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[STL] A loaded question.

Where is the best dinner experience in St. Louis to be had?

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    although that place on S. Kingshighway and Arsenal is pretty good too.

    or Steak n Shake - ask for a Takhomasak.

    but White Castle has later hours.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hill food

      I was looking for a dinner that I might not (ostensibly) get elsewhere. Though the Eat-Rite diner seems novel, the other two aren't very special to St. Louis (though I have no clue what Takhomasak's capabilities are). I love White Castle (LOVE), but if those are the best dinner experiences in St. Louis, then I'm sad for the city.

    2. Ulterior, it's not a loaded question. But you did mean dinner, not diner, right?

      Maybe a little guidance in what you are looking for, but I'm sure you've already got a few places scoped out. Some places that might not hit the radar of your previous searches are Sidney Street and Erato in Edwardsville. I think you'll find the flavors and execution of their food to be on par with the food that you are used to eating during your travels.

      Good luck! And if you need more help, you can check out some area sources:

      www.stlbites.com

      www.riverfronttimes.com

      www.saucemag.com

      4 Replies
      1. re: jpg

        I didn't misunderstand the amount of n's. In fact I was tempted to suggest locales by the airport. Perhaps a Po' Folks in Bridgeton.

        1. re: hill food

          I vow in 2009 I will not hit the 'post' tab will cranky. apologies.

          1. re: hill food

            No apologies! I posted my question without clarifications or conditions. But, I like your new year's resolution nonetheless. :)

        2. re: jpg

          jpg, thanks for the recommendations in Edwardsville. Anywhere closer to the city proper?

        3. STL has plenty of good dining. Perhaps some specificity would help, Are you looking for STL specialties? Any place that's great? Expensive OK? Etc.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Richard 16

            Richard 16. Yes, I suppose specificity would help, although I was hoping people would start offering up their favorites so that I could get a sense of the whole. But, I suppose the whole is rather large.

            No specialty, as far as ethnicity or style. I'm just looking for any place than an out of town visitor should eat at in St. Louis. Considering the prices I paid on my recent eating trip through the U.K. and France, I guarantee you, nothing's going to seem expensive. Sky's the limit. I doubt St. Louis could possibly out-charge Paris.

          2. As I'm very familiar with your blog, I hope I have an idea of what types of places you tend to look for and try.

            First and foremost, Niche is a place I think you should try. It serves interesting food in a nicely presented atmosphere. It isn't too formal, but of all the places in the city it will have the most unique flavor combinations and the most adventurous menu. Niche has a 5 course tasting menu each night and has some of the best desserts in the city. Both the chef, Gerard Craft and pastry chef, Mathew Rice, have been recognized by Food and Wine Magazine (Gerard was a rising chef in 2008 and two of Mathew's desserts have been featured)
            www.nichestlouis.com

            Second, Monarch in Maplewood (not far from downtown). This is a more formal dining experience (there are two dining rooms and a wine bar, the main dining room is formal while there is also a bistro dining room with a more casual atmosphere). Monarch acquired a new chef in October who had previously been the chef de cuisine at An American Place. By all accounts, the new Monarch menu is outstanding (I have to admit that I have not been since the new chef arrived. I have eaten at Monarch under the old chef and at An American Place though). The chef features local ingredients and demonstrated great ability to create flavorful, but interesting dishes. I have a meal scheduled here in a few weeks and I'm really looking forward to it.
            www.monarchrestaurant.com

            A St. Louis classis restaurant would be the already mentioned Sidney Street Cafe. It is well liked and I had a good experience there, but the menu leans heavily on steaks and isn't as creative or progressive as I prefer. The service here though is very good and the overall atmosphere and experience very pleasant.
            www.sidneystreetcafe.com/

            For simple straighforward french, try Franco in Soulard. It has been consistently good on all of my visits, but it is not terribly creative or unique, but a pleasant experience overall.
            www.eatatfranco.com

            The Italian places that are generally well received are Trattoria Marcella and Acero. I'm not a huge fan of Italian fine dining, but these are the places that are generally well liked, consistent and meet expectations.

