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Aug 23, 2014
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The Scoop: Bissinger’s The Caramel Room nabs Nick Miller as chef

Thursday, August 14th, 2014



Nick Miller, former chef-owner of the recently shuttered Harvest has been hired as executive chef for The Caramel Room at Bissinger’s. The Caramel Room is a private event space situated on the top floor of the chocolate company’s new downtown location at 1600 N. Broadway, scheduled to open Sept. 29.

“The day I found out Harvest was closing, I called him (Miller),” said Amanda Little, director of events for 23 City Blocks, management company for The Caramel Room and Lumen event space, which it acquired in late July. After an interview and a seven-course tasting, the chef was offered the position. “We want a chef that can have our guests feeling as if they were at a culinary restaurant,” she said.

The Caramel Room will be used for weddings, corporate events and other private parties. The 13,000-square-foot space features large, warehouse-style windows that give way to a flood of natural light and sights of the downtown skyline, plus an outdoor terrace that offers views of the Mississippi River. “It’s modern but not over the top,” Little said.

While menus will be tailor-made for guests, chocolate-inspired offerings will be a focus at The Caramel Room. “We’re a working chocolate factory,” she said. “We want to infuse chocolate in our menu.”

As the 23 City Blocks team prepares to open, the rest of the four-story building is bustling with activity as Bissinger’s relocates its headquarters and local manufacturing operations from 3983 Gratiot St.

“We’re in the throes of moving the operation now,” said Dave Owens, Bissinger’s vice president of taste and chief chocolatier. Owens said the company would vacate the building by the end of August and production will commence at the new location as early as next week.



The Scoop: Urban Eats opens second location downtown at St. Louis Public Library

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014


Devour more than books when you visit St. Louis Public Library downtown. Urban Eats Café Central celebrates its grand opening today, Aug. 12, in the west wing of the SLPL’s central branch at 1301 Olive St.

The cafe is the second Urban Eats location. Its sister spot sits at 3301 Meramec St., in the Dutchtown neighborhood. Urban Eats is known for fresh, healthy food and beverage options. The menu at the new location will be similar, but more limited in scope to that in Dutchtown, according to Caya Aufiero, who opened Urban Eats in 2008 with husband, John Chen. Look for salads, sandwiches, a couple flatbreads (bacon and pepperoni or sweet-spicy goat cheese), hummus and sweet treats like scones, muffins and a gluten-free/vegan lemon bar. Smoothies, teas, espresso and coffee drinks are all in the beverage lineup.

Urban Eats Café Central is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sneak Peek: Robie’s at The Magnolia Hotel

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

The Magnolia Hotel – along with its bar and restaurant, Robie’s – officially opens for business today, Aug. 12. The new boutique hotel, one of a chain of five Magnolia hotels in the U.S., unlocks its doors at 421 N. Eighth St., after an extensive eight-month, multi-million dollar renovation to the former Mayfair Hotel space.

The hotel’s bar and restaurant, Robie’s, is named for John Robie, played by actor Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief. The lounge offers contemporary American cuisine in an elegant setting. Morning eats are available a la carte and as a continental breakfast buffet; lunch and dinner options include a variety of soups, salads, appetizers, sandwiches, pizzas, entrees and desserts. A limited late-night menu is also available. Here’s what’s in store at Robie’s.


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-photos by Michelle Volansky

The Scoop: Heritage BBQ by Cochon returns to St. Louis Sept. 14

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014


{From left, Blackberry Farm’s Michael Sullivan, 2013 Cochon competing chefs Fabrizio Schenardi, Gerard Craft, SPQR’s Matthew Accarrino, Kevin Willmann, Kevin Nashan and Cochon founder Brady Lowe}


Pork lovers, rejoice! Heritage BBQ by Cochon is returning to St. Louis this year. The national tour that celebrates heritage breed hogs will take place Sept. 14 at the Four Seasons Hotel-St. Louis. Cochon founder Brady Lowe brought his Heritage BBQ to town for the first time last year, and his 2014 ‘cue fest is set to be even bigger.

