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???

chili dog 2

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.

chicken skins

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

Gordon’s Stoplight Drive-In – Crystal City, MO – Quadzilla, King of the Burgers!

The word is out about this place and it’s one of my favorite stops heading south on I-55.  Of course I’m talking about the one and only, Gordon’s Stoplight Drive-In in Festus!  Yes, I’m on a burger binge – this is my third burger related review in a row!

For those that love Carl’s Drive In, these burgers are pretty similar.  They are small balls of ground beef that are smashed onto the grill.  They are very thin patties so you will need multiple to make a reasonable size burger.  The double seems to be the standard, but I always like to take things up a notch. For that reason, I went for the…Quadzilla!

Quadzilla with fries

Quadzilla with fries

As you might expect, the Quadzilla is a meal that has a burger with four patties.  It also comes with fries and a drink for $8.88.  Not a bad price and it does fill you up.  You have options for all the standard ingredients for burgers, but they also offer mayo.  I have had it with and without, and actually prefer it with mayo.  Insert Canadian joke here…

Quadzilla with onion rings

Quadzilla with onion rings

These burgers come out piping hot.  You must resist the urge to take a bite immediately.  I have tried both the onion rings (for an upcharge) and the fries, but I would suggest sticking to the fries.  I think the fries need more salt, but that is obviously something you can correct.

This is my go to “fast food” restaurant when heading down I-55 to see family.  It’s not a huge detour off of I-55 and it’s worth the extra few minutes.  The people are friendly and the food remains unchanged for years.  My only regret is that I still have never tried one of their shakes.  Be on the lookout for an update on Twitter or Facebook because I will complete that task soon!

There isn't a lot of info online about this place.  Here is the lunch / dinner menu.

There isn’t a lot of info online about this place. Here is the lunch / dinner menu.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  This is a family friendly restaurant.  There are only bar stools for seating, or you can place a carry out order at the window.  It is cash only but there is an ATM in the corner in case you forget.

Stop Light Drive In on Urbanspoon

Home Wine Kitchen – Maplewood, MO – Burger Night!

I have been receiving emails showing Home Wine Kitchen’s weekly menus ever since my first trip to Table.  While there have been many that have intrigued me, I never found myself taking that extra step and trying the place out.  In one of the more recent emails, something caught my eye: Burger Night.    For $15 you get a burger, one side, and local craft beer.  Sign…me..up!

Let me first give you some details about Burger Night.  It runs every Sunday from 3 – 9 P.M.  During that time you can get the burger special with either their famous house burger or the ever changing market burger.  Each burger has a specific side that it comes with and they select one beer for the night.  Sounds pretty simple right?

Instead of making the potentially tough decision, I gave both burgers a try.  First up, the award winning house burger. The house burger was topped with bacon, cheese, garlic aioli and an egg.

house burger

All burgers are prepared medium rare unless you specify differently.   The burger was very soft and juicy.  There was no chance this was over cooked.  The egg was just the way I like it, very runny.  I’m in love with this burger.  For this reason alone, I already know I will make a return trip.  I did feel bad for the house made chips.  Even though they were a great side, nothing stands a chance on a plate next to this burger.  

The market special was the Texas burger.  It was topped with BBQ sauce, onion rings, and blue cheese.

Texas Burger

This one was also cooked as expected. I had tried the house burger first so this one was not as exciting for me.  It was heavy on the blue cheese so most of the other flavors were lost.  I did enjoy the polenta fries and want to try to make my own at home.

My first visit to Home Wine Kitchen’s Burger Night was a great success.  This will not be the last time I will have their house burger.  This burger would be in my top 5 for St. Louis.  What would be in your top 5 list?

Dive 2 Five Scale:  3.  I hit burger night early and it was easy to get in. The burgers take 15 minutes to prepare, but it’s worth every second.  I was impressed with the service as the server was very attentive.  He also asked about my thoughts on both burgers.

