Florissant Gets its Slice…of Mario’s Pizza that is.

Mario's PizzaIn the St. Louis pizza debate, Andrew Mark Veety once preached about what he thinks ruined pizza in America: the cardboard pizza box.  Before the Church of Pizza fizzled out after but one pizza, it was a point he’d wanted to tackle.  His plan had been to consume a pizza in-house on each visit, but also order one to go to see how it held up when eaten the way most pizzas in America are consumed: delivered.

It’s a good point, really.  Pizza by the pie–or slice–should be eaten in a pizzeria or pulled from the oven in your own kitchen.  To stuff a pizza into a cardboard box to steam away or, in the case of slices, stuffing pizza onto several paper plates and then forcing the whole thing into a white plastic bag for consumption elsewhere, is a crime.

But more than that, it’s sad that the classic American pizzeria, with its moderately priced pies, has faded away.  As a kid I fondly recall many a post-game celebration in pizzerias where graffiti-clad wooden booths lined the walls, red and white checkered tablecloths covered the tables, and each had its prerequisite video-game room stocked with Froggers and Ms. Pac-Mans in the early days, and Castlevanias and Spy Hunters–a game at which I am particularly adept at–in the later ones.

Those days are long since gone, however, and convincing people

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The Downtown Restaurant Week Question

stlbites fistOn my forum, frankiefau–who we’ll assume works for the company that puts on Downtown Restaurant Week because he’s asked a similar questions before writes:

For good or not, Downtown Restaurant Week returns Aug 22-28.  I have posted both Clayton and Downtown Restaurant Weeks on here before.  This time, i would like to hear what you guys think of the concept.  A value, a benefit, good menus or just go away and quit posting here?

This year, I’ll bite…

The idea–getting people to go out and try new spots in the city they might not normally frequent–is great.  The problem lies in the fact that most of the restaurants that participate, in the central downtown area, don’t deliver at any price.  An American Place was, literally, the only restaurant that has ever participated that many had any interest in dining at in the past.

Throw in the blatant marketing behind these events with brands like, Stella, Terrazas, and Pearl Vodka, and it’s a pass for most people that are truly food enthusiasts rather than “foodies” waiting for the next Guy Fieri show to debut.

Speaking for myself, the one restaurant I have some interest in dining at on this years list is Prime 1000.  But then you look at the menu and it’s not representative of why you’d want to go to Prime 1000 for real: steak.

Think about that.  They’re a steakhouse that has pork belly, chicken and shrimp as the entree choices.

So the reality is that most of these restaurants simply approach these nights as another day of doing business with a menu that should cost $25 vs a promotion that gets butts in seats–at a discount–in hopes that they might return at full price another time.  It’s like that time Arthur Clay’s showed up at Taste of St. Louis serving pork steaks.  That was a money grab if ever I saw one, and I loved that restaurant.

Florissant’s Pearl Café Brings the Heat

Thai in the Hole at Pearl CafeIn search of an eating challenge that is about the heat rather than the gluttonous quantity a diner can cram down their gullet, I believe I have found the first heat-oriented eating challenge in St. Louis.

Still in its infancy, Florissant’s Pearl Café began posting pictures to its Facebook page last November in a gallery they call the Spicy Level 25 Plus Club.

As a regular, I’m surprised I hadn’t found out about this sooner.  In fact, I’d even suggested they start one in the past after stories of their Super Bowl specialty: ghost pepper hot-wings.

Speaking with owner, Tommy Truong, while dining last night, it seems the current record is actually a Spicy Level 100!  That diner called into work the next day so you’ll be happy to know it won’t take ousting him for you to get the Pearl Café nod of approval.  While a handful of customers seem to be battling it out—outdoing each other with each visit—it takes a mere 25 heat level to make the Facebook gallery.  It’s at 50+ the ghost peppers get involved, and Truong tells me they’re working on a t-shirt for the first customer that pulled the feat off which will appropriately read, Thai in the Hole.