The main attraction at the event is a whole hog barbecue competition. Five area chefs will each cook up a 200-pound heritage breed swine to create six dishes judged by a panel of local industry professionals. The lineup of competing chefs is: Gian Nicola Colucci (executive chef, Four Seasons – St. Louis), Eric Heath (chef and co-owner, Cleveland-Heath), Patrick Connolly (executive chef, Basso), Josh Galliano (chef and co-owner, The Libertine) and Lou Rook III (executive chef, Annie Gunn’s).

But the pig-crazed can dine on more than competition barbecue. New this year is Barbecue Traditions, during which area meat moguls will serve a dish exemplifying their take on barbecue paired with wines, bbers or spirits. Look for Mike Emerson of Pappy’s Smokehouse and Chris Bolyard of soon-to-open Bolyard Meat & Provisions to be among those educating eaters on barbecue culture. Other food attractions will include a pop-up butcher shop featuring Andrew Jennrich of soon-to-open The Butchery, a tartare bar with edible delights by Creekstone Farms, a cheese spread by Rogue Creamery and ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Even though there will be pound upon pound of tender, juicy meat prepared every which way, libations aren’t an afterthought. Festival-goers will can partake in top-tier bourbons, Crispin ciders, wines, mezcals and Goose Island beers, including its rare Bourbon County brews.

VIP tickets are $200 and include a 4 p.m. early admission, as well as access to reserve wines and spirits. General admission tickets are $100; tickets available online.

Sauce Magazine is a sponsor of this event.

What I Do: Anne Lehman

Sunday, August 10th, 2014



Anne Lehman, 54, relocated to St. Louis from her native San Francisco three years ago. The owner of urban farm Dirty Girl Farms may have dirt under her nails, but she has the toned arms of a weightlifter (and competes at the masters level), the greenest thumb on Tower Grove South’s Juniata Street and a heart filled with pride for her new hometown.

Why the name Dirty Girl?
It was something that my husband called me. In California, I’d always come in and be filthy. He’d know when I was working outside because all the light switches would be dirty. Now, it’s kind of a blessing and a curse. I decided to embrace it. There’s a lot of double entendres, sexual stuff. If I go into a restaurant: “Oh, it’s Dirty Girl. Whatcha got?”

How did you start selling to restaurants?
One of my favorite bartenders (John Fausz of Olio) lives down the street. One day, I said to John, “Can I bring you some herbs for the bar?” Ben (Poremba, Olio and Elaia chef-owner) got ahold of everything before John did. He flipped out over one of the herbs I was growing. He was like, “I’ll take however much of this you’ve got. Bring me a list of what you’re selling.”

What do you grow?
A lot of things that I brought from California: lemon verbena, pineapple sage, Mexican tarragon. There’s Cuban oregano, rose geranium. (Food truck) Holy Crepe bought all my Madras podding radish. They don’t grow in the ground. They grow on a vine. Malabar spinach, a lot of Italian greens: erba stella, stridolo…

Any other unusual plantings?
I have a crack project where I grow seeds in cracks. So does my brother. I don’t know why we do it. In the alley, I grew borage this year. I grew zinnias in the alley last year for the woman across the alley. She was recovering from cancer. I wanted to do something nice for her because she couldn’t come outside and garden. She could see them from her window.

Have any chefs asked you to plant something for them?
(Sidney Street Cafe chef-owner) Kevin Nashan. He challenged me. He’s like, “Well, it’s not like you’re growing salt wort.” And I’m like, “Well, I can.” I have a lot of salt wort. I’m going to see if he wants to buy it.

What do you do with herbs you don’t sell?
I turn all the herbs into tinctures. I just sold my tinctures to (Blood & Sand co-owner) TJ Vytlacil. Amanda (Hammond) at Niche is playing around with them. And (my husband makes) ice cream. Cafe Osage featured it one month. It’s like French custard ice cream. My husband has the most amazing recipe and he won’t change it to make it less expensive. I don’t market it any more.

Why do you call yourself Dirty Girl Farms when you only have one farm?
It will be Farms someday. I always start with the big picture.

