Dec 29, 2007 restaurants
Copia Sings the Highway 40 Blues
As I was rolling down Washington Ave today, I was shocked to see that Copia caught on fire and damn-near looked like it exploded there was so much stuff out on the street.
The rumor downtown is that there were several points of origin, and while it will be interesting to see what turns up about this in the coming weeks, I’m going to refrain from speculating as, regardless of how or why, it sucks for the restaurant and more importantly its staff who will not be covered by insurance.
Giant picture here if you want more detail.
Dec 21, 2007 general food
About 6 months ago a sign went up saying this space would soon be a produce store called Top Tomato – Fresh Produce.
It actually used to be a Greek restaurant that served the best baklava Ellie and I ever had. But unfortunatly, as we were the only ones that ever seemed to be in the restaurant, things didn’t pan out for the owner and he shut down over a year.
Near the corner of Patterson and Wiethaupt in Florissant, the space remained empty for at least a year, and running by it often, it was always a sad reminder of what had once been our favorite neighborhood restaurant–literally blocks from home.
But now that it’s open, I’m thrilled to know I can pick up some fresh produce and a pack of fresh smokes so close to home.
I am not the first one to say this–not by a long shot–but not being from St. Louis I have always been incredibly under whelmed by St. Louis style pizza. The way the provel melts into the sauce leaving it oozy and weeping is, to me, completely unappetizing–bordering on disgusting–even by comparison to the rubbery mozzarella other pizza places pawn off as real mozzarella.
However, I will confess, that every so often, one of the mom and pop places will throw a ripple into my hatred, and more often than not, it’s because the crust is homemade, and done so well that the thin crust is beautifully browned and crisp and accounts for a large portion of the pizza’s overall flavor.
Pirrone’s in Florissant is one of these places. I was first drug there during college on a route so convoluted that I never had any idea where it was until I happened upon it after moving to Florissant. Rolled out by hand their crust is so crisp and flavorful that it stands up to the sog-inducing goo of the provel-pizza sauce one-two, and it has a really distinctive grainy flavor that completely makes the pizza.
But it’s not Pirrone’s I’m here to talk about.
If you’re a runner you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, and if you’re not, I’m about to inform you.
When you run great distances you get tired of running the same routes over and over again. The Garmin running GPS is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to runners because it gave us the ability to just run–run in any direction we want–without a care in the world as to where it is we’re running for in the end we will always know approximately how far we’ve gone.
Because of this, I’ve probably run on almost every street within a 5 mile radius of my home, and on some of those runs I’ve discovered places like the now gone Papagallo’s Greek restaurant. It’s slim pickings in Florissant and we went there often because they had the best baklava I’ve ever had, and they even put pastitsio on the menu specifically for Ellie.
Another I found was Roberto’s. During summer, deep in the midst of tossing Friday and Saturday night pizzas, the cooks will sometimes have the back door swung open to offer some relief to the inferno of deck ovens on high. When the winds are just right, from a quarter mile away the smell is so enticing you can’t help but think something magical is happening inside.
And here’s the point…
One day I realized if I meandered from home over to Florissant Road, it was a perfect 15 mile run if I ran to UMSL and back. So for about the last year, each time I need a long run and don’t have time to start someplace other than home, I’ve used this route. Doing so I’ve run by a handful of restaurants that visually looked worth checking out like Cosa Dolce bakery. But better still, some had such a wonderful scent they would completely ruin the second half of my run by making it miserable because I was so damned hungry.
Faraci’s was one of the latter, and Friday we finally got in the car and drove over to Ferguson to have a taste for ourselves. In a word, it was terrible. I apologize in advance if you actually love Faraci’s because, from what I gather online, there is apparently a group of people that think this is the finest St. Louis style pizza there is.
Personally, their bland pizza sauce tasted like nothing more than thinned out tomato paste. Coupled with the oozing provel, it turned the crust into something that resembled–not to mention tasted like–wet soggy cardboard; which threw me because visually it had an airy saltine quality to it (though minus the salt) that left me thinking it would be flaky and crisp.
And the salad, it made the pizza look wonderful. Even by iceberg standards it was atrociously bad as the house vinaigrette was more of a house vegetable oil.
