The most talked about restaurants of 2011
St. Louis has seen (and tasted) a lot over the last year when it comes to its restaurants. From fine dining to food trucks to the freshest local fare, we’ve watched as new foodie spots opened and culinary trends took hold. We witnessed familiar restauranteurs debut new concepts, experienced inspired eats from culinary newbies and were taken to new heights in local dining. But, among the long list of spots that popped onto the scene, only a select few entered true buzz-worthy territory—not only stealing the show (with both local and national acclaim), but leaving us begging for an encore. Here’s a look at the culinary stars of 2011 that everyone is talking about.
Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark
One South Broadway, Downtown
It almost goes without saying that Three Sixty is the buzziest destination to open this summer. Located Downtown on the 26th floor of the Hilton at the Ballpark, the rooftop hotpsot has taken the restaurant and lounge experience to new heights. Literally. And while the view is the talk of the town (and what a view it is with The Arch, city skyline and bird’s eye look at the stadium below), the chic space is noteworthy on its own. Bars inside and out allow for spacious enjoyment of the extensive wine list and cocktails while fire pits and sleek seating create a relaxed lounge-like mood. Inside, a two-story waterfall and floating DJ booth above the main bar clearly steal the show, and a trip to the restroom reveals a few clever design extras as well.
But don’t let Three Sixty’s exterior fool you into thinking that the appeal here is only the altitude. You might come for the view, but you’ll stay for the food. The menu of small plate items, prepared by veteran and well-traveled Chef Rex Hale,features local cheeses, produce and cured meats. The truffled popcorn is a standout creation and the selection of sliders is a favorite with short rib, crab cake, meatball and smoked pork belly options. From lobster rolls and mussels to oven-fired
pizzas and Baja fi sh tacos, the menu perfectly complements the backdrop and refuses to be ignored. The desserts—including house kit kat bars, sorbet popsicles and graham cracker cheesecake crostini—also should not be missed. That is, if you can steal yourself away from the amazing view.
8000 Carondelet Ave., Clayton
When Mad Tomato opened in Clayton earlier this year, Chef Vito Racanelli,Jr. had a culinary reputation to uphold. A chef with serious Italian chops and a successful pizzeria (Onesto in South City) to boot, let’s just say St. Louis was anxious to experience his new, slightly more sophisticated Italian restaurant. And when we did, we immediately fell in love with his amazingly fresh and simple southern Italian cuisine. The chef calls on family recipes and seasonal ingredients to create his menu of antipasti, pizza and entrées. You’ll find an abundance of delicacies in dishes like the tuna crudo with quail egg and artichoke emulsion, the braised beef ravioloni with wild mushrooms and the fresh-from-thegarden roasted beet salad with creamy gorgonzola. More of his menu reads like a culinary trip through Naples, with rich dishes like lamb meatballs and zucchini, grilled sirloin filet with red wine and Neberdino Bianco and caulifl ower truffl e risotto appearing alongside fettuccine with shrimp and capers and ricotta gnocchi. There’s also a handful of pizzas, served crisp and baked in a wood-fi red oven with straightforward and simple toppings like roasted garlic, sweet Italian sausage and smoked mozzarella. Simply looking at Chef Vito’s menu makes you salivate—and those are only a few of the inspired creations to be had. It’s the cuisine and the cuisine alone that has already caused quite the buzz in the culinary community—gaining Vito’s second venture hotspot status. A meal like this is hard to find, and it seems St. Louis has become mad about Mad Tomato.
7268 Manchester Rd., Maplewood
Water Street is the first venture for siblings Gabe and Maria Kveton, but what makes this Maplewood spot so special
is that you’d never guess it. With Gabe behind the bar and Maria manning the kitchen, the pair have created a charming
and intimate destination that works like a well-oiled machine. The menu, while small, is focused and features a variety of vintage and creative cocktails and food inspired by the local farmers’ market. Add in a casual, cool bistro-style atmosphere, and you can easily see why this new restaurant has become an instant favorite.
