Olive + Oak, Webster Groves, MO – Gnocchi Doke

The St. Louis restaurant scene was pretty impressive in 2015.  If you can believe it, the city will crush 2015 with and even more impressive 2016.  One of my new favorite places to spend the evening is Olive + Oak.

Olive + Oak is a neighborhood restaurant in Webster Groves but should be a destination if you love food and drinks.  They focus heavily on locally sourced ingredients and change a large portion of their menu regularly.  DISCLAIMER:  If I talk about a dish you really want, it may not be there the night you go.

When I first arrived, I saw that my prayers had been answered and they serve fried cheese curds.  Ever since I lived in Oregon for work, I have been obsessed with them.  No trip to the coast was complete without a visit to the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  Fresh ones are also fun since they squeak on your teeth when you bite them.  Olive + Oak’s are lightly fried and served with a charred scallion and chile aioli.   Just the right amount of salt in this dish and they are the perfect snack.

Cheese Curds

For those that are following me on Instagram (shame on you if you don’t), you know I love cocktails.  If you haven’t heard of Chelsea Little, this is another great reason to get your butt over to Olive + Oak.  Chelsea has been one of my trusted “spirit guide’s” ever since her days at Libertine.   I would be hard pressed to know how many drinks she has crafted for me since I met her.  I’ll admit I’m a “Little” biased (get it :) ), but I feel like I have watched her grow up as a mixologist.  For old times sake, I started off with a bartender’s choice:

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As always, it was a hit.  I also sampled something from the menu: the #69.  Chelsea was never one to name her drinks so I find it humorous they are now just numbers.  The torched rosemary adds so much to the nose of this cocktail.  I can see why it made the cut to be featured on the menu.

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Now back to the food!  When I visited, I narrowed my entree choices down to two items.  The scallops or the gnocchi.  Seafood was calling me that night so I went with the scallops.  The scallops were cooked perfectly, but they were served on a bean puree.  Although flavorful, it wasn’t something my palette was wow’d by.

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When dining with others, you can politely ask to sample their dish as well and try even more of the menu. The tenderloin was much more up my alley.  It was also cooked perfectly but in this case the meat was allowed to be the star of the dish.    IMG_1011

One of the biggest surprises from Olive + Oak  was their kids menu.  There were so many more choices than most places.  As I looked around, there were several families enjoying meals together.  So parents, it’s clear that this is a place to treat the whole family.  As you can see by the picture, the noodles are superhero approved!  Also the milk glasses were super cute!

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Normally this would be the part of the post where I ride off into the sunset and wrap things up.   Not this time!  Two decisions from my first visit still haunted me.  One, I think I should have picked the gnocchi. Two, I passed on dessert.  So stick with me for a slightly longer post, It gave me a chance to correct those sins and I promise you there is valuable information to follow.

This time I visited with no child in tow so I took my more natural seat at the bar.  The bar is nice and a focal point of the small space.  Of course more “bartender’s choice” cocktails were consumed:

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Chelsea’s concoctions continued to be on point and just what I needed.  Then something magical happened!  I ordered the gnocchi and it was even better than expected.  Feast your eyes on this:

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This my friends is their gnocchi.  The texture was light and fluffy.  Almost like individually wrapped gifts of potato awesomeness that you don’t want to ever end.  This dish is killer and I want more!  A version of it seems to be on the menu each night so I’m looking forward to trying future flavorful pairings.

I also ordered a dessert that brought hope back to the world: the butterscotch pot de creme.

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You know the stereotypical depressed human gorging themselves on ice cream? They only choose that because they have not had this dessert.  It will make you certain the sun will rise again tomorrow and things will be OK.

There you have it.  Clearly, Olive + Oak is an A in my book.  I look forward to more gnocchi, butterscotch pot de creme, and Chelsea cocktails.  If you see someone sitting at the bar with all three, it might just be me.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  As I have stated it’s a great neighborhood hot spot and also very family friendly.  The sound level is elevated so fussy kids won’t be noticed but not so loud that you can’t hold a conversation.  There are a couple TV’s where the bar tables can see but they are placed so great if you are at the bar.  It’s OK, you have better things to focus on while you are there: your date (if you have one), the drinks (you better have one), and the food (you better order some).