But here’s the thing that really freaked me out: I am fully aware that sanitary and dirty are two different words. So while Faraci’s is a bit on the dingy side, it doesn’t mean the place is necessarily unsanitary. However, when the owner is smoking at a table in the restaurant and proceeds to walk into the kitchen cigarette in hand, it does not instill confidence in any way–not to mention the cook smoking at the table one minute and making pizza thirty seconds later.
We will definitely not be going back, and this is too bad, I thought I’d found a hidden gem in my neck of the woods.
The count remains at four (places worth eating at in the Florissant area).
“Additionally, Whole Foods will increase the refund to shoppers who bring their own bags to tote groceries, from five cents to 10 cents per bag.”
I’m totally going to buy a bunch of little bags that practically nothing will fit in so that it’s like instant coupons.
Dec 19, 2007 restaurants
…the Cherokee Street taqueria La Vallesana isn’t a “four-star” dining experience, but as I wrote in my review of La Vallesana (“Cherokee Pastoral,” July 11, 2007), if I weigh cost against benefit…
But it bears repeating that rating restaurants on cost or ambiance alone is wrong. All of us go out to eat great food, and dollar for dollar, I can’t think of many restaurants that offer more flavor in a single bite than La Vallesana.
And so Monday, knowing the impending closure of highway 40 will be a cut to the jugular of my more interesting lunch choices, I went to La Vallesana and once again fell into the trap of ordering what has become one of my favorite things in St. Louis.
On my first visit to La Vallesana I was in search of tacos al pastor which I had first tried at Senor Pique. But when I ordered the response was a swift “no mas.” Speaking virtually no Spanish this left me flustered, and in the long line of waiting customers, I just pointed to the one thing a guy was eating I’d never had before and said: “Give me that. I don’t care what it is.”
It was a carne asada torta, and although I did return for the tacos al pastor, which were in fact great, each time I return, I am torn over trying something new or falling back to my unexpected favorite. With its slathering of mayonnaise, guacamole, and toasted cheese, all topped with my own liberal dollops of their fiery house-made chipotle hot sauce, it is one of the most wonderful things I have ever eaten.
Dec 18, 2007 general food
Ms. Johnson called “Top Chef” a copy of “The Next Food Network Star,” but “without the care about the food content, which we bring to everything we do.”
Without even getting into the lengthy list of reasons Top Chef is superior in every possible way…
Do they really “care about food content” when that Ace of Cakes asshole is layering up half inch layers of fondant on cakes that are completely inedible?
When Rachel Ray is fumbling around the kitchen pretending to cook her fat-ladden meals in 30 minutes or less, should I be impressed? Maybe it’s that I should be wowed by her skills with a Triscuit and a Ritz cracker? If you’ve ever seen one of her books, there’s a ton of ingredients and there’s no way a normal home cook would ever turn them out that fast.
And was the edible ornaments competition a masterful display of culinary vision and technique showing the same great care “to everything [they] do?”
With each passing year I’m startled by the new lows the Food Network slumps to as they take the eating out of food and cooking and give us instead a channel filled with human NFG like Guy Fieri. Maybe it’s that the producers are what Chuck Klosterman refers to as Advanced and I’m just not ready for them, but it seems that instead of educating people as to what food can be, the Food Network has made a conscious choice to dumb the channel down.
Their new tactic of offing real chefs, even when they’re obnoxious, and replacing them with Semi-Homemade alternatives, is a pretty clear statement that attention to detail and care for what they do have gone out the door in favor of the almighty dollar, and it makes me wonder one thing: how does Bobby Flay feel about his job?
We know how Guy feels .
Tags: Food Network
If you recall I went to Kaldi’s new downtown Clayton location on its opening day during my lunch break to take a look at the Clover in action. And as I hadn’t completely cared for the Timor, I promptly returned the following day for another crack; this time after work so the time constraints of lunch would nofol longer be a burden.
Having spoken to so many people at length on Wednesday, as introductions were made, I was in a position where I had to tell them who I was. And this proved interesting.
On visit number two they had now read my expansion post, and with even more employees in the shop this time, all proud of the work they’re doing, I found out the woman I thought was the manager the previous day was in fact one of the new owners, Tricia Zimmer-Ferguson.
