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.

drink

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.

sweetbreads

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?

arepa 2

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.

pork belly tacos

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.

Side Project Cellar – Maplewood, MO

It’s been a while since my last post and this one is not your typical restaurant review.  This one is all about beer!  After my visit to Side Project Cellar, I couldn’t wait to talk about it.  Side Project Cellar is located in Maplewood, tucked away on Marietta Avenue.  I was very excited when I saw that it opened but for some reason I just never had a chance to visit them… until recently.

outside

Long gone are my youthful college days where my favorite beer was “free” and my second favorite was “cold”.  I have since found a great appreciation for well-crafted beer.  Side Project Cellar has a great selection of both draft and bottled beer.  It should be noted that their selection of whiskey is also very impressive.

So what made me so anxious to spread the word about this place?  It was the experience.  Let’s face it, in St. Louis you have tons of options when it comes to places to throw back some cold ones (or in this case not so cold ones).  Side Project is special not only because of the well managed beer list, but the people that are there to help you.

When I see a massive beer list, it’s sometimes tempting to just order an old favorite.  The staff at Side Project is very excited to help you select new beers that fit what you like.  For all draft beers except the casks, you can also order half pours.  It’s a great way to explore more beers in one visit to help discover a new favorite.

Two Side Project Half Pours

Two Side Project Half Pours

Side Project Cellar is one of my new favorite spots in St. Louis.  Typically I won’t make a bold statement like that after one visit, but I have thought about it every day since I have been there.  Are you curious what beer I still dream about from that visit?  It’s the Side Project Foedre.  I love sour beers and this is one of the best I have ever tried.

Dive 2 Five Scale: 3.  So what’s up with Maplewood?  With all the great stuff opening there lately, it makes me think I need to relocate.  Side Project Cellar is a lively bar with a great staff.  It’s a no frills place that is great for hanging out with friends and creating new memories.  So get your babysitter, set up your designated driver, and get over there!  Hopefully you will see me sitting at the bar.

Black Thorn, St. Louis, MO – Bring on the Cheese Please!

Notice a disturbing trend on my blog lately?  Where are all the dive bars?  I had noticed that too and chose Black Thorn Pub to help balance things out.

Looks like a great neighborhood dive

Great dive bar style curb appeal.

Black Thorn pub is a true dive bar.  It’s slightly dirty and run down, but all in an inviting way.  There is nothing pretentious about this place at all!  Black Thorn specializes in pizzas; they offer thin and pan crusts as well as a Chicago style pie.  As a Black Thorn virgin, I decided to try the style I have heard the most about: Chicago!  I chose three of my standard toppings: pepperoni, mushrooms, and onion.

Once I had ordered with the bartender, I took a spot at the corner of the bar with an adult beverage to pass the time.  Trust me, you may need a few to pass the time; it took well over an hour to get our pizza.  Not a big deal for me since I was in no hurry and had good company.  Even if I had gone alone, the people watching at the Black Thorn is top-notch and the other patrons were friendly.  There was a Pat Benatar look-a-like at the bar…what more do you need?

Once the pizza arrived, I was ready for it…or at least I thought I was.  This is one heavy pizza.  I ate half of a medium (four slices) and had to throw in the towel.  I could have squeezed in a fifth but would have been miserable.  Take my advice: just eat two to three slices.

Look at the cheese in the crust

Very hefty pizza

How was it? It had a smokey tomato paste based sauce with a lot of seasoning.  It seemed to have a bunch of oregano and was topped with a ton of cheese, including some in the crust.  I wouldn’t call it a true Chicago style pizza, but that’s not a favorite style of mine anyway.

I tip my hat to Black Thorn for providing balance back to my blog.  They have a unique pizza that I can’t wait to try again.  I also found that it reheated well the next day, which is important considering you’d need to bring along a healthy group of friends to finish an entire pie. The only reasons NOT to go here:

  1. You are in a hurry.  Still not a deal breaker, call ahead!  Like I stated above, there is great people watching.  They also have shuffleboard and 80’s arcade games.
  2. You don’t like dive bars (then why are you on my blog?!?!?)
  3. You don’t like pizza (what’s wrong with you?)
View from the bar

View from the bar

Dive 2 Five Scale: 1.  Based on my exploration of St. Louis thus far, this would be my top recommendation of a true dive bar.  What makes it a true dive bar?  If you are sitting at the bar, you may see large stacks of PBR cases waiting to become the next “dead soldiers“.  The bathroom has humorous graffiti everywhere.  They serve you on foam plates but with real silverware.  The building is a mixture of brick and 70’s style wood paneling.  I think you get the point.  Go there for the dive bar experience and enjoy the pizza!

Black Thorn Pub on Urbanspoon

Dishcrawl STL – Recap of First Event and a Chance for Discounted Tickets!

