The List: The people, places, plates and products we love right now

Pull up a plate and get eating, because St. Louis’ vibrant and creative culinary scene makes it a town foodies are proud to call home. There’s much to take in, from flavor-packed dishes to artisanal products, inspiring chefs to experiences both trendy and timeless. Here’s what’s got our attention at the moment.

Pat Eby, Ligaya Figueras, Dennis Lowery, Meera Nagarajan, Katie O’Connor, Shannon Parker, Rebecca Pastor, Dee Ryan and Stacy Schultz

House-Made Hot Sauce | Local Harvest Café
You can feel a good hot sauce in your fingertips. It should make your cheeks pucker, your eyes widen and your mouth water. And thanks to a bevy of locally grown jalapeños and cayenne peppers, the house-made version at Local Harvest Café is certainly up to snuff. It has sweetness from oranges, earthiness from carrots, depth from onions and garlic, and enough kick to leave you searching for cool, creamy salvation. Try a bit in Local Harvest’s vegan chili and you’ll never turn back. Feeling brave? Ask for it by the bottle and add this fiery condiment to your at-home arsenal. 3137 Morgan Ford Road, St. Louis, 314.772.8815

Tamales | St. Cecilia Parish
If your toes curl thinking about hot masa wrapped around fragrant meats, cheeses, beans or roasted peppers rolled tight in a corn husk, don’t miss the next tamale fundraiser sale benefitting St. Cecilia Parish. Volunteers from the South City church, which counts a large Hispanic population among its parishioners, steamed nearly 600 handmade tamales for the last fundraiser on the Day of the Dead. The tamales, delicious as any abuelita would make, go on sale several times a year, but you need to get connected to bring ’em home. “So far, it’s been by word of mouth,” said Heather Sieve, who handles sales from the parish office. “We’ll start taking orders – only by the dozen – Jan. 14.” Last day to call is Jan. 19 for pickup on Jan. 21. But if you want a preview taste of the parishioners’ home-style Mexican cooking, visit St. Cecilia on Sunday, Dec. 12 for a celebration honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. A noon procession and Mass flows into a fiesta at 1:30 p.m. in the parish hall, with music, whirling dancers and great food for a small price. To order, call 314.351.1319, x 201; pick up at the St. Cecilia rectory, 5418 Louisiana Ave., St. Louis

Lardo | Salume Beddu
Take a hunk of fat back, cure it for five months, slice it into wafer thin slivers and let it melt in your mouth: Lardo is hog heaven. At Salume Beddu, salumieri Mark Sanfilippo and Ben Poremba make two kinds of lardo – one using Berkshire hogs, another using trendy Wooly Pig, both of which are highly spiced. “It’s covered in salt and a mixture of exotic spices. And there’s a nuttiness to it,” said Poremba, adding that a lot of the attraction to lardo is its soft, melty texture. What should the home cook do with lardo? “First and foremost, use it on a platter with good, crusty hot bread,” responded Poremba, who also likes this creamy-flavored Italian salumi tossed with cooked asparagus or in a salad with fresh radishes. Salume Beddu also makes a whipped lardo that could all too easily become a permanent butter sub to slather on freshly baked bread. 3467 Hampton Ave., St. Louis, 314.353.3100

11 p.m. Doughnuts | John Donut Co.
If doughnuts are our weak spot, then the ones at John Donut Co. are our kryptonite. Hit the South Broadway shop right when it opens at 11 p.m. for fried treats at their freshest – ask the guy rolling out dough behind the counter what’s still warm, because that’s the one to get. Sometimes it’s an apple fritter, sometimes it’s a classic glazed, but it’s always delicious. Paired with ice-cold milk from the fridge case, it’s a good end (or start) to your night. 1618 S. Broadway, St. Louis, 314.241.3360

Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is just that: splendid. When we tasted these crafty little concoctions, flavors like strawberry-buttermilk and pistachio and honey had us scooping bowl after bowl after bowl. So when we heard that our beloved goat cheese and roasted red cherries flavor would be out of stock come autumn, we set our heartbreak aside to marvel at the Ohio company’s new seasonal flavors. These days, we’re treating our taste buds to the likes of brown butter almond brittle, heirloom pumpkin-five spice and olive oil with sea salted pepitas – not a bad way to drown our sorrows. Available at Straub’s, four locations

