). The iconic Route 66 drive-in makes one of the best burgers in the country / world. These aren’t just smashed, they’re smashed until crispy with a consistency that can’t be matched. That’s in part bc of a longtime employee named Kelly who’s an absolute pro on the hot flattop with the 1.8 oz balls of beef she smashes and then scrapes. Go with a double for the optimal meat to bun ratio. Best enjoyed with an original recipe IBC Root Beer float fresh from the barrel. A first ballot entry into the Hamburger Hall of Fame. Since 1959.
Root Beer Float + Cheeseburger at Carl's Drive-In
First order of business upon my arrival into town was a burger at this iconic Irish Pub that’s served the area for more than sixty years. Both the beer and the ground sirloin are popular, as is a roast beef sandwich served with au jus. In the age of the smash burger I’m appreciating thick pub burgers like this more than ever. I like them medium rare and juicy with a really soft bun, just like this one. The roast beef is also good but the burger is what you really want at O'Connell's. Since 1962.
Roast Beef + Cheeseburger at O'Connell's Pub
Monte Bello Pizzeria
As loyal followers of this site know it’s a hotpot of old school dining destinations mixed with international eateries and trendy hotspots. Next stop falls into the American classics category. I’ve been coming down to the Lou for years now and somehow I had never heard of Monte Bello until just recently when a guy I know visited and put it into the same category as some other vintage Midwest pizzerias. This one has a special history as it might be the originator of the St. Louis style pizza except there is no provel cheese used which really didn’t become popular until the 1960’s when Imo’s became a thing. Traditional St. Louis style pizza sans provel is your standard Midwest tavern thin.
It’s served up in what’s basically the basement of a old house along with some of the city’s best toasted ravs which I learned are typically made with ground beef and not cheese. You’re going to want to try those and also some of the homemade arancini since the pizzas take a bit of time due to an old school oven dating back to the 50’s. Pictured below is a large half sausage and half pepperoni which comes with a heavy cornmeal crust that helps prevent it from sticking on the baking pans that the pizza come served on. The sausage is made on site. This one had some extra crisp edges with a chewier bite in the middle and a sauce with a bit of some zing to it. It was exactly how I expect the pizza to taste from such a timeless place. It was pretty, pretty great. Since 1950.
1/2 Sausage - 1/2 Pepperoni at Monte Bello
Sureste at the Foundry
St. Louis got it’s first foodhall last year when they turned the old Century Electric Foundry complex into a marketplace with 18 vendors. We tried a few of them including a stall called Sureste where a notable St. Louis chef is whipping up food from Mexico’s Yucatán region. He ran the kitchen at Nixtal back when it was named one of the best new restaurants in the country. We tried a couple orders of the panuchos which are little discs of masa stuffed with black beans and fried. Toppings go on top. Both the meaty puerco guisado and the vegetarian calabazitas were tasty as was an order of Sikil Pak which is a Mayan pumpkin seed dip that’s popular in the same way as guacamole or hummus.
Panuchos + Sikil Pak at Sureste Mexican
My friend whom I was visiting knows his way around the city's restaurant scene and this is him and his girls favorite spot right now. She's mostly vegetarian so they like The Lucky Accomplice for it's seasonal and vegetable forward menu. It's a very nice space that feels like so many other restaurants of it's type across the country. Nothing against that it's just the age we live in. We sat at the bar and had some well crafted cocktails before ordering up some vegetable forward stuff that included some fermented potato focaccia with pesto butter - farm potatoes with cucumbers, chili oil, dried capers and trout roe - cabbage and black trumpet dumplings with fermented mushroom juice and dill. A plate of sweet potato wedges was pretty great with little nooks and crannies of crispness throughout. For dessert some housemade squash ice cream was an interesting use of a fruit typically used for savory.
