A brief trip report:
Wednesday Dinner: Hooters in Bloomington, IL. It was near the highway. That said, I tried the "cajun" wings, breaded, drumettes only, and they were a little salty but amazingly tasty. Between those and the fried pickles, it was actually an excellent and very inexpensive meal. Just don't think of them as buffalo wings, and you'll be fine.
Thursday Lunch: Fitz's in St. Louis. My parents happened to be driving through town so we grabbed a bite. The place would be awesome for kids, with lots of bright colors, friendly foods, and an operational soda bottling operation behind glass on the main floor. We started with fried pickles (you see a theme developing?) and I had the "black and blue" burger, described as a blackened patty with blue cheese and fried onions. It's not Kuma's, but the burger was close to medium rare, hand formed, and really pretty good. I can't speak for what my parents had, but I was pleasantly surprised by the operation. The root beer, by the way, was very good. Light on the vanilla, heavy on the wintergreen, served in a chilled mug with no ice and very refreshing. $2 for unlimited refills.
Thursday Dinner: 17th Street Bar and Grill in O'Fallon, IL. This is a branch of Mike Mills' original in Murphysboro. We've also been to one of the "Memphis Championship Barbecue" locations in Vegas. We started with an enormous basket of fried pickles, which were the best of the trip: thick-cut, ridged pickles with a nicely spiced batter. Strong crunch on the outside, with a meaty, briny interior. Just awesome.
I had a three meat platter - sausage, beef ribs, pork ribs. The winner of the bunch was the beef rib, but the pork ribs weren't bad -- decent bark and some tug required to get them off the bone, but they were baby backs, and I just can't get incredibly enthused about baby backs. The sausage was fine, but forgettable. Great vinegary baked beans, too.
Overall, I thought it wasn't as good as the MCB in Vegas, which I thought wasn't as good (at the same meats) as Salt Lick in Vegas, which Beth says isn't half as good as the original Salt Lick. So take that for what it's worth. I still dream about those pickles, though.
Friday Dinner: Riddle's Penultimate, St Louis. An endearing restaurant, with reasonable prices. The best way to get an idea for the restaurant is to look at the menu, which reads kind of like Applebee's combinations at times. The atmosphere inside is anything but, and the execution of the dishes we tried was uniformly very good.
Saturday Lunch: Plush Pig Barbecue in St Louis, Mo. I looked this place up online, found little information, and cruised past it. From the outside, it looks terrible, like the Quizno's next door. But I persevered, went inside, and was immediately heartened by the mounds of logs and strong smell of wood smoke. I had a half slab of spare ribs, tips still attached, which were unbelievably meaty. The texture was a bit off -- the meat fell away from the bones far too easily -- but the bark and the dry rub were great. After I was about 80% done, I thought to try the spicier barbecue sauce, served on the side, which was vinegary and really wonderful. The fried pickles on the side were just OK - too-thin, flat-cut, and a bit greasy. The mac and cheese was kraft shells, or something like it.
Saturday Dinner: Atlas in St Louis, Mo. All of the reviews of this place tout it as heavy on the seasonal ingredients, but I didn't really see any of that. The food was fine, but had a lot of missed potential. Appetizers were crispy duck confit with arugula and piccolo fritto with a lemon aioli. These were both quite good, especially the duck. Beth's entree was a pork chop with a parsley pesto and a celeriac gratin. The pork chop was a bit dry, due to (speculation) not being brined and being a little overcooked. The gratin, though, was great. I had a braised short rib, which would have benefited greatly from a longer braise and a richer braising liquid. We split a butterscotch pudding with creme fraiche and pecans for dessert, and it was fantastic.
They're open until 10 for dinner, and then from 10-11 for appetizers and desserts. Based on our experience, I think we'd probably do that, so as to skip the underwhelming entrees. Our waitress is also their webmaster, and she was wonderful. If she reads this: you were wonderful.
Sunday Lunch: Crown Candy Kitchen, St Louis, Mo. Wonderful. I think it's an absolute must-visit, at least once. I can quibble slightly with Beth's BLT, with its too-small bread and miracle whip, but the half pound of great bacon makes up for those flaws. Great malts, great ice cream, and a fantastic space. Go.
We had a great visit, and really enjoyed St. Louis.
Fitz's Soda Bar & Grill
14810 Clayton Rd
Chesterfield, MO 63017
17th Street Bar & Grill
1711 W Highway 50
O Fallon, IL 62269
Riddle's Penultimate Cafe
6307 Delmar Blvd
St Louis, MO 63130
Plush Pig Barbecue
7814 Forsyth Blvd
St Louis, MO 63105
5513 Pershing Ave
St Louis, MO 63112
Crown Candy Kitchen
1401 Saint Louis Ave
St Louis, MO 63106