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December 2019 MAGAZINE I 1 ST. LO U I Sâ€™ I N D E P E N D E N T C U L I N A RY AUTH O R IT Y // S AU C E MAGA Z I N E .C O M // Fsaucemagazine.com R E E , D E C E MIBSAUCE E R 2019
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DECEMBER 2019 • VOLUME 19, ISSUE 12 PUBLISHER ART DIRECTOR MANAGING EDITOR MANAGING EDITOR, DIGITAL STAFF WRITERS ASSOCIATE EDITOR EDIBLE WEEKEND EDITORS SENIOR DESIGNER PROOFREADER CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS
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Allyson Mace Meera Nagarajan Heather Hughes Huff Catherine Klene Adam Rothbarth, Matt Sorrell Lauren Healey Lauren Healey, Catherine Klene Michelle Volansky Megan Gilmore Julia Calleo, Virginia Harold, Izaiah Johnson, David Kovaluk, Greg Rannells, Mackenzie Romagni, Samuel Reed, Madison Sanders, Carmen Troesser Vidhya Nagarajan Glenn Bardgett, Ryan Griffin, Justin Harris, Lauren Healey, Heather Hughes Huff, Taylor James, Jamie Kilgore, Ted Kilgore, Catherine Klene, Meera Nagarajan, Justin Nunn, Michael Renner, Adam Rothbarth, Matt Sorrell, Brenna Sullivan, Stephanie Zeilenga Allyson Mace Matt Bartosz, Bea Doerr, Angie Rosenberg Amy Hyde Amy Hyde Justin Nunn, Brenna Sullivan
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EDITORIAL POLICIES The Sauce Magazine mission is to provide St. Louis-area residents and visitors with unbiased, complete information on the area’s restaurant, bar and entertainment industry. Our editorial content is not influenced by who advertises with Sauce Magazine or saucemagazine.com. Our reviewers are never provided with complimentary food or drinks from the restaurants in exchange for favorable reviews, nor are their identities as reviewers made known during their visits.
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St. Louis, MO 63103 December 2019
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contents D EC E M B E R 2 019
23 NEW AND NOTABLE Beast Butcher & Block
11 EAT THIS
by michael renner
by meera nagarajan
BEST NEW RESTAURANTS OF 2019
by heather hughes huff, catherine klene, meera nagarajan, adam rothbarth and matt sorrell
by stephanie zeilenga
COVER DETAILS Best New Restaurants Clockwise from top, beverage director Zac Adcox, chefowner Nick Bognar, director of operations Mike Brown, chef de cuisine Mark Silva and sous chef Hana Chung take a break from the kitchen at Indo, the Best New Restaurant of 2019. Learn more at p. 32. PHOTO BY GREG RANNELLS
by taylor james
15 CHEF TOUR
52 STUFF TO DO by justin nunn and brenna sullivan
by matt sorrell
Tune in to St. Louis Public Radio 90.7 FM this month when Sauce joins St. Louis on the Air to talk about this yearâ€™s list of Best New Restaurants.
54 WHAT I DO
19 A SEAT AT THE BAR Five experts tell us what to sip, stir and shake
Vince Di Piazza
by catherine klene
PHOTO BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
by glenn bardgett, justin harris, ryan griffin and ted and jamie kilgore
sweet potato baba ghanoush at elmwood, p. 36
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E D I T O R S ' P I C K S
This is how a coconut macaroon is supposed to taste. A perfectly bronzed, crispy toasted coconut shell gives way to a marshmallowy center. Most coconut macaroons feel forgettable, but this is the reason people try to make them â€“ hoping they will have the textural balance, tropical flavor and beautiful look of Cake House Designâ€™s. The menu rotates daily, so make sure to call ahead to check availability.
PHOTO BY JULIA CALLEO
Cake House Design 5496 Baumgartner Road, Suite 111, Oakville, 314.714.0266, cakehousedesign.net
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SHERRYPICKED B Y T AY L O R J A M E S
Sherry is moving from occasional extra in the St. Louis cocktail scene to a supporting actor with significant roles on menus all over town.
so testing different styles and finding the perfect match for a palate is an accessible endeavor.
Before its reputation as a sauce ingredient found in Grandma’s pantry, the Spanish fortified wine was known for spicing up a cocktail. The classic Bamboo, which utilizes dry fino sherry as the base ingredient, dates back to the late 1800s. Now local bartenders – from Olive + Oak and Planter’s House to Taste and Yellowbelly – are rediscovering how great sherry can be as a base spirit or supporting component in cocktails.
SHERRY MANHATTAN A low-proof twist on the classic cocktail
PHOTO BY JULIA CALLEO
It caters so well to cocktails because of its versatility. Sherry can be dry to sweet, thin to syrupy, tart to rich and light to dark. Rooted in the Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera, most are made from the white Palomino grape and all are fortified by the addition of a higher-proof grape spirit before aging. Sometimes during aging, sherry creates a layer of yeast called a flor that provides a dry, salty quality – as in fino and manzanilla sherries. They can also oxidize for a long period of time, becoming dark and rich like oloroso sherries. Occasionally, sherry oxidizes after a flor is created, as is the case in Amontillado sherry. Beyond its suitability for cocktails, sherry is a star as a straight after-dinner drink. It is relatively inexpensive and is often sold in smaller bottles,
2 oz. Lustau East India Solera Sherry 1 oz. rye whiskey 2 dashes Angostura bitters 2 dashes orange bitters 1 cherry, for garnish • Combine the sherry, rye and bitters in a mixing glass, fill with ice and stir 20 seconds. Strain the cocktail into a coupe and garnish with the cherry.
FALL FLIP The perfect cocktail for a brisk, autumn evening 1 oz. Barbadillo Fino Sherry ½ oz. apple brandy ½ oz. Cynar ½ oz. simple syrup ½ oz. lemon juice 1 egg white Orange peel, for garnish • Combine the sherry, brandy, Cynar, simple syrup, lemon juice and egg white in an ice-filled shaker and shake 20 seconds. Strain the cocktail into the small half of the shaker, dump the ice and shake an additional 20 seconds. • Double strain the cocktail into a coupe, and express the oil of the orange peel by twisting it over the cocktail before garnishing.
