This is a report on my trip to St. Louis. I should note, the brutal heat (highs of 106, 107, 108, and 96) sapped my appetite, as well as making it unpleasant to go just about anywhere. As a result, I wound up skipping dinner twice and only went to one bakery, so I didn’t try as many places as I wanted to. But I still managed to get a nice sampling of the local fare. So let’s get on to the good stuff – the food!
I have three words for this place: OH. MY. GOD. This was the best barbecue I’ve ever had, bar none. Amazing.
I arrived at 10:30 a.m. when they opened. (Partly because I was trying to avoid the heat, although it was officially 100 already by 11 a.m., and partly because I hadn’t felt like eating the previous day when I arrived in the heat.) They were empty at that time, although they were packed by the time I left at 11:15. I tried a little of everything (I love the way you can add 4-oz portions of things for $3). I LOVED the ribs. LOVED them. Meaty, full of flavor. Wow! I also loved the smoked prime rib – tender, full of flavor, rich. I tried it with sauce but it didn’t need any, it was just SO GOOD. The beef brisket was also very good, almost as good as the prime rib, very similar. I was a bit less crazy about the pastrami, which I found too salty – just my taste, it was still very moist and tender. Oh, and the folks there are very nice, and very helpful. Note that about half of the seating is one long table for “communal seating”, which makes perfect sense for this kind of casual place where there’s a crowd with lots of people coming and going. Bogart’s, all by itself, makes it worth visiting St. Louis, even when it’s 107 out. www.bogartssmokehouse.com
I then walked down Lafayette Avenue to Rue Lafayette, across the street from the park named Lafayette Square. I was here for the pastry, which did not disappoint! I was surprised at the relatively small selection of baked goods; all were inside or on top of a refrigerated display case only three feet wide. They had six kinds of French macaroons, a cheesecake, tres leches cake, and a few other goodies, as well as croissants. I had a very good vanilla French macaroon, and a wonderful French toast soufflé, which was basically a heated bread pudding made using a chocolate croissant. Rue Lafayette is a lot more than just a bakery – more a café, really – but I didn’t try any of their nice selection of savory dishes or their many hot beverages, all of which you can see on their website menu at www.ruelafayette.us This is a lovely, excellent place, and I would have loved to try more, except that I was there right after Bogart’s so it was more of a dessert stop than a full meal.
HALF AND HALF
I went to this breakfast-focused restaurant in Clayton, and enjoyed it a lot too. I love creative breakfast places, ones that aren’t just doing plain ol’ pancakes and omelets, and this certainly qualifies. I started with an order of doughnuts, and these were made to order, served hot out of the fryer. They were more like churros, stick-shaped extrusions with the same fluted shape as the Mexican version. Very fine, and highly recommended. I then had the Clara’s cakes, which were pancakes with mascarpone, a raspberry compote, nuts, and granola – very rich, and a nice-sized portion too. The service was slightly amateurish but friendly and trying hard to do right. Oh, and it’s VERY LOUD, even more so when playing the loud music that didn’t seem necessary on a weekday morning. But not a big deal, especially when the food is good, which it was. So I enjoyed going here for breakfast and I’d go back again on future visits.
One thing worth mentioning when recommending it, though – there is absolutely zero signage on the exterior, so you’d better know the address when looking for it. I suspect Clayton has restrictions on outdoor signage, as some other upscale towns do, but at least the other stores in that commercial strip have their names on their awnings and/or on small signs on signposts next to the street. Not Half and Half! Just look for 8135 Maryland Avenue. www.halfandhalfstl.com
This was another meal defined by those same three words, OH. MY. GOD. Niche is a high-end bistro featuring the creative food of James Beard Award finalist Chef-Owner Gerard Craft, and he deserves all the acclaim. The entire menu features compositions of ingredients that you wouldn’t expect to work well together, but they all do, to make each dish a mixture of flavors, textures, etc that all turn out delicious. Such as…
- Lemon-scented maple custard topped with caviar served in an egg shell
- A piece of “everything focaccia” (topped with everything, like an everything bagel)
- A velvety creamy corn soup, served hot, with hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, crisped (freeze dried?) corn kernels, thai chili oil, and a small scoop of crème fraiche ice cream in the middle
- Pig’s head (exactly like it sounds – think of pork pieces pressed together)
- Citrus-basil sorbet intermezzo
- A salad of heirloom tomatoes, pickled tomatoes, grape tomatoes, freeze-dried rye crisp, thai chili oil, and sliced fresh peaches (yes, peaches) in a buttermilk dressing
- A deconstructed lobster roll, with the lobster sautéed in brown butter, served over a slice of thin pumpernickel-like bread
- Awesome polenta, with thyme, honey, goat cheese, and walnuts
Every one of these dishes was both delicious and creative. The server, Todd, was extremely helpful as well. This was an amazing dinner. www.nichestlouis.com
I went here for breakfast my last day in town. I had the “Finnish pancake”, which was an interesting and tasty custard-like pancake. I liked this place; there’s not much to say about it though, other than that it’s nice to have a place with interesting breakfasts right downtown. One oddity was that the seating consists mostly of six-tops, which seems odd for any restaurant, especially one that is breakfast-focused. I asked the staff about it, and they said that when they need to, they will sit two parties of two at opposite ends of a six-top, but they also have a lot of larger groups, so the six-tops aren’t really a problem. Interesting. www.roosterstl.com
I went here late afternoon, after the baseball game and before catching the train. It was okay – perfect for my particular needs, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to return. The indoor seating consists mainly of a long bar and a long communal table, which is fine for a quick burger at an off-hour, maybe not so fine if you want any privacy when they’re busy. I had three items. I ordered the Dave’s Smoked Burger. It wasn’t BAD, but it was a textbook example of how not to make a burger; the beef patty was ordered medium but actually cooked well-done (no pink inside whatsoever) – I didn’t send it back because I’m not that picky about it, but a burger place ought to be able to cook a burger as specified; the lettuce was the papery kind lacking taste or crunch; the bun was decent but way too small for the size of the beef patty; etc, you get the picture. It was accompanied by a pickle spear that was interestingly spicy. I really liked the side of smoked onion rings, although you have to like that style of onion ring, which I do – thick cut, with a thick beer batter crust. They’re pretty greasy; they’re just like a place in Chicago I know (Act One at the Mayne Stage), where we’ve learned to bring or ask for paper towels to drain the excess grease. Oh, and the portion is huge – about a dozen huge rings – so don’t over-order. I also had a milk shake (vanilla), which was very thick and very good. Overall, I would consider it a good choice for a late-afternoon bite when you’re downtown, rather than a destination restaurant worth making special plans or a detour for. www.baileysrange.com
All in all, I found a lot of interesting food on this trip, some of it outstanding, and all of it worthwhile. Thanks to the St. Louis hounds for their input and posts!