My recommendation if you attempt this is to stray away from things like soups, curries, and noodles and go for a stir-fried dish of some sort instead.  Having had a spicy level five soup, it’s not the heat that gets you with a dish like that, it’s the fumes.

Hats off to those that have made the cut, and cheers to your following mornings.

Predicting the James Beard Awards…Easier Than You Think?

James Beard AwardsTwo years ago I told you the James Beard Awards are actually pretty predictable.  Once a chef has made the short-list of five finalists for their region, unless they jump ship to another restaurant, or something crazy happens in or to their region, they’re probably going to continue moving forward each year until they’ve won.

In the past, ripples have been things like Grant Achatz opening Alinea.  Heralded as one of the best—if not the best—restaurants in the country, he bucked the typical trend and won quickly.  Another was

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Pho Long to Open Indochine in Old Pho Long Space

As Gut Check reported last week, St. Louis favorite Pho Long has relocated a few doors down in Jeffrey Plaza to the space formerly occupied by Indian Food.  As an addition, looking for a to-go menu last night, I noticed Pho Long’s Facebook page stated a new concept, Indochine would soon be opening.

When picking up my order I put on my old and rarely-seen sleuthing cap and discovered that Indochine will be a new restaurant opening in the former Pho Long space that will “offer more dry items.”  Though these include dry noodle offerings and “more rice dishes” the most notable item is that Indochine will be baking their own bread in house so that they can offer the freshest banh mi sandwiches in St. Louis.  They hope to open within three months and, after a lengthy conversation last night about the care that goes into making their beef broth at Pho Long (they were out and I had to order chicken pho for the first time), I imagine this will be a concept that pays off.

Also, of note, now that they have more space to work with, Pho Long will also look to expand their menu offerings.  No word on what those offerings will include other than the same “dry dishes”, but I cast my vote for bánh xèo.

Two Unrelated Points About Coffee

If you truly love coffee and you’ve written Kaldi’s off, don’t!

While I’ve personally been critical of them in the past, I’ve never disliked them as a roaster and it’s time for an update because over the last couple years, as they’ve gotten into direct sourcing of green coffee and consumer education, they’ve raised the bar in regards to what coffee can be in St. Louis. Many of these beans have been fantastic and Kaldi’s regularly hosts educational cuppings and brewing demonstrations in each of their locations to teach you about what the various regions and varietals of coffee taste like, and how to get the most from them at home.


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Wednesday 9/29 Benefit for Good Pie Cook / Hit-and-Run Victim

The Good PieThough there is little pizza I actively turn up my nose at, my favorite parlor—and favorite restaurant in St. Louis for that matter—is The Good Pie.   Generally visiting at least once a week, I’ve written about the restaurant on numerous occasions and although I did not set out to do so, I’ve gotten to know many of the workers on a personal level out of shear frequency.

And so it was with sadness that I heard the news of Pizzaiolo Ryan Skyles hit and run accident while riding his bike to work last week.   He is a great guy and a passionate cyclist who rides his road bike everywhere–occasionally competing on his days off.  Thankfully initial reports were more extreme than his actual injuries, but Skyles suffered a broken ankle and dislocated finger along with other injuries and although it will be some time before he is once again making our pizzas, please get out and show your support tomorrow, Wednesday, September 29th as three local businesses (The Good Pie, 33 Wine Bar, and Gioia’s Deli) will donate all proceeds from tomorrow’s sales to assist with Skyles medical bills and the purchase of a new bike.

Putting it in perspective, another cook at The Good Pie, Ted Sullivan, told me Saturday that Skyles had just upgraded the rims on his bike for over $1000.  On a cook’s salary that’s a lot of saving, so let’s do our part to get him back out there as soon as possible.

Babies, and Art, and Food, Oh My!

Art of Food LogoWhew! After nine months (the final few weeks of which were filled with anxiety revolving around questions like, “What the hell am I going to do with a baby?), I now have a daughter, Quinn Reese Burge.  Definitely meaning to brag, Ellie did it 100% natural for both her health physically and mentally and the babies.  It was amazing, but more than that, they are amazing.