Boozy Amuse Bouche | Annie Gunn's
At any restaurant, you hope for food that’s tasty, service that’s friendly and an ambiance that keeps you in your seat. So when a spot that’s delivered all three for more than 20 years suddenly ups the ante, it’s hard not to take notice. Earlier this year, the folks at Annie Gunn’s decided to give customers a little something extra: a shot of Moscato d’Asti before dinner. Though typically a dessert wine, this sweet bubbly is the perfect aperitif, putting your taste buds on high alert for the delicious fare to come. What a lovely way to say “thanks.” 16806 Chesterfield Airport Road, Chesterfield, 636.532.7684

Vegan Brownie | Sweet Art
If you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t guess the brownies at Sweet Art are vegan. Dense, fudgy and studded with chocolate chunks, they offer a moist texture and a scaled-back sweetness that proved so popular, it consistently outsold the South City bakery’s nonvegan variety. “We use maple syrup in them because it makes them fudgy and because it has deep flavor,” said owner Reine Bayoc, who created the sweet treat a few years ago when members of the band Phish, playing at the Fox Theatre, requested vegan brownies. They’ve been perfected since then: “The ones we have now are a lot better than the ones they got,” Bayoc said with a smile. 2203 S. 39th St., St. Louis, 314.771.4278

Foie Gras Burger | Liluma
A $24 burger? Yep, and it’s worth every penny: a half-pound patty of American Grassfed Beef topped with Vermont Cheddar and sautéed foie gras on a house-made brioche bun. We’ve paid $24 for this much wonderfully caramelized foie in the past, but that arrived with toast points and sweet chutney, not atop a delicious burger and with honey mustard-romaine slaw and truffle fries – which makes this price quite a deal. A word of warning, though: Don’t finish the fries before you finish the burger, or you’ll miss out on dipping them in the small pool of nonsensically delicious foie-burger-dressing jus that may be the best fry dipping sauce we’ve ever encountered. Liluma, 236 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, 314.361.7771

Root Beer | Monarch Restaurant
Say “soda,” and most people think of the syrupy, carbonated stuff that’s home to a horde of artificial flavor agents. That’s why the house-made root beer executive chef Josh Galliano is kegging over at Monarch is such a refreshing anomaly to the soda stereotype. For this teetotaler’s treat, Galliano goes old-school, steeping water with sarsaparilla and licorice roots, ginger, star anise, cinnamon and vanilla. The result: an intense spiciness that he balances beautifully with the sweetness of orange zest, turbinado sugar and cane syrup. Right now you can order it on draft at the bar or with a scoop of house-made vanilla bean ice cream from the dessert menu, but watch for it to soon appear in sauces and marinades on Monarch’s menu. We’re hoping it also finds its way into some of bartender Nate Selsor’s signature cocktails. 7401 Manchester Road, Maplewood, 314.644.3995

What’s in a name? White fleshed and supple, that which we call a boquerone doesn’t look like an anchovy. Tender, delicate, vinegar-cured and lightly salted, it tastes nothing like those brownish, flat, briny ribbons of canned fish. But boquerones are fresh anchovy fillets, straight from Spain, where they’re legendary. Their citrusy flavor and buttery texture make them well worth seeking out – and perfect served simply on a slab of crusty bread with olives. And you can name that irresistible. Available at Bob’s Seafood, 8660 Olive Blvd., University City, 314.993.4844 and Di Gregorio’s Market, 5200 Daggett Ave., St. Louis, 314.776.1062

Deadly Dick's XXX Pretzels
We like snacks with some heat – real, sweat-inducing, lip-numbing, you-better-not-rub-your-eyes-while-eating-this kind of heat. And Deadly Dick’s XXX Pretzels deliver, with a coating of Missouri-grown bhut jolokia pepper dust. (At more than 1 million Scoville units, the bhut jolokia is thought to be the hottest chile pepper in the world.) But while these pretzels will melt your face like something from Raiders of the Lost Ark, there’s actual flavor there, too: Before the capsaicin does its thing, there’s a subtle, tangy sweetness. Then the Ninth Gate opens and your mouth becomes a demon habitat for half an hour. These pretzels are just magic.

Brasserie by Niche
We’d be hard-pressed to name a favorite dish at Brasserie by Niche (though it’s likely that any of our meals there will start with the addictive gougères and end with the airy Floating Island dessert). Escargot and steak frites, country pâté and coq au vin, salade Lyonnaise and bouillabaisse – classic French dishes become approachable fare in a casual setting, and the one-year-old restaurant delivers with an unstuffy, loud and lively dining room, complete with brown paper-topped tables, checked tablecloths and warm-hued walls. 4580 Laclede Ave., St. Louis, 314.454.0600