One thing to note, I bet I have walked past Home Wine Kitchen several times.   It’s in a great location on Manchester in Maplewood, but the exterior isn’t overly flashy.  You have to pay attention or you may miss it.  The inside is rustic with a lot of wood.  It’s warm and inviting.  

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Home Wine Kitchen on Urbanspoon

White Cottage – Belleville, Il – Get Ready for the Summer Heat

After spending the early evening perusing the wares at Art on the Square in Belleview, Illinois, I was in desperate need of some nourishment.  As with most towns in the St. Louis area, I had a couple of places on my list in case I happened to pass through or nearby any unfamiliar towns.  During this initial visit, I chose to check out the White Cottage.

I arrived just before dusk on an unseasonably cold night.  I was impressed to see people lined up for ice cream outside while wearing hoodies and light jackets.  I chose to dine inside so I could have more than just ice cream. One thing you notice right away is the smell from the ice cream and the cones.  It was clear that this was not a place to stop if you are on a diet, even the air was rich with calories.

Surprise, surprise….the double cottage burger was calling to me.  The burger was very standard: two quarter pound patties, Swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onions.  You can have pickles and they provide mustard, ketchup, and mayo by request.  The patties are not packed tightly.  This helps keep them juicy even when cooked to a medium well all the way through.  Although this burger was standard, it was far from ordinary.

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Now that I had my dinner, it was time for dessert.  White Cottage carries several different flavors of ice cream and they don’t have the same choices each day.  To be honest, I was overwhelmed with the thought of only trying one flavor so I did what any smart person would do.  I opted for two small orders:  strawberry cheesecake and chocolate raspberry truffle.

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Both were phenomenal.  PHENOMENAL!  The chocolate raspberry truffle was rich and the strawberry cheesecake had actual strawberries in it!  I can only dream of working my way through the rest of the ice cream menu.

White Cottage is the kind of place that every small town in America needs. Even though it was clear I was the only person who was not a regular, I didn’t feel out of place. I would recommend this place to anyone that finds themselves in Belleview.  Heck, I would recommend taking a break when traveling along I-64 just for the ice cream.  With the summer coming up and the thermometers starting to rise, make sure you stop by to cool off.

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Dive 2 Five Scale:  3.  Great family spot shared by generations.  If you read about the place, it’s closed a few times but seems to be back on track. The inside is very simple, there are several booths and a couple tables, and menus are provided at either.  You can seat yourself and you pay at the counter before you leave.

The White Cottage on Urbanspoon

Salted Pig, St. Louis, MO – Searching for an Identity

There is a new restaurant in St. Louis called the Salted Pig.  It is restaurateur Michael del Pietro’s latest endeavor and it’s a departure from his prototypical Italian eateries.  I love salt and I love pig, is this a match made in heaven?

The Salted Pig is an upscale southern restaurant focused on BBQ and fried chicken.  The first thing I noticed when I walked in there wasn’t that BBQ aroma that slaps you in the face and makes your mouth water.  The place has minimal decorations and features an industrial / minimalist feel.  I liked the use of the reclaimed wood in the dining room, and I’m also pretty sure that this is the first BBQ place that uses Edison bulbs in the dining room.

I was really surprised how busy it was for a Monday evening.  The room is dark and I found it amusing that several folks of advanced wisdom and age were using phones and small flashlights so they could read the menu.  Speaking of the menu, I was expecting something a bit more diverse and unique. It mainly featured the standard BBQ and southern food staples.  For my meal, I chose to start with the sprouts and finish with a full slab of ribs.

The sprouts were soft but not overcooked to the point that they were mushy.  Typically sprouts can be bitter but the sauce with caramelized onions added a nice sweetness. I also enjoyed that the bacon stayed crunchy even while swimming in the sauce.  I would gladly eat these veggies again, but don’t worry, I won’t be going vegetarian anytime soon.

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When the ribs arrived the first thing my nose noticed was the sweetness.  They were nice and tender, not quite falling off the bone, and definitely had some chew.  The sauce was caramelized on each rib so there was a good amount of flavor.