Tenderloin Grill, Kansas City, MO – You Sniff Me, I’ll Sniff You Back

My weekends have involved lots of trips through Kansas City and opportunities to try new restaurants.  My most recent trip took me to a restaurant surrounded by taquerias and South American food; Tenderloin Grill is located just minutes from KC’s popular Power and Light district.  The family has been serving sandwiches the same way since they started out of a wagon in 1932.  Their slogan is “the times have changed but we haven’t.”

Tenderloin Grill is known for their hand-battered pork tenders as well as their pig snoots. They are both sandwiches that are dressed the same way: mustard, in-house hot sauce, horseradish, onion, and tomato.  They will ask if you want their standard dress, so there is an option to leave things off.  I had to give both a try.

First, let’s talk about the pork tender sandwich.  It is lightly breaded to add some flavor but not overpower the pork.  Obviously it’s going to be on the greasy side; it’s a fried chunk of pork for Pete’s sake!  If you order the standard dress for the sandwich, be prepared for some heat.  The hot sauce they make in house is flavorful and lives up to being called “hot”.  Pair that with the horseradish and your sinuses are going to have that familiar nose-tingling burn.  Thanks allyl isothiocyanate.

pork tender

If staring at two pig nostrils doesn’t bother you, why not try a snoot sandwich?  Unlike their crispy cousins served in St. Louis, these are pressure cooked and then boiled. The snoot had more meat on it than you would think. If you have texture issues, this may not be for you. It lands somewhere between tender pot roast and jello on the texture scale.  This was the first sandwich I have ever eaten that sniffed me back!  For me, this sandwich was more of a gimmick.  Trying it allowed me to renew my man card for the year.

pig snoot
All of their sandwiches come with hand cut fries.  Those that remained crispy were fantastic, however, about half the bag was soggy. :(  If they had a little bit more consistency, they would be a great side for sure.

Tenderloin Grill turned out to be a unique stop as I drove through KC.  The pork tender sandwich was great and now I can say I have had pig snoots both St. Louis and Kansas City styles.  It’s a fun little diner that believes in doing things the old school way is the only way.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  2.  It’s definitely more on the “divey” side of things in a good way.  It has that diner feel and is very simple.  You can watch the food being cooked right behind the counter.  You will use a lot of napkins because these sandwiches leak mustard and hot sauce everywhere.  Maybe it should be BYOB (bring your own bib).

Joo Joo Restaurant and Karoake – Creve Coeur, MO – Eat, Drink, Sing, and Be Merry!

The New Year is upon us and mine is off to a fast and furious start.  My “real job” has provided some opportunity to travel and my next trip will likely be to Korea.  To ensure I’m prepared, I have already started my “research”.  What started as one exploratory trip with friends has turned into an insatiable appetite for Korean food!  Let me tell you a little bit about a place in Creve Coeur called Joo Joo.

Joo Joo (Restaurant and Karoake to be exact), is in a corner of a strip mall in Creve Coeur by Olive and Fee Fee.  It’s pretty unassuming from the outside and there isn’t much to look at on the inside.  The menu can be a little bit daunting for a Korean food virgin, so it’s best to go with friends that can help you order.  Better yet, check out some recommendations from awesome bloggers online (hint hint…).  Although all the staff are very helpful, some speak better English than others.  When ordering, keep in mind you will also receive banchan (side dishes) so you don’t order too much food.  In the last month alone, I have been four times.  Here are some of my highlights:

I love to start with the dduk pok ki. It’s spicy rice cakes served in a very flavorful sauce with a hard boiled egg.  I love to use this sauce to spice up the standard white rice that comes with the other meals.

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My first love was the marinated BBQ Kalbi Beef Ribs.  You grill these yourself at the table.  It includes an egg stew (think watery scrambled eggs with green onion), lettuce, and sauces. If you are concerned about not knowing when to flip the meat or how long to cook each piece, don’t be.  The staff is close by watching to ensure that everything is going according to plan, they don’t hesitate to come take over.  For me this isn’t overpowering, I appreciate the help!  Here’s how to eat it:  take some of the freshly cooked beef, slap it in the lettuce leaf, and then add some of the bean paste.  You can’t go wrong.