The cocktail and wine menu is clearly larger than the food, but don’t be fooled: the food here is not an afterthought. The list of nosh-size dishes holds its own, with items like the cucumber appetizer (three sliced cucumbers with dollops of Gorgonzola mousse and pancetta) or the deviled eggs with sweet pickle relish and paprika. The bruschetta plate is exceptional with three different spreads in combinations like artichoke, basil pesto and a simply outstanding Gorgonzola and honey. Entrées include seasonally-inspired offerings like chive flowers, yellow squash, golden trout and beer-braised brisket. For spiritsseekers, the ingredient-driven cocktails are certainly satisfying. Old and new converge with the Rye Half-Flip made with rye whiskey, cherry juice and egg white or the clever Hemingway Daiquiri, a tart blend of maraschino liqueur, rum, lime and grapefruit. There’s also a share-worthy punch with sweet vermouth and champagne and a vintage cocktail of the weekpulled from a book of vintage spirits and forgotten cocktails. Light noshing and cool cocktails—we’ll drink to that.
4356 Lindell Blvd., Central West End
Like its use and appeal in cooking, Salt has become a delicious staple in the St. Louis foodie scene since it opened in late April. While most of the menu reads a little unusual in its offerings—hay roasted hen, sorghum lacquered duck and lingonberry bread pudding—it’s the often unconventional and always flavorful creations that make Salt stand out. And if you’ve been, it’s easy to see why: a single, succulent seared scallop infused with cedar smoke is served in a mason jar; thinly sliced frites are fried in duck fat and come with housemade ketchup and mayo; and pork and blackberry jam accompanies pork and fennel meatballs. The pasta is made in-house and is featured in daily variations, while the salads continually play with fresh ingredients like pears, smoked jowl, bleu cheese and salted almonds.
But Salt is touted for much more than its out-of-the-box contemporary cuisine. Because any chef can include epicurean
items like braised pork belly or broiled mussels on the menu, it’s Salt’s unique take on those dishes that make a good restaurant great. Chef and owner Wes Johnson ties a bit of molecular gastronomy with the deconstructed concept and adds a local twist—the result is a playful version of a ham and cheese biscuit with provel mornay sauce; a pork steak that sneaks in the classic side but is served with applesauce risotto; or the unassuming chips and dip featuring red beet chips with fresh salted ricotta. Chef Johnson leaves his final mark on diners with dessert, the best of which takes the Midwest-obsessed bread pudding and repackages it into a tall mason jar with tart lingonberries and bourbon sauce.
16 N. Central Ave., Clayton
Build a casual-sexy spot with see-and-be-seen sidewalk seating and a sharing-inspired menu, and they will come. And, St. Louis diners certainly have—since Frank Schmitz opened Bocci Bar in April. With its floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors that open up to the sidewalk café and a contemporary-meets-rustic feel of an Italian eatery, Bocci is effortlessly cool and instantly inviting. And much like its sister restaurant, the ever-popular BARcelona, it’s always crowded.
But the buzz behind Bocci Bar is clearly about the food. Filled with substantial northern Italian cuisine offerings, the extensive menu is a montage of pastas (offered in large or small sizes), fl atbreads, pizzas, antipasti and main courses
called secondi. It’s easy to get lost in warm olives, meatballs, crostini with red and yellow pepper hummus and grilled
focaccia before you even glance at the selection of entrées and pizzas—which use daily-made dough in combinations
like a lobster B.L.T. with bacon, tomato and creme fraiche and hearty sausage with fennel, portabella and mozzarella. Pastas are equally enticing with butternut squash ravioli, rigatoni and a well-prepared and classic spaghetti carbonara, with a nice egg and bacon sauce and plenty of diced asparagus, mushrooms and pecorino romano. Entrées are priced higher and are signifi cantly more fi lling, but with options like veal scampi, roasted stuffed chicken and char-grilled strip steak, the extra pennies are well worth the price. With the success of Bocci Bar so far, we can only wonder where this talented restauranteur will take our taste buds next.
1000 Washington Ave., Downtown
Steak is always “in” when it comes to restaurant trends—and rightfully so. A perfectly-aged, well-prepared, melt-in-your mouth filet is always a satisfying dinner experience. But true steak-lovers will tell you that not all steaks are created equal. Such is the case at Prime 1000, where the steaks are not just great, but on an entirely different playing field.
