Fall Forecast: What’s in for dining out

Dining out this fall will be a tasty blast – just take a peek at what’s new and what’s next.

Wild adventure
All around town, chefs’ imaginations are taking flight with game birds. “I’m excited about having some little birds come in,” said Adam Gnau of Acero. Both Gnau and his Maplewood neighbor Josh Galliano of Monarch Restaurant are likely to be roasting squab this season. At Araka in Clayton, Mark Curran is thinking about pheasant. Carl Hazel of The Scottish Arms and Cary McDowell of Revival, both in St. Louis, have their sights on partridge -- if only as specials. Ditto Kevin Willmann of Erato on Main in Edwardsville. Typically, Willmann cooks from the hip, but a recent invention featured foie gras-stuffed Scottish partridge dressed with a wine-raspberry gastrique (pictured). House bacon, apple and shallot chutney topped things off.

If fowl isn’t what you’re hunting for, look for an occasional elk dish at Araka and primary cuts of bison at downtown’s Cielo.

Good neighbors
Build a bar and they will come. Build it inside a new restaurant neighbored by foxy theaters, contemporary art spaces and an haute hotel, and they’ll come often. Grand Center – where plans for a hotel are under way, according to Grand Center director of marketing and communications Susan Wedemeyer – is welcoming two new eateries: Triumph Grill and Eddie Neill’s latest venture, Wm. Shakespeare’s Gastropub. Another phoenix is rising just around the corner. Dining destinations like The Good Pie and Exo are settling into The Locust Business District. The latter business is a club doubling as a restaurant. “We wanted to stabilize the neighborhood by offering more than just entertainment,” said Exo co-owner Fred Finley. Happenin’ blocks make hot neighborhoods. “From a pedestrian’s, a partygoer’s, a showgoer’s point of view, [Grand Center and the Locust Business District] are going to meld together,” Wedemeyer said.

We'll drink to that
Pumpkin talk in the fall seems cliché – unless the topic is cocktails. Sunny McElwain, bar manager at Terrene in the Central West End, said she’s been gussying up rum with pumpkin butter. At The Shaved Duck, bar manager Patrick Thomas’ pumpkincello will likewise deserve a taste test once he’s perfected it. In the meantime, stop by the Tower Grove East eatery for The Breakfast of Champions (pictured). “It’s The Duck’s take on a Bloody Mary,” he said. “It’s sage-infused vodka and a nice, fresh house-made Bloody Mary mix garnished with bacon jerky, a pickled quail egg and a little piece of pickled potato.” Yes, Thomas is into pickling – and he’s on a mission. “I remember that old jar of pickled eggs on the bar from when I was a kid, and I have this fascination with bringing them back,” he said. Cielo will be another good place for a midmorning pick-me-up. Restaurant and bar manager Stephen Wancha has started making Bloody Marys with clear tomato water seasoned with sea salt, pepper and just a bit of basil oil. “With vodka, it’s dynamite,” Wancha said. Of course, he can also offer you a scotch-based Bloody Mary spiked with rosemary. Cheers.

Chefs on the move
As he settles in at Monarch, Josh Galliano will be mulling over dishes like veal shank for two. He also hopes to boost conviviality with a roasted rack of pork that can serve an entire table. In the meantime, he’ll be putting first things first – shopping bags in hand – at the Maplewood Farmers’ Market. Galliano likes to cook with what’s local – just like he did at downtown’s An American Place.

Hefeweizen in the fish batter, pale ale in the chili, stout in the ice cream – and The Schlafly Tap Room has more beer food where that came from. Now in full effect at the downtown gastropub, Andy White has upped the menu’s beer-friendliness. Late of Off the Vine, White’s also expanded The Tap Room’s tradition of making condiments and sauces with a twist. Spicy ketchup and green peppercorn sauce still rock the house alongside newbies like rocket mayo and barleywine vinaigrette – hey, look at that: more beer. You gotta love it.

“I’m not French, but I think my French soul really poured out into this one,” said Brian S. Hale of the menu he recently revamped for Café Eau in the Central West End. Stuffed quail (there’s those game birds again … ), duck confit, braised pork belly with natural jus – French classics are getting all of Hale’s love these days. Sauce-wise, he’s attending to “nice, dark deep reductions.” Three-course meals for all types of diners are another highlight of the new menu. “Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free – in each category, there are appetizers, salads and at least one entrée, sometimes two.” Over at Eau Bistro, the former exec at Monarch keeps it real by making toasted ravioli, french fries and flatbreads from scratch.