Dinner at The Lucky Accomplice __________________________________________________
Soup Dumplings STL
Dumplings are another dish that this city seems to do really well. You can find some stellar soup dumplings at this spot ran by a family from Shanghai. They used to run a place called Private Kitchen where they served up Shanghainese cuisine to customers in a private kitchen setting. That’s done but you can still score their xiao long bao which imo are at their best with the pork and crab filling. These were floppy and soupy and most importantly delicious, passing the XLB fitness test with flying colors.
Xiao Long Bao at Soup Dumplings STL
Tiger Soup Dumplings
It’s a little bit of a trip from the city center but you can score even more soup dumplings in the suburb of Fenton where Tiger Soup Dumplings recently opened. It’s ran by the daughter of the woman who runs Soup Dumplings STL. We arrived to find her making soup dumplings fresh from a little window display for all to see. We decided to try her pan fried Xiao Long Bao. These were tasty but I think they work better steamed as they’re softer and juicier when prepared that way as opposed to pan fried.
Fried Soup Dumplings at Tiger Soup Dumplings
Lona's Lil' Eats
Lona’s Lil Eats is yet another success story of a business born in the city’s historic Soulard Farmers Market. They make Asian inspired dishes including a popular giant rice cake roll. My buddy brought us here for some potstickers which are picture perfect as you can see below. Fried dumplings are one of my favorite comfort foods of all time and these were a very comforting batch.
Potstickers at Lona's Lil Eats
St. Louis has some excellent options for those looking for a night out on the town. One it them is iNDO which is ran by a James Beard nominated chef who’s family has run a local sushi counter for years. He burst onto the scene taking over the family sushi spot where he served up pristine fresh sliced fish, some of which was given his own spin. Indo is a spot that allows him to get even more creative with Southeast Asian flavors such as his signature Issan Hamachi. It’s a beautiful bowl of raw amberjack mixed with candied garlic, thai kosho, and coconut naam pla. The gyoza is another example of excellent dumplings to be found around town. Don’t miss the Palm Sugar Ribs with candied nuts, sweet palm sugar glaze, herb salad. I have a hard time believing there’s a better batch of ribs to be found around town. A dish called “Vegetable Crunchy Rice” was a big plate of crispy rice topped with lots of vegetables including pickles, avocado, tare, crispy shiitake, furikake. It was like a bowl of bi bim bop with nothing but crispy rice. Dessert was a lovely coconut apple rice pudding.
Isaan Hamachi - candied garlic, thai kosho, coconut naam pla
Gyoza - pork and chicken dumplings, sweet soy, fried garlic
Palm Sugar Ribs - candied nuts, sweet palm sugar glaze, herb salad
Toro Scallion Handroll - fatty bluefin tuna, soy glaze
Coconut Apple Rice Pudding - coconut cream, apple, puffed rice
As I mentioned in a post just last week, ramen continues to rise here in the States and beyond. Ten years ago you had to go to the coasts or Asia itself to find a legit bowl of ramen. Now there’s a few places in St. Louis alone including the newly opened Menya Rui which is ran by an itamae that went to Japan to learn the craft. They do a few different styles including a chicken broth based shoyu as well as a Tsukemen which is a dipping ramen where the noodles and liquid are served separately. Mazemen (brothless ramen) and tantanmen (shoyu with chili oil and sesame paste) are also options. I got the traditional bowl of Shoyu and enjoyed the product as a dinner after dinner type of snack.
Shoyu Ramen at Menya Rui
St. Louis is a great burger town with some really good bars. Both of them come together at The B-Side on Cherokee street. It's a light dive by which I mean it's a pretty no frills bar but you don't have to watch your back or anything like that. They have live music, a back patio with a firepit and some interesting burgers. They cook the patties of beef and then rest them in a pool of beer. When ordered your burger is removed from the pot and sizzled on a hot flattop. The result is a bomb bar burger.
Burger at The B-Side
Note: Click HERE for a Google Maps Guide to all the spots featured in this post.
Eating BIG in St. Louis Pt. 3
Eating BIG in St. Louis Pt. 2
Eating BIG in St. Louis Pt. 1
See ya next time @chibbqking
Not a healthy dish at any of the selections. St. Louis has better offerings.
great report, thanks!
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