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Up to this point, you are probably wondering why the title of this post is “Searching for an Identity”.  In general, this is a very basic BBQ restaurant but placed in a BBQ void location, Frontenac.  The key ingredients for a successful restaurant were there, but to me it was lacking that key factor (personality, originality, etc.) that would set it apart from other giants in the St. Louis BBQ scene.  This was only after a month of being open, so maybe they will find their way to stand out.  If you are in the area, it is a solid choice for BBQ.  If you are on a BBQ pilgrimage, there are more worthy choices.

Dive 2 Five Scale: 3.  The atmosphere here is lively and slightly noisy, so definitely kid friendly.  There are 2 TV’s at the bar in case you want to catch a game.  At the table they provide a wine menu rather than a beer list….maybe that is a Frontenac thing?  Note that the fried chicken seemed to be popular.  I didn’t try it but may have to in the future.

The Salted Pig on Urbanspoon

SoHa Bar and Grill, St. Louis, MO – Great Beer Selection but the Burger Needs Some Work

Admittedly, I have not spent a lot of time near the Hill.  I found myself near there and stopped in at SoHa for a quick dinner.  My first impression of SoHa was very positive.  I love a place that features bar seating.  I found a great spot at the bar right next to the fireplace.  With as ridiculous as this winter has been, it seems like I’m always on the search for a place to warm up.

As I was admiring the draft beer selection, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between the bartender and another patron.  To make a long story short, one of the wings he ordered was not cooked.  I was a little bummed because they did smell good and who doesn’t appreciate wings at a bar?  They were now off my list for the night.  On a side note, they did make good on the mistake by bringing him out additional properly cooked wings.

I was starving so I went with a pretty big meal.  I decided to start with the fried goat cheese medallions and finish with “the Lipithor”.   The burger actually arrived first, but the fried goat cheese arrived 30 seconds later.

Fried goat cheese medallions:

soha fried goat cheeseNot a bad way to start.  They aren’t too breaded; they melt in your mouth.  They are very rich and pair well with the provided sweet onion dressing.  I definitely recommend these.

Next up, the Lipithor:

soha burgerLook at that 15 oz beast!  There were several people commenting as they saw this burger being delivered.  There’s bacon, pulled pork, cole slaw, cheddar cheese, and Swiss cheese.  It looked amazing, but unfortunately fell short of expectations.  First off, I ordered it medium and it was overcooked.  There was no pink at all in the burger patties and they were just plain dry.  That’s rough for such a large burger.  The pulled pork really didn’t have flavor.  The bacon was the only highlight here.  Maybe I should have ordered the Notorious BLT.

If you look to the left of the burger, you will see my side: mac n cheese.  What can be said about it?  It looked a little soupy and was topped with Doritos.  Surprisingly it was great.  Even after struggling through eating the entire burger, I didn’t waste any of the macaroni.  Now I understand why some people just come there and order this side at the bar.

SoHa is different breed.  My excitement level was all over the map during my experience.  I would recommend the goat cheese medallions and the mac n cheese but stay away from the burgers.  The beer selection is great and I seriously considered getting a growler to go.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.   Good selection of beer and good placement of TV screens.  Not a bad place to watch a game.  It’s a pretty small space and the parking is even smaller.  On a Monday evening it was just above 50% capacity and there were no parking spots to be found.  I’m sure if I lived closer I would enjoy the draft beer selection on a regular basis but likely would be limited on what food items I ordered.

SOHA Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

King Edwards – Kick Start My Heart

Time for another lunch excursion!  Can you believe this will be my third post about fried chicken?  It may earn itself a category on the blog soon.  To satisfy that constant craving most recently, I tried King Edwards Chicken and Fish in St. Charles.

This is a very small space; there are only about six tables. You can tell this place has not changed much over the years, they still have the old style Pepsi menu with the letters you can rearrange.  For seven bucks you can get the lunch special:  four pieces of fried chicken with a side and a drink.