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Lately my go-to-dish is the black pork belly.  It’s a special they have listed on their wall and I pray this dish does not go away!  It’s another “cook your own” dish, but this time it’s on a grill that cooks it on a slope so that the excess grease can drain.  If you love fatty pork dishes, this will be your jam.  The pork belly is also served with lettuce leaves and bean paste, but I prefer to dip it in the small plate of sesame oil, salt, and pepper they provide.  This dish does not help my blood pressure for sure!

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Extreme close up to watch it start to sizzle!

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If you are an adventurous eater, there is another special dish you should try: the Korean raw beef.  As it states, it’s raw beef served with ginger, pear strips, and a raw egg.  For fans of tartare, it should be no big deal.  You need to like the taste of raw ginger.  I found that the ingredients added a little sweetness.  The serving is quite large and it’s not a dish you want to take as a leftover so I would only suggest ordering if you have a group of 4 or more.

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In case you can’t tell, I definitely have enjoyed my visits to Joo Joo. :)  Eating Korean BBQ is a fun experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying the hot pots on an upcoming visit.  Keep an eye out on Instagram and Twitter to see how they look!

Dive 2 Five Scale:  3.  Great family friendly restaurant if you are looking for something different.  If you haven’t tried Korean BBQ, this is a great way to experience it in a more relaxed atmosphere.  They have private Karaoke rooms that I have not tried…I haven’t crossed that boundary of Soju and Sapporo required for me to think I can sing… yet.

Southern – Midtown St, Louis, MO – Nashville Hot Fried Chicken

Guess who’s back, back again….  It’s been far too long, but it’s finally time for a new Dive Bars 2 Five Stars review!  What’s a better way to kick things back off than by talking about the Southern’s Nashville Hot Fried Chicken.

Southern

Before we get to that, let’s talk about the restaurant.  The Southern is a fast casual southern style restaurant.  The decor reflects what you would expect: wood, metal, country, and lots of paper towels.  It’s very simple and just ensures you are focused on the food.  When you arrive, you are greeted by this Mutha Clucka:

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What an amazing and confusing olfactory experience as you enter!  You have the smell of fried chicken from the Southern mixed with the aroma of Mike Emerson’s famous BBQ from next door.  If you weren’t hungry already, you are now drooling on yourself wishing there was a line where you could order both.  Just like Pappy’s, you wait in a line to order.  Pro tip:  get there when they open.  Fifteen minutes after they open, the line will already be to the door.

I started my meal with none other than deviled eggs.  I have ordered them at Old Standard, Juniper, and now the Southern.  The Pimento cheese is a nice twist to the norm and gives them a great flavor, they are fantastic.  If I was going to be nit picky, I would say add some crunch to them for a change in texture.

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Now to the star of the show!  I ordered the 2 piece dark, hot chicken plate.  The chicken is not over breaded.  Call me a wimp, but I only ordered the medium.  The medium has plenty of heat but allows you to enjoy all the flavors without the need to prove your manliness.  The heat builds over time, so wait for it.  It also hung around for at least 30 minutes after I was done.  They have different levels to choose from so the “hot heads” can get their fix.  Don’t ignore the bread under the chicken!  It soaks up the grease and is transformed into quite a treat for those that are members of the “clean plate club”.

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My two sides were the mashed potatoes and the pickled beets.  Oftentimes the sides are a let down, however, I loved the seasoning of the mashed potatoes with the pan gravy.  Even though I hated the smell of my mom pickling beets when I was a kid, I have found that I actually do like them.  These were a great rendition of that family staple.

As I have said before, fried chicken is a polarizing topic.  Many people think that the style that their mom made sets the standard and can’t be beat.  While I can understand that logic, sometimes a new and different take can break through those stereotypes.  The Southern does just that with their hot fried chicken.  Combined with a neighbor like Pappy’s, and you have the perfect 1-2 punch.

Dive 2 Five Star Scale:  3.  Family friendly place that is very active.  The line gets long quickly.  Go right when they open if you want to avoid a wait.  The line does move quickly and the food comes out very fast.  I was amused by their music selection, especially Ice Ice Baby as an attempt to sooth all the burning taste buds.

