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Restaurants & Bars 3

Creve Coeur/St. Louis report

Aaron D | May 9, 200511:25 PM

A couple weeks back, I posted a request for some specific Creve Coeur recs ([BROKEN LINK REMOVED]).

Here's the result...

We spent a wonderful four days in St. Louis, ate quite well, and avoided the Applebee’s adjoining the hotel lobby. Actually, I didn’t entirely avoid the Applebee’s, as they sold us a couple bottles of beer to take up to our room upon our late arrival, and they graciously provided bourbon-appropriate glassware for the length of our stay.

Breakfast, for the most part, was between quite poor and non-existent—i.e., the quality of my first Drury Inn breakfast was poor enough to dissuade me from eating much more than a banana or cup of yogurt on succeeding days. The upside, however, was that it was super convenient when traveling with two young children to be able to roll about of bed and have a spread of rolls, bagels, yogurt, fruit, eggs, pancakes, French toast, waffles, etc. to sate them early in the morning. And it left more room for lunch for me.

On Thursday morning we headed out to the Budweiser promotional zoo—Grant’s Farm. A stunning capitalistic success, Grant’s Farm was (as far as I could tell) where Ulysses S. Grant retired and was later purchased by Adolphus or Augustus Busch. When it was private Busch property, I guess they set it up as a wildlife refuge.

Now, you get a tram-tour of all sorts of “wild”life—llamas, bison, lemurs, whatever, uncaged; elephants, etc., caged; a petting zoo; a log cabin; a great collection of old (late 19th/early 20th century) carriages; the Budweiser Clydesdales; Busch-family horse racing memorabilia; and a magisterial stable area and courtyard, where they served such fare as brats, pretzels, and beer. The brats, unfortunately, were nothing special. Not particularly bad, but not up to the standards of, say, Lincoln Square’s various German-themed festivals.

The beer was all Bud, of course, but a cold, fresh Budweiser tastes pretty darn good sitting outside in a nice plaza, on a beautiful day, in the middle of the week, after rescuing your kid from teeming thongs of hungry pygmy goats and showing him the largest rodent in the world. Oh, and the beer’s free. As my brother-in-law noted, you gotta love a place where beer’s free, but you have to pay for soda. Admission’s free too. All-in-all a solid half-day of entertainment for the whole family for about 20 bucks. The property is really very pleasant, and while the Bud presence is ubiquitous it’s not overwhelming or nearly as tacky as it should be. And it’s probably a huge corporate tax write-off. As I say, a real stroke of genius by the Bud folks.

Thursday night, we had our Great Restaurants dinner…I pushed for Big Sky or Remy’s, but my wife wanted something a bit more casual, so we ended up at Ellie Forcella’s. All-in-all, quite a nice place, and actually a really good Applebee’s substitute. It has a slightly-manufactured neighborhood bar and grill feel, but with a mostly honest and eclectic décor and vibe, and an interesting menu.

Food ranged from decent to very good. Rarely would I see a chorizo-stuffed trout and lasagna on the same menu and expect either to be good, but in this case, both were. The beer list was nice, too, featuring some local stuff, a few imports, and some national microbrews, like a Hennepin Ale from Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown. Overall, a perfectly successful selection for what we needed. (dickson, I believe your family will be perfectly happy there.)

Friday was Arch day. Be forewarned, there’s a long line to get into the underground/movies/museum part of the arch (which is really poorly executed anyway), and then, once you’re in, you may have another hour wait for your tram to the top. And the tram is an hour commitment. So with two kids in tow, and lunch time fast approaching, we bailed on a trip to the top and went to Crown Candy instead.

jlawrence01 kids not…I didn’t feel unsafe, but Crown Candy is in a pretty run-down part of town. So we were somewhat surprised to see a line of smartly dressed folks trailing out of the restaurant, awaiting lunch and pending rain showers.

The place is all booths, none seating more than four, so our group had to split up, and we still probably waited half hour for a table. This is a small shop. Lunch was good enough, sandwiches, mostly. The BLT is apparently the thing to get; why I got grilled ham-and-cheese I don’t recall. My brother-in-law was taking bacon strips off the BLT, they were piled so high, and was still rejecting bacon two days later. It looked pretty good to me.

The real draw of this place, though, is the ice cream. Man, what ice cream! Some of the best I’ve had, though I don’t know how it would compare to the recent South Side tour. It seems like it would have fit in quite well. I got the Crown Sundae—14% butterfat vanilla ice cream, caramel, hot fudge, buttered pecans, whipped cream, absolutely delicious. Chocolate malteds and shakes were excellent also.

