Follow Me Foodie to Missouri! (St. Louis – food and travel)

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Follow Me Foodie to St. Louis, Missouri!

Really?! But why?! I know. It sounds random, but wait until you see what it has in-store.

Before partaking on this trip, I remember people asking “so Mijune, where is the next trip?” and I said “Missouri”! The immediate reaction was laughter followed by “why?”, or vise versa. There was no love, or at least very little love for Missouri.

“What’s in Missouri?! Why would you go there?” and my reply was “I don’t know, that’s why I’m going”.

I started the trip in St. Louis, which I knew was Nelly’s (the rapper) hometown, and then did a little 3 hour road trip up to Kansas City which is known for barbeque… and Wizard of Oz. Admit it, it crossed your mind.

Anyway, Missouri might sound random, but I was excited! I can’t say it’s been a high priority on my foodie itinerary, but I’ve actually researched Kansas City over the last few years and have always wanted to explore their sticky saucy ribs and barbeque culture. Where there are people and food, there is something to discover and I was on a mission with Discover America to Discover America Flavors of Missouri.
Photos by Diana Seto

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First stop: St. Louis! I pretty much had 24 hours to eat and see as much as I could, so needless to say, I need to revisit; however I didn’t do too bad with the limited time given.

As mentioned, Nelly was all I really knew about it prior to research. However after googling the city I mapped out a couple non-food related things I wanted to see. The most iconic thing in St. Louis was the 630-foot stainless steel Gateway Arch, which happens to be the tallest arch in the world, and then of course the St. Louis Cardinals are a big deal. I don’t know much about baseball, but given enough time I definitely would have checked out one of the games. The closest I got to them was at the Ballpark Village, and while I didn’t catch a home run here, I sure did at some of their restaurants.

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But before I get to the food, I had to hit the pool… omg, just kidding! I did not come to a barbeque city to lay around in a bathing suit (food babies and bathing suits don’t play well), however I did walk around it a couple times… yay cardio!

It is actually kind of a shame I didn’t get to take advantage of this gorgeous Mediterranean style pool and piazza located at The Chase Park Plaza though. It was one of my favourite features at the Four Diamond luxury hotel, and if I had the opportunity to spend a day lounging around poolside, I would have loved to do it here.

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The Chase Park Plaza is still family owned, part of the Historic Hotels of America, and one of the less than a dozen big independent hotels left. To be recognized as a Historic Hotel of America, the hotel has to be at least 50 years old, designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and have historic significance.

The hotel was restored in 1997, but still has a 1920’s charm which makes it unique to St. Louis. The in-house 5-screen cinema has also been a stage for politicians and big band acts such as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope.

Where I ate…

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1. Gian-Tony’s

When I saw this on the itinerary I was a bit skeptical, but I knew St. Louis had a significant Italian population. The website was dated which didn’t necessarily bother me, but the reviews were generally positive and it was also located on The Hill.

The Hill is a neighbourhood known for old school Italian food and it was an area I wanted to check out regardless. Gian-Tony’s is perhaps the most beloved Italian restaurant in the area. While it is frequented by tourists, it’s just as loved by locals. I talked to locals even outside of this area and Gian-Tony’s was the go-to recommendation for Italian food on The Hill. While it might not be a “destination restaurant”, the food was good and worth visiting if you’re in the area.

I recommend the Involtini – thinly sliced and grilled eggplant rolled with blend of spinach & ricotta, baked in Tony’s homemade marinara and broiled with mozzarella, the Cappellini Alla Gian-Tony’s – Cappellini with sauteed Italian ham and onion, served in Tony’s homemade marinara and a touch of white wine, and the Bocconcini Alla Tony – stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella, breaded and broiled with onion and bay leaves, and served in a white wine sauce with red onions, mushrooms and peas.

The menu item I really wanted was the osso buco which is his most recognized dish making an appearance on Food Network, but unfortunately it’s only offered as an occasional special, so call ahead to reserve one if this is what you want.

