A Townie’s Guide for Out of Town Media
[About the author: Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic at 88.1 KDHX and a St. Louis native. This article represents his debut as a travel writer. His reviews can be seen at kdhx.org/play/chuck-lavazzi and his KDHX blog posts at kdhx.org/blog/author/clavazzi. Chuck also contributes to the Operatic St. Louis blog (operaticstlouis.blogspot.com/) and maintains his own blog at stageleft-stlouis.blogspot.com.]
So, you’ve arrived in St. Louis for a whirlwind musical weekend at Opera Theatre. You’ll be spending most of your time in the Loretto-Hilton center, granted, but what about the rest of it? Allow me to draw your attention to places to eat, drink, and be merry that are unique to St. Louis. Some of them have made the guidebooks while others are hidden gems. They’re my personal favorites (which means they’re mostly located within the city limits), and if you give them a try I think they might be yours as well.
For your convenience, I have included driving times in minutes from Opera Theatre (OT), downtown (DT), and the airport (AP).
Eat and Drink
Looking for a bistro to go with your Bizet? Franco (eatatfranco.com) in the Soulard Market Apartments building at 8th and Carroll (OT: 16, DT: 8, AP: 22) promises—and delivers—a “new take on classic French” with a seasonal menu that relies heavily on locally sourced meat, cheese, fish, and produce. Their location right across the street from the Soulard Farmers Market (www.soulardmarket.com) guarantees ready access to fresh ingredients, and the results are obvious from the first taste. The current menu includes grilled Missouri rainbow trout, roasted pork shoulder with white beans and roasted red peppers, and the classic bistro steak with shallot bleu cheese butter, bacon braised Brussels sprouts, and pommes frites. The pommes frites, by the way, are available as a separate small plate with black pepper, sea salt, and mayonnaise. They’re deservedly popular. Entrees are priced at $19 to $29.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Franco, though, is its noise control system. Even when the place is full, you can still have a conversation without having to shout. Credit a clever system of ornamental wood baffles hanging from the high ceiling. I wish other eateries would follow their example.
Speaking of the Soulard Farmers Market, you couldn’t ask for a better place to pick up some fresh produce for a quick snack or as a supplement to one of Ces and Judy’s catered picnic dinners. I’ve been shopping there for years and can strongly recommend the fresh fruits and vegetables offered by Merkle Produce (stalls 79B and 80) and the amazing local goat cheeses from Baetje Farms (stall 18). In the market’s central aisle, check out the spices, coffee, tea, meats, and cheeses at the impeccably clean and fragrant Soulard Spice Shop, and the world-class cinnamon rolls at the Soulard Bakery. The market is open from 7 AM to 5 PM Wednesday through Friday. It gets pretty crowded on Saturday mornings when all the stalls are open for business, which is why I always go on Friday afternoon.
While you’re there, take few minutes to walk around the Soulard neighborhood (soulard.org) that gives the market its name. It’s the oldest residential neighborhood in town and boasts impressive architectural styles including Second Empire with its characteristic Mansard roof.
How about a visit to a brewpub to accompany Sweeney Todd? St. Louis has seen an explosion in brewpubs in recent years. The best of them offer a variety of moderately priced and delectable food along with a wide variety of beers, ales, porters, and stouts produced on the premises. Here are a couple of my favorites.
- Square One Brewery and Distillery (www.squareonebrewery.com) is a family-owned business at 1727 Park Avenue (OT: 17, DT: 6, AP: 24) in the historic Lafayette Square neighborhood. The menu offers a wide assortment of sandwiches and entrees, including a game burger of the week (with toppings) for $10.95, a local charcuterie plate for $12.95, and a grilled polenta entrée with smoked tomato, avocado, and blended cheeses for $11.95. The bar offers a selection of their own beers and ales along with other brands, and includes a British cask ale system that serves your brew at cellar temperature. Spirits distilled on the premises include their remarkable JJ Neukomm Missouri cherry–wood smoked malt whiskey, which is not to be missed.