Sherries and spirits available at Intoxicology, 4321 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.833.3088, intoxicologystl.com
LION’S SHARE Quickly becoming a classic at Yellowbelly, this cocktail is a tropical riff on a Sherry Cobbler. 4 oz. orgeat ¼ Tbsp. white miso paste 1 oz. Amontillado Aurora Sherry 1 oz. bourbon ½ oz. passion fruit syrup ¼ oz. lime juice Nutmeg, for garnish
• In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the miso paste and orgeat and stir until incorporated. Let cool. • Combine ¾ ounce misoinfused orgeat with the sherry, bourbon, passion fruit syrup and lime juice in a shaker, add ¼ cup crushed ice and shake 10 seconds. Double strain
into a tulip glass filled with crushed ice and garnish with grated nutmeg.
Taylor James is a bartender at Yellowbelly, 4659 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, 314.499.1509, yellowbellystl.com
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December 2019 ROOSTER PHOTO COURTESY OF BAILEYS' RESTAURANTS; MEATBALL PHOTO COURTESY OF FRATELLI'S RISTORANTE; PINT SIZE PHOTO BY MICHELLE VOLANSKY
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The Mud House This Cherokee Street stalwart is one of Valenza’s go-to breakfast spots. “It’s always consistent, and they have great coffee,” he said. On his visits, Valenza gravitates toward Mud House’s multiple iterations of the classic breakfast sandwich. 2101 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.776.6599, themudhousestl.com
chef tour PORTRAIT BY MACKENZIE ROMAGNI
V I N C E VA L E N Z A O F B L U E S C I T Y D E L I
Vince Valenza is an STL restaurant OG. Now in its 15th year, his Blues City Deli draws formidable crowds every lunch service, while his adjacent Melo’s Pizzeria made best-of lists when it opened in 2016. “I can’t even believe I’m a part of this thing we have going on here,” Valenza said. “It’s an exciting time. I remember when [the scene] was a lot smaller.” When he takes time out to grab a bite, Valenza said he looks at hospitality before the menu. “The first impression you get is the people – the vibe you’re getting from them,” he said. – Matt Sorrell
Pint Size Bakery “I love going in there. I like their creativity, and it has a really nice feel,” Valenza said. “I make it a point to go in every Tuesday on my day off.” He usually picks up some savory breakfast scones. 3133 Watson Road, St. Louis, 314.645.7142, pintsizebakery.com Whisk: A Sustainable Bake Shop If he’s not getting his baked goods at Pint Size, Valenza hits up
Whisk. “They’re really good at what they do,” he said. “They take PopTarts to a new level. The quality is unbelievable.” 2201 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.932.5166, whiskstl.com Fratelli’s Ristorante Valenza touts this St. Charles eatery as his favorite Italian joint in the area. The familyowned restaurant, which started in North County before heading west in the mid-1990s, features a menu of house-made goodness. “The chicken piccata is phenomenal,” he said. He also gives Fratelli’s major points for its marinara sauce. 2061 Zumbehl Road, St. Charles, 636.949.9005, fratellisristorante.com
Rooster Valenza usually frequents the South Grand location of this popular local brunch chain. “I like going early in the day in the middle of the week when it’s not as crowded,” he said. No matter when he drops in, Valenza said the staff always makes the experience memorable. His favorite dish: the Rooster Slinger. 3150 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314.772.3447, roosterstl.com Grace Meat + Three For comfort food cravings, Valenza gives Grace the nod. “The fried chicken is really spot-on, above and beyond what I expected,” he said, “and the service is just fantastic. The whole environment is refreshing and uplifting.” 4270 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.533.2700, stlgrace.com from top: the dining room at rooster, pastries at pint size bakery, meatballs at fratelli’s
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TED AND JAMIE KILGORE USBG, B.A.R. Ready, BarSmart and co-owners/bartenders at Planter’s House
The Diki-Diki cocktail was first published in the famous Savoy Cocktail Book. It blends 1½ ounces Calvados apple brandy, ¾ ounce Kronan Swedish Punsch liqueur, ½ ounce grapefruit juice and ¼ ounce simple syrup. Shake, then strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist. Sip by a fire while enjoying notes of caramel apple, clove-spiced orange marmalade, dark molasses and cinnamon brown butter with a hint of bitter grapefruit.
A SEAT AT THE BAR Five experts tell us what to sip, stir and shake
RYAN GRIFFIN AND JUSTIN HARRIS Co-owners at Saint Louis Hop Shop
Showcasing a perfect match of hops and four types of malts, Civil Life Brewing Co.’s 4.5% Rye Pale Ale was one of the brewery’s three original beers and a 2014 Great American Beer Festival gold medal winner. It pours clear with a nice fluffy head, making way for deep amber color that properly laces the glass as you sip. It’s extremely smooth and finishes with a piney spiciness that balances the rye and malt bill. Six-pack: $10. Civil Life Brewing Co., 3714 Holt Ave., St. Louis, 314.448.1978, thecivillife.com
ILLUSTRATIONS BY VIDHYA NAGARAJAN
the 2016 jax y3 taureau is a structured red blend featuring ripe berry notes
GLENN BARDGETT Member of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board and wine director at Annie Gunn’s
2016 Jax Y3 Taureau is a beautiful Napa Valley red blend of 50% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon and 20% syrah featuring ripe berry-plum character and considerable structure. Sumptuously balanced Napa reds at such a bargain are rare, especially with this palate-pleasing style. $22. Robust Wine and Gift Shoppe, 227 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, 314.963.0033, robustwinebar.com saucemagazine.com I SAUCE MAGAZINE I 19
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reviews All Sauce reviews are conducted anonymously.
pork steak at beast butcher & block
NE W A ND N OTA B L E
beast butcher & block BY MICHAEL RENNER // PHOTOS BY IZ AIAH JOHNSON
One afternoon at Beast Butcher & Block, my colleague quickly twisted a wingette, sliding out its two thin bones – she’s an expert – before popping the tender, dark meat into her mouth. “Nobody’s making wings like these,” she said with the focus of a connoisseur. Gloriously burnished and flecked with dry rub, the wings were my new favorite. But it’s hard to screw up chicken wings – why were these so good?
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NEW AND NOTABLE p. 2 of 3
Like most pitmasters, Beast co-owner David Sandusky has his own set of rules. The recovering fine dining chef utilizes not only different rubs to complement different meats, but different smoking woods as well – which is why those irresistible wings came imbued with the gentle perfume of hickory along with a hint of dill and heat. His other rule: Nothing on the menu is served more than a few hours off the smoker – meaning those six giant smokers outside run constantly.