So you’re staying put in St. Louis?
I made the best decision of my life to move to this city. We’re not going anywhere. Here’s my California snobbiness: When I went to Taste in the Central West End when we were looking for a place to live, I ate there and was blown away. Everyone in my life was telling me I was crazy to move to St. Louis. I just thought, well, everything’s going to be OK. There’s Taste.

Have you discovered other restaurants here that make you feel that way?
I have a huge list. There are way better restaurants here than in San Francisco. I get treated like every human being should be treated when I go to a restaurant here.

-photo by Carmen Troesser

By the Book: Emily and Melissa Elsen’s Plumble Pie

Saturday, August 9th, 2014




After I gave birth to my second child, I realized that, while my feet had grown a full shoe size, I would never grow an extra set of hands. To keep an eye on my boys, I put them to work in the kitchen, and one son has especially taken to the world of pastry.

Since this month’s By the Book is all about pie, I figured Dough Boy might like to lend a hand. To sweeten the deal, I let him choose which recipe to prepare among those I’d marked in The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon recipes from the celebrated Brooklyn pie shop by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen. Would it be nectarine-blueberry (delightful fruit combo), paprika peach (love me some spice), muskmelon chiffon (melon juice, saltine crust – cool), Concord grape (because it grows in my backyard) or Plumble Pie (plum pie baked in bowls)? He chose the last.




The recipe calls for an all-butter crust, which the Elgen sisters note is the signature and most popular crust at their popular pie shop. It holds a hint of tangy cider vinegar and is easy to put together. The sisters do a fine job explaining exactly how to incorporate the ice water-vinegar mixture into the dry ingredients so the dough is neither wet nor overkneaded. Since the Elgens recommend refrigerating the dough overnight, we made the oat topping next and refrigerated both as well so it would be ready when we needed it the following day.




One reason the Plumble Pie recipe interested me was because aromatic bitters was listed among the ingredients. Bitters are made from numerous roots, barks, fruit peels, seeds and other plant matter infused in high-proof alcohol. Just a couple dashes of Old Fashion bitters adds complex flavor to the three ground spices – ginger, cardamom and allspice – that are tossed with the sliced plums.




Instead of a pie pan, bowls come into play for this dessert. My bowls varied in depth, so it was a tad tricky decide how much to roll out each piece of dough so it fit inside its respective bowl.




Once I ladled the filling inside and added the crumbled oat topping, my stomach started growling. It was a matter of tick-tock, watch the clock…




The results were spectacular. The buttery crust was incredibly light and flaky. The cooked filling offered ripe plum flavors with thick fruit juice oozing about. The whole thing begged to be topped with vanilla ice cream.

Distance prevents me from visiting Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop on a regular basis. Luckily, the Elgin sisters have given me the tools to duplicate their unique pies at home. And since my butter-loving boy is a teenager, I’ve a lot of parenting yet to do. Ergo, we’ll be baking together often from this book.

Plumble Pie
Makes 4 4-inch or 2 6-inch bowls

All-butter Crust (Recipe follows)
2 cups Oat Crumble (Recipe follows)
2 lbs. plums, sliced (4 to 5 cups)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. potato starch
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
2 dashes Old Fashion bitters

• Divide the dough into 2 or 4 pieces, depending on the size of bowls being used. Roll each piece into a disc 2 to 3 inches larger than the oven-safe bowl. Grease the bowls well and fit the dough inside; crimp the edges as desired. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
• Position the oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
• Combine the plums, lemon juice, granulated and brown sugars, potato starch, allspice, ginger, cardamom and bitters in a large bowl and mix well.
• Place the bowls on the rimmed baking sheet and distribute the plum filling evenly among them. Top with the oat crumble. Bake on the lowest rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, move the pies to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 30 to 35 minutes longer.
• Allow the bowls to cool completely on a wire rack, 1 to 2 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
• The pie will keep refrigerated 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

All-butter Crust
Makes 1 single-crust 9- to 10-inch pie

1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ tsp. kosher salt
1½ tsp. granulated sugar
¼ lb. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ cup cold water
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
½ cup ice

• Stir the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).
• Combine the water, cider vinegar and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hand (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow.