- The Schlafly Tap Room (schlafly.com/breweries/taproom) at 2100 Locust (OT: 20, DT: 5, AP: 25), which opened in 1991, was the first of the local brewpubs. Schlafly beer has since become a common offering at local bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. The Tap Room is housed in a restored wood and brick building that’s on the National Historic Register; itoffers a menu of classic pub grub, including soups, salads, sandwiches, and full dinners. Prices are moderate (the most expensive entrée is under $18). The bar offers the full range of Schlafly beers and includes a cask ale system.
How about a little pizza to go with Cosi fan Tutte? As you might expect in a city with a long Italian-American heritage, St. Louis is chockablock with pizza places. For the best deep-dish in town, check out Pi (www.restaurantpi.com) either at the original location at 6144 Delmar or its newer branches at 409 North Euclid in the very cool Central West End or 10935 Manchester Road in Kirkwood. It was Pi’s cornmeal crust pizza that so wowed President Obama when he visited St. Louis in 2008, and judging by the ongoing success of the eco-friendly business, St. Louisians agree. The menu is very vegetarian friendly without short-changing us carnivores.
If, on the other hand, you’d like to try classic thin-crust “St. Louis style” pizza, let me call your attention to Joanie’s (joaniespizzeria.com) at 2101 Menard (OT: 18, DT: 7, AP: 23) in Soulard or, for a really undiscovered local gem, Kevin’s Place (no web site, but his phone is 314-353-1400) at 2111 Cherokee (same travel times as Joanie’s). The latter is about as small as a small business gets. Kevin answers the phone, Kevin makes your pizza, and if you opt for delivery, Kevin will bring it to your door. The pizza crust is a both crispy and chewy and the toppings are generous. Take my advice and ask for mozzarella instead of provel, though. Yes, the latter is a “born in St. Louis” cheese, but its charm has always escaped me.
Just looking for drinks and dessert? You can’t go wrong with two local institutions: Cyrano’s (www.cyranos.com) at 603 East Lockwood within walking distance of Opera Theatre or Baileys Chocolate Bar (baileyschocolatebar.com) at 1915 Park Avenue (OT: 17, DT: 6, AP: 24) in Lafayette Square. Cyrano’s also offers a full dinner menu while Bailey’s has a wider variety of drinks and chocolate in every conceivable form and offers a very funky patio that’s ideal for these summer nights.
Downtown St. Louis offers a pair of unique attractions that rival anything in Alice in Wonderland. Citygarden (www.citygardenstl.org) is located in downtown St. Louis, between 8th Street to the east and 10th Street to the west, and Chestnut Street to the north and Market Street to the south (OT: 20, DT: 0, AP: 22). It’s a remarkable combination of interactive outdoor art gallery and garden that invites you to stroll and discover. There’s even a restaurant, Joe’s Chili Bowl at the Terrace View, that offers unobstructed views of the garden.
A few blocks north and west at 701 North 15th Street (times same as Citygarden) is City Museum (www.citymuseum.org), the sui generis brainchild of the late sculptor and entrepreneur Bob Cassily who, in 1983, looked up on the vacant 250,000-square-floot International Shoe Building at the western edge of downtown St. Louis and saw an all-ages urban playground. Today City Museum draws around 600,000 visitors a year. The space includes an aquarium, a shoelace factory, a fire truck, two airplanes, a Ferris wheel, a six-story giant slide, a third-floor circus ring where Circus Harmony often performs, and a gargantuan jungle gym/architectural sculpture known as MonstroCity. Kids love the place, of course, but there’s plenty for adults to do here as well. Food and drink concessions at the museum include Samwiches in the City, the Baby Elephant Café, the Baleout Bar, the Cabin Inn (in a real cabin), and weather permitting, Grill Master Tony’s Outdoor BBQ and the Rooftop Cantina.
Yes, it’s a lot, and you probably won’t have time for most of it, but keep the information handy. I picked places that have been here for a while and will likely still be around next season. If you have any comments or questions, please email me at chuck at kdhx.org or just comment on this blog entry.
And enjoy the opera. I think you’ll agree that it’s a good season this year.