That level of barbecue isn’t new for Sandusky. He and his wife, Meggan Sandusky, opened the awardwinning Beast Craft BBQ Co. in Belleville five years ago. The Illinois gem is still packing them in and winning praise, but the couple took the risk of opening another Beast about 20 miles west so Sandusky would have more creative freedom. With nearly triple the space to play with, Beast Butcher & Block is really several operations in one, including a main dining room for about 100, a front patio, a full-service retail butcher and prepared food shop called The Butchery, off-site catering and The Skullery: a glassenclosed, private room equipped for “fireto-table” tasting menu dinners, cooking classes and collaborations with local chefs. This open-ended approach conveys Sandusky’s confidence and swagger, letting him push boundaries and our expectations of what a barbecue restaurant is. Like its Belleville sister, brisket, ribs, wings, sandwiches and an array of sides drive the regular, counterservice menu. There are two types of brisket, both wet-aged, generously treated with salt and pepper and white oaksmoked until fork-tender. The Snake River Farms’ version (SRF on the menu) is a spectacularly marbled domestic wagyu, with an extra fatty, beefy taste and texture. Pair with a side of the pit beans – a fourday process that includes smoking under the brisket to soak up drippings – and nothing else needs to be said. The wagyu brisket would have been my favorite meat were it not for
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the specialty Duroc pork from Compart Family Farms in Minnesota. The breed produces meat as richly marbled as a prime rib-eye and a taste no commodity pork can provide, which makes Beast’s signature pork steak several cuts above any other in town. Its beauty is two-fold: meat and sear. Seasoned with just salt and pepper, the butt cuts are hickorysmoked until tender, then basted with sauce and chargrilled, resulting in a tantalizing caramelized, crisp crust that makes sauce unnecessary. A hit of dry rub at the end adds sweetness and warm, peppery spice. It is ridiculously tender, juicy and so thick you can order a half portion. No wonder pork steak is the most popular item at both locations. December 2019
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NEW AND NOTABLE p. 3 of 3
So are the Brussels sprouts: deep-fried, tender and crispy with bits of uncured, smoked and deep-fried pork belly. Spare ribs get a similar treatment as the pork steak, rendering them tender with just enough tug to keep the meat from getting mushy.
the dining room at beast butcher & block
The Sunday nose-to-tail brunch buffet recently launched by Sandusky and executive chef Ryan McDonald (most recently chef and coowner of the now-shuttered Good Fortune) might be the best brunch in town. At $24, it’s definitely the best bargain. A massive amount of smoked meat hangs over The Skullery’s flaming hearth, ready to be cut to order: spit-roasted porchetta with fat dripping from its crackling mahogany pork belly wrapped around stuffed pork loin, a hog head for luscious pork jowl, brisket, ham and turkey. Even omelets and scrambles are cooked over live coals. Several nearby tables are laden with breads, pastries and every imaginable side, from house-made biscuits and gravy to roasted root vegetables. Beast’s occasional “interactive live-fire tasting menu” dinners are also held in The Skullery. But, unlike brunch and the rest of my meals over the course of several visits, I found the $100, eight-course tasting menu experience the most challenging to enjoy or understand. For a fire-themed menu, very little was noticeably fire-cooked or served hot. From where did these dishes spring? As well executed as they were, it was difficult to find a unifying or exciting theme that tied the dishes together. There is nothing more elemental than wood, fire and smoke. No one else in town has a better opportunity that experiments with that theme, but I found myself thinking of the boundary-pushing tasting menus at Bulrush and Savage. This didn’t have the life force of either the fascinating, foraged Ozarkian food of Bulrush or the artistic flair of Savage. When Beast Craft opened, Sauce named it a best new restaurant of 2015. Last year, Thrillist ranked it as one of the 33 Best BBQ Joints in America and Food & Wine called it the Best BBQ in Illinois. Just wait until they visit The Grove.
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beast butcher & block co-owner david sandusky
Where 4156 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.944.6003, beastbbqstl.com Don’t-Miss Dishes Pork steak, Brussels sprouts, chicken wings Vibe Wide-open dining area combined with a butcher retail shop and stunning openfire cooking station Entree Prices $10 to $26 When Sun. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday brunch – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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owner ‘mama’ june krohr
the karaoke lounge at koreana
Elvis poster, a life-size Frank Sinatra cut-out, along with posters of The Beatles, Bob Marley and countless other late-greats. There are also what appear to be random travel posters, Venetian-style masks, a stuffed fish hanging from the ceiling next to a disco ball and a fully decorated Christmas tree propped up in one corner.
korean soju available at koreana
koreana karaoke BY STEPHANIE ZEILENGA | PHOTOS BY DAVID KOVALUK
Located in a nondescript strip mall in Chesterfield, Koreana Karaoke doesn’t look like much from the street. Brave the long, dim hallway of closed doors upon entering, however, and you’ll find a strange but charming karaoke bar. The first thing you should notice at Koreana is the owner, June Krohr, who goes by Mama June. Instantly familiar and endlessly helpful, she will be your karaoke guide. The second thing to note is that it’s impossible to
classify the crowd here, aside from its deep comeas-you-are feel. Koreana seems like a place where regulars belly up to the bar for a beer and a chat with Mama June. There are two ways to sing karaoke. One is by renting a private room (also known as noraebangstyle) for $40 an hour. Most rooms are directly off the narrow front hallway lined with movie and music posters – through the closed doors you passed on your way in. These are basic with comfy couches and chairs,
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large flat-screen TVs, thin curtains blocking the windows and hotel roomstyle landscape paintings on the walls. “Are you in someone’s basement?” a friend was asked upon Snapchatting a video of our group singing karaoke. Fair question. If you’re up for braving the crowd, the other way to sing is in the main bar area. Karaoke is free, but there’s a two-drink minimum. With an aquatiled floor, retro dinerstyle chairs and wildly eclectic decorations, it’s hard to know where to look. There’s a velvet
Koreana Karaoke 13457 Olive Blvd., Chesterfield, 314.323.6610, koreana karaoke.com
Singers select songs from giant binders incorporating 13 languages, from Chinese to Russian. The English collection leans slightly country – there is almost an entire page of Merle Haggard – but there are also decades of pop and, curiously, a page of praise and worship songs. In the main lounge, you write your selection on a Post-it and take it up to the bar. There’s little fanfare in announcing songs – you just have to pay attention and run up for the mic when it’s your turn. In the private rooms, you can also search for songs on YouTube. My group went this route, our only issue being a lag from sluggish internet. We still had a blast, especially once Mama June brought us tambourines. Once the crowd shows up (this is a second- or third-stop bar, I was informed), it’s a friendly,
late-night bunch eager to cheer on singers who either remain at their seats or make it a show. Rumor has it that some nights, the drum set in front of the karaoke screen gets some action. The selection can vary wildly, but I heard everything from Frankie Valli and *NSYNC to Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra and the Gin Blossoms. I ended up staying way longer than I planned just because I kept wanting to hear what the next song would be. For liquid courage, there’s bottled beer – mostly domestics with a few craft options. There’s no cocktail menu, but the bar is reasonably stocked. Likewise, the wine list is small, but Mama June can have what you want ready if you call ahead. She also keeps a limited supply of Korean soju on hand. Apparently Koreana does serve food, but I wouldn’t order any here. I didn’t see a menu or anyone eating on my visits. Maybe it was the retrostyle seating, the eclectic crowd or the insane decor, but Koreana felt like stepping into Twin Peaks, minus the sinister overtones. It’s a bit offkilter in a delightful way. December 2019
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BE NeW ST
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Y E A R
PHOTOS BY GREG RANNELLS
INDO, THE BEST NEW RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR December 2019
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PHOTO BY GREG RANNELLS
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low-cost ingredients and turning them into magic. “That’s why the restaurant is good,” Bognar said. “I’m not gonna make Thai kosho at home because I know what it entails. But at the restaurant, I have the equipment, and I have all day. So that’s what really brings value to the food.”