Oat Crumble Topping
2 cups

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cup rolled oats
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, at room temperature

• Stir together all the ingredients except the butter in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the butter pieces and toss to coat. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the butter is incorporated and the mixture is chunky but not homogenous.
• Chill for at least 15 minutes before using.

What is your favorite pie shop and why? Tell us in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book!

The Scoop: Café Pintxos at Hotel Ignacio to become sushi lounge BaiKu

Friday, July 25th, 2014


Japanese flavors are coming to Midtown. Sushi lounge BaiKu is slated to open in the former Café Pintxos space at Hotel Ignacio at 3407 Olive St., in early September.

When Café Pintxos opened in 2011, it operated as a soup-salad-sandwich cafe by day and a Spanish tapas bar by night. Neither concept quite caught on, and Café Pintxos has been quiet for some months.

Steve Smith, a partner in Hotel Ignacio and the owner of a trio of businesses in the complex - Triumph Grill, Moto Museum and Moto Europa – looked to reinvigorate the space. Smith tapped as his consultant Brad Beracha, owner of the now-defunct Japanese restaurant Miso on Meramec and Araka. The plan: Japan. “There’s not a lot of sushi for Midtown in this area by Grand (Boulevard),” Beracha said.

BaiKu, which means “motorcycle” in Japanese, will specialize in sushi. It will offer basic rolls, as well as five to seven specialty rolls. “It’s not a big roll menu,” Beracha said. “I want it to be small and done great.” The restaurant will also offer eight to 10 Japanese-inspired appetizers, such as ginger-scallion-sake wings and lobster shumai (steamed dumplings). The dinner menu will be rounded out with a couple Japanese entrees. During lunch hours, BaiKu will also offer Asian noodles with an eye on ramen. Other mid-day meal options will include bahn mi and a few stir-fry items.

BaiKu’s beverage program will focus on sake and wines that pair well with sushi, which will be offered as a special during happy hours. Look also for a small cocktail menu and Japanese brews on the beer list.

Helming the sushi bar will be chef Soung Min Lee, who worked at Miso until it shuttered, and then held the position of executive sushi chef at Central Table Food Hall since it opened last year. Beracha said Lee departed from Central Table a month ago. While the sushi-making action will take place behind the bar at BaiKu, all hot food will be prepared next door in the Triumph kitchen, where chef Josh Norris leads the culinary crew.

Beracha said sushi was a perfect fit for the space’s small bar, and he also hoped that the lighter fare of Japanese cuisine would appeal to ticketholders attending performances in Grand Center. “It’s not heavy,” he said. “When you go to a show, you’re not wanting to take a nap.”

The entire space – bar, dining area, lobby lounge area and patio – will undergo a remodel. Besides new furnishings, look for pieces of a disassembled motorcycle to be a focal point along one of the walls.



Readers’ Choice 2014: Favorite Chef – Ed Heath

Thursday, July 24th, 2014



When you’re one of the area’s most popular chefs, everyone wants a word with you. We yanked Ed Heath out of the Cleveland-Heath kitchen for 1 minute to pepper him with questions about his pasture-to-plate restaurant in Edwardsville, then let him get back to making more slinger-like lomo saltado and Japanese pancakes.

What dish on the Cleveland-Heath menu are you most excited about?
The duck breast with the German potato salad. English peas, bacon … oh my God, it’s so good.

What menu items surprise you with their popularity?
For the breakfast menu, the lomo (saltado). It’s even more popular than our biscuits and gravy. For the starter menu, the okonomiyaki. We get more comments about that than anything else on our menu. The popularity is almost shocking.

What dish can you not take off the menu?
The BLT.

Are you working with any new farmers or food producers?
Jenna Pohl. She owns Midwest Lamb. She’s all-natural in her feed, but these lambs are huge. They dress out at 90 to 100 pounds. We wonder if we should call them mutton. They are massive, and they are delicious.

What’s the biggest thing you learned since opening Cleveland-Heath in 2011?
Staffing – learning how to be an appropriate manager of people, and keep them happy and wanting to come back every day, and hungry so they want to keep learning on their own. We have a killer staff, but it’s been the most challenging thing.