Público – University City, MO – Tacos, Arepas, and Oysters = Happy Tummy

Mike Randolph is at it again with a new concept in University City called  Público.  It has been getting rave reviews, so I had to see what all the fuss was about.  After a quick glance at the menu, thoughts of the long gone MEDIAnoche came to mind.  MEDIAnoche was the night-time version Mike’s other restaurant:  Half and Half.  Although there were similarities, the new concept featuring an oak-burning hearth in the kitchen, definitely caught my attention.

This visit was a “go big or go home” type of night.  Most of the items are smaller and meant for sharing, so I would suggest ordering around three to five items for a couple.  Once you order, items will come out as they are available.  If you prefer, there are also entrée portioned items available as well.

First up: a cocktail to help shake off the week, and this one was a stunner.

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It was called the “Have you seen my guava?” and it was light, well-balanced, and definitely effective.

Once the food started to arrive, it came out fast and furious.  First, the raw oysters.  On this particular night they were featuring Cranberry Creek Oysters from Washington State.  They were medium on the brine and had a slight cucumber flavor on the finish.  I had never eaten oysters with lime juice, but it was a nice touch.  The flavors paired extremely well with the house red hot sauce.

Another guilty pleasure of mine is sweetbreads.

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This was the first dish that caught my eye from their menu.  It happens to be the most unique take on them that I have had and is probably my new all-time favorite.  They were served with a pineapple and habanero sauce, which came with just enough of a kick on the back end so you know it’s there.

Guess what?  There was a liver dish and I ordered it. I know, right?

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I had their arepa with lamb liver butter, fried sage, and maple syrup.  The lamb liver butter was light compared to most liver dishes.  The sweetness from syrup should make it more palatable, even if you aren’t a liver lover like me.

Yes, I also love tacos.  I LOVE TACOS.  Público‘s tacos come as a pair which makes them great for sharing if you can resist keeping them all for yourself.  Out of all the great options, I settled on the pork belly.

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The first round of tacos was delicious: moist and packed with flavor. They were so good, in fact, I opted for a second round. Unfortunately, the difference in texture made this round a bit more dry. Either way, I would still recommend them.

Público is the latest restaurant adding more taco options to University City.  In fact, it is safe to say that U City has the upscale and diverse taco market cornered in St. Louis.  They have a menu with plenty of options in a fun setting with an upbeat vibe.  I predict a long life for this restaurant and can’t wait to try some of the entrées.

Dive 2 Five Star Scale:  3.  As I have already said, it has a very upbeat vibe.  It is also in one of the great areas to walk around in St. Louis: the Loop. I love the open concept with the large “U” shaped bar.  It was a great way to get in without a reservation before they became more busy.  The decor is fun as well.  I am a tree art fanatic so I loved the large trees on the wall.

Old Standard Fried Chicken – Fried Chicken and a Funny Song

Those who know me well know that I am obsessed with unique and strange music, as well as food.  Whenever I am going to eat or cook fried chicken, there is one song that gets stuck in my head every time:  Fried Chicken by MU330.  Now that I have that stuck in your head, you are in the right frame of mind to read about my experiences at Old Standard.

Old Standard

Old Standard is a tiny spot close to Ben Poremba’s other establishments Elaia and Olio.  It’s a very inviting space that serves some of my favorite comfort foods.  

Bar

Although this restaurant really focuses in on fried chicken, they have put together a great support cast of starts, breads / biscuits, and side dishes. 

I love the deviled eggs.  These have to be the fanciest deviled eggs I have ever eaten.  

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The toppings and combinations are really what made this dish memorable.  I especially loved the thinly sliced celery, it was a great combination of flavors and textures.  

They also have you covered when it comes to bread and biscuits.  The best thing about ordering bread and biscuits here is that you get to try them all.

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I could have eaten my beer coaster if I put enough of the lemon honey butter on it.  It was by far my favorite.

Now for the moment you have all been waiting for, the fried chicken.

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I have been there a few times and each time I ordered a half chicken. The crispy skin is great and the chicken isn’t dry, so all in all, it’s a very solid offering of fried chicken.  However, I definitely wouldn’t say it’s the best in St. Louis. Despite that, it may be my favorite one to visit because of the great sides, drinks, and atmosphere.