Simone Faure | The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis
“I love dessert so much that I will eat my dessert first and save room for whatever that other stuff is,” said Simone Faure, The Ritz-Carlton’s spunky executive pastry chef. We’ll do the same when you’re talking Faure’s panna cotta dreamsicles, deep-fried Oreos or decadent dulce de leche cheesecakes. What inspires the creator of the Edible Fashion Collection’s purse and shoe cakes, the luxe hotel’s cheesecake bar in The Lobby Lounge and new walk-up bakery? “I go back to what I enjoyed when I was a kid and re-create that,” said Faure, who reminisced of candy necklaces and deep-fried Southern fare. Having built a reputation “for not taking a lot of bull,” Faure drills hand-picked area culinary students who aspire to learn the art of pastry. “Sometimes they make it and sometimes they don’t,” said Faure coolly. Students who do last through a season of “Hell’s Kitchen, Simone-style” are able to execute Faure’s philosophy: to make dessert the pinnacle of a meal so that guests leave saying, “Damn, that dessert was awesome!” 100 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Clayton, 314.863.6300

Food Trucks
The only thing better than a good, hearty lunch is when enjoying it is the culmination of a foodie scavenger hunt. The national food truck craze is finally starting to hit the STL, and we’re loving the mobile munchies it’s offering. These gutsy gastronauts are cooking up pizza, tacos, burgers – even cupcakes – and serving them on street corners all across our hungry city. Every truck has something delicious to offer, with an affordable price to match. The best part of this tasty new trend? Just think of all the fellow foodies you can meet in line. Track these food trucks down on Twitter: @PiTruckSTL, WheresChaCha, @SarahsCakeStop, @FatsPierre

Olives by the Pound | J. Viviano and Sons
It’s our go-to spot for San Marzano tomatoes and Italian cheeses, but no trip to J. Viviano and Sons is complete without a stop at the U-shaped deli counter towards the rear of the store, where the friendly staff scoops briny, plump olives by the pound from big white tubs. These beauts alone are worth a trip to The Hill mainstay: giant salty greens, pitted or whole; pungent, chewy Sicilian blacks; or, our favorite, the bright green cerignolas, whose firm flesh and fruity flavor make them irresistible for eating out of hand. 5139 Shaw Ave., St. Louis, 314.771.5476

Amy Zupanci | Fond and Township Grocer
When a power outage forced Fond chef and owner Amy Zupanci to cook Sunday supper without hoods, she opened all the doors in the kitchen and instructed her tallest employee to manually reset the fire alarm every time it threatened to go off. Cool under pressure is just another page out of the Zupanci playbook, which also favors high-quality ingredients, an Old World simplicity and an open flame over an immersion circulator any day. Her secret weapon to a knockout steak dish? Salt and pepper, quite a bit of it, plus peppery arugula and a perfect raw egg yolk. Zupanci brought the same focus to Edwardsville’s Township Grocer when she opened the general store-meets-butcher shop-meets-café earlier this year, making the local ingredients she’s so passionate about using in her own kitchen accessible to those who want to apply her process in their own. She’s bold, tough skinned and comfortable thinking on her feet. But it’s Zupanci’s endless string of ideas – and her track record for wowing us with them – that keeps us captivated. Fond, 106 N. Main St., Edwardsville, 618.656.9001 and Township Grocer, 102 Main St., Edwardsville, 618.656.0414

Stefani Pollack's Alcoholic Cupcakes
Liquor in a cupcake? We’ll take a baker’s dozen, please. It’s ideas like this that have placed local baker Stefani Pollack, who pens the blog Cupcake Project, in the national spotlight – and have helped liberate the cupcake from its chocolate and vanilla shackles. Pollack has incorporated alcohol – including absinthe, beer, bourbon and Grand Marnier – into the frosting or batter of numerous original baked goodies. “Cupcakes are very often thought of as kids’ stuff, but the alcohol makes it more grown up,” said Pollack, adding that, “it’s a way to get different flavors into the cupcake.” About one of our favorites, her Pomegranate Mojito cupcake, Pollack likes the freshness of the mint and lime, as well as the added sugar from the pomegranate, which makes this baked treat a tad sweeter than your standard Mojito.

Pomegranate Mojito Cupcake
Courtesy of Cupcake Project’s Stefani Pollack

12 cupcakes

For the syrup:
½ cup light rum
½ cup Pama pomegranate liqueur
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
²∕³ oz. fresh mint leaves
½ cup sugar
For the cupcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. lime zest
1 Tbsp. finely chopped mint leaves
1½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
²∕³ cup sugar
2 eggs
²∕³ cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
For the frosting:
½ stick unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp. sour cream
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. Pama pomegranate liqueur
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 pomegranate (optional)
• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• Combine all of the syrup ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until you have about ½ cup of syrup. Strain out the mint leaves and set aside.
• For the cupcakes, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, lime zest and mint.
• In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar for 1 minute or until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs, sour cream and lime juice into the butter mixture until blended.
• Alternately fold in the flour mixture and syrup.
• Fill cupcake liners 3∕4 full and bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the cupcake clean. Let cool.
• Meanwhile, prepare the frosting by mixing all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl until smooth.
• When cooled, spread the frosting on the cupcakes. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired.

