Hot List 2014: Dining

 

Best Chef
KEVIN NASHAN

By the numbers: For 10 years, Nashan and his wife, Mina, have owned the iconic Sidney Street Café—and they’ve taken it to new heights year after year. Five times a semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef: Midwest award, Nashan competed for the top honor again this year. He can often be found dashing across the street for herbs and produce from the kitchen’s 100-yard garden. And, if all goes according to plan, he’ll be on the run even more—rumor has it Nashan is taking over the former Niche space for a brand-new, much-anticipated endeavor. Benton Park, 314.771.5777.

Best Restaurant
NICHE

Birds taking flight above the kitchen is apt artwork for this no-holdsbarred restaurant from celebrated local chef Gerard Craft. Not only has he soared to the top of the national food scene—2014 marks his fifth time as a James Beard Best Chef: Midwest finalist—he consistently manages to surprise and delight denizens of the local food scene with Niche’s modern American cuisine based on humble (often local) ingredients like rhubarb, beans, rice and chicken livers. Clayton, 314.773.7755.

People’s Choice: Pappy’s Smokehouse, Midtown, 314.535.4340.

Best New Restaurant
JUNIPER

The crave-inducing chicken and waffles with pickles and peanut butter is just a prelude to all the tricks chef John Perkins has up his sleeve at this temple of Southern cuisine. Shrimp and grits. Blue corn spoonbread. Buttermilk biscuits. A flight of country ham. Chess pie. And to wash it down, cocktails like none other in town, featuring old-school sodas with high-end spirits. Fans of his underground, pop-up restaurants anxiously waited for Perkins to settle down in his own space— and now that he has, they’re living it up Dixie style. Central West End, 314.329.7696.

People’s Choice: Billy G’s, Kirkwood, 314.984.8000.

Best Fine Dining
ELAIA

If you’re not already in a transcendent mood when you arrive at Ben Poremba’s restaurant in the Botanical Heights neighborhood, his food will get you there. The Mediterranean-inspired dishes draw on his background, but without nostalgia, with new twists on ingredients, like foie gras parfait and bison-lamb meatballs. It all adds up to Poremba getting noticed nationally: as a James Beard Best Chef: Midwest semifinalist this year and as one of the contenders for Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef: Midwest. Botanical Heights, 314.932.1088.

Best Ambiance
BAR LES FRÈRES

This petite bistro doubled in size and charm recently, adding a chartreuse dining room to the deep-red bar. Owner Zoë Robinson intentionally plays to both feminine and masculine tastes, juxtaposing elegant decor with playful accents like antlers. But the restaurant is more than a feast for the eyes—with a French-inspired menu and a firstrate staff, it’s the gastronomic equivalent of a Parisian spa day. Clayton, 314.725.8880.

Best Menu
THE LIBERTINE

Vegetables, meat, seafood, dessert— what else does a menu need, really? But look closer, because within these categories are the creative and inspired ingredients that set Executive Chef and co-owner Josh Galliano apart. He can pull off kale chips with cauliflower puree right next to a Southern “breakfast” of granola, peppercorns, rhubarb, cream cheese and lime. Two perennial favorites embody the fun the staff is having: the pigs’ tails, served like buffalo chicken, and the candy bar, constructed of ice cream and ganache. Clayton, 314.862.2999.

 

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Best Wine List
THE RESTAURANT AT THE CHESHIRE

With 1,700 wines‰ÛÓincluding 30 different varieties by the glass‰ÛÓthis is clearly a destination for oenophiles. Beverage director Patricia Wamhoff, a certified wine educator and advanced sommelier working toward a master sommelier honor, ensures the wines are approachable as well, in part by offering the best domestic producers from California to New York. Enjoy the visual of a floor-toceiling glass wine cellar‰ÛÓthen ask Wamhoff for a recommendation. Clayton, 314.932.7818.

Best Outdoor Dining
CIELO

Located on the eighth floor of the Four Seasons Hotel, with incredible views of the Arch and downtown, is one of the most versatile terraces in the city. Thanks to its size, Cielo’s outdoor dining space can simultaneously host hungry travelers intent on their meals, boisterous gatherings in the cabanas, romantic couples lounging in corners and a wine dinner around the pool. Being attached to one of the best Italian kitchens in the city has its perks‰ÛÓ the cuisine is as elevated as the views. Downtown, 314.881.5800.