Bragging about my wife and daughter out of the way, in the few moments of spare time I’ve had this week, I’ve been tracking down chefs to belatedly nail down this year’s Slow Food St. Louis Art of Food menu.  It’s not quite assembled 100% (come on guys!), but I just wanted to let you know one thing:

If you’re in town this Saturday, and you haven’t got anything planned, and you care a lick about local food, you need to get your butt down there. It’s Slow Food St. Louis’s biggest fundraiser of the year and it’s the reason we’ve been able to give over $12,000 to ten small farms over the last two years to increase the biodiversity of what’s available to us locally.

And if that’s not reason enough for you to go, know this: whatever excuse you have can’t possibly top the fact that I’ll be there and I’ll have a 7 day old daughter, and Josh Galliano will be there and he will have a 13 day old daughter.  (we are of course hoping this means stellar birthday parties!)

Here’s the menu thus far if you’re wavering, and I hope to see you there…

Annie Gunn’s – Lou Rook III

Roasted Viking Village Sea Scallop with Annie Gunn’s Bacon and Ratatouille.

Companion – Josh Allen

1. Panzanella “Bread Salad”  – Companion Roasted Garlic Fougasse w/ local heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers (working to identify farmer this week)

2. Grilled Bread Station with assorted pestos & tapenades

Five – Anthony Devoti

Benne’s Farm Pork confit, sesame cracker, tomato jam and pickled Claverach Farm baby carrots.

Harvest – Stephen Gontram

Harvest Bread Pudding

Kakao Chocolate – Brian Pelletier

1:Bacon Caramels Made with bacon from Hinkebein Hills Farms and local honey.

2: Chocolate Dipped Double-Layer Pates de Fruits

Local Harvest Café – Clara Moore

Horseradish Pickled Heirloom Tomato Relish on a Prairie Breeze Cheese Biscuit

Monarch – Josh Galliano

Prairie Grass Farms Goat Terrine, eggplant tapenade, Greek yogurt, fennel mostarda

Niche – Gerard Craft

white gazpacho, smoked grape sorbet

Sidney Street Café

Rabbit bratwurst with Companion brioche and house made sauerkraut

Winslow’s Home

Winslow’s Farm Cucumbers and Heirloom Tomatoes with pulled Prairie Grass Farm Lamb

and dishes still to come from…

Bailey’s Chocolate Bar, Farmhaus, Franco

A Farmhaus Dinner Menu

If you’re thinking of going out for dinner this weekend, and you’re jonesing for a little taste of Spring, and you’re not yet sure where it is you should go, may I suggest you head to Farmhaus to order the beautiful bowl-of-Spring they’re calling: Pappardelle w/ local baby bok choy, Missouri pecans, black garlic, sous vide pearl onions, local sorrel and herbs.

Where most of the time you see black garlic as big, whole clove chunks, in this dish the black garlic is mixed in meaning that if you’re like me, and you forgot exactly what you ordered, it might leave you wondering, “what the heck is that unusual but delicious flavor?”  That’s black garlic my friend, and you need to go eat it before it’s gone.

#stl Twits

St. Louis Restaurants on Twitter
St. Louis Restaurants on Twitter

St. Louis Restaurants on Twitter

St. Louis Restaurants on Twitter

For weeks I’ve scoured many of your Twitter feeds.  Sometimes I found the St. Louis restaurants, chefs, and other food-related accounts I hoped to. But then I also found things that would make for a bizarre demographic study of St. Louis foodsters.  Like, apparently, a lot of you are LeVar Burton fans.  At first I wondered, are you Reading Rainbow fans or Trekkies? And then I looked at LeVar Burton’s Twitter feed and along with learning that he felt The Who’s halftime show sucked and if you call him during Lost he will hurt your feelings, he has 1,607,229 followers.

But why the research?  Because Twitter blessed us with lists so that we can create organized feeds of people we don’t actually want to follow personally.  And that gave me the opportunity to waste my time assembling four lists that encompass every restaurant, chef, grocer and coffee shop located in St. Louis currently on Twitter. Word Up!

Click the links above and if I missed any, let me know @stlbites.