What music do you listen to in the kitchen?
I hate really heavy metal, so we stick with contemporary rock ’n’ roll, Willie Nelson, good old country, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, some old-school rap, a ton of old blues. It’s really who gets a hold of the radio.

What are your typical hours at the restaurant?
I am there Tuesday through Saturday, 15-plus hours each day.

How do you keep up your energy?
After work, I either jog or go to a 24-hour gym. If I didn’t exercise six or seven days a week for a minimum of an hour, I couldn’t keep up with it.

Find out who else you voted your favorites in St. Louis. Click here to see all our Readers’ Choice winners. And click here to get Ed Heath’s recipe for Chiva Cubana, deliver to you By Popular Demand.

-photo by Carmen Troesser

The Scoop: Local sushi star Naomi Hamamura joins the culinary team at United Provisions

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014


With the opening of United Provisions just weeks away, there’s news that another talented face from the local culinary scene is joining the team at the highly anticipated international grocery store at 6241 Delmar Blvd., in University City.

Naomi “Hama” Hamamura, previously executive chef at the Wasabi location downtown, has been hired as the chef at The Dining District, the prepared foods and dining section inside the grocery store. United Provisions partner Ben Poremba said he hired Hamamura two weeks ago. “He’s the best,” said Poremba, who also owns Elaia and Olio and co-owns La Patisserie Chouquette. “I called him up. He liked the idea of a new place … something a little different from what he’s done so far.”

While Hamamura will be in a new location, he’ll still be the focus of attention as he prepares sushi, ceviche and other raw far at the 16-seat raw bar at United Provisions. The Dining District’s other stations include a grill, a plancha and a deli with cured meats and cheese, according to St. Louis Magazine. Executive chef Jay Stringer will overseeing the entire dining and prepared foods operation. A veteran of the Chicago dining scene, Stringer has worked in the kitchen at Olio since it opened almost two years ago.

Lunch hours at The Dining District will be counter service with dine-in or carryout options, while dinner will be full service at this restaurant within a grocery store. There will also be a coffee shop serving up drip Northwest Coffee and pastries from La Patisserie Chouquette. Poremba said United Provisions is expected to open Aug. 11.

While Hamamura’s career began in Japan, the chef has made a mark on the local food scene since arriving to the U.S. in 1979, including working at now-closed Japanese steakhouse Robata of Japan and Ritz Carlton – St. Louis, and owning and operating the now defunct Sansui and Sansui West. In 2010, when Hamamura sold Sansui West to Wasabi, he stayed on as its corporate chef. After a stint at Prasino, Hamamura returned to Wasabi, where he worked until July 14.

-photo by Greg Rannells

Editor’s Note: This piece originally misstated Naomi Hamamura’s responsibilities at The Dining District. It has been corrected.

The Scoop: Local distiller Pinckney Bend wins big at international spirits competition

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014


{Ralph Haynes, Pinckney Bend’s vice president of marketing}


Area distillery Pinckney Bend continues to rack up accolades for its spirits. Today, July 23, the International Wine & Spirits Competition announced the results of its 2014 spirits competition held in London, and the New Haven-based distillery was awarded two medals. Pinckney Bend earned a silver medal for its American rested whiskey and a bronze medal for its American gin, the only American gin to win a bronze.

Now in its 45th year, the IWSC promotes the quality and excellence of the world’s best wine, spirits and liqueurs. Competition entries, which hail from nearly 90 countries, undergo a blind tasting by a panel of judges comprised of industry professionals.

“The IWSC in London is like the World Cup of spirits competitions,” said Ralph Haynes, the distillery’s vice president of marketing. “For small craft distillers like Pinckney Bend, winning a medal at this venue gives us a rare chance to position ourselves on a world stage, in the company of the most respected spirit brands on the planet.”

This spring, Pinckney Bend won a double gold for its American rested whiskey at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, where it has earned medals for the last three years. The rest of the world is picking up on the quality of Pinckney Bend spirits, which are now available overseas in Singapore and Italy. In addition, the distillery just picked up a distributor in the Caribbean, Haynes said, with product slated to export to that region this fall.



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