Hello again St. Louis food fanatics!  If you follow local food events, you have likely heard the buzz about one that took place on April 24th.  It was the first ever Dishcrawl event and it featured 4 restaurants in the Washington Ave area.  That night consisted of visits to:

Samples at the Dubliner

Samples at the Dubliner

  • The Dubliner – St. Louis first true gastropub.  This first location “separated the men from the boys” so to speak.  With Liver Pate and Cheek to Cheek to sample, it was time to get your game face on.
  • Mosaic – The chef provided samples from their new spring menu.  It was great to be able to sample the new items before the general public.  I was a huge fan of the jalapeno fried chicken served on baked lentils.
  • Robust – They supplied us with some of the favorites from their standard menu. The Spanish meatball reminded me of my experience at Giada’s Meatball Madness in NYC.
  • The downtown movie theater with chocolates from Kakao.  We were lucky enough to have more than one of each 🙂  If you have not tried these chocolates, you are truly missing out.  I typically try to pick some up at the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market.

What’s to like about this event?

  • When you first sign up, you have no idea where you will be going or what you will be eating.  
  • You will be surrounded with other adventurous eaters.
  • You can’t beat the price. $45 for great food from 4 different restaurants

What’s not to like about the event?

  • Nothing I can think of!

Things to know:

  • Your ticket includes only the food you will eat at the four places.  Beverages are extra.  
  • We typically had 5 minutes or so to walk between places.  It wasn’t a sprint so don’t worry.  Yes, you will be walking, so wear appropriate footwear
  • Seating ranged from individual tables of two at the Dubliner to one large communal table at Robust.  It’s a great opportunity to make new friends.

Is your interest peaked yet?  If so, sign up for Dive Bars 2 Five Stars first contest for your chance to win a ticket to the next event on 5/29.  It will be in the Lafayette Square area.

Details

To sign up all you have to do is email me and tell me your favorite restaurant in the St. Louis area and your favorite item on that restaurant’s menu.  The first 5 people to respond will receive a discount off of the next event at Lafayette Square.  You can contact me by email:  sam@divebars2fivestars.com.  Four of the 5 will receive $5 off and one randomly chosen winner will get 50% off!  Sounds simple, eh?  Ready….set….GO!

Stone Soup Cottage, Cottleville, MO – Treat Yourself to a One-of-a-Kind Dining Experience

Looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion?  Stone Soup Cottage in Cottleville is a way to create a long lasting memory for that upcoming anniversary.  Take note, they are only open Thursday through Saturday plus a few Wednesdays.  They only do one seating a night and you are probably going to have to get a reservation at least 3 months in advance.  Is it worth that kind of wait?  Let’s find out.

The restaurant is set in restored 1850’s farmhouse.  Each night is setup as a chef’s tasting menu that is 6 courses and lasts about 2 1/2 hours.  The menu changes every 3 weeks.  The setting is intimate and capacity is only 24 lucky patrons.  Chef Carl and his wife Nancy are involved in every part of your experience.

Here is a bit about the meal I recently enjoyed.  It featured several recipes from their cookbook as part of the restaurant’s anniversary.  First off, the place setting.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the 5 forks, 3 spoons, and two knives.  Also don’t ignore that house made butter tucked away in the upper left corner.

First Course:  Late season corn bisque with bacon and Gruyere croquette.  They recommended you let the croquette sit for a minute to allow the smokiness of the bacon to infuse into the bisque.  The corn came from a farm just down the road and they left whole kernels for some crunch.

Second Course: Burgundy poached pear with beet micro-greens and blue cheese souffle.  When I first saw the menu, I was a little sad to see this dish.  I’m not a fan of beets or pears.  However, this was surprisingly good.  If you don’t like blue cheese, the souffle probably won’t make your top ten list.  However, it was perfectly fluffy.  At this point, all signs pointed to Stone Soup Cottage living up to all the hype.  They convinced me to eat beets and pears in the same bite while also enjoying it!

Third Course: Sea bass en papilote.  The picture below features chef Carl’s hands as he was cutting open the parchment used to cook the sea bass.  It was light and flaky.  It was another great example of going that extra step as part of the experience.

Next was quick intermission with a palate cleanser.  It was a sorbet with limoncello. It reminded me of a lemon dream sickle.  Creamy, cold, with just the right amount of tartness.

Forth Course: Pommes Anna with shaved black truffles.  Now I know why we were cleaning our palettes!  Pommes Anna is a classic French potato dish that uses lots of butter.  What could make it even more decadent?  Black truffles of course!  It was spectacular.

Fifth Course:  Rabbit ragout with pappardelle pasta, asiago cheese and toasted pistachios.  The house made pasta had just the right amount of bite.  The ragout offered a nice hearty stew-like characteristic to the dish.  The pistachios brought depth of texture with their crunch.