Most Innovative Concept
ELEMENT

With a team leader like Element’s Executive Chef Brian Hardesty, collaboration couldn’t sound more delicious. Hardesty’s resume on the local restaurant scene has given him insights into what works, and his latest Lafayette Square venture is a prime example. The concept is for his fellow chefs, including Chris DiMercurio and Sam Boettler, to keep the menu simmering with new ideas for sea urchin or scrapple or sorghum or steak. Best of all, the open kitchen lets you watch the team in action as they work on the final project: your meal. Lafayette Square, 314.241.1674.

Best Locavore Menu
FARMHAUS

To sum up just how closely chef Kevin Willmann connects his menu to local farmers‰ÛÓand to see the snout-to-tail philosophy at its finest‰ÛÓ you only need to look at one dish: the Butcher’s Plate. His adventurous selection might include sausage, pig ear terrine, pork pie, cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses, port gastrique, marmalade, apple butter, pickles and house-made bread. It’s no small wonder that Willmann was again honored as a James Beard Best Chef: Midwest semifinalist this year, or that his dining room is packed every night. South City, 314.647.3800

Best Contemporary American Cuisine
SCAPE AMERICAN BISTRO

The chefs at Scape understand your senses better than you do. They presentations catch your eye and what textures perk up your taste buds. Roasted butternut squash soup is scented with sage; vegetable lasagna is a square of tastiness bundled with zucchini and goulash with spaetzle gains umami from a fried egg on top. Thus, the menu of American classics is at once familiar and unexpected, serious (dry-aged steaks) and playful (deconstructed desserts). Central West End, 314.361.7227.

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BEST OF THE BRUNCH Because there’s no better way to spend your weekend mornings in STL.

Best Brunch
BRASSERIE BY NICHE

Say bonjour to your Sunday morning with a French-inspired meal at this cheerful bistro. And if sunlight and eggs Benedict aren’t enough to get your blood pumping, there’s always a Corpse Reviver from the bar. Central West End, 314.454.0600. People’s Choice: Rooster, Downtown, 314.241.8118.

Most Adventurous Brunch
THE SCOTTISH ARMS

The Smokin’ Mary with single-malt Scotch is just the liquid courage one needs to overcome the language barrier and chow down on bangers and Scotch eggs. Not to worry‰ÛÓthey won’t foist haggis on the uninitiated. Central West End, 314.535.0551.

Best Vegetarian Brunch
TREE HOUSE

Slinger? Check. Biscuits and gravy? Check. Lox and cream cheese? Check. Chef and owner Bay Tran has figured out meatless versions of classic brunch dishes, but there’s still plenty of room for her own specialties (like the johnny cakes with black beans, chimichurri and housemade escabeche) as well. South Grand, 314.696.2100.

Best Diner
SOUTHWEST DINER

The roadrunner on the door (and long line outside it) is your first clue this New Mexican-themed joint is spicier than your typical diner. Chile fans will find it hard to resist Jonathan’s Famous Fiery Scramble. South City, 314.260.7244. Best

Bloody Mary Bar
HERBIE’S VINTAGE 72

With delicious house-made fixin’s like habanero- and jalapeno-infused vodka, Bloody Mary mix with the perfect amount of spice and pickled cucumber, asparagus, okra and peppers, this bottomless Bloody Mary bar is a lot more fun than your average mimosa. And, it’s a bargain to boot. Central West End,314.769.9595.

Best Brunch for Vegans
LOCAL HARVEST CAFÌä

Whether it’s in a pot pie or a burrito, the vegan chorizo is reason enough for a visit to this favorite locally focused cafÌ©. Or, if it’s sweetness you’re craving, check out the stuffed French toast. Tower Grove, 314.772.8815.

Best Coffee Selection
HALF & HALF

If your preferred coffee questions are not about size, but rather brewing methods, in-season beans and countries of origin, this is the brunch spot for you. Snag a seat at the counter and cozy up with a cup and the proper reading material, or come with friends to properly caffeinate. The food’s not near “half” bad either. Clayton, 314.725.0719.

