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Sep 16, 2014
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Extra Sauce

Extra Sauce: Redefining pie a la mode with ice cream pies

Monday, August 25th, 2014


{I Scream Cakes owner Kerry Soraci}


I Scream Cakes owner Kerry Soraci is well known for imaginative ice cream cakes crafted in her brightly colored Cherokee Street shop. However, she’s recently gotten into the pie game, creating ice cream pies with a rotating cast of traditional and off-the-wall ice cream flavors, ganaches and toppings (almost all of which are gluten-free). Orange-habenero ice cream hiding a caramel-white chocolate ganache topped with chocolate-covered pralines, anyone?

Since August is all about pies here at Sauce, we asked Soraci to give us the scoop on her ice cream pies and share a recipe straight from I Scream Cakes’ kitchens.

Why did you decide to make ice cream pies in addition to your cakes?
I grew up working at Baskin-Robbins when I was a kid, and they had ice cream pies. I thought they were a nice option because it can be a little cheaper than a cake. It’s also more of a cookie than it is a cake, so even though they’re similar, they’re completely different.

What is the best crust for an ice cream pie?
I think it depends on the kind of ice cream and also personal preference. I do like the crushed up chocolate cookie crust, but we haven’t used it yet because of the gluten-free concerns. I really love our almond cookie crust. It’s nice and soft, it’s easy to make gluten-free and it … enhances a lot of our flavors.

Why cookies?
The cookie, as long as it doesn’t get baked too long, stays nice, soft and chewy when it’s frozen. It’s also a matter of balancing all the ice cream time and the baking time. We use (next-door neighbor) Black Bear Bakery’s oven, so we don’t bake a lot. It’s more focus on the ice cream, so it’s easier … to use the cookies as the pie crusts.

Have you ever made a pretzel crust?
No … now that you say that, it’s a really good idea!

What flavors of ice cream pie do you offer?
Right now, our seasonal pie is the Italian almond cookie crust with a layer of lavender-passion fruit swirl and blueberry cheesecake ice cream with a cream cheese icing. (But) I’m always making something different.

What do you top your pies with?
Either a chocolate ganache or a white chocolate ganache. We use Kakao’s burnt caramel sauce … for a caramel ganache. Cream cheese icing, maybe some fruits.

Describe how you make an ice cream pie.
We soften (our ice cream), spread it, and pretty much throw it in the freezer. After an hour or two, after it’s set, then we put a topping on it. The topping not only serves as an extra flavor and extra element, but it also is a good sealer so the ice cream isn’t exposed to air, so it stays fresher and doesn’t get freezer burn. Especially the ganaches – they kind of act like a magic shell.

Any tips for making an ice cream pie at home?
I like the crust to be frozen. I let (the ice cream) sit no more than five minutes to get it soft, then I squish it and press it into the corners so it’s all in there and smooth it out. But you don’t want it to get too melted because melted ice cream, when it refreezes, is icy and not a very good texture. You just want it to be soft enough to spread, smooth it out, and put it in the freezer.

I want the crust to be as close to the temperature of the ice cream as possible so you don’t get that icy layer of (refrozen) melted ice cream at the bottom. Then I do freeze the ice cream for an hour or two before putting the topping on for the same exact reason … The ice cream does need to be cold, so when the ganache, which is slightly warmer than room temperature hits, it … almost immediately hardens. That hardening will then also make the ganache stick to the ice cream so that it can be spread.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, can you make an ice cream pie with store-bought ice cream?
Absolutely. (Just use) the ones with the (purest), natural ingredients.

Any other helpful advice for home cooks?
Just play around! If you’re a little nervous at first, start out with everything store-bought. After that, bake your own cookies and make your own cookie crust … Just let the chewy cookies sit out, so they dry out and put them in a food processor with a little bit of melted butter. You can press that into the bottom of a pie pan and then let that freeze.

So do you prefer ice cream pie to regular pie?
No … I love pie, period. I really love strawberry-rhubarb pie; I love fruit pies.

And would you eat that a la mode?
Hell, yeah!