DINING ROOM PHOTO BY GREG RANNELLS; ISAAN HAMACHI PHOTO BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
Nick Bognar isn’t afraid to tell you what he’s good at. He knows he’s a good cook. As a young chef, he moved across the country to work under the best chefs he could find, learning how to do what they did – or better. The food was the only thing that mattered. “But the restaurant is far more complicated than that,” he said. Running a restaurant is about being a good manager – it’s about creating a vision people can believe in, convincing them to trust you. “And now I’m good at it, so everybody’s just stoked.” He’s right. Staff, diners and critics all seem pretty stoked about Indo, Bognar’s 46-seat, modern Asian restaurant in Botanical Heights. They come in for pricy sushi and small plate dinners, a casual khao soi off the unique lunch menu and the perpetually sold-out omakase (chef ’s choice) tasting menu served only Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. Looking at the menu, it can be hard to classify Indo. There are old-school Thai flavors like the unctuous, shareable short rib red curry. The nam prik chili paste, a condiment in dishes like a koji-aged ribDecember 2019
eye, is straight-up Bognar’s Thai grandmother’s recipe. “I basically am successful by building on top of what my family R&D-ed for years,” he said. But that rib-eye, while delicious, definitely isn’t a family dish. There’s a lobster thermidor special, a Peruvian-style madai ceviche, a dessert of Indian roti (buttery flatbread) paired with Latin American dulce de leche. And what do any of these have to do with the high-end sashimi menu? The Isaan hamachi – arguably Indo’s signature dish – is a good cipher for understanding the restaurant’s genius. The dish begins with hamachi (yellowtail), which is salted to pull out water and improve the texture of the fish, then sliced into proper sashimi. Next come the coconut naam pla (a sauce made with chili, garlic, fish sauce, fish caramel, coconut milk and a lot of lime), roasted chili oil, Thai kosho (a paste of Thai chilies, Thai basil, lime, palm syrup and fermented fish paste), candied garlic and more fish sauce. “Yeah, it is a lot of things,” Bognar said. “That’s why it’s good, though. Balancing those things is essentially Thai food in a nutshell, right? Japanese
food is very subtle, and Thai food is very in your face. So, it’s kind of an odd marriage, but it works. I think it’s good.” The hamachi is a testament to the simple perfection of expert Japanese technique Bognar learned while working at Uchiko in Austin. It’s what got him named a James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalist after he took over his family’s restaurant, Nippon Tei, in Ballwin. But the sauce – an astonishing Thai composition of savory funk, rich sweetness, sour citrus, complex spice, bright herbal notes and blurring coconut, which unites the flavors like a blending stump – the sauce is Bognar cooking what he wants.
This juggling of the simple with the bold, the elegant with the aggressive, is the red thread tying Indo together. It is both a fine dining destination and a casual neighborhood spot. Dinner expenses can climb high into the triple digits, but the plating isn’t fussy and the service even less so. The coursing is frenetic. A simple pile of cabbage in tamarind dressing is followed by a flurry of spicy salmon hand rolls propped in shot glasses like bouquets. Anticipation mounts as
the dice roll, but each plate thrills with a win – the letdown never comes. The spare decor is invigorated by a vibey, beat-laden soundtrack of artists like Solange and Sza. The chairs are not comfortable; no one cares. Everyone is having a great time. That includes the young, diverse kitchen staff, who come in every day starting at 9 a.m. to make everything from the laborintensive Thai curry pastes down to the chili oil and palm syrup. They execute at the same level when Bognar’s running the kitchen and when he’s in New York on a press tour. They’re having fun too. It’s a quality that resonates.
previous spread: lobster thermidor at indo; clockwise from top, zac adcox, chefowner nick bognar, mike brown, mark silva and hana chung
top: indo dining room; right: isaan hamachi
“You just gotta make it fun, dude,” Bognar said. “That’s everything. It’s a restaurant – it’s meant to be a party.” – HHH
“It’s really been about cooking the food that I naturally crave,” Bognar said. “Like, going back to older flavors that my family used to make all the time. I love creating these deeper, Southeast Asian flavors – making curry pastes from old-school grandma recipes and using them in interesting ways.” Indo sources some of the highest quality seafood available in St. Louis, product that can be served barely touched, but it also creates value by taking saucemagazine.com I SAUCE MAGAZINE I 35
ELMW D OO
from left, elmwood co-owners chef adam altnether and chris kelling
opposite, clockwise from top: the elmwood dining room, mafalda and grilled broccoli caesar, charred lemon tart
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PHOTOS BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
From its shadowy, obsidian space and open, windowed kitchen to its spirited neon signs and superbly curated plates and glasses, everything at Elmwood feels extremely deliberate. Hip-hop instrumentals flow at a low volume from hidden speakers; concrete floors bolster the industrial feel. The vibe is cool in multiple senses of the word – it’s a hip and distant space that keeps you at arm’s length so you can admire all it has to offer. The centerpiece of Elmwood’s concept is a rare Josper charcoal oven and grill, which evokes a staggering depth of flavor from every dish it touches: grilled broccoli Caesar, wagyu short rib beef jerky skewers, even the spectacular, showstealing charred lemon tart. There’s fire in the DNA of the magical sweet potato baba ghanoush, which doubles up on Old World charm with the seared lavash served alongside. Grilled vegetable bolognese couples with impressive mafalda noodles to create an extraordinary pasta dish, while the smoky Bangs Island mussels soar due to a powerful combination of December 2019
Sichuan spice and crispy shoestring potatoes. Chef and co-owner Adam Altnether’s menu is a tour-de-force marriage of rustic, ancient cooking methods with modern European and Asian ideas. The bar program reflects this ethos with a focus on bold wines, unique foreign and domestic beers and dazzling cocktails incorporating pisco, fernet, byrrh and cocchi doppo teatro. Any drinker can count on a new list of unexpected delights on each visit. If nothing sparks your interest, bar director David Greteman or another skilled bartender will fix you a classic cocktail, or, if you ask nicely, something they’re workshopping. Tying it together is Elmwood’s service, which is among the best in town. Knowledgeable waiters miraculously show up right before you need them, listen intently, make smart recommendations, always end up being right and exit at just the right moment. They appear, phantomlike, to fold your napkin if you get up, displaying a tacit attentiveness rather
than a domineering performance of good service. Overseeing it all is co-owner Chris Kelling, whose focused energy makes him perfect for this environment; his vigilant professionalism is reflected in every corner of the space. In everything Elmwood does, it blends the natural with the metropolitan, the familiar with the adventurous. We don’t know if that’s what Kelling and Altnether had in mind when
designing Elmwood, but they have succeeded in creating an experience unlike any other in St. Louis. – AR saucemagazine.com I SAUCE MAGAZINE I 37
BUL Creating culinary excellence from humble sources isn’t anything new. The enterprise of reducing waste and finding sustainable ingredients is no longer a radical idea. Bulrush, however, has embarked on a decidedly radical path in this direction. Chef-owner Rob Connoley, sous chef Justin Bell and the rest of the Bulrush crew have taken a deep dive into Ozark cuisine from the 1820s to 1870s. They sourced original recipes from archives, both official and personal, and scoured them to glean the knowledge of the ancestors. But the dishes coming out of the Bulrush kitchen aren’t static museum pieces – they are vibrant reimaginings of flavors made with bizarrely historically accurate ingredients.