Chicken and Waffles | Goody Goody Diner
The chicken is salty, crispy and piping hot; the malted waffle’s crust has a slight crunch that can stand up to a generous pour of warm maple syrup. We think chicken and waffles are a perfect match. “The contrast just tastes good,” agreed Richard Connelly, owner of North City’s Goody Goody Diner, which serves our favorite version of the combo. Stuffing yourself silly with the Chicken and Waffle Supreme, which pairs the famous duo with two eggs and a side (go for the hash browns studded with onions and cheese or the perfectly cooked grits), is best reserved for Saturdays, when napping afterwards is possible. A word of warning: Expect a wait on weekends. But, believe us, it’s worth it. 5900 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis, 314.383.3333

The Bread Program at Five Bistro
A small indie restaurant with an in-house boulanger? Five Bistro’s Alex Carlson bakes bread – and only bread – all day long. He makes small batches of beautiful, hunky, Old World breads like the prefermented poolish buns that sandwich Five’s popular burgers or a chewy inside, crusty outside pain a l’Ancienne that gets hand-shaped into a baguette, ciabatta loaf or hoagie-style roll. Add to that a torpedo-shaped Italian country wheat pan bigio, a classic focaccia and a round 1½-pound pain au levain that is leavened by wild yeasts and made hearty from wheat sourced from Cape Girardeau. Carlson’s breads are usually made with only four simple ingredients – certified organic flour, water, yeast and salt – since the self-proclaimed traditionalist said that pure flavor comes from quality grains and proper fermenting and handling. “I’m quite looking forward to spreading the gospel of good bread,” preached Carlson. Amen to that. 5100 Daggett Ave., St. Louis, 314.773.5553

Cafe Peru Chilchos | Kuva Coffee Co.
Fair trade is so 2009. Direct Trade is the next tier in socially and environmentally sustainable coffee, and local roaster Kuva Coffee Co., in partnership with the William L. Brown Center at the Missouri Botanical Garden, is bringing it home with this coffee. Shade-grown in the Chilchos region of Peru, the beans are sourced directly from the farmer; no middleman means the farmer earns twice the world market price. (Kuva also donates 10 percent of profits back to Peru via the WLBC.) Back here in The Lou, Cafe Peru Chilchos beans brew up a rich, medium-dark, full-bodied cuppa with earthy undertones and a soft cocoa finish. We can drink to that. Available by the cup at the High Pointe Theatre, 1005 McCausland Ave., St. Louis and by the pound at Whole Foods Market and other local grocers. 314.918.7030,

Farm Menu | The Scottish Arms
Executive chef Carl Hazel’s enthusiasm for The Scottish Arms’ Farm Fresh Menu, created from locally grown products, is infectious. The nose-to-tail menu – some weeks pork, some weeks lamb, or whatever Hazel and his kitchen crew get their hands on – rolls out every Thursday, and we’re always eager to see what it entails. Will it be braised lamb collar with smoky tomato jus and collard greens? Juniper-marinated, bacon-wrapped pork medallions with blackberry compote? Bacon-fat ice cream with bacon bits and bitter chocolate? And we’re not the only ones: Most weeks, the menu sells out by Sunday. But should you miss it, there’s always next week. 8 S. Sarah St., St. Louis, 314.535.0551

Barista Eggs | Northwest Coffee
Northwest Coffee owner Rick Milton was on a quest to add a protein to his menu, and barista eggs – eggs cooked to fluffy perfection using an espresso steamer – fit the bill perfectly. “You use all the same tools [as for coffee] and you don’t need to put a kitchen in – no stove, no hood. It’s so simple and the quality is so good,” said Milton, who learned to create the egg concoction from a fellow coffee shop owner in Chattanooga, Tenn. Milton features these no-oil-or-butter-needed eggs solo or combined with veggies or cheese. They can be plated with toast, sandwiched between a bagel or pretzel bun, or wrapped in a tortilla. The innovative concept has become so popular that Northwest’s baristas crack open 50 dozen Dry Dock eggs a week at the Ladue location; the eggs will grace the menu board at the CWE location before year’s end. Customer orders need to be turned around quickly at a coffee shop, so although steaming an egg only takes 20 seconds, Milton’s got one lament: “You can’t speed up the toast.” 8401 Maryland Ave., Ladue, 314.725.8055 and 4251 Laclede Ave., St. Louis, 314.371.4600