            Another poster already mentioned Erato on Main in Edwardsville and I have to recommend it again even though you would prefer a place in the city (maybe some other trip). I think Erato and Niche are the top two places in St. Louis. Erato is a small restaurant attached to a wine bar in downtown Edwardsville. The food there is contemporary with a bit of a southern soul to it as the chef spent a good deal of time working in the south. Erato has some of the best seafood in the city and definitely some of the more unique and interesting flavor combinations and ingredients. It really is worth the drive to Edwardsville. Tuesday through Thursday a tasting menu (7 courses) with wine pairings is offered for $75 which is a steal in my opinion.
            www.eratoonmain.com

            There isn't anywhere in St. Louis rivaling the refinement and ambition of a place like Bluestem (a place I know you frequent often based on your blog). Niche and Monarch would come the closest in terms of food, service and ambiance.

            Good luck and I hope you're able to find someplace that you enjoy.

            9 Replies
            1. re: michaelstl

              michaelstl: Now THAT was helpful. Thanks very much for digesting this information for me (pun intended). With the exception of Franco, I am somewhat familiar with the restaurants you listed.

              I have a companion thread going that you might be able to help out on: (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/588970

              )

              Thanks very much, u.e.

              1. re: ulterior epicure

                You're welcome. Unfortunately, St. Louis does not have a great depth of restaurants that are very good. There are good places, but only a few with a huge number of places that are mediocre. You're not going to find a Sportsman in St. Louis.

                I had seen the other thread, but I'm not much of a brunch person so I have little experience. I would second the recommendation for Cafe Osage though. It isn't a true brunch, but it is a nice little place serving a higher quality breakfast that one would find at places like First Watch. The cafe looks into the attached nursery/farm and seeing the various plants and flowers makes the atmosphere very pleasant. Another nice breakfast place is Rooster in downtown. Again, not a real brunch place, but a really nice experience. It is modeled after European cafes and serves a variety of crepes and a few breakfast entrees. It's a nice space with good coffee and I've had good service on all of my visits.

                1. re: michaelstl

                  A good friend, who frequents St. Louis, told me about the Rooster. Its menu looks rather fun. I don't need fancy or fussy, just something good.

                  You know, it's too bad that we don't have anything like The Sportsman in our area. We have a lot of chefs treating food with a similar mindset: an emphasis on local and artisanal. And, I think many chefs here are talented enough to produce food at a level beyond what they currently serve. Unfortunately, we, in the Midwest, are limited by our location (the ocean is literally a five minute walk from the front door of The Sportsman) and, more significantly, handcuffed by an apathetic consumer mentality. But that's all for another time and place. I'll get off my soap box now.

                  1. re: ulterior epicure

                    No one has mentioned Iron Barley? I think it is so St. Louis. Yes, you can get just about anything on their menu at other places in KC and other cities. Just not done in the Iron Barley way at a place like Iron Barley.

                    http://www.ironbarley.com/menu.asp

                    1. re: zataar

                      What an eclectic menu! It offers everything from "Naked" dogs to zarzuela to schnitzel & spaetzle.

                    2. re: ulterior epicure

                      I agree completely with your assessment of the midwest dining state. I do hope progress can be made or that I can get out of the midwest and have better options. It is disappointing though that Kansas City seems to have a larger supply of innovative, interesting restaurants than St. Louis.

                      Back to your initial question, I do want to also recommend Pi, a pizza place in the Loop. It isn't a dining experience, but it is simply great pizza. Its specialty is deep dish pizza with a cornbread crust. It really is a great place and the pizza is nothing like "St. Louis Style" pizza.

                        1. re: michaelstl

                          michaelstl - This just proves that you are a mind-reader. I lived in Chicago for years and I never once understood the appeal of the flour-based deep-dish crusts. They were doughy and half-baked. Cornmeal is where it's all at.

                          Now, you said Pi's pies have a cornBREAD crust. That sounds dangerous.

                          1. re: ulterior epicure

                            Perhaps cornmeal is a better descriptor. It is a corn-based crust that just has a great texture and crispiness. The toppings are also fresh and topnotch.

