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Jul 02, 2015
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The Scoop: Mai Lee’s Qui Tran moves closer to opening a ramen shop

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015



St. Louis’ ramen lovers, prepare to geek out. About this time last year, we salivated when Mai Lee’s Qui Tran discussed opening a noodle house. Now, Tran is moving closer to that reality with his eye on a 2016 opening.

Tran recently invited Shigetoshi Nakamura, head of research and development at Sun Noodle, to help him with recipe development, as reported by Feast. “I’ve been trying to get him here since last September,” said Tran, who plans to use Sun Noodles at his upcoming shop. “It’s the No. 1 fresh ramen noodle company. They supply 200 different noodles to over 500 different restaurants.”

Tran doesn’t need 200 types of noodles at his to-be-named noodle shop; he just needs two or three. “We like not overly thick, but a good chew and moderately wavy,” he said. Currently, he is looking to prepare five styles of ramen, including shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt) and spicy miso (fermented bean paste). While ramen will be the focus at the noodle house, Tran plans to offer pho, which is gluten-free, and a monthly noodle special to highlight soups from countries throughout Asia and the Pacific islands.

Another piece of the puzzle is Tran’s executive chef and partner on the ramen project, Marie-Anne Velasco, a Filipino native who has taught at L’Ecole Culinaire in St. Louis and at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. “She just moved back to St. Louis to help with the project,” Tran said.

He hopes to sign a lease by late 2015 and open in the first half of 2016. Tran and Velasco are considering six different locations for their shop. “We’re looking west,” he said. “It won’t go further than Chesterfield.”

R&D has taken the duo on noodle slurp-fests from coast to coast, and Velasco staged for chef Takashi Yagihashi at his Chicago restaurants Tikashi and Slurping Turtle. “We’ve been very diligent with this. We’ve reached out to a lot of people, eaten a lot of ramen and developed a lot of recipes,” Tran said. “I could have opened last year, but that’s not who we are or what we do. I don’t want to just do it. I want to do it and be the best at what we do.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

Lukas Wine & Spirits opens doors at new Ellisville location

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015




Lukas Liquor has a new home at 15678 Manchester Road in Ellisville, just half-mile from its old location. In January, Lukas Liquor owner Gary Bilder announced he would relocate his spirits, wine and beer shop from its old address at 15921 Manchester Road. Concurrent with the move, Bilder renamed the store Lukas Wine & Spirits.

“This is a 15-year evolution,” said Bilder. The bright and airy 31,000-square-foot space adds another 7,000 square feet compared to the former location. Although Lukas has not added a substantial number of new products, the shopping experience will be easier, with products easily located on spacious shelves. Those who can’t make up their mind can get quick guidance from a Lukas employee by pressing one of 10 call buttons located throughout the store.





Lukas’ extensive whiskey barrel program – hand-picked barrels bottled exclusively for the store – is a focal point near the front of the shop, while at the back, more than 30 coolers hold chilled beer. Also on the suds side, Lukas now boasts a keg list of 365 different beers and an expanded single bottle selection. All wines, except those from Spain and Italy, are now organized by varietal instead of geographic location.

With education as part of the Lukas mission, the store has added 17 learning centers, posters scattered throughout that provide information regarding the history, production and notable names behind some wines, beers and spirits.




Another highlight is a tasting bar. The eight-seat bar also features a handful of high-top tables and flat-screen TVs. The bar will offer wine by the glass or bottle, four draft beer options and whiskey pours of 35 to 40 rare whiskies. The tasting bar will also be the location for Lukas’ various classes and scheduled tastings.

-photos by Meera Nagarajan



The Scoop: Chef Wil Pelly to helm Sugarfire downtown location

Monday, June 29th, 2015




Chef Wil Pelly is leaving his post as In Good Company’s corporate executive chef to join Sugarfire Smoke House. Pelly will helm culinary operations at the barbecue joint’s new location downtown at 605 Washington Ave., when it opens in September. His last day with In Good Company (which owns Sanctuaria, Hendricks BBQ, Diablitos Cantina and Café Ventana) is tomorrow, June 30. Pelly will start his training at Sugarfire’s St. Charles location.

Although he will learn the Sugarfire ways of barbecue, Pelly is no stranger to the smoker. In addition to his ’cue duties at Hendricks, he has participated in competitive barbecue contests, including the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Memphis four years in a row. He also worked barbecue when he worked at Jake’s Steak on Laclede’s Landing.