Address:  5356 Daggett Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110, United States
Phone:+1 314-772-4893

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2. Gioia’s Deli

Oh god. I had a Katz’s Deli or Schwartz’s Montreal Smoked Meat “bang your head on the table” moment with this. This sandwich was almost worth the visit to St. Louis alone. It makes me smile just looking at it again. Actually I don’t even have to look at it, I just need to think about it. *Shiver* It was heavenly.

Gioia’s Deli was on my own itinerary and I didn’t realize it was located right across the street from Gian-Tony’s. I only realized the next day when I came to try this epic sandwich I’ve heard so much about. It was a little hole in the wall from 1918, and is the oldest family owned restaurant on The Hill. It was almost like an Italian “Subway” and you can custom make your own sandwich, but whatever you do, don’t leave without trying Gioia’s Hot Salami -“St. Louis’ Favorite Sandwich”.

The salami or salam de testa (headcheese-like) is made fresh daily with a combination of beef and pork head and tastes like wicked artisan luncheon meat. It was in garlic bread with Provel cheese, jalapeño, hot mustard, lettuce, chopped onion, and pepperoncini. It’s served hot and a must try in St. Louis.

Address:  1934 Macklind Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110, United States
Phone:+1 314-776-9410

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3. Half & Half

This was a really cute spot and it just felt like a local favourite – and it was. I’m not sure I would have found it on my own if it wasn’t on the itinerary, but I’m really glad it was.

Half & Half is a casual daily breakfast, brunch, and lunch spot with a farm-to-table feel. It was a quaint and cozy modern diner serving updated classics with pretty much everything made in house.

I ordered the Fried Chicken Livers with 2 sunny side up eggs, tobacco onion, caper aioli, and potatoes, and the Sausage Biscuit – house made sausage, country biscuit, cheddar, scrambled eggs, aioli and potatoes with an added side of sausage gravy for dipping.

Chicken liver and onions is traditionally a British dish, but in the US, deep fried chicken livers and onions are particularly popular in the mid-west and southern states. I like liver and it isn’t the first time I’ve had this, but it was good and I’d recommend it for the authentic experience.

The Sausage Biscuit was really good as well. The house made biscuit was super buttery and flaky and although the sausage was moist, the country gravy dip just took it over the top.

I certainly wanted to make a bigger dent in the menu, which is always a good sign, but these two dishes were fairly heavy so I took it easy.

Address:  8133 Maryland Ave, St. Louis, MO 63105, United States
Phone:+1 314-725-0719

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4. Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tours

Budweiser. Flashback to your favourite Budweiser commercial. Wassssuuuuppp?!?!? The lost puppy series?! All of them are good!

I’m familiar with Budweiser, but not really with their history, products and brand. However it was introduced in 1876 by Carl Conrad & Co. of St. Louis, Missouri, so it’s iconic to the city and worth checking out.

I haven’t done many beer tours, but this brewery is spread over 142 acres. It was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1966, so regardless of being a beer or Budweiser fan, it’s a pretty cool place to visit.

They give free public tours of the brewery and for those further interested there are also a selection of ticketed tours. I enrolled in the “Beer School” tour, which is less of a tour, but a 45-minute interactive session on basic beer education. It reviews beer styles, ingredients, proper pouring techniques and food-pairing suggestions.

Address:  12th & Lynch Sts, Saint Louis, MO 63118
Phone:+1 314 577 2626

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5.  Fitz’s

Alright, so Pinterest is good for more than planning weddings. I didn’t find this one on my own and it wasn’t on my radar, but my friend Diana is a Pinterest-fan and she found photos of Fitz’s root beer float while searching St. Louis eateries, so I gave it a go. Thank you, Diana! This was a pretty incredible root beer float.

It was everything I wanted in a root beer float – thick creamy root beer made with cane sugar, a mountain of vanilla ice cream, and bubbles dripping down the sides of a frosted glass. Beautiful.