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Best Restaurant Across the River
CLEVELAND-HEATH

Plenty of St. Louisans have discovered a new destination across the river, thanks to Jennifer Cleveland and Eric Heath. When they set up shop two years ago, the chefs/owners quickly became a culinary magnet with their simply prepared versions of everyone’s favorite dishes, from $32 steaks to $9 street tacos. Let’s just say, it’s worth hanging around the Illinois side and having a drink or two while marveling that the river really isn’t that big of a barrier after all. Edwardsville, 618.307.4830.

Best Crowd-Pleasing Selection
CENTRAL TABLE FOOD HALL

Craving sushi? Pasta? Octopus? Steak? Pizza? Kale? You’ll find some of everything under this European-style food hall’s very large roof, and all of it is cooked with such skill that even the curmudgeons in your group will leave satisfied. Ditto for the wines‰ÛÓa cross section of varietals from around the world, and even a few sakes‰ÛÓand the cocktails, both classic and inventive (we recommend the Night on Euclid with vodka, peach liquor, lime juice and prosecco). But the best meal for an all-ages crowd is brunch, where parents can nibble oysters while the younger crew scarfs French toast and fingerling potatoes. Central West End, 314.932.5595.

Best Caf̩
WINSLOW’S HOME

The downstairs expansion means more opportunity for private events, classes and dinners‰ÛÓwhich only further enhance the character of this beloved emporium of miscellaneous housewares, baked goods, books, takeout, groceries and more. During breakfast and lunch hours, the hustle and bustle is part of the charm that comes with enjoying your seasonal quiche or house-made granola. Evenings are mellower, giving the chefs a chance to stretch their creativity into gnocchi with nettle pesto and roasted chicken with charred ramps and horseradish cream. University City, 314.725.7559.

People’s Choice: Benton Park CafÌ©, Benton Park, 314.771.7200.

Best Food Truck
LULU’S LOCAL EATERY

With its signature verdant rooftop garden, this food truck stands out from the crowd of 40-plus competitors on the streets of St. Louis. Owners Lauren Loomis and Robert Tucker score points for visual appeal, but it’s their approach to promoting healthfulness in their food, environment and community that draws loyal customers to wherever they park on any given day (and to their newly opened bricksand-mortar cafÌ© on South Grand as well). An example: Lulu’s was the first local food truck to be certified sustainable by the Green Dining Alliance. The food is all vegan (and often gluten-free). We highly recommend the loaded nachos or the sweet potato-quinoa chili or the African peanut stew. Who knew healthy could taste this good? @lulusfoodtruck.

People’s Choice: Seoul Taco,@SeoulTaco.

Best Business Lunch
J. BUCK’S

Surprises are great‰ÛÓexcept when you’re out with clients or the boss. Then you want everything to be just right‰ÛÓfrom the salads (topped with shrimp, salmon, tenderloin and more) to the burger (grass-fed, of course) to the beer. The staff’s experience and attitude can make or break a meal, as can the variables of menu selection, speed and flexibility with special requests. No worries: All of these add up to just another day at the office for the servers and kitchen staff at the J. Buck’s locations in Clayton and downtown. Multiple locations, jbucks.com.

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BEST OF THE BRUNCH Because there’s no better way to spend your weekend mornings in STL.

Best Brunch
BRASSERIE BY NICHE

Say bonjour to your Sunday morning with a French-inspired meal at this cheerful bistro. And if sunlight and eggs Benedict aren’t enough to get your blood pumping, there’s always a Corpse Reviver from the bar. Central West End, 314.454.0600. People’s Choice: Rooster, Downtown, 314.241.8118.

Most Adventurous Brunch
THE SCOTTISH ARMS

The Smokin’ Mary with single-malt Scotch is just the liquid courage one needs to overcome the language barrier and chow down on bangers and Scotch eggs. Not to worry‰ÛÓthey won’t foist haggis on the uninitiated. Central West End, 314.535.0551.

Best Vegetarian Brunch
TREE HOUSE

Slinger? Check. Biscuits and gravy? Check. Lox and cream cheese? Check. Chef and owner Bay Tran has figured out meatless versions of classic brunch dishes, but there’s still plenty of room for her own specialties (like the johnny cakes with black beans, chimichurri and housemade escabeche) as well. South Grand, 314.696.2100.