                2. There's nothing wrong with the Midwest in general, restaurant-wise.. in fact, I'm living in D.C. now, and there are far fewer interesting/funky restaurants here (per capita, at the very least) than my former homes of Chicago (obviously) or Kansas City.

                  *The problem is St. Louis, specifically.* In fact, STL is more like a typical mid-sized Mid-Atlantic city in this regard than a Midwestern one - lots of traditional regional (and often yummy!) oddities like toasted (fried) ravioli, gooey butter cake, provelone pizza, etc., but not a lot of progression/innovation in new restaurant trends. C'mon, people.. stop reflexively, non-reflectively bashing the Midwest already.

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: seethaki

                    As one who has lived in both Chicago (5 years) and D.C. (2 1/2 years), I disagree. When it comes to restaurants, D.C. is much more ethnically diverse than St. Louis or Kansas City (I'm assuming you're considering the metropolitan area).

                    And, I don't think anyone here has been "reflexively, non-reflectively bashing the Midwest."

                    1. re: ulterior epicure

                      ulterior - uh, maybe I'm confused, but I thought we were discussing cities' restaurants, not their ethnic diversity? Yes, D.C. is great for so-called "ethnic" restaurants (I've always hated that term - what's "ethnic" to one person is another's comfort food), but I was discussing innovative/progressive/'fusion' sorts of places, and, per capita, at least, I consider Chicago and K.C. to be way stronger in this area than D.C. Just my $.02. :D

                      And I'd say the following comment by you - "Unfortunately, we, in the Midwest, are limited by our location (the ocean is literally a five minute walk from the front door of The Sportsman) and, more significantly, handcuffed by an apathetic consumer mentality" - definitely qualifies as "reflexively, non-reflectively bashing the Midwest." I'm specifically curious about "handcuffed by an apathetic consumer mentality" - do you have any stats on this phenomenon (and a definition for "apathetic consumer mentality," while we're at it)? :D

                      1. re: seethaki

                        I understood your usage of "funky/interesting" to include diversity of ethnicity and innovation. I'm sorry if I misunderstood you on this point.

                        However, I do disagree that "ethnic" is beyond definition. By "ethnic cuisine," I mean the food of a culture other than one's own. When it comes to restaurants, I do think that D.C. is quantifiably more ethnically diverse and offers more "funky/interesting" choices than Kansas City. I never disputed that Chicago bests D.C. in this area.

                        As for progressive and innovative cuisine, I have to disagree with you as well. Name me a single restaurant in Kansas City that is doing food on the level of minibar, Komi, Michelle Richard Citronelle, Laboratorio de Galileo, or even Zaytinya. We just saw the opening of our first "serious" tapas bar, and it doesn't seem nearly as authentic or creative as Jaleo is.

                        As for your last point, I, of course, can't give you any hard numbers to back up my statement. However, I can demonstrate what I wrote in this regard: compare the menus of restaurants in D.C. to the menus in Kansas City. I refuse to believe that the only reason we aren't seeing as much diversity in the food being served in Kansas City (or the Midwest in general) as opposed to D.C. is due to supply issues. For example, the only dedicated seafood restaurants in Kansas City are chains: McCormick & Schmick's, Bonefish Grill, Long John Silvers, and Red Lobster. The simple reason we don't have a single Kinkead's or D.C. Coast to lean on is because people in the Midwest are not as likely or willing to eat things that swim as opposed to things that walk. That is, to me, is evidence of an "apathetic consumer mentality."

                        If there are any chefs out there reading this, feel free to jump in. I'm sure they COULD provide hard numbers.

                        D.C.'s restaurant scene is hampered by expense accounts and lobbyists. The Midwest restaurant scene is, as I said, "handcuffed by an apathetic consumer mentality." Each present their own limitations. But, I think the foodies in D.C. are still better off than those here on the back forty.

                        1. re: ulterior epicure

                          I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it as an apathy or disinterest, part of the lack of seafood or fish in general is an issue of trust. I've met folks in STL that won't eat fish unless they caught it themselves or it was from a trusted source and then usually catfish (prob. the last thing I'd trust unless it came out of my parent's pond or a small river - but sometimes it's what you want).