Salted Caramel Chocolate Pie
Courtesy of I Scream Cakes’ Kerry Soraci
Makes 2 9-inch pies

For the ice cream:
3 eggs
¾ cups sugar
1¾ cups whole milk
2¼ cups cream
3 oz. 100-percent cacao baking chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the Italian almond cookie crust:
2¾ cups raw almonds
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. gluten-free or regular cake flour
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup egg whites (3 reserved egg whites plus 1 more)
½ Tbsp. almond extract

For the caramel-white chocolate ganache:
¼ cup cream
4 oz. high-quality white chocolate*, chopped
1 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup room-temperature caramel sauce
Coarse sea salt to finish

Chocolate Ice Cream
• Separate the eggs, reserving the whites for the cookie crust. Use a stand mixer to beat the yolks on high speed until pale, about 2 minutes. With the stand mixer running, beat in the sugar. Turn off the mixer and stir in the milk and cream.
• Pour the custard mixture into a large saucepot and warm over medium heat, stirring until it reaches 185 degrees. The custard should coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
• Add the chocolate, cocoa powder and vanilla to the warm custard and let it sit to melt slightly. Use a stick blender to blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours.
• Pour the chilled custard into the ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes 1½ quarts. Ice cream can be made 1 day ahead.

Italian Almond Cookie Crust
• Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
• In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the almonds and sugar together until roughly ground. Pour the almond mixture into a large mixing bowl and stir in flour and salt. Set aside.
• In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites and almond extract on high speed into soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Scrape the whipped egg whites into the nuts and stir gently to incorporate.
• Divide the mixture evenly between 2 9-inch pie pans. Bake about 15 minutes until the cookie is just golden. Let cool to room temperature, then freeze until ready for use.

Caramel-White Chocolate Ganache
• In a small saucepan, bring the cream to just below a boil over medium-high heat.
• In a small mixing bowl, pour the hot cream over the white chocolate. Add the butter and let it melt. Stir until the mixture is smooth, then stir in the caramel sauce. Let cool.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Pie
• To assemble the ice cream pies, remove the ice cream from the freezer and let it soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Divide it evenly between the 2 frozen crusts, pressing it into the corners and smoothing the top with a spatula. Freeze 1 hour.
• If the ganache has hardened, microwave it on low in 10 to 20 seconds intervals, stirring until it is viscous. Divide the ganache evenly atop the 2 pies to cover the ice cream completely, then sprinkle with sea salt and freeze until the ganache has hardened. Let thaw about 10 minutes before serving.

*Look for white chocolate that contains cocoa butter, not palm oil. 

-photos by Jennifer Mozier

Extra Sauce: Pie Movie Moments

Monday, August 4th, 2014

This month, we’re celebrating all things pie, and that includes our favorite on-screen pie moments. Whether these classic scenes set our mouths watering or have us covering our eyes in disgust, these classic pie movie moments stick with us long after the credits have rolled.

Waitress (2007)
The opening credits alone are enough to start your mouth watering as Jenna, a troubled virtuoso piemaker, makes apple, chocolate cream, peach and a variety of others.

The Help (2011)
The best scene revolves around a “special” pie Minny prepares just for her racist boss. The kind of pie that would win number two at a competition, if you catch our drift.


Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)
In this short-lived dramedy, shy piemaker Ned bakes to cope with the stress of holding the power of life and death in his hands, which he uses to reawaken his childhood love.


Stand By Me (1986)
We won’t soon forget the campfire story about Davie Hogan, an overweight boy who gets revenge on his bullies in The Great Tri-County Pie Eat. Not the most appetizing pie scene, but still extremely satisfying.


Blazing Saddles (1974)
A climatic, chaotic, fourth-wall breaking battle with chorus boys, cowboys, and cream pie choreographed by Mel Brooks – classic.


American Pie (1999)
You will never look at apple pie the same way after Jason Biggs’ very close, very awkward encounter with the most American of desserts.


Where to Explore Next: Ballpark Village

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014



While the Cardinals have proven it doesn’t take a village to create a winning team, Ballpark Village at 601 Clark Ave., is certainly playing a great game. With five distinct venues at which to eat lunch and dinner (with more on the way), and even more places to grab a drink, this truly impressive space beckons for many visits to come.




In the middle of the 120,000-square-foot entertainment district, feast on a juicy Bacon Three Way Burger (pictured) at Fox Sports Midwest Live!, while you watch the ballgame on a 40-foot wide TV. If the weather cooperates, you might just get a tan when the glass atrium’s roof retracts.





The village has quite a few bars. (See the full listing here.) But when the temperature really heats up, nothing beats a margarita. Choose from the margarita menu at Tengo Sed, or take your poison straight with one of the bar’s nine tequilas.




At the Budweiser Brew House, find more food and a whole lot of beer (239 taps throughout). Between a swanky rooftop deck and a biergarten complete with fireplace, communal tables and Adirondack chairs, there are plenty of fun spaces to explore in this 26,000-square-foot venue.





We recommend washing down the Brew House’s fish and chips with a Goose Island Honker’s Ale or the chicken apple blue cheese salad paired with a Stella Artois Cidre. For a more fine-dining experience, check out Cardinals Nation. For quick eats, head to Tengo Hambre, or on the outside of the village, find Drunken Fish.