The hand crafted root beer at Fitz’s was created in St. Louis in 1947. It is made with 14 different botanicals including sassafras root, wild cherry bark, birch bark, star anise and vanilla bean, and is arguably known as the best root beer in America.

I really hate using the word “best” since it’s all relative and subjective, but it’s been one of my favourite root beers to date.

Address:  6605 Delmar Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63130, United States
Phone:+1 314-726-9555

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 6. Bogart’s Smokehouse

I was looking forward to this most on the itinerary. Based on my own research I was going to try Pappy’s Smokehouse, but little did I know that Bogart’s Smokehouse is their sister restaurant. Both are considered “must tries” in St. Louis, but of course locals have their preferences.

The hardcore fans know what time of day to go and are specific about the kind of meat they order depending on location. If I lived here, I’d be one of those obsessive-compulsive people.

Bogart’s Smokehouse specializes in Memphis and St. Louis style barbeque. Chef Skip Steele is born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, as to why the barbeque here isn’t exclusively St. Louis style. Yes, barbeque styles are very specific and regional, so it’s important to know where you are and what style they are showcasing so you’re not surprised.

Memphis style barbeque is all about the pig, although beef, turkey and chicken are not forgotten. It is slow roasted in a pit and the ribs can be either dry with a dry-rub or wet with sauce.

St. Louis style barbeque is not nearly as popular or known globally outside of St. Louis style ribs. Again it’s all about the pig and the method of cooking is actually grilling on direct heat rather than slow smoking with indirect heat. They also love sauce which is traditional to Kansas City style barbeque. The sauce is a sweet and tangy (more sweet than tangy) tomato-based sauce and it goes on the meat after being grilled. On a per capita basis, St. Louis consumes more BBQ sauce than any other city in the nation.

I tried a selection of meats at Bogart’s and their apricot bruleed ribs are incredible. They are dry rubbed without sauce, but they have a selection of four house made barbeque sauces at the table. The tri-tip sirloin is my second favourite followed by burnt ends. I also had the pastrami, and the simple house made apple sauce is a fantastic condiment to go along side everything. The baked beans are smoked over brisket and they sold out of the turkey, otherwise that’s supposed to be good too. They close when they sell out, so go early to avoid disappointment.

Address:  1627 S 9th St, St. Louis, MO 63104, United States
Phone:+1 314-621-3107

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7. Niche

This would be in my top 20 dining experiences of this year, and it’s been an incredible year! I loved this restaurant and it was my last stop before heading to Kansas City.

I was still pretty full from barbeque at Bogart’s Smokehouse, but I really wanted to try Niche which was on my personal itinerary. I had to at least see it… but one thing led to another and before you knew it, I was at dinner #2. If you know me, not shocking at all.

After being nominated six times as a finalist, Chef Gerard Craft finally won “Best Chef: Midwest” at the James Beard Award earlier this year. He is the first chef in St. Louis to ever win the award and really put the city on the map for upscale dining. He owns four restaurants in St. Louis, but Niche is his flagship and the one I wanted to try most.

Niche offers New American cuisine and while it is a sophisticated and upscale restaurant, it’s not pretentious and staff are friendly and wonderful. I ordered a la carte, but if I had not eaten a massive barbeque platter just before, I would have 110% done the tasting menu. Everything on the menu appealed to me so it was hard to pick, but based on the dishes I had, I was confident it would be hard to go wrong ordering. It was just variations of amazing and more amazing.

I wanted to kiss the amuse bouche. The maple vinegar custard (chawanmushi-like), house smoked trout caviar, and shiitake dish which came in a hollowed out egg was something you wanted to get down on one knee for.

The tomatoes with custard of roasted garlic and garum (ricotta-like), sourdough breadcrumbs, pickled ginger, basil varieties, anise hyssop and cilantro was creative, but not overdone. They really showcased their local tomatoes, but with style and personality.