Old Standard is another new and exciting restaurant proving that the St. Louis food scene has no signs of slowing down.  It’s a place I have tried several times and will continue to enjoy.  The best fried chicken in St. Louis could be a great topic of debate; I just hope that I can be on the blind panel that gets to choose the winner!

Dive to Five Scale:  3.  Who doesn’t like fried chicken?  Old standard has everything you need to satisfy your fried chicken craving. There are unique sodas for the kids as well as great boozy cocktails and local beers for the adults.  One tip is to use the No Wait app to save your spot in line!

Here is a random pick of PBR from one of my visits because that’s how I roll:

PBR

As a bonus, check this great offer to get pre-sale tickets to RFT’s Iron Fork event!

Old Standard Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

The Tattooed Dog – Wentzville, MO – It’s Burger Time!

“The journey of a thousand pounds begins with a single burger.”
Chris O’Brien 

If the above statement is true, I’m in serious trouble.  How many posts on burgers can one blog have?  For me, the answer is now 13 and counting.  The most recent shares my experience from the Tattooed Dog in Wentzville, MO.

The Tattooed Dog advertises itself as “upscale dive grub”.  The burger selection is impressive; and the reason for my visit.  However, they feature some pretty interesting sandwiches as well.  Can I interest you in some fried chicken sandwiched between two apple pancakes?

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For my lunch, I chose the Benedicto for the simple reason that it has a fried egg on top!

Burger

It was a solid burger.  I liked the greens to help me feel OK for not eating healthy.  The pretzel bun was also a great touch.  There are two things that would have made this burger even better.  One, if you ask if I want “pink or no pink”, I expect it to be pink as requested.  Luckily, it was not overdone so much that it was dry.  Two, I should have requested my fried egg over easy.  That’s my personal preference and I didn’t think to ask.

The Tattooed Dog delivered a solid burger and it’s a nice change to the fledgling restaurant scene in Wentzville.  I like the uniqueness of the menu and I’m sure I will try other burgers in the future.

Dive 2 Five Scale: 3.  When I saw “upscale dive pub”, I was expecting a dark location with a large bar.  I was surprised at all the windows that lit up the place during lunch.  It’s also surprisingly kid friendly and did not feel like a bar atmosphere at all.  The only really “divey” part was the bathroom.  The walls were painted an awkward brown color…

The Tattooed Dog on Urbanspoon

Steve’s Hot Dogs on the Hill – St. Louis, MO – We’ve Got the Urge…Do You Have It?

I’ll admit I was a little nervous about visiting Steve’s Hot Dogs on the Hill.  Music by Steve Ewing and the Urge whisk me back to my youth.  I have seen the Urge perform countless times on many different stages and have fond memories (for those I can still remember).  My nervousness stemmed from having my bubble burst about a St. Louis icon.  Steve Ewing has always been a kind person that takes his time out to talk to anyone.  I always appreciated seeing how much he enjoyed performing no matter the crowd size.  Enough about this bromance I have for Steve Ewing; let’s talk about some hot dogs.

Steve’s Hot Dogs on the Hill is a small shop with limited seating.  Steve’s features Nathan’s hot dogs, and clearly the focus is on hot dogs with a variety of different topping combinations.  But what exactly makes a good hot dog?  For me, it’s all about having that “snap” when you bite into the dog.

During my first visit I tried two different dogs, the Gorilla Mac & Cheese Dog and Steve’s Famous Chili-Cheese Dog.

mac n cheese

The mac n cheese was creamy, and for me the combination of cheese and hotdogs is a match made in heaven. I love to make queso and I almost always have hot dogs the next day so I can put that leftover queso to good use.  This was the top dog of the visit for sure.  Did I forget to mention they used bacon as a topping?  Who doesn’t love bacon???

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Next up was Steve’s Famous Chili-Cheese dog.  The song remains the same for the hot dog and the bun.  Although this was not my favorite of the evening, it was still a great dog.  You can haveraw or sautéed onions.  I went sautéed, as raw tends to overpower the taste. I was very happy thatthe bun could stand up to the chili without turning into a mushy mess.