Photo

As you can see it’s very simple: chicken in a basket on a bed of fries.  This chicken is unique because of the batter.  It is heavy and almost like a shell.  It isn’t a typical cornmeal batter and reminds me of something you would find on fried fish.  This meal comes with your month long supply of vitamin G (grease) and stays with you the rest of the day. I wish I could say I didn’t like it, but unfortunately I did.

King Edward’s is a fast and friendly restaurant in St. Charles that specializes in all things fried.  Most of their business is carry out orders, but you can dine in if you choose.  The fried chicken is different than what you would get at most other restaurants or fried chicken chains.  The batter is the difference.  Who serves your favorite fried chicken in St. Louis?

Dive 2 Five Scale:  1.  Technically, it’s not a dive bar because there is no booze; but it is definitely a dive.  It’s in an old strip mall, there are several tropical photos on the wall.  Every table has a roll of paper towels, so feel free to get messy.  It’s kind of dirty, very simple, and very greasy.  I don’t recommend touching the M&M’s and skittles from the candy machine, that’s not why you would go there anyway.

King Edwards Chicken on Urbanspoon

Element – Was I in My Element?

You have all heard about my “list” of places to try.  Well Element has been on there for a long time.  It was time to cross this one off.

My visit was a Friday so of course, a drink was in order.  At the time, they were redoing the cocktail menu so I can’t say if they have any custom creations.  I stuck with a Cabernet so I could keep things simple and focus on the food.  The server shared that the menu does change based on what’s fresh and they stick with as many local ingredients as possible.  Since I had already reviewed the menu before going, I had a few things that I knew I wanted to try.

For appetizers, I went with the country fried foie gras and the Pork Belly.  I’m sure the pork belly isn’t a surprise to anyone at this point.  In case you didn’t know, foie gras is a must order for me as well.  I love the decadence and texture.  I’m sure that PETA won’t be showing me any love after that confession…

This is my first time having country fried foie gras so I was a little unsure of what to expect.  It was paired with greens and green tomato chow chow.  The dish had a very southern feel and frying the foie gras made me think of fried chicken liver.  It’s a completely different take on this delicacy.

foie gras

My quest to eat pork belly more than any human should continues!  This pork belly was served with prunes, pear, walnuts, and blue cheese.  I love dishes like this.  Each bite gives you the opportunity to mix-and-match different flavors and textures.  My personal favorite was the belly, walnut, and blue cheese.  I loved the pairing of the pear, walnut, and blue cheese. Be careful; the blue cheese is strong, so a little goes a long way.

pork belly 1

The first large plate was the lamb pot roast.  I needed a dish to redeem lamb after my experience at RJ’s.  This was not your mom’s pot roast, unless hers is also tender and rich.

lamb pot roast

The second large plate was the duck breast with scrapple, brussels sprouts and apple butter.  I haven’t had a vegetable surprise me in a while, but I really liked the brussels sprouts.  Wait, did I say I liked brussels sprouts?!?!?  They weren’t over cooked so they stayed crunchy.   The apple butter was a solid accompaniment to the duck breast.  I always love fruit pairings with duck.

duckAfter all that food I was going to stop, but thank God I didn’t.  Dessert was the payday and I felt like I hit the jackpot.  The peanut butter cake and caramel was fantastic.  If you don’t like things that stick to your teeth, you may not like this dish.  Personally I was happy to be able to save that flavor for later. This made the struggle to drive down I-64 through the traffic and construction completely worth it.  I would go back just to eat this and hope it stays on the menu.
payday

Element has an adventurous menu that changes frequently so each visit will be unique.  It’s clear they like to have fun and like to experiment.  The highlight of my meal was the dessert.  Hopefully the Payday is frequently part of the regular menu.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  4.  This place is hard to find in the dark if it’s your first time.  Look for the rock climbing gym.  It’s very contemporary inside and has a lively atmosphere.  They have small and large plates to fit all appetites and dining preferences.

Element on Urbanspoon