{Pictured from front: Starburst roll, White Tiger roll}

 -photos by Julie Cohen

Five Questions with Ben Edison: The extended interview

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

{Executive chef Ben Edison with his daughter Delaney}

As warm air moves in, the patio at DeMun Oyster Bar is sure to fill up fast. But if it’s been a while since you stopped by this Parisian-style bar, you’ll be surprised to find more than bivalves and bubbles. Here, new executive chef Ben Edison told us what to expect at Clayton’s hippest watering hole.

When did you take over the kitchen and what have been some of the big menu changes since then? Overall, we went from a small, very limited menu to a full seafood-restaurant menu, and we also have some meat dishes. It’s not just oysters, at all. Now we have eight entrees and it’s pretty extensive.

What are some of the items on the restaurant’s new late-winter/spring menu? We do a Dungeness crab ravioli on the new menu. We have a really nice lamb porterhouse. We have a salmon in Pernod tomato sauce. We have a Pear Wellington, which is a new dessert. Everything in it we make in-house, except the phyllo dough – you’d have to be a masochist to make that. It’s star-anise-braised pears wrapped in puff pastry and then topped with Gjetöst cheese, a Danish cheese that tastes like caramel. Then we add a scoop of triple-vanilla gelato on a pool of Calvados gastrique. I act as pastry chef, too, with my daughter (pictured). She’s 17. She does the chocolate torte. We collaborate. She’s been baking since she was 8. We started a brunch on the weekends, too, and we’re still open late. You can come in and get a full entree until 11 p.m., or midnight in the summer.

Do you find that many people are still afraid to try oysters around these parts? I would rather take my chances with a raw oyster than a Chinese buffet. With all the testing they do of the water and the oysters and the tracking and the info-gathering, getting sick from an oyster is incredibly rare. At DeMun, we’re getting oysters that were in the water in the morning in Seattle, and I’ve got them in the restaurant by 6 p.m. that night.

I love oysters, but I gather some diners’ objections may have to do with an “oozy” texture. Then I say just suck ‘em down real fast – don’t chew ‘em – and you’ll get the flavor of the ocean.

How often do you eat oysters? Everyday. I’ll usually eat at least a dozen a day. I prefer them raw with nothing on them. We fly our oysters in daily; we’re the only restaurant in St. Louis that does. I have a list of 40 different oysters, and sometimes I kind of forget exactly what one tastes like, or the flavor changes because of the water supply. I have to be able to point people in the right direction.

Is there really a great variation in the taste of different oysters? I hate to make it sound like something from the movie, Sideways. When it comes to oysters, with the hint of this and that and all the silly adjectives, people can get carried away. But the different oysters range from a strong bite or salinity in the front end to a mineral-y, clean finish. Some West Coast oysters have a crisp, cucumber-y finish, but then something like the Kumamoto oyster has a creamier finish. I usually tell people to get a couple or three or four different kinds to try.

How many oysters could you eat in one sitting? I think the most I’ve ever eaten was four or five-dozen, and those were Gulf oysters at a little oyster bar in the Gulf. My uncle and I sat down and finished off about 12 dozen between the two of us. I grew up on the coast, fishing with my father off the coast of Connecticut and spending time in Maryland. That shows in our crab cakes, which are barely held together.

Is it true what they say about oysters being an aphrodisiac? I guess you’d have to ask my girlfriend. (laughs) I like to think that it’s healthy for me. I don’t think there are any ill effects.

What do you like to drink at the end of a busy night? With Nate Selsor, who came from Monarch, as our bar manager, a lot of the time I can just give him a flavor profile and let him play. We have a drink called When All Else Fails that’s really nice. It has rum, Campari, yellow Chartreuse and lemon juice. He just started a brand new drink menu that I’m working my way through now.

What are some of the preparations for oysters you do at the restaurant? In addition to raw, we do ours grilled and fried and occasionally beer-batter fried. We also do a Virgin Bluepoint [oyster] topped with a pancetta béchamel, and then we take kale blanched in pepper water and fried in duck fat and put that on top, followed by cave-aged Gruyere, and then we broil it. That’s our most popular menu item. We call it our house-stuffed oyster.

What’s your favorite drink to enjoy with oysters? Champagne. We have some exotic Champagnes, called grower Champagnes, made by one guy who may have just two acres of grapes and does it all himself. The flavor profiles are just fantastic.

Have you by any chance studied with a sushi chef? I have done a stage with a classically trained Japanese chef. He was the corporate chef at P.F. Chang’s. He was Vietnamese-born and Japanese-trained. Working with him was where I learned almost all of my Asian preparations.

Have you ever eaten the dangerous puffer fish, fugu? I have not, but