                          People in STL are willing to try unusual and non-regional things, but have been burned by crap-ass cooks selling punched skate (and often a bit off as well) as scallops and not feeling right afterwards. or proprietors have underestimated what customers will put up with and hence don't last.

                          just a few hours South in Little Rock the shrimp trucks come up from the Bayou (really just a few hours further) and are an institution for fresh, not frozen (and sooo good) and in this day when so much shellfish is harvested in US waters, airlifted to Asia for processing and shipped back, I think it really is about perception over reality no matter the location.

                          DC is indeed hampered by many things, the need to cater to a wide range of sometimes cultivated and sometimes parochial tastes and never knowing who is whom. but benefits from immigrants wanting to relocate to Capitol City and bringing their food with them. they'd probably do better in a cheaper and underserved market. there's a reason why one can find so much great VN food in the Midwest - church sponsored families relocated in the 70's after the fall of Saigon that have found their footings since and started their own places that embrace their heritage and don't dumb-down and pretend to be Chinese. I've also had good really mom 'n' pop Mexican along South Grand.

                          are we in DC better off? I dunno, the thrill of the hunt is part of the fun.

                          you can find great in STL, but 1. you have to know where. 2. lots of people aren't telling out of territoriality and, 3. sometimes the best can look like a complete dump in a crummy neighborhood or a suburban strip mall (see #1).

                          1. re: hill food

                            hill - nod, nod, nod. I agree with everything you said (that I have any personal knowledge of, that is).

                            I guess what I mainly miss about the Midwest is the sort of lighthearted, quirky, experimental attitude that so many *mid-priced* indie places in some of the mid-sized cities (K.C., for example) demonstrated. And Chicago was all about those sorts of places. I loved living in Evanston (the one north of Chicago) as a grad student and trying all the weird little none-too-expensive-but-thoughtfully-artistic (if you will) places in my neighborhood. That's what's mainly, missing, I think, in the Mid-Atlantic, generally speaking.. you can have a good meal if you're willing to shell out $200 (and don't mind some beefy senators sitting nearby, chomping on their cigars - *nod to ulterior_epicure* ), but if not, you'll have to settle for a greasy spoon (some of which are wonderful, don't get me wrong) or have Southeast Asian *again*. I also find it interesting how successful the mid-tier quick service places out of the Midwest - like Potbelly, Panera, etc. - are in this city. You'll actually see stuffed-shirt government appointees dining at Panera (with a sort of lofty air), which I find absolutely hilarious.

                          2. re: ulterior epicure

                            ulterior - read my posts again, paying special attention to my use of the phrase "per capita." ;)

                            And thanks for defining "consumer apathy" - I never would've guessed that it meant an unwillingness to eat seafood. ;)

                            Well, off to go inform my husband (who's a native of the Mid-Atlantic and will barely touch anything that isn't American comfort food) that he's a foodie merely by virtue of not being from the Midwest. He'll be thrilled!

                            1. re: seethaki

                              seethaki - I saw your "per capita" qualifier.

                              I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, then.

                              1. re: ulterior epicure

                                "I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, then."

                                Sounds good. :)

                                Oh, and I think I missed your argument(s) for why Chicago was an inferior restaurant city to D.C. - was it because Chicago's in the Midwest?

                                ...

                                ;)

                                1. re: seethaki

                                  It's not. I never made that argument. I'm more than willing to concede that Chicago is a superior dining destination to D.C.

                                  1. re: ulterior epicure

                                    Say, u e, while we're on the topic of the culinary sophistication of mid-sized Missouri cities vs. the Washington, D.C. metro area, how do you think Columbia, Missouri (home of the main campus of the University of Missouri) compares as a 'dining destination' to College Park, Maryland (home of the main campus of the University of Maryland)? As a short-term (thankfully) resident of College Park (actually, just outside College Park, but that wasn't much of an improvement, believe me), I didn't notice much in the way of gourmet tendencies on the part of the population (student or otherwise). I'm reluctant to assume this was because of 'consumer apathy,' as you defined it, since we're talking about the Mid-Atlantic, here.

                                    ...