Pelly will also flex his barbecue muscles at upcoming events. In August, he’ll represent St. Louis at the LuvLuv Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, an annual barbecue fete organized by former Overlook Farms exec chef Tim Grandinetti. In November, he’ll participate in the World Food Championships in Kissimmee, Florida.

The opportunity arose last month when Sugarfire co-owner Dave Molina, Pelly’s close friend, approached him. Pelly has spent the last five years with In Good Company, starting as a prep cook at Sanctuaria and eventually overseeing culinary operations for all four eateries after chef Chris Lee departed in late 2012. “It’s time to move on and learn something new,” Pelly said.

-photo by Jonathan Gayman 

The Scoop: Dave Bailey to open weekday lunch spot Shift, Test Kitchen & Take Out

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015




Restaurateur Dave Bailey is opening another eatery. Shift, Test Kitchen & Takeout will be a counter-service, carryout only spot at 311 N. 11th St., located next door to Bailey’s downtown brunch place, Rooster. Shift, slated to open in September, will offer lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.

As its name implies, the menu at Shift will change. “The idea is to use it as an incubator for the restaurants we’re going to be opening going forward,” Bailey said. The 650-square-foot space previously housed baking operations for his restaurants. That bakery has since relocated to the second Rooster location on South Grand Boulevard.

First up: barbecue, serving as a test run for the barbecue concept Bailey announced in April 2014. The still-unnamed 200-seat restaurant was slated to open in January at 1011 Olive St., that opening has been moved to spring 2016.

“We’re not going to focus on one regional style – Memphis or St. Louis, for example. We’ll be doing a worldwide representation of barbecue styles and hope for feedback so we can hone in on really good dishes to use at the barbecue restaurant,” he said.

Bailey said Shift will follow a credo of whole-animal cooking, butchering animals in-house. Look for a tight menu of five main dishes with one vegetarian option. Traditional barbecue sides, salads and pies will also be available.

Also still on the docket is the 45-seat rooftop bar Bailey announced with the barbecue restaurant, though no date is set for that opening.

Shift joins the family of Bailey’s restaurants, which include Baileys’ Range, Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar, Baileys’ Chocolate Bar, Small Batch, both locations of Rooster and The Fifth Wheel, a catering arm that also provides food service at 4 Hands Brewing Co.

Get an early taste of Shift when they smoke up some ’cue on Aug. 2 at the Schurcipefones Festival, which closes out St. Louis Craft Beer Week.


-photo by Jonathan Pollack 

The Scoop: Robust to close its Edwardsville location

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015




Robust is closing its location in Edwardsville. Owners Stanley and Arlene Browne announced today, June 23, that the wine bar, which they opened at 126 N. Main St., in August 2013 would shutter after service on June 28.

Stanley Browne said a variety of factors culminated in the decision, one they have contemplated since the beginning of this year. “It’s hard to manage from that far away. I felt like I didn’t have good control on that location,” Browne said. The Brownes live in St. Louis and their other two Robust locations take up residence downtown and in Webster Groves, respectively.

Browne also cited less-than-expected patronage at the Illinois location. “It did not hit the same traffic as the other two locations,” he said. “It was Erato wine bar before that, so we assumed it would be just fine.” All employees at Robust in Edwardsville have been offered positions at the other Robust locations.

The Brownes have sold the assets to the Edwardsville wine bar to an Edwarsdsville-based restaurateur, who will open a different concept in the space. Browne could not divulge the new owner’s name, nor specifics about that project.

As for their next steps, Browne said they are exploring other opportunities. He confirmed that they are looking to open another St. Louis-area location and they will focus on the catering arm of their business. “We’re going to keep growing and expanding,” he said.


The Scoop: Lascelles chef Eric Brenner to head to Colorado

Monday, June 22nd, 2015




Chef Eric Brenner will soon wake up to a vista of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Beginning July 1, Brenner will assume the position of corporate executive chef at Colorado Mountain Brewery in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The St. Louis native is currently the consulting chef at Lascelles, which opened in Granite City, Illinois, earlier this year. Although Brenner won’t be a daily presence at Lascelles after June 30, he will remain in an active role as consulting chef for the restaurant. “It can run without me,” he said. “It’s a pretty easy transition for the staff. I started delegating duties to staff almost immediately because they all wanted to learn.”

The new opportunity came about recently while Brenner and his wife, Lara Brenner, were on vacation in Colorado. “We always go there. And like most people, I always look around and think, ‘I could open a place here,’ but I never followed through,” he said. This time, however, Brenner learned of the job at Colorado Mountain Brewery and applied for the position. Within a week, the job was his.