In good spirits
Brian Owens can’t wait to distill liquor. “To be honest, I’m a huge bourbon fan,” said the head brewer of O’Fallon Brewery in O’Fallon, Mo. Owens would also like to try his hand at absinthe and other “out-there” liqueurs. Don’t forget gin, the great flavor-sponge. “You can do so much with it,” Owens said. “Juniper, of course, but also coriander, pepper … ” It might take two or three years for O’Fallon to start microdistilling, but it’s definitely within the brewery’s reach. “We have the brewhouse. We have the fermentation tanks. All we’re missing at this point is the still,” Owens said. The Stable in Benton Park is ready to roll out the barrel once its license arrives. “It could come tomorrow,” said owner Jesse Jones. Apart from brewing beer, Jones plans to concoct small batches of grappa and absinthe. “Almost anybody can make simple rum and vodka, but grappa and absinthe require a little more craft – and chemistry. That’s what our distiller Mike Stapleton does. He’s a chemist,” Jones said.

The other red meat
Depending on how chefs warm up to Red Wattle hogs, St. Louis may soon be dining on a different type of pork. In late summer, Farrar Out Farm in Frohna, Mo., started raising three of these heritage animals, and owners Bryan and Christina Truemper plan to acquire 15 more sometime this month.

Dark red with a beef-like texture, Red Wattle pork is lean but flavorful. Meat from Farrar Out Farm will have even more flavor plus added nutrition. The secret is small grains. Instead of just soy and corn, the Truempers also mix oats and barley into the feed. Once the pigs’ weight hits 280 pounds, it’ll be time to go to market. The Truempers don’t have any retail ambitions, however; they’ll only be selling to restaurants. As of press time, they’d confirmed their first two customers, Josh Galliano of Monarch and Kevin Willmann of Erato on Main. The two chefs will be splitting a Red Wattle between their respective restaurants in Maplewood and Edwardsville.

Sit and sip awhile
Yes to a taste of this. Yes to a taste of that. Sampling is what wine bars are all about – and oenophiles will have more places to test their palates this season. The Wine Tap in downtown Belleville has bottles, glasses and flights. (Later this fall, watch for the new spot to open up five nights a week instead of three.) Looking for an even littler sip? Rock Hill newcomer Bella Vita serves 1.5-ounce quaffs of 64 wines. (Read all about it on page 52.) The Wine Press in the West End pours a solid 24 glasses, while the second location of Sasha’s Wine Bar, set to open next month in the Shaw neighborhood, will boast upwards of 50.

“If you’re willing to go from a $6 glass to a $10 glass, it’s a tremendous difference in taste,” said Sasha’s owner Alan Richman.

Mmmm ... pizza
Crust. Sauce. Toppings. Simple enough – and yet not all pizzas are created equal. Expect upper-echelon pies from The Wedge in south St. Louis, The Good Pie in the Locust Business District and Pi’s second restaurant in the Central West End. All of these coming-soon pizzerias separate themselves from the pro-Provel crowd with a few fine touches here and there.

“We’re not going to put those nasty canned things on our pizza,” said Blake Brokaw, creator of the menu at The Wedge, where fresh anchovies will be one of roughly 20 toppings. Natural yeast will make the crusts’ flavor more complex, Brokaw said, and there’ll be a choice of three sauces: standard and smoked tomato along with a delish, noncreamy white clam. Also appearing on the menu are calzones and subtly sophisticated salads such as arugula with roasted beets, goat cheese and farro dressed in a lemon-thyme vinaigrette.

The Good Pie, a Neapolitan-inspired joint, diversifies its menu with small plates. A portion of its tomatoes will come from an organic tomato garden on the patio. (It doesn’t get fresher than that.) Inside, the novelty is a custom-built oven from Italy. Owner Michael Randolph said he aims to keep things casual with “jeans and T-shirt table service” and blackboard desserts. After all, it’s a pizzeria. “A fine dining restaurant is a whole other animal,” Randolph said. So don’t sweat it if you’d rather have a pitcher of beer than a bottle of wine. The Good Pie will serve both.

Speaking of beer, if the deal for the new Pi goes through, the list will expand to include as many as 40 selections. The only thing better than hot pizza, of course, is hot pizza with a cold one.

Everything tastes better with bacon
Bacon fans, ready your taste buds. Joshua Roland of downtown’s Fifteen is putting a new spin on the crispy pork strips you crave – make that several new spins. This fall, apple, pancake-black pepper and mustard-thyme bacon (pictured) will be on offer, along with whatever other infusions Roland has up his sleeve. (The chef has also dabbled in watermelon, jalapeño and garlic-rosemary bacon.) Aiming to please with “delicious, sexy, fun food,” Roland lets diners combine the bacon of their choice with BLTs, burgers and chicken sandwiches; bacon tastings are on the way. Sizzle-sizzle.

To answer your question: Yes, Roland likes bacon as much as you do. “I eat about 2 pounds of it a day,” he said.

Care for dessert?
Sink your sweet tooth into something like … a panzanella salad? That’s right, The Wedge has rethought the savory, Sicilian dish by replacing veggies, bread and olive oil with fresh fruit, pound cake and a honey-yogurt sauce. You can also get funky after dinner at Café Eau, where the dessert menu features sorbets such as cherry-horseradish and poblano.