                                    ;)

                      2. re: seethaki

                        I'm confused. So there are more interesting/funky/innovative/progressive/fusion restaurants in the midwest? Is that right? I'd hate to think of fusion restaurants as the pinnacle of a dining culture or worse yet, the standard on which to measure a dining scene.

                        Interesting. Well, that's a subjective term. Innovative, in what sense? Technique, style, flavors, dining options? Progressive. That's an intersubjective term dependent on what everyone else is doing. I guess that is pushing the envelope on what people will try and enjoy. Fusion. Fusion of what? And didn't that trend reach its apex with Jean Georges in the 90s?

                        I'm not dogging on the Midwest or the MidAtlantic or anywhere. I love the Midwest dining scene because it's a challenge to define yourself/restaurant (as opposed to working in New Orleans where you are somewhat confined to certain styles). The Midwest is a different dining scene than other cities. As individuals, we all come to the dining room table with different expectations and desires for dining experiences. We disagree, so what? There are definitely moments where you can point to a restaurant in another city and long for that cuisine to be in your Midwestern town. And there are moments where you can say that the Vietnamese (insert your preferred cuisine or restaurant type) food in New Orleans is more diverse or interesting or better than the Vietnamese in St. Louis. Do you see what I'm saying, the Midwest isn't bad. It's just different and doesn't have the same offerings as larger cities.

                        As for the availability of ingredients, we live in a global society. Just because the ocean is three days' drive from the Midwest does not mean that the availability of seafood is low. Also, the thought that fish in the Midwest is inherently old (I know you didn't say this Wildchild, but it helps the argument!) is wrong. Fish are caught, brought in to the Honolulu fish market, and they arrive on my doorstep the following day. The same goes for fish caught and brought to the markets in New York, New Orleans, Seattle, etc. In a counter example, the majority of food sold at our local bar is seafood. But here's the kicker, it is previously frozen. So, there's a balance that happens due to a frozen product: wide availability at an accessible price point, thus providing for affordable consistency. Midwesterners will buy seafood, but maybe it's on their terms.

                        The quality of food in Midwest restaurants is amazing due to this global network of purveyors (not always a good trend due to the large amount of gas it takes to get a piece of fish to the Midwest, but it helps when you're landlocked) and the incredible offerings from local farmers, ranchers, and foragers. That combination makes the food in the Midwest interesting. That's my opinion, like it or not.

                          1. re: jpg

                            "Do you see what I'm saying, the Midwest isn't bad. It's just different and doesn't have the same offerings as larger cities."

                            The Midwest isn't a city, it's a region. :) And it happens to contain the United States's third largest city - Chicago. :)

                            1. re: seethaki

                              seethaki - I won't presume to speak for jpg, but I assumed what jpg meant was, "...the Midwest isn't bad. It's just different and doesn't have the same offerings as [other regions that have] larger cities."

                              1. re: ulterior epicure

                                I'm a latecomer to this thread, but I have to agree wholeheartedly with seethaki. Chicago, my hometown, had more variety at all pricepoints than most of the places I've lived in the US.

                                For example, Turkish is Turkish in Chicago, as is Israeli, Greek, Moroccan; in both SF and NY it's hidden as Mediterranean; Baltic, Roumanian, Croatian, and other Eastern European food is hidden as European instead of simply being called Baltic. I don't really understand why--is it to pull one over on an unsuspecting guest who wouldn't voluntarily want to eat at a place with Croatian food?

                                Most of the non-vegetarians I knew in Chicago loved fresh seafood, cooked in all sorts of ways (the only one that put me off were the live partially cooked shrimp wiggling on the plate). Plus real Mexican, which is nearly impossible to get mid-Atlantic. The tourist food may be heavier than from most cities, but the sheer variety--most good and affordable to both those on student budgets and expense accounts--is the main thing I continue to miss.

                                So now I have to cook more and am spending more time finding good local produce and meat. Mediocre and bland food within 20-30 miles of Princeton runs $80 on average for 2, before tax and tip, at predominantly BYO establishments. For better food, you can get it for $200, but it may not be worth even that.

                                It really irks me that people have this misconception that places like Dallas, Scottsdale, and Miami have better offerings than anywhere in the midwest, including Chicago.