At Colorado Mountain Brewery, Brenner will oversee the food and beverage side of operations at all three of the brewpub’s locations, creating a chef-driven menu with the “feel and idea of Colorado.”

While leaving St. Louis will be bittersweet, Brener said he is excited for the opportunity. “I just couldn’t think of a reason not to move to a place that I love and to take on this challenge,” he said. “They want to take this company and grow it, and that’s perfect for me.”

 -photo by Michelle Volansky


What I Do: Vince Valenza of Blues City Deli

Thursday, June 4th, 2015




How did Blues City Deli become a St. Louis institution? “There’s a lot of feeling and soul in the food, the energy of the room, the music, the staff,” said owner Vince Valenza. He hopes to make his new venture, Melo’s Pizzeria, opening next door to Blues City Deli this summer, as popular as his decade-old sandwich shop. Here’s Valenza’s recipe for success.

What inspired you to open Blues City Deli?
I knew I wanted to do Italian food and sandwiches. I had developed a love for blues music. I never thought to meld the two until I went to New Orleans. Down there, the music, the food, the culture –  it’s a nice recipe.

What item could you never take off the menu?
The muffuletta. It can stand up to anything down in New Orleans. It’s the root of the whole theme because the menu is based on the blues music highway. It starts in New Orleans.

Why do so many people love your deli?
I hope people feel comfortable, that they’re getting the most bang for their buck – a really good sandwich, a half-hour of time away from the crazy world. They can just kick back and feel at home.

Do you come to work every day?
Even on my day off. I like to be here. It’s my passion. It feels good. You know when you’re a little kid and you look forward to getting up to play whiffle ball with your friends? It’s the same thing.

Who taught you the art of customer service?
My mom and dad. It was our life. When people came over that weren’t in the family, you treated them like family. You just open your arms to people.

What has 10 years in the restaurant business taught you?
Think things through when you’re going to make a change. You can make smarter decisions if you go about things in a slower fashion.

You just changed the Blues City Deli menu.
This was the most drastic change that we’ve done. We took off three sandwiches. We added a few items: Big Tommy – I’ve been wanting to do something for years with garlic cheese bread in sandwich form; Thunderbird, a meaty, flavorful sandwich; and Nina Bella, a warm veggie sandwich.

Tell me about Melo’s Pizzeria.
It’s named after my father. It’s a tribute to him, the old Italian-American St. Louis community and St. Louis in general. It’s Neapolitan-style with our own little twist. For example, we were thinking of a pork belly – smoke it and have it heavily spiced along with chile-infused honey. So when the pizza comes out: sauce, cheese, spiced pork belly and drizzled hot honey. It’s outside the (Neapolitan pizza) certification, but its going to taste really good.

What’s the story on your hat?
If I go to a hockey game without my hat, when I see people from the deli, they won’t know who I am. My uncle wore a hat like this – brim up, never down. It’s sort of in honor to him.

What’s the most memorable blues act at Blues City Deli?
Kim Wilson. He’s with The Fabulous Thunderbirds and is one of the top blues harmonica players in the world. When he walked in, I was shaking. I was like, I cannot believe this guy is in Blues City Deli.

You’re a musician yourself. Do you still play?
Once in a while, I’ll jump on stage. The protocol is, if they ask you, you go. You don’t volunteer and say, “Can I play?” 

-photo by Carmen Troesser

The Scoop: Missouri winemaking fixture Mark Baehmann to open Wild Sun Winery this summer

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015




After 33 years crushing grapes for Missouri wineries like Montelle and Mount Pleasant, Chaumette winemaker Mark Baehmann is ready to fulfill a lifelong dream of opening his own winery in August. Baehmann will open doors to a tasting room Wild Sun Winery, located at 4830 Pioneer Road, just outside of Hillsboro.

Wild Sun will not grow its own grapes, Baehmann said. Instead, he and business partner Ed Wagner will source grapes from Missouri growers to create a portfolio of Missouri standards, including a barrel-fermented chardonel, semi-dry and sweet reds and whites, a dry red blend, a Norton, a cabernet sauvignon and even a port to debut in two to three years.

Baehmann said the project took hold four years ago when he met Wagner, who was equally excited to get into the wine-making business. With the blessing of Chaumette owner Hank Johnson, Baehmann has spent the last two years making wine for the Wild Sun label at Chaumette. “I have nicely aged reds and whites. We’ve got great product when we open doors,” Baehmann said.

Initially, Wild Sun wines will only be available at the tasting room, which is situated in a 200-year-old home. While they uncork a bottle, guests can enjoy bites like cheese and sausage plates or pizzas. Guests can also bring their own nosh and spread a picnic blanket on the lawn or take a seat on a large deck or airy porch.