Steve’s Hot Dogs on the Hill has been very successful.  So much so, that they have now opened asecond location in Tower Grove.  After my first visit, I can understand why.  Anyone have a recommendation on what dog tops the Gorilla Mac &  Cheese?

Dive 2 Five Scale:  3.  Clearly,  this is a kid friendly place.  That staff is always hustling but will take the time to help you with your selections.  There is street parking and limited drink selections, but the hot dog selections more than make up for it.

Steve's Hot Dogs on the Hill on Urbanspoon

Steve's Hot Dogs Tower Grove on Urbanspoon

Juniper, Central West End – Finger Lickin’ Good

If you are a health nut that removes the chicken skin before cooking, go find another post to read.  Besides that, hang your head in shame for missing out on something glorious.  If you are the type of person that savours every crispy bite of the skin when you make fried chicken, let me tell you about a dish you must try:  the “Nashville Hot” Fried Chicken Skins at Juniper.

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These chicken skins are fantastic!  It’s the best part about eating fried chicken.  They are salty and slightly spicy, and the strawberry buttermilk adds sweetness.  I could eat these all night.  In my opinion they are one of the best bar snacks PERIOD.

I realize this is a short post, but this was something that more people should be talking about.  I tried these on my third trip to Juniper and this will ensure that I visit more frequently.  I may need to get baseline readings on my cholesterol, because I’m sure it’s going to be climbing with this new addiction.

juniper

Dive 2 Five Scale: 3.  Juniper is slightly off the beaten path in the CWE.  It has a lively atmosphere even though it is not on the busier Euclid Ave.  I have been a fan of the chef since my first trips to Entre Underground events and he continues to provide great fare to his patrons.

Juniper on Urbanspoon

Plank Road Pizza – Cottleville, MO – Rollin’ in the Dough

“Pizza makes me think that anything is possible” – Henry Rollins.

With all this talk of superfoods in terms of their health benefits, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the other benefits of “superfoods”, like pizza.  I’m sure the Tony Horton’s of the world cringe at a statement like that, but let’s face it, we need to indulge in things every once in a while.  Like that one time in Topeka, Kansas where I ate 19 slices of pizza at a buffet…no wait a minute, that was just GROSS.  Clearly I indulge in high calorie foods more than I should, but foods like pizza are good for the soul.

Anyway, enough about me and my thoughts on how pizza improves life and the universe.  This review is about an extremely smart choice I made recently to have lunch at Plank Road Pizza.  Plank Road Pizza recently opened in Cottleville and hasn’t broken onto the scene quite yet, but their time is coming.  All the key parts are there:

  • Cottleville is adding new restaurants quickly and is making this area in St. Charles relevant in the food scene
  • They are focused on being local and are damn proud of it
  • Last, but not least, they make a killer pizza.

Using my typical MO, I went for the namesake “Plank Road Pizza” for my inaugural visit.  It’s a chicken bacon club pizza that includes everything you would expect from a chicken bacon club sandwich, but piled on a pizza.

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Maybe better yet, a view from my mouth:

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So what makes a pizza “killer”?  In my opinion it comes down to how the toppings are paired and having the perfect dough.  What I noticed first about this pizza was the dough.  It was crispy on the bottom but had some tooth to it, just the right amount of chew.  This dough and its’ preparation is key for Plank Road Pizza’s success.  The toppings were paired together nicely and I appreciated the presentation.  However, I did spread them out once it arrived to get the proper coverage.  If I had to pick a negative, a few pieces of the chicken were a little dry. I’ll admit though I had to be nit-picky just to find anything negative to say.

So there you have it, you have been warned.  Plank Road Pizza has all the items in place to be a force in Cottleville.  I would suggest you give it a try while it is still new and somewhat of a hidden gem.  I don’t expect that to last long.

Seriously, stop reading and go there now!

Not so subtle subliminal messaging.

Not so subtle subliminal messaging.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  Plank Road Pizza makes great use of one of the oldest buildings in Cottleville.  I love the use of reclaimed wood throughout the building.  I really want to come back and hang out on the patio with one of the local beers they serve.

Plank Road Pizza on Urbanspoon