The secret to this new Wash Ave. steak house is obvious if you know your beef, or at least a little bit about the aging process. Prime 1000 dry-ages its steaks on site, which, while more costly, is what sets it apart from the rest. A little extra TLC goes a long way—producing more tender and fl avorful meat. And Prime offers several options, including USDA Prime and Missouri grass-fed, in favorites like the dry-aged New York strip, bone-in rib eye and sirloin black angus filet. All are perfection. The list of beefl ess options also entices with braised pork, Ozark trout and succulent lobster tail. Not to be viewed as afterthoughts, these menu items, among others like flatbread with ham and arugula and sides like the smoky white cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese and spicy shishito peppers, are treated as equals in this steak-centric restaurant. The space adds to the hotspot appeal, thanks to its open and modern layout with exposed brick, sleek design and lighting—not to mention the fact that it’s in a fabulous Downtown location perfectly placed between the tourist/convention northern edge and the bustling scene of Downtown locals. A prime spot, no doubt,and one we’re betting will always be “in.”
4584 Laclede Ave., Central West End
Taste has been a go-to spot for cocktails since it opened in Benton Park next to Niche a few years ago. But this year, it
earned its buzz-worthy badge by moving to a new location (which, to the joy of St. Louisans, includes much more seating) and slightly revamping its food and drink menu, making it—if possible—even better.
It is bartenders like those at Taste who are leading the cocktail revolution of drinks with oddball ingredients and fl air. And, Taste invites you to experience mixology at its best, with more than 40 options arranged by fl avor notes. The easily readable classifi cation-style menu makes ordering drinks with Cajun bitters and duck-fat-infused Grand Marnier more approachable.
Descriptors like tart, rich, spicy and robust pepper the menu, thanks to Ted Kilgore and team, who are consistently accurate in each cocktail’s taste. In fact, most of the hotspot’s success is attributed to the bartenders’ combined experience. Kilgore’s innovative cocktails have appeared in “The Wall Street Journal” and “Food & Wine,” and have earned him numerous local and national accolades.
Kilgore’s creativity abounds in the “Stormy French” made with green chartreuse, pomegranate juice, mint and ginger beer or the “You Can Ring My Bell” with chamomile-infused Barsol Pisco, honey syrup, lemon, egg white and apricot liqueur.
Selling someone on trying the “Ab-Duck-tion” could be tough, considering its ingredients sound like a scientifi c experiment. But in truth, the blend of duck-fat-infused Grand Marnier, mascarpone, Lavender bitters and absinthe is absolutely sublime. Once you’re willing to trust Kilgore in his oddball creations, a truly incredible cocktail experience awaits. Cap it off with a food menu that’s equally interesting, and you’ll come away wondering what they’ll create next. Let’s just say, we’ve never been more excited to try anything.
1235 Washington Ave., Downtown
When word spread that a new Mexican cantina was set to open in Downtown’s already sizzling dining and entertainment
scene, St. Louisans had an inkling it would be successful well before it served its fi rst plate of chips and guac. Within months, Rosalita’s prime Wash Ave. locale and lively bar vibe attracted late-night partyers, and the selection of casual Tex-Mex eats gained quite the foodie following. It soon felt as if Rosalita’s had always been a fi xture in the neighborhood—even its large tree-lined patio seems to have always occupied the space that extends to 13th Street. Or
maybe we’d just like to think that because we love that it now feels like Cinco deMayo on this corner 365 days a year.
But the buzz behind this casual, come-asyou-are restaurant stretches far beyond its location and jovial nightlife festivities.
The real appeal lies in its fare and fi estaworthy spirits. You can expect dishes like juicy chicken, braised in adobo chipotle tomato broth, fi re roasted poblano peppers and mole-marinated shredded pork tamales, served generously in true Tex-Mex style. We’re talking tacos, sizzling skillets of fajitas and steak quesadillas as classic as they come. But anyone knows the daily specials often offer some of the best—and most unique—options, like chile lime fries, honey chipotle glazed ribs and grilled Mahi topped with jalapeno butter. Any Rosalita’s regular will tell you it’s the margaritas that steal the show. Made from scratch with top-shelf tequilas, the margaritas here come standard in sublime variations like creamsicle in fiesta-sized margarita towers. One sip— or gulp—and you’re hooked; but happily so. We can’t help but love a place that keeps us in the Cinco spirit year-round.
2017 Chouteau Ave., Lafayette Square
You can’t turn a corner nowadays in St. Louis without finding a cheesy deep dish, fresh-ingredient-piled thin-crust, gourmet Neapolitan or classically delicious slice of pie. So, when a new pizza place opens, it takes something special to get the foodie community’s attention. For PW Pizza, the votes quickly came in, meeting our expectations—and then some. It wasn’t surprising, considering PW is a new endeavor from veritable restaurant powerhouse duo, Paul and Wendy Hamilton, whose knack for good taste gave us Eleven Eleven Mississippi and Vin de Set.