collective of landowners who allow the Bulrush folks to collect from their acres. Tomatoes in January? No, sir. Everything you taste is in season, often gathered that same day by one of the chefs. The result is a unique culinary experience each visit, a chance to try a sauce made from wood sorrel, marinated chanterelles, fermented persimmons or perhaps paw paw “caviar” throughout a seven-course tasting menu in the dining room or an a la carte dish from the bar.
But novelty is not the reason Bulrush made this list. Connoley is a James Beard Award semifinalist for a reason. Some courses may look strange, some very rustic, but some bites will completely blow your mind. What appears to be a charming little falafel slider unfurls on the palate. The bun is actually an airy profiterole pastry worthy of a cream puff, the top crusted with ash. A rutabaga puree is a strange, wonderful reincarnation – a deeper,
darker, more soulful pesto. The meat of the fried sweet potato patty is complemented by a spicebush crema. The whole looks familiar; the ingredients don’t sound exciting; the flavors are unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. You’ll wish the coursed dinner came with seconds. Nothing about the stylish interior, courtesy of Space Architecture + Design, says “19th century Ozarks.” But the hip, theatrical vibe engendered by watching Connoley
and Bell do their thing, cooking and chatting with the seated guests who surround the open kitchen, hearkens back to the core homespun values of community and hospitality. Excellent fine dining service is given a personal touch with a gift of delicious cookies and a copy of that night’s menu to take as a souvenir. Bulrush stands as a culinary apotheosis of Connoley’s love for a time and place that deserve to be remembered and appreciated. – MS
Just as the concept of the restaurant is hyperspecific, the ingredients are hyper-local. Many are foraged from the Bulrush Land Partnership, a loose
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opposite, left: chefowner rob connoley
opposite, right: bulrush sous chef justin bell
left: pork course served with wheat berries, summer squash and chanterelle puree
PHOTOS BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
DISHES OF 2019
1. ELMWOOD’S MAFALDA The memory of twirling tangled strands of frilly-edged housemade mafalda noodles in a rich and hearty grilled vegetable Bolognese with a touch of cream and a fluffy snowfall of shaved Parmesan still lingers.
2. INDO’S SHIMA-AJI SASHIMI Age striped horse mackerel for five days to coax deeper flavor? Great idea. Garnish the buttery soft, silvery slices with puffed buckwheat, crimson trout roe and verdant pearls of fresh ground wasabi root for crunch and color? Spectacular.
3. BEAST BUTCHER & BLOCK’S PORK STEAK Massively thick cuts of richly marbled Duroc pork butt are hickory-smoked, sauced and chargrilled to a caramelized, crisp crust before getting hit with a peppery spice rub.
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Bait feels like visiting your fancy friend’s house – the excellent cook and immaculate host who always leaves you feeling cared for. “We wanted it to have the comfort of an old home,” said executive chef Ceaira Jackson. “Every night, it’s an ongoing, upscale dinner party.” This party usually has a neo soul playlist going. Touches like crown molding and
cushy chairs make the homey, sectioned-off rooms comfortable. Service fits the theme too. Professional but conversational, knowledgeable and opinionated, your server may advise you to, “Get this, not that.” Much appreciated. Every aspect of the menu is an honest expression of who Jackson is: bold, fun and skilled. Take the Flaming Wicked Prawns: large, head-on prawns
arrive literally on fire after being cooked with Cajun spices, dark beer and sherry. While the focus of the menu is seafood, exploring flavor profiles from different cuisines is an underlying theme, from the Thai red curry mussels to the showstopping, whole fried snapper with Caribbean rice and vinegary hot pepper sauce. Jackson weaves Cajun flavors throughout with her Bait Spice: a secret combination including
smoked paprika and onion powder found in the seafood boil and alligator tacos. Themes aside, the seafood is beautifully prepared. The Chilean sea bass comes with a searingly crisp exterior, which gives way to tender flakes of mild fish, served over simple vegetables finished in a creamy bechamel. It’s the kind of dish you’ve tried making at home but will never execute this flawlessly. – MN
opposite page: flaming wicked prawns
PHOTOS BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
from left, bait executive chef ceaira jackson, jorge vazquez, alexis morris, misha sampson, juwan ‘j.r.’ rice, owner kalen hodgest and bobby nguyen
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ROCKWELL CO. BEER
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opposite: from left, brasswell’s burger and fried chicken sandwich
left: the tasting room at rockwell
below: from left, stand by pilsner, passing clouds witbier, now streaming ipa
PHOTOS BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
It might be surprising to see Rockwell on this list. Not because of the beer or the food, obviously, but because Rockwell is an institution. Walking into the perpetually bustling space, with its groups of hip young friends, families with little children, older couples, people working, llamas – all regulars – it feels like Rockwell has always been there for our company happy hours, casual date nights and birthday parties. The real surprise is that the brewery and Brasswell, Gerard Craft’s mini restaurant inside, are just December 2019
now celebrating their first year in business. Everything about this place is fresh and smart, from the cavernousbut-comfortable design to the friendly and knowledgeable, tip-free service. We love the branding, the fire pits on the patio, the legit wine list and short-but-sweet cocktail menu, but it’s the beers and burgers that bring us back so often. Founder Andy Hille and head brewer Jonathan Moxey make a range of true-to-style beers like the fluffy, citrus-y Passing Clouds Belgian-style witbier and the snappy Stand
By hoppy Pilsner, which won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival this year. Rockwell’s more experimental styles, like Now Streaming, a hazy, citrus-y IPA, are equally clean and well made.