Best Diner
SOUTHWEST DINER

The roadrunner on the door (and long line outside it) is your first clue this New Mexican-themed joint is spicier than your typical diner. Chile fans will find it hard to resist Jonathan’s Famous Fiery Scramble. South City, 314.260.7244. Best

Bloody Mary Bar
HERBIE’S VINTAGE 72

With delicious house-made fixin’s like habanero- and jalapeno-infused vodka, Bloody Mary mix with the perfect amount of spice and pickled cucumber, asparagus, okra and peppers, this bottomless Bloody Mary bar is a lot more fun than your average mimosa. And, it’s a bargain to boot. Central West End,314.769.9595.

Best Brunch for Vegans
LOCAL HARVEST CAFÌä

Whether it’s in a pot pie or a burrito, the vegan chorizo is reason enough for a visit to this favorite locally focused cafÌ©. Or, if it’s sweetness you’re craving, check out the stuffed French toast. Tower Grove, 314.772.8815.

Best Coffee Selection
HALF & HALF

If your preferred coffee questions are not about size, but rather brewing methods, in-season beans and countries of origin, this is the brunch spot for you. Snag a seat at the counter and cozy up with a cup and the proper reading material, or come with friends to properly caffeinate. The food’s not near “half” bad either. Clayton, 314.725.0719.

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STL FAVORITES It’s not St. Louis dining without these local staples.

Best Steakhouse
THE BLOCK

From house-made pork rinds to the butcher’s cut of grass-fed beef with special sauce, this is a meat-lover’s paradise. And, because bacon makes everything better, it shows up often‰ÛÓin jam, mac ‘n’ cheese and, yes, salads. Multiple locations, theblockrestaurant.com.

People’s Choice: Tucker’s Place, Soulard, 314.772.5977.

Best Mexican
MISSION TACO JOINT

This popular stop for booze and California-style tacos has won over our tastebuds, thanks to delicious salsas and fillings like beef brisket, fish, duck, tofu, pork shoulder, chicken, cactus and flank steak. Look for version 2.0 in Soulard soon. The Loop, 314.932.5430.

People’s Choice: El Maguey, multiple locations, 314.832.3632.

Best Pizza
PASTARIA

We like that there’s an app to help us secure a spot on the waiting list for a coveted table ahead of time, but the wait has always been worth it for chef Gerard Craft’s take on Neapolitan-style pizzas, right down to the little charred pockets on the crust. Clayton, 314.862.6603.

People’s Choice: Pi Pizzeria, multiple locations, restaurant.pi.com.

Best Sushi
TANI SUSHI BISTRO

Specialty rolls like the flaming Oh My God roll are a trademark, but fans of nigiri and maki equally revel in the deliciously fresh fish. Clayton, 314.727.8264.

People’s Choice: Drunken Fish, multiple locations, drunkenfish.com.

Best Italian
I FRATELLINI

Intimate and elegant, this caf̩ has an Old World feel, right down to the classic pasta dishes and hearty protein-and-potatoes fare. Clayton, 314.727.7901.

People’s Choice: Zia’s, The Hill, 314.776.0020.

Best Mediterranean
CAFÌä NATASHA

We simply love this mom-andpop caf̩ for its delicious platters of falafel, curried rice and veggies, kabobs and Persian stew. Not to mention, the unlimited hummus bar at happy hour is always a hit. South Grand,314.771.3411.

Best Burger
SUGARFIRE SMOKE HOUSE

High-quality beef is one of the secrets to these delectably juicy patties. Work up an appetite standing in line‰ÛÓthat way you can order a double, topped off with a chocolate-pb-bourbon shake. Multiple locations, sugarfiresmokehouse.com

People’s Choice: O’Connell’s Pub, Southwest Garden, 314.773.6600.

Best Barbecue
PAPPY’S SMOKEHOUSE

Pappy’s has it in the bag, thanks to pitmaster Mike Emerson, his Memphis-style dry rub and cooking times from four to 14 hours. Midtown, 314.535.4340.

People’s Choice: Pappy’s Smokehouse, Midtown, 314.535.4340.

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg

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