As she should be, she was extremely eager to defend her brand and she pounced in the friendliest way possible. She felt I didn’t have enough true inside information about Kaldi’s to come to my opinions, and believed I had made a statement of fact rather than an (obvious) statement of opinion. Reading the post now, I can see how it could be interpreted in this way, and while I won’t apologize, I will elaborate.
But before I get into that, let’s get a little housekeeping out of the way. Just how do I feel about Kaldi’s coffee in general?
Before the Bill Burge running boom of ‘04, I used to be a big guy. And I’m not talking muscle. Years of cooking taught me to love food, years of computer work taught me to love sitting, and the two do not mix.
When I began losing weight I cut soda out of my diet and with it went my one source of caffeine. While that might not seem like a big deal, if you ask Ellie how easily I get tired, the picture becomes much clearer. More than anything it was affecting my commute home from work and I would often nap in a Quik Trip parking lot for a few minutes midway home. The thing is, I only worked fifteen minutes from home; it was pretty sad and something needed to be done.
So the quest was on. I needed a low calorie replacement for soda, and as I dislike tea, short of popping No-Doz, the only real option was coffee. The problem with that, however, is that I’d only ever had one cup of coffee I’d truly cared for at Printer’s Row in Chicago.
My parents, they were Folgers types, and while I would pass Gloria Jean’s in the mall during high school and think to myself that coffee smelled so awesome I should love it, attempting to drink it at home was simply pure torture.
Having no real idea what I wanted (other than not Folgers), Ellie came home with Starbucks. Fortunately we did have a grinder–an untouched wedding present–and were able to at least go the whole bean route from the start. It was better than Folgers, sure, but still it was mostly terrible because it was very bitter; a result of what I now realize is Starbuck’s almost signature over roasting.
Fortunately it was around this time it occurred to us, at I think Atlas, that of the restaurants we would occasionally get coffee in, the times we most enjoyed it were the ones where Kaldi’s was served. And so began my buying half pounds of Kaldi’s every weekend.
Over the course of a year I tried virtually every coffee they roasted and got a feeling for the individual characteristics of the wide variety of single origin beans available. It is because of Kaldi’s I know my preference is for Central American coffees with their acidity being less wine like, and South American coffees with similar flavors, but slightly heavier bodies. I know that while I like the Indonesian coffees of Sumatra, and especially the Lake Tawar region, I’m not as big a fan of other Indonesians like the Timor on the whole. And I further know that although the supposed true connoisseurs of coffee fawn over them, I just don’t like African coffees much.
And that’s all before the roaster even roasts the coffees. From lighter roasts like City+ and Full City, to darker ones like Vienna or French, each expresses something different. Even with the finest green beans you can buy a coffee can be destroyed swiftly because the darker you go, the less you can truly taste the flavors of the beans, and the more you taste the bitterness of the roasting process which is basically nothing more than a slow controlled burn.
So how do I feel about Kaldi’s Coffee?
Kaldi’s is my favorite roaster in St. Louis proper.
I have questions, sure, and even a few complaints, but at the end of the day I believe they are the one St. Louis roaster, west of the Mississippi, which does not continuously hammer out overly dark roasted coffees which leave you with a taste of burnt bitterness rather than a taste of the beans for which they, and inevitably you, are paying money forcec.
In my opinion, they mostly do things right, and I was truly disappointed my opinion came off the way it did, because even with my critiques, I’d meant for them to be more along the lines of constructive criticism rather than pot shots at a growing company and my want for them to stay small.
to be continued (further)…
Tags: Kaldi's Coffee
With weather being kind of unpleasant Saturday, 222 forced a couple extra loaves of bread on us beyond the one we had them hold (bacon bread in case you were wondering).
They gave us a chocolate cherry bread, which I made French toast out of yesterday, and also this multi grain loaf. I hadn’t even noticed the pattern on top when I’d brought it home, but Ellie told me she thought to herself “Bill would be upset if I didn’t take a picture of this.”
Do you get the impression we like 222, or Niche, or Atlas?
Tags: 222 Artisan Bakery