As the name suggests, the burgers and crunchy shoestring fries at Rockwell originated at Craft’s Brasserie by Niche in the Central West End, but chef Joe Landis has made Rockwell’s menu his own – particularly with
rotating specials like the unforgettable, light-as-air fried fish sandwich. The classic cheeseburger comes saucy with dijonnaise and melted American cheese. Thin-sliced white onion and acidic house pickles cut through the richness, making for a perfectly balanced, perfectly sized, perfectly priced, ideal burger. The rest of the short menu offers everything else you might need, including a fried chicken sandwich, veggie burger and pleasantly basic salad. And don’t worry about choosing between the airy beignets or the malted chocolatesalted vanilla swirl soft serve ice cream for dessert. You need both. – HHH saucemagazine.com I SAUCE MAGAZINE I 43
AKAr PHOTOS BY GREG RANNELLS
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BEST NEW RESTAURANTS OF 2019 1. Indo
1641 Tower Grove Ave., St. Louis, 314.899.9333, indo-stl.com
2704 Sutton Blvd., Maplewood, 314.261.4708, elmwoodstl.com
3307 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.449.1208, bulrushstl.com
4239 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, 314.405.2797, baitstl.com
5. Rockwell Beer Co. 1320 S. Vandeventer Ave., St. Louis, 314.256.1657, rockwellbeer.com
When Bernie Lee is cooking what he loves, you’ll love it too. We learned that by eating the Malaysian dishes at his now-shuttered Hiro Asian Kitchen – and we’re reminded again at Akar.
opposite: akar chefowner bernie lee top: oolong tea-brined duck breast right: tempura soft-shell crab
This restaurant is a love letter to Lee’s past. The name means “roots” in Maylay, and the menu is inspired by his childhood, his travels and what he cooks at home. The tiny new space on Wydown Boulevard offers Lee a chance to cook whatever he wants – from Rangoon stuffed with huge chunks of lobster meat, served with a spicysweet mango sauce to a burnished Cornish hen perched atop a mountain of sticky rice.
With only 18 seats inside, Akar aims for a serious takeout business, but you wouldn’t know that by the dine-in experience. The helpful, attentive wine service alone is a reason to return, and Lee himself will likely drop by your table to ensure you’re having a good time. Luckily, in warmer months, the charming patio doubles Akar’s seating. Go for lunch and order off a short list of easy, crowd-pleasing dishes like bibimbap and banh mi, both with vegetarian options. Stay for dinner and enjoy eclectic international flavors like the Singapore chili sauce, a mildly spicy and sour sauce with a strong
tomato-y sweetness that accompanies a crispy, tempura-battered fried soft-shell crab along with a sweet corn relish. Or try the insanely tender short rib, which comes topped with a rich and silky
sambal-spiced demi-glace alongside mashed peas and burnt carrots. You’ll fall in love. – HHH
7641 Wydown Blvd., Clayton, 314.553.9914, akarstl.com
7. Alta Calle
3131 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314.282.0840, altacallestl.com
8. Morning Glory Diner
2609 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.261.4842, Facebook: Morning Glory Diner
9. The Last Kitchen
The Last Hotel, 1501 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.390.2500, thelasthotelstl.com
10. The Midwestern 900 Spruce St., St. Louis, 314.696.2573, midwesternstl.com
11. Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant
4200 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.390.2020, sultan-stl.com
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Sometimes a transcendent dining experience comes from waves of culinary force that span two or three hours; other times, its locus is a single moment, one or two bites that affect you totally. The first bite of South Grand Mexican eatery Alta Calle’s shrimp taco offers a beguiling introduction to its juicy, spicy shrimp with pineapple sauce and brilliant, seared cheese-laced tortilla, but the second, bringing in captivating pieces of pickled cucumber and refreshing dill, really lassos the flavors into one truly mind-blowing harmony of ideas. Dill! On a taco!
to the savory blend of crispy tofu, beans and slaw that pad out the torta vegetariana. Guacamole is bolstered by the genius addition of pickled shallots, mint and pepitas. Alta Calle leaves no stone unturned when looking for smart ways to update traditional Mexican dishes, and we’re thrilled to be here for it. – AR
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PHOTOS BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
One of the best dishes in St. Louis this year, Alta Calle’s shrimp taco captures everything we love about this restaurant. It’s easy but complex, traditional but inventive, serious without being pretentious. This team, led by sisters Veronica and Dulce Morales (Veronica also owns Las Palmas in Maplewood with her son, Steve Suarez) do everything with care – from the delicate, tangy salsa verde atop the mushroom enchiladas
from left, alta calle co-owner dulce morales, steve suarez and co-owner veronica morales
PHOTO BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
clockwise from top, enchiladas, shrimp tacos, guacamole and queso at alta calle
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MORNING GLORY DINER
It’s rare for a restaurant to accomplish everything it attempts. Morning Glory isn’t anything fancy – chef-owner Ari Jo Ellis doesn’t try to “elevate” diner fare or put her chef-y spin on anything. She just makes damn good food. When Ellis was named a 2016 One to Watch as a 20-something sous chef at Southern, she knew she wanted to open this
top: chicken and johnnycakes right: morning glory chefowner ari jo ellis
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exact diner, down to a prescient sense of her future location. “I would love a place as small as Southern, something real small,” she told Sauce at the time, not knowing she’d end up in the tiny, 30-seat former Vista Ramen on Cherokee Street. Pull up a seat at the short bar in the familiar space, which Ellis managed to transform into a comfortable, friendly diner while barely changing anything at all. The biscuits are fluffy, and the pitch-perfect gravy is always freshly made. The breakfast sandwich is exactly what a diner breakfast sandwich should be: a perfectly fried egg, crisp, thick-cut bacon and American cheese on white bread. Don’t miss the chicken and johnnycakes. The fried chicken is moist and tender with a substantial cornmeal batter crust complemented by light, faintly sweet pancakes. All you need is hot sauce and syrup. Really, there’s nothing new here – just classics in as good a form as you can find them. Give yourself a present, and drop by for two cups of good, hot, black coffee and maybe a slice of pie. – HHH
PHOTOS BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
Ask about the pie. That’s what the sign above the register says, and we trust Morning Glory knows what it’s talking about.
below: the last kitchen executive chef evy swoboda
left: rustic torchio pasta
bottom: steak sandwich at the last kitchen
Executive chef Evy Swoboda’s flawless fare attracts local diners and out-of-towners alike to the midcentury modern dream of The Last Hotel.