For starters, the place exudes comfort and warmth, with high ceilings, light wood tones and an open kitchen. Because nothing is better than a cold brew and a stellar slice of pie, the menu includes a dozen beers on tap, with several local options (like Six Row, Urban Chestnut, Schlafl y and Cathedral Square)— along with a generous selection of locally- and ingredient-driven pizzas, with toppings ranging from chimichurri to meatballs and crusts available in original and honey wheat, both slightly crispy. Although we love that there’s a “build your own” option, let the Hamiltons lead your PW experience with selections like the Philly, with tender prime rib, creme fraiche and provolone, or the Popeye and Olive, made with roasted garlic olive oil, red pepper, goat cheese and spinach. First-timers shouldn’t leave without trying Pop’s meatballs— homemade with marinara and pecorino and so good they decided to throw ’em on a pie with green peppers and caramelized onions. Or, try the Food Outreach contest winner pizza—a recipe and winner chosen twice a year and featured on the menu, with all proceeds going to the local nonprofi t. A restaurant devoted to good food and giving back—if there was still any doubt that PW Pizza is more than just another pizza joint—well, let’s just say, we rest our case.
3257 Ivanhoe Ave., South City
Farmhaus is no stranger on the restaurant scene—it rapidly gained buzz from the moment it opened in 2010 and has impressively been able to sustain said buzz ever since. In the beginning, it was chef and owner Kevin Willmann’s reputation from his work at Erato in Edwardsville that was the driving force behind the momentum. But, it was the farm-fresh and ingredient-focused food that solidifi ed its place among the city’s top restaurants. Soon, a loyal following of St. Louisans couldn’t get enough of Chef Willmann’s daily changing lunch and dinner menu and his rotating blue plate specials.
More recently, Willmann attracted the national spotlight when he was named one of “Food & Wine” magazine’s “Best
New Chefs of 2011.” Not bad for a selftaught chef whose South City restaurant had barely been open a year. Known for
having a community approach to food and a locavore-minded menu, his passion and dedication for quality food is evident in every dish. Small plates make use of fresh bounty like Ozark Forest mushrooms, Missouri pecans and local sweet potatoes. The menu is playful and presents a Midwestern-style cuisine that’s both comfortable and creative. Case in point, the popular bacon-wrapped meatloaf with a tomato-merlot reduction and the nachos with housemade sweet
potato chips, cherry-wood-smoked bacon lardoons and a red pepper catsup. But don’t get too attached to these delightful
options—that’s just a sampling off the daily dinner menu. Any devoted Farmhaus follower will tell you: if you want to know what’s for dinner, you’ll have to check the website daily. But, when you really think about it, it doesn’t matter— anything Chef Willmann serves on any given night is a guaranteed good thing.
DeMun Oyster Bar
740 DeMun Ave., Clayton
There’s a reason this intimate DeMun restaurant has quickly become the pearl of the neighborhood—and perhaps of St. Louis. It’s a rare fi nd that’s honest, interesting and absolutely perfect. To start, the small space exudes a sort of chill, all-arewelcome vibe that only hidden neighborhood joints possess. You’ll likely fi nd regulars and industry types perching at the half moon bar chatting it up with the shuckers. Yet, newcomers feel instantly welcome, and those green to the somewhat exotic nature of oyster bars can rest assured that ordering here is not a daunting task. Oysters and other sea-bound offerings are flown in daily and presented as featured options on a large chalkboard. Delicacies from the coasts are fresh, complex and carefully chosen, and the menu includes other classic oyster bar options like steamed mussels, sea scallops and poached salmon. Plenty of pomme frites and shrimp abound on the menu as well.
But the tipping point here, among other foodie delights, are the cocktails and accouterments. Equal effort is put into the featured oysters and the accompanying sauce—we can’t help but appreciate housemade offerings like Asian ginger and lemongrass white wine or housemade aioli and cocktail sauce. Behind the bar, the mixologists are as exciting to watch as the shuckers, creating clever cocktails that call for ingredients like green chartreuse, egg whites, kaffir lime vodka and lemon-tea and ginger-infused scotch. A classy, cool oyster bar that serves innovative cocktails…a rare find indeed.
Demun Oyster Bar
Demun Oyster Bar
Photo credit: Photos by Katherine Bish, Lily Lin & Jennifer Silverberg