Baehmann has slowly transitioned from his post at Chaumette, where he gave his notice nearly a year ago. Winery spokesperson Jennifer Johnson said details are still being finalized for a new winemaker, and Chaumette’s management looked forward to Baehmann’s next step. “We are very proud of Mark’s six years of accomplishments at Chaumette, and we are wholeheartedly supportive of his new endeavor,” Johnson said. “We wish him the very best while we look forward to continuing our work together.”



Sneak Peek: Tazé Mediterranean Street Food

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015




Brothers Casey and Justin Roth have worked for nearly two years to develop their fast-casual restaurant concept, Tazé Mediterranean Street Food. A multi-continent food research trip and construction behind them, the Roths and chef Matt Borchardt are ready to dish up gyros, kebabs, hummus, baba ghanoush and other Mediterranean classics in the Mercantile Exchange building at 626 Washington Ave. Doors open to the public June 8.

The Tazé menu centers around a build-your-own meal concept. Customers select a warm house-made pita or a bowl of saffron rice or mixed greens, which is filled with their choice of sliced gyro meat; locally sourced chicken, beef or pork kebabs cooked in a tandoor oven; or vegetarian options such as portobello mushrooms or falafel. It is all topped with fresh fixings – tomato, onion, olives, cucumber, feta and more – then drizzled with house-made sauces like harissa or tahini. The $9 meal includes one of a dozen side dishes and one of five varieties of house-made hummus.

One could easily make a meal of the sides alone, which include mostly vegan options like stuffed grape leaves, grain-based salads and hand-cut french fries. Among house-made desserts are the requisite baklava, Greek yogurt popsicles and cookies like a snickerdoodle scented with the Moroccan spice blend ras al-hanout. Tazé will also have a selection of prepackaged hummus, salads and other grab-and-go options for the diner on the move.

The restaurant, which will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., will also offer a separate happy hour food menu from 4 p.m. to close. Look for options like meatballs with tzatziki and skewered shrimp. Besides fountain soda and bottled juices, the 21-and-older crowd can pick from six local craft beers on draft or 14 wines (primarily from Italy, Spain and France) by the glass.

Here’s what to expect when Tazé opens next Monday:


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-photos by Michelle Volansky 

The Scoop: The Good Pie to become Randolfi’s

Thursday, May 28th, 2015



{The Good Pie owner Mike Randolph}


The Good Pie is changing concepts and names. Owners Mike and Liz Randolph announced today, May 28, that their Neopolitan-style pizzeria located at 6665 Delmar Blvd., in The Loop, will soon become Randolfi’s, a trattoria serving up southern Italian fare. The Good Pie will close the end of June for interior design changes and reopen in early August.

Gnocchi, clams and pancetta, homemade bucatini and meatballs … these are just a few of the dishes Mike Randolph grew up eating with his Italian family, dishes he plans to offer at Randolfi’s. “I’ve always cooked that kind of food at home, but was timid to do it in a restaurant setting,” Randolph said. “We are six years into The Good Pie. It was time to evolve beyond that (pizza) concept.”

Randolph also wanted to pay homage to his late father and the paternal side of his family, particularly with the new name. When his Italian great-grandfather immigrated to the U.S. nearly a century ago, immigration officers changed his last name from Randolfi to Randolph.




{Margarita pizza at The Good Pie} 


The Good Pie pizzas lovers can still get their Neopolitan pizza fix. Randolfi’s menu will include four mainstay pizzas – Margarita, marinara, white fennel sausage and pepperoni – as well as one rotating pie. Additional items will include antipasti like meat and cheese plates and a white bean dip; three daily house-made pastas; a risotto; and a gnocchi dish. Larger wood-roasted entrees like chicken with pesto and a rib-eye for two will be served with oven-roasted sides like rapini or carrots. “It’s really simple food – what, to me, is soul food. It’s the stuff I love to eat,” he said.

The Good Pie’s barman Jeffrey Moll will lead the beverage program at Randolfi’s, where cocktails will center around Italian spirits. Look also for carafes and wines by the glass and a tightened “less esoteric” beer list than The Good Pie’s current offerings.

The redesigned interior will offer the charm of a southern Italian trattoria with warm hardwood floors, red-checkered tablecloths and old photos of the Randolfi family and its native village of Atina, Italy.

Randolph will host preview dinners of Randolfi’s fare during July at Half & Half, his breakfast and lunch eatery in Clayton.

-photos by Greg Rannells 


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