PHOTOS BY SAMUEL REED
Hotel restaurants often offer serviceable, predictable food at inflated prices to captive hotel guests. Not so at The Last Kitchen.
Swoboda has developed menus for the restaurant (which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner), event catering, the lobby bar and the rooftop bar. Her energy was evident when she was named a 2018 One to Watch while working at Pastaria in Clayton. But knowing her current schedule, her persistent commitment to in-house butchering, pickling and pasta-making seems a tad insane. It’s that extra effort that sets her cuisine apart.
Pops of pickled mustard seed dot a feather-light goat cheese tart topped with roasted beets. A St. Louis staple gets a New Orleans twist in house-made toasted ravioli stuffed with wild boar boudin. Summer veg is enjoyed yearround when pickled, tempura battered and fried. Even the house pub chips get a little something extra, coated in a spicy dust made from dehydrated, leftover hot sauce mash. Deceptively simple dish names belie their complex, stellar flavor profiles. An innocuous steak sandwich features the perfect balance of shredded flank steak,
piquant house giardiniera and creamy Havarti. Days later, you’ll still be talking about “that steak sandwich.” Grown Up Garlic Noodles and the Rustic Torchio pasta in pesto showcase Swoboda’s way with noodles, and the kitchen is just as skilled with proteins, including a perfectly seared duck breast and burnished half chicken with crisp skin and succulent meat. – CK
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When a new barbecue spot opens in St. Louis, you think you know what to expect, but you go anyway. Ambling to your seat, you don’t notice much beyond the general vibe. You move through wafting smells of smoked meat, pit beans and melted cheese, sit down and order some food. A beautiful tartine of smoked trout, dill, radish and smoked egg arrives in front of you, joined by a buttery
petite gem salad. Wait, what? You look around again and notice the most magnificent longleaf pine bar. Clean, attractive tables line the inviting space. Your favorite bygone jams – mainstream rock from the ’90s and early ’00s – billow out of the speakers. A delicious set of fried green tomatoes with tomato jam, tomato aioli and ricotta arrives. You
take a sip of the Old Flames cocktail: a perfect blend of mezcal, Ancho Verde liqueur, blueberry, honey, jalapeno and lemon. This is not what you expected. This is The Midwestern. With food from esteemed chef Ben Welch, The Midwestern is an elegant oasis in the middle of an often chaotic grid of baseball games, parades, corporations and family attractions. Go with an open mind, and you will be surprised. Oh, and the barbecue is great. – AR
WESTERN BEN WELCH PHOTO BY IZAIAH JOHNSON; FRIED GREEN TOMATOES PHOTO BY MADISON SANDERS
top: managing partner and executive chef ben welch
right: fried green tomatoes at the midwestern
opposite, top: sultan co-owner jenar mohammed
opposite, below: the sultan pilau
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SULTAN common offerings like gently steamed mantu (dumplings) and qali (beef stew), earning Sultan a spot on this list. Here are the four dishes you must try on your first visit.
JENAR MOHAMMED PHOTO BY CARMEN TROESSER; PILAU PHOTO BY IZAIAH JOHNSON
Jenar Mohammed and Akram Saeed’s first restaurant flawlessly executes classics like hummus, falafel and kebabs, as well as less
Lentil Soup This soothing cup of soup is the perfect appetizer. A few sips prepares your palate and gives you a hint of flavors to come. Bonus: If you dine at lunch, it’s free with your meal. Naan You’ll need this whatever you order. Nearly 12 inches across, naan arrives hot, releasing
pockets of steam as you gently stretch and tear the pillowy surface. Swipe it through every bit of hummus and baba ghanoush, pick up bits of kebab or falafel or soak up every last drop of sauce. Dolma Sultan’s vegetarian dolma are a study in simple ingredients done right. Thin, tender grape leaves hold toothsome, perfectly cooked rice, each grain slicked with olive oil and bright tomato sauce. Nearly a dozen of these addictive bites arrive topped with a small eggplant, zucchini, tomato and onion, all
stuffed with the same rice mixture. At just $8, this entree is a steal. Sultan Pilau Local food writers have penned many praises about the Sultan Pilau. Every word is deserved. Crack the crispy phyllo shell to release an avalanche of perfumed basmati rice, rich bits of lamb shank, sweet raisins, crunchy almonds and walnuts, and diced vegetables. This dish embodies everything wonderful about the restaurant: phenomenal flavor, generous portions and a surprising experience that inspires repeat visits. – CK
WHERE'S BALKAN TREAT BOX? We know what you’re thinking: the Sauce Best New Restaurants list has serious holes this year. Balkan Treat Box, Beast Butcher & Block, Nudo House and Taco Circus all deserve a spot. We couldn’t agree more. That’s why we named most of them best new restaurants when their original concepts opened – Balkan’s food truck and Nudo’s Creve Coeur location in 2017 and Beast in Belleville in 2015. Taco Circus opened its new space in September, but we couldn’t consider the new location since it’s an expansion of an existing concept. Still, these four noteworthy second locations deserve mentions among this year’s most outstanding openings.
BALKAN TREAT BOX 8103 Big Bend Blvd., Webster Groves, 314.733.5700, balkantreatbox.com
BEAST BUTCHER & BLOCK 4156 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.944.6003, beastbbqstl.com
NUDO HOUSE 6105 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, nudohousestl.com
TACO CIRCUS 4940 Southwest Ave., St. Louis, 314.899.0061, tacocircus.com
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L A S T B I T E // S T U F F T O D O
DECEMBER BY JUS TIN NUNN A ND BRENN A SUL L IVA N
SAUCE SPONSORED EVENTS Merrymaker Pop-up Cocktail Party
Repeal Day Celebration Dec. 5 – 5 to 11 p.m., Small Batch, 3001 Locust St., St. Louis, 314.380.2040, smallbatchstl.com Travel back to the Roaring Twenties to celebrate the anniversary of the end of Prohibition at this free event. Don your best fedora or flapper dress to vie for best-dressed prizes as you sip specialty cocktails like spiked punch. Reservations encouraged.