Carl McConnell | Stone Soup Cottage
Carl McConnell calls his business plan selfish. Maybe it is. After all, he opens the restaurant just four days a week so he has time to spend with his family. He picks the time you eat (6:30 resos only) and your meal is the result of his latest collaboration with the farmer who grows just for him. Oh, and did we mention that he mans the kitchen alone, without a sous chef or line cook to chop a single onion?

But if you’re lucky enough to land one of the 24 seats inside this cozy, French cottage-style restaurant, you’ll be glad McConnell does things his way. Because his way is to push each dish to its culinary limit, whether by finishing a salad off with a soufflé, baking the dough for savory tarts from scratch or assembling his complex Marseille bouillabaisse tableside (“I love the dramatic presentation,” he gushed).

McConnell has created the restaurant of his dreams – and he’s loving every minute of it. “I walk into the restaurant every day with the attitude that I want to be better than yesterday; I want to challenge myself,” he said. “I’m a 38-year-old man, and when I go into that kitchen I feel like an 8-year-old kid.” If that’s selfish, we certainly don’t mind. 5525 Oak St., Cottleville, 636.244.2233

Oh Lolli Lolli
Who said candy stores are just for kids? We challenge any 40-year-old to walk into Oh Lolli Lolli and not be delighted by the tiny Clayton shop, which is packed to the gills with gobs of sugary treats, from Pop Rocks to wax soda bottles, candy buttons to gumdrops, gummy butterflies to giant chocolate-peanut butter cups. Don’t see your favorites? This candyland will order them for you. Get as much as your heart desires – no one’s going to tell you no. 802 DeMun Ave., Clayton, 314.721.9600

S'Mores at The Royale
Just skip the difficulties of camping – the no electricity, pitching the tent, the less-than-ideal bathroom situation – and head to The Royale to enjoy the best part: making s’mores. During the cold months, the South City tavern offers the fixin’s, and diners fashion the graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate into the classic campfire treat over the fire pit on the back patio. Just five bucks gets you supplies for two s’mores, enough for you and your honey to enjoy a night under the stars. 3132 S. Kingshighway Blvd., St. Louis, 314.772.3600

Bittersweet Bakery
Walk through the doors at Bittersweet Bakery and you’ll know how Charlie felt getting his first glimpse of Wonka’s factory. The stands stacked with mini cakes – ribbon-wrapped and boasting flavors like vanilla bean-buttermilk and bittersweet chocolate – make your eyes open wide. House-made maple-pecan shortbread cookies, banana butter rum cream pie, pineapple upside down muffins and raspberry linzer bars lure you into a sugar-laden walk down the length of the counter that’s chock-full of sweet treats, the first of many you can be sure. And the ice cream – oh, the ice cream! – well, it makes your mouth water for crave-able combos like black walnut-fudge brownie, frozen crème anglaise, and mint and white chocolate. At this charming little bakeshop, willpower goes out the window and your taste buds take the wheel. Order just about anything on the über-creative menu and you’ll be satisfied. Actually, you’ll be licking your lips and plotting your next trip – but that’s just how the cookie crumbles. 2200 Gravois Ave., St. Louis, 314.771.3500

Blue Plate Specials | Farmhaus
The dinner menu at Farmhaus focuses on high-end fare using local ingredients, but at lunch, it’s all down home. Don’t expect a lunch menu, though – and we mean that literally. Each weekday, chef and owner Kevin Willmann and his crew offer one, and only one, lunch item, dubbed the Blue Plate Special. “I’ve always had a secret dream of doing a diner,” Willmann said, “and this is my little chance to do it.” Step into the tiny space around noon on a Monday and you’ll be treated to fried chicken, mac and cheese and mashed potatoes. On Tuesdays, kitchen manager Antonio Pacheco takes over and offers tacos, complete with hand-pressed tortillas, and the rest of the week features comfort fare like roast beef or bacon-wrapped meatloaf. It’s a throwback in price as well as style, since the total bill for entrée, sides, salad and tea will only set you back 10 bucks – surely one of the best values in town. According to Willmann, “These blue plate specials really speak to the core of what we want to do. It’s one plate, one idea and its audacity might draw some attention.” We’re sure it already has. 3257 Ivanhoe Ave., St. Louis, 314.647.3800