Crave In St. Louis Puts A Unique Spin On Fast, Fried Street Food

 In Feature, Food

Upon visiting Crave in St. Louis, prepare yourself to experience a variety of unexpected dishes, including the “phatada,” a hand-held, deep-fried burrito-like concoction stuffed with meats, grains, cheese and veggies. These delicacies are central to chef Chris Ayala’s fusion approach at Crave Street Food, which opened in late 2016 just west of the Downtown area.

The eclectic menu he’s put together tops out at $8, and the upbeat staff is quick to offer suggestions if customers hesitate in the face of so many unfamiliar options. It’s definitely worth gambling if you still can’t decide. You’re in good hands—Ayala is a veteran of kitchens at St. Louis favorites such as The Scottish Arms and The Shaved Duck, among others.

Dishes You’ll Recognize
Quesadillas are a quintessential grab-and-go food, but they have a glitch: the more fillings you add, the less portable they become. Crave’s version is plenty full, with Chihuahua-cheddar cheese, sautéed pepper and onions, salsa and avocado-lime crema plus meats like carne asada, adobo chicken and barbecue-pulled pork or veggies like beans or spinach. Ditto for the nachos, which come fully loaded with queso, black beans, jalapeños, scallions, salsa and the meat of your choice.

Dollar-sized pancakes are on several fast-casual menus around town as a grab-and-go food as well, but what makes these especially tempting is the dark rum syrup for dipping. Mix them in with popcorn chicken and you have a satisfyingly savory-sweet brunch dish. Or, for a total carb rush, opt instead for a generous cupful of sugar-coated biscuit beignets with honey-whiskey dipping sauce. Their texture is more like a biscuit than a traditional beignet, which makes them a bit heavy for dessert but perfect alongside a breakfast cup of scrambled eggs, cheese and sautéed onions and peppers. You can add meats for $1 more and veggies for another $1. But careful with the extras or you won’t be able to eat all those beignets, which would be a shame.

If you follow food trends, you will recognize the poke cups, which are gaining a foothold on local menus decades after they were first introduced in Hawaii. Ayala’s ratio of warm rice to spicy yellowfin tuna, cucumber and avocado is just right on the bowl we sampled.

Crave replace 2

Dishes You Won’t
The phatadas are Exhibit A in the case for taking a risk on the unfamiliar. Ayala stuffs a tortilla-like flatbread with meats, grains, veggies and cheese, rolls it up and fries it in peanut oil. Each variation evokes a very different flavor profile. The baked salmon with whipped feta, ancient grain pilaf, spinach and roasted red peppers is flavorful but mild. The Cubano has a bit more tang from pickles and mustard along with Swiss cheese, pulled pork, ham, Spanish rice and Chihuahua-cheddar cheese. Our favorite, though, was the top-selling honey-adobo chicken, thanks to its combination of roasted poblano peppers and moist, rich meat.

The Wu-Tang Spliffs were the surprise hit of our meal, so well balanced and flavorful that we didn’t need much of the sweet banana dipping sauce that comes with them. The Filipino-inspired snack rolls are made of meats (jackfruit, shrimp or chicken), cream cheese and pickled papaya slaw in a crêpe-like “lumpia wrapper.”

Most of the beverages are bottled—sodas from brands like Ski, Ting and Mr. Q Cumber, lemonade from Calypso, teas from Joe. But the aguas frescas are made fresh each day with watermelon or papaya. They often sell out, so if there’s any left, be sure to order one.

The new restaurant, on the northwestern corner of Jefferson and Washington avenues, is a bit of a stroll for most Downtown office workers, but it’s just far enough out of the city center to make parking easy for those who come by car. When it starts offering late-night hours, Crave could well become a destination for those who need a quick fried-food fix on their way home from bars and clubs.

Top Dish: The phatada, along the lines of a deep-fried burrito, stuffed with honey-adobo chicken, roasted poblano peppers, rice, onions, queso and avocado-lime crema.
Popular Pour: Housemade watermelon or papaya agua fresca (aka Crave Kool-Aid).
Best Place To Perch: The small dining room gets livelier when the foosball table is in use.
Insider Tip: If you’re a first-timer, ask questions. The staff has a knack for steering customers toward something they’ll like among the unusual food and drink options.

Where To Go
2605 Washington Ave.
Entrees $6-$8
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11am-10pm, Sat. 5-10pm (late-night hours coming soon)

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