Holiday Cheese Plates Class
Dec. 7 – 1 to 4 p.m., Craft Beer Cellar, 5760 Chippewa St., St. Louis, 314.222.0333, craftbeercellar.com Get ready for an afternoon of craft beer and Filipino-inspired dishes from The Fattened Caf. Purchase items like barbecue pork on a stick, inasal chicken leg quarters, chargrilled pork belly, pig ears sisig and ube pie. Drink from Craft Beer Cellar’s full beer bar, including 14 drafts from breweries like Rockwell Beer Co. and 2nd Shift Brewing.
Dec. 11 – 7 p.m., Cork & Rind, 555 First Capitol Drive, St. Charles, 636.896.4404, corkandrind.com Learn how to plate like a pro at this class taught by Cork & Rind’s cheesemonger Kevin Kinney, who demonstrates how to prepare and create cheese platters just in time for the holidays. Taste a variety of cheeses and even make cheese “flowers” with a cheese curler. Tickets available online.
Oyster Fest Dec. 7 – noon, Who Dat’s Southern Food, 118 E. Main St., Collinsville, 618.855.9779, whodatsrestaurant.com Get a taste of New Orleans at this free event hosted by Who Dat’s Southern Food. Try different variations of oyster dishes like oysters Rockefeller and Who Dat’s burgundy oysters made with house-made barbecue shrimp sauce, mozzarella and provolone. There’s also live jazz music.
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Dec. 9 – 7 to 9 p.m., Grand Tavern by David Burke, 626 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314.405.3399, grandtavernstl.com Up your bartending skills with this course taught by Grand Tavern beverage director Meredith Barry. Learn how to mix three holiday cocktails, including the A.R.T. Spritz, made with gin, campari and cranberries. Enjoy each cocktail with light fare like oysters with caviar and creme fraiche, truffle arancini with arrabbiata sauce and Parmesan, savory holiday tarts and housemade mint-chocolate cheesecake pops. Tickets available online.
Dec. 21 – 7 to 11 p.m., Mad Art Gallery, 2727 S. 12th St., St. Louis, Facebook: Merrymaker Pop-up Cocktail Party Kick off Weekend Wonderland in Soulard with a pop-up holiday bar. Enjoy live music and passed appetizers and purchase festive drinks like Spiked Holiday Nog, Reindeer Juice Holiday Punch and a Winter Whiskey Cocktail. Bring a new toy to donate and receive one free eggnog. Tickets available online; must be 21 or older.
Dec. 22 – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mad Art Gallery, 2727 S. 12th St., St. Louis, Facebook: Blitzen Brunch Weekend Wonderland continues with a brunch buffet featuring a cheesy egg and pepper bake, breakfast potatoes, a Monte Cristo casserole, Belgian waffles and more. A cash bar offers holiday mimosas, bloody marys and spiked holiday eggnog. Santa makes an appearance at this family-friendly event to get any last-minute wish lists. Tickets available online.
Great St. Louis Czech Beer Fest Dec. 14 – 1 to 5 p.m., American Czech Educational Center, 4690 Lansdowne Ave., St. Louis, 314.752.8168, Facebook: The Great St. Louis Czech Beer Festival Fill a souvenir glass with samples of Czech beer imports from purveryors like Pilsner Urquell Brewery and Czech Rebel as well as over 40 local craft brews in various styles. Vote on your favorite Czech-style American Pilsner, then indulge in Czech-inspired bar food like stuffed pickles and kolache. Tickets available online.
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L A S T B I T E // W H AT I D O
Ditalia Fine Italian Imports, 314.534.6207, ditalia.com
staying niche. … We can’t be everything to everybody, and those are lessons you learn along the way.” “Every trip that I make to Italy, I end up going to Sicily for a week, and those
are the experiences that really open up those unique doors for me. Our olive oil, our Olio Tre Casi, it’s from this remote area in the mountains of Madonie. They have a very unique olive variety. My [Sicilian] cousins were not even familiar with it when I went there, so I was like, ‘Wow, this really is a hidden treasure.’” “There are industrial panettones and artisan panettones. [Artisan
Business wasn’t great for Vincenzo di Piazza in the late 1990s. Ditalia, the importer he founded in 1985 to bring artisan Italian foodstuffs to the U.S., was being outpriced and outmaneuvered by larger providers. Things looked bleak until his son, Vince di Piazza, approached him with novel idea: sell their inventory on the internet. The college student began running the online business from his parents’ basement. Now Ditalia’s array of fine Italian imports is found in kitchens and restaurants across the country, including local favorites Louie, Sardella and Pastaria and retail venues like AO&Co. and Larder & Cupboard. – Catherine Klene
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I always wanted to work with food. My dad by trade was a mechanic and had an auto parts shop, and on Saturdays he would make me go there, and I hated it. I’m not mechanically inclined.” “The very first order that came through was from Mobile, Alabama. They
ordered Perugina Baci and Ferrero Pocket Coffee. That was our very first order. We launched the website, and I was on it every night, 2 or 3 o’clock in my parents’ basement in the bedroom trying to figure out what search engines were, how people were going to find us.”
“When we were thinking about opening a retail store, we decided not to. … Why should we compete
with the retailers? Why don’t we tell them about these products and get them behind us? Gradually, it just started working. Fortunately, there are some great restaurateurs in St. Louis that appreciate some of these products, and that business has helped sustain from January through October.” “We’re not the big food service provider. We’re not
going to be able to supply you with napkins and plates and ketchup packets and fresh vegetables and fruit. We’re
“During the busy time, you’ll see my kids here ... nieces, nephews, cousins –
everybody comes and lends a hand. That’s what it’s always been, even when my dad had it. I remember him getting his first container of pasta and all my cousins going to his warehouse and unloading it. It always revolved around eating afterward. [My dad] is still here – him and his friend cook lunch every day for us. That’s one of my joys is getting to see him every day.”
PHOTO BY VIRGINIA HAROLD
VINCE DI PIA Z ZA
“I’ve always kind of wanted to have my own business.
producers] are using high quality flour; they’re using farm-fresh eggs. The candied fruits that they use are actually candied fruits and not a byproduct of mix and gelatin and stuff together. How they proof their dough, how they hang their panettone upside down, using a mother yeast. These producers that we source these panettones from – that’s what they do.”
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Don't miss the Best New Restaurants in St. Louis in 2019.