The corn soup with housemade sweet miso marshmallows, pickled peaches, crispy canola oil cake, and buckwheat crisps I could have everyday – no joke. I loved the idea and it was sweet, savoury, tangy, creamy, rich, fresh and well textured with crisps and fluffy marshmallows. More mama!

The local chanterelles and oyster mushrooms with sour cream, roasted potatoes in chanterelle vinegar, and aromatic oil with thyme and garlic was another brilliant creation. It reminded me of salt n’ vinegar chips with sour cream dip meets a baked potato.

And last, but not least was dessert. The dessert was as strong as the savoury courses. I had the Cantaloupe sorbet (super good), fondant, yogurt panna cotta, pickled watermelon rind, toasted sunflower oil cake, and micro basil.

Although Chef Craft was not in house, he has a stellar kitchen and team executing a near flawless menu. It was well thought out, made with undeniable high quality local ingredients, and clean in flavours and delivery. It’s been a couple weeks after the experience and I’m still thinking about the dishes – that’s when I know I really loved the restaurant.

Address: 7734 Forsyth Blvd, Clayton, MO 63105, United States
Phone:+1 314-773-7755

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8. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

I saw this as soon as I got off the plane! They have a vending machine at the airport, but I wanted to also hit up both locations, which I did.

So Niche wasn’t really my last stop, this was… and it was so worth it. The first night I tried Ted Drewes I ordered their sundaes since it was recommended, however locals were adamant I go back to try their “concrete” frozen custards. They’re more or less like blizzards.

First off, let’s get it straight. Frozen custard is not ice cream, nor is it soft serve. It has a higher butterfat content and more egg yolks than ice cream, and if it has less than 1.4% egg yolk solids it’s ice cream. Frozen custard is thicker, denser and richer with 10% milk fat which some ice creams have, if not more, but the egg yolks is a deciding factor. It also tends to be smoother and creamier since it’s fattier with less air whipped into it unlike ice cream. Last but not least, frozen custard is served warmer like soft serve and is most popular in Southern or mid-western States in the US. Not all frozen custard is created equal or labeled properly, so don’t always take it for what it is… although in the end it’s all delicious creamy sugary frozen goodness.

Ted Drewes is most iconic to St. Louis although his first frozen custard store was in Florida in 1929. A year later Drewes opened a location in St. Louis and it’s popular with tourists and locals alike.

The frozen custards are offered as a sundae or “concrete” which was created in 1959. The concrete is a malt or milkshake so thick it can be served upside-down. This isn’t necessarily uncommon for extra thick milkshakes globally, but regardless, it’s fun and delicious.

I had the Cardinal Sin with tart cherries and hot fudge, the Dutchman with chocolate, butterscotch and pecans and the Hawaiian with pineapple, banana, coconut and macadamia nuts. My favourite actually ended up being the least traditional to mid-west/southern flavours, it was the Hawaiian. Hawaii is Drewes’ favourite place to vacation, and many of his creations or flavour names have personal stories to them.

Address: 6726 Chippewa St, St. Louis, MO 63109, United States
Phone:+1 314-481-2652

Coming soon – Follow Me Foodie to Kansas City!

 

2 Comments

  • Mark R says:

    Thank you for your fine review of St. Louis food spots. The city’s dining scene is much underrated and it encouraging to see reviews like this.

  • Mark R says:

    P.S. “it is encouraging”

    Also, for the next time you are in St. Louis:

    The Sidney Street Cafe is the restaurant most often compared to Niche in terms of quality. Niche used to be in the same neighborhood before it moved to Clayton.

    Given the comments about Gioia’s Deli, I just wanted to inform you that the tiny Salume Beddu salumeria on Hampton has been described as a world class purveyor of artisan meats and the speck sandwich has been given national recognition. I agree it was one of the tastiest sandwiches I’ve eaten. Blues City Deli is supposed to have the best muffaletta outside New Orleans. It’s big enough that it took a while for me to finish the half order.

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