Oh, and we couldn’t leave without buying about $30 worth of candy by the pound (ah, grandparents). The chocolate-dipped stuff they all make in-house, and it was really good. The stuff not made in house (in our case, licorice and sour balls) was good too.

And the whole look and feel of the place is classic. I wish I’d taken pictures, though I’m sure I couldn’t have done it justice. The jukebox in the middle of the room played old 45s. Definitely a worthy St. Louis stop (though it’s worth trying to avoid the lunch rush).

Dinner was at LoRusso’s, an Italian place off the Hill. Very good meal here—lamb, steak (choice, I believe, but perfectly executed), pasta, fish—it was all done well. Service was excellent. And Luke took his first solo steps trying to reach the candy machine. I know there are scores of Hill and off-Hill Italian places to try, and I’ve only tried one, but I wouldn’t hesitate to return.

Saturday morning we escaped the Drury Inn for a very nice French café-themed restaurant-cum-catering operation a few blocks from the hotel, Cuisine d’Arte. A little precious, but welcome relief from the Drury, and the food was good. I had toasted slices of French bread topped by smoked salmon, asparagus, tomatoes, and served with a side of scrambled eggs. Very satisfying.

That afternoon, we said our hello and goodbye to Busch Stadium, witnessing a fantastic showdown between Roger Clemens and Mark Mulder, who pitched a rare 10-inning shutout for the Cards. Hot dog was worse than Wrigley.

Saturday night we were looking for something low-key to relax after a nice day in the sun at the ballpark, someplace close to the hotel, get in the kids in, out, and to bed. So we ended up at probably the nicest restaurant in Creve Coeur. I’m not sure what that’s saying, but Café Bellagio was an excellent restaurant by any standard.
Located in a new and upscalish suburban shopping center, the place is apparently an offshoot of a certain Giovanni’s on the Hill. First of all, the service. I mean, we possibly had the best waiter I’ve had, ever. This guy was good. I barely noticed when he deftly stepped in to remove the aluminum pull-tab cover from one of the kid’s just-opened fruit cups. Gratuitous class, flawlessly executed.

(We called and asked if we could bring kids—of course, they said, and they provided a high chair. And we ate quite early—5:30. But we weren’t prepared for about three-quarters of the gentlemen to be wearing sportcoats, and a lively but adult restaurant. Again, they handled the kids impeccably, seating us in a slightly out of the way corner. Entertaining the kids, humoring them, treating them like kids like to be treated. Heck, another waiter even brought his three-year old girl over to talk to Watson—what, he keeps his daughter in back to entertain the kids of idiot out-of-towners who show up for a fancy dinner on a Saturday night with a three-year-old and a one-year-old? I’m telling you, these guys were good.)

Oh yeah, and the food. As I say, this waiter was so good, he could have sold us anything on the menu. And pretty much did. Thank goodness. After running through the appetizer specials, we all looked at each other, and my father-in-law, whose birthday we were celebrating, spoke for all of us when he said, “Just bring us what we need to have.”

So they split three appetizers, and plated a piece of each on a plate for everyone at the table. A generous raviolo stuffed with monkfish and shellfish mousse in a cognac-lobster sauce was perhaps the best three bites of stuffed pasta I’ve ever eaten. Did I say stuffed? It was only slightly better than the flash-fried squash blossom stuffed with a deliciously porky, fennely Italian sausage and wonderfully complementary gorgonzola. And this stuffed duo was nicely balanced by a simply and lightly breaded shrimp. This was a phenomenal appetizer.

To say that the main dishes didn’t live up to the quality of the first courses is a bit like saying you don’t like Shakespeare’s history plays quite as much as the tragedies. I had a veal chop, cooked to perfection, dressed by a marsala-porcini sauce. I don’t recall all the other entrees, but all told, this was a terrifically satisfying and surprising meal. Low expectations often yield greater satisfaction, and I can’t say for sure what role that axiom played in our enjoyment of this meal. But I hope to find out when I return.

The trips there and back were punctuated by stops at Cozy Dog in Springield and Steak ‘n Shake somewhere else. Cozy Dog’s a cute place, and the corn dogs were good, fried to order. I have no recent corn dog to compare too; Kate prefers Hot Doug’s. She pointed out quite correctly, I think, that Cozy’s dog had a less than optimal mealiness. Steak ‘n Shake was good, but I wish I’d ordered a double. Another stop at Amanecer Tapatio was hoped for but not in the cards. Yet another reason for another trip downstate.

Thanks to all for the suggestions.




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