Sixth Course:  White chocolate and huckleberry hot pot.  Awesome way to end the night.  My only issue was not burning my tongue as I was trying to eat this before it cooled.  I loved the combination of berries and white chocolate.

If I had to describe the night in one word, it would be EPIC.  From start-to-finish, course-to-course, there were too many highlights to mention.  There is no doubt that I will return.  Personally I wish I could go every 3 weeks to see what extraordinary items make the next menu.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 5.  Yes, there is no valet and you are out west of the river.  This place is worth the drive. The parking is a little confusing.  There is something about having the chef look you in the eye and tell you about the dish.  It doesn’t get more personal than that.  Chef Carl is also waiting by the door to verify you enjoyed things one last time as you leave.  Yes..it’s on the expensive side.  The ambiance is very intimate with such limited seating.  It starts off relatively quiet but progressively will liven up as the wine pairing takes effect.

A little secret from your friend at DB2FS, get on the email list.  If you don’t want to wait three months for a reservation and have some flexibility in your schedule, you may get lucky.  They email when they have cancellations.  We used it to get in with 2 weeks notice 🙂  So keep that babysitter on speed dial and be ready!

Stone Soup Cottage on Urbanspoon

Dave and Tony’s, Creve Coeur, MO – Gourmet Burgers? Sign Me Up

I guess after Porkapalooza I am now on a burger bender.  My burger kick continued with a recent trip to Dave and Tony’s Premium Burgers.   This unassuming burger joint is located in a strip mall as part of a Schnuck’s shopping center off of Olive in Creve Coeur.

They have a list of burgers with different topping combinations that they have selected.  I prefer to use the option-laden “Build Your Own” menu.  Look at this beauty:

This is an: extra large premium steakburger, Dave’s original bun, provel cheese, caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms, fried egg, and honey mustard.

The quality of the meat is as good as you can find at a premium burger place.  Good amount of fat to keep it moist and give flavor.  I have been to Dave and Tony’s more times that I should admit.  Early on, I had a few issues getting a properly cooked medium rare.  Lately they have nailed it each time.  This was another good example.

My only regret was the topping combination I chose.  The sweet onions and honey mustard were good, but it was a little too sweet with both on the same burger.  I think next time I will either swap out the provel for smoked Gouda or the honey mustard for chipotle ketchup or steak sauce.

Dave and Tony’s continues to offer up some of the best burgers in town.  Their menu provides an unlimited amount burger combinations for you to choose from.  If you are a burger enthusiast like me, Dave and Tony’s is a must.  Stay tuned this week for some posts from my trip to the New York City Wine and Food Festival!

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  It’s a family friendly burger place in a strip mall.  They have a modern decor and a handful of TV’s always tuned on sports.  They have beer and limited wine to choose from as well.  You can make this a grab and go or stop and take your time to enjoy one of their burgers.

Dave & Tony's Premium Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

Art of Food, St. Louis, MO – A Slow Food Event That Was Over Way Too Fast

What better way to spend a Saturday night than at a fundraiser that involves sampling some tasty food?  Last night I was lucky enough to attend Slow Food St. Louis‘ sold out annual fundraiser, the Art of Food.

Each of the restaurants prepared small plates using fresh, local ingredients. Some of the participating restaurants were:  Niche, Sidney Street Café, Farmhaus, Local Harvest Café, Home Wine Kitchen, Sanctuaria, Pint Size Bakery, and many more.  This was truly an all-star lineup.

The event took place at the Koken Art Factory.  It’s a unique space and was setup very well for this event.  There was a live band, bar, silent auction, and of course lots of food to enjoy.

First sample courtesy of Cleveland-Heath

There was limited table space but it encouraged everyone to mingle.  Of course most of the conversations revolved around food.  Recommendations were flying for what to try next.  A few of my favorites were:

  • Pint Size Bakery’s apple cider spice cake with sweet chèvre mousse and apple butter caramel.  This was the 2nd item I tried.  Is it wrong to jump right to dessert?  I will definitely be trying their bakery in the near future.
  • Home Wine Kitchen’s savory cornmeal pancake with pork cheek ragu, ricotta and fried rosemary leaves.  Is anyone surprised that I am mentioning a pork dish?  Probably not by now 😀
  • Sanctuaria’s zucchini funnel cake with roasted red pepper and jalapeño coulis.  Yes, that is powdered sugar on top.  This was probably my favorite of the night.  Mainly because of how unique it was.

Even better than it looks.

St. Louis has a great food scene and events like Art of Food just showcase it.  It was a great opportunity to taste food from some of the best restaurants the metro area has to offer.  It was nice to try dishes from some of my favorite restaurants, but even better to try places I have not been to yet.  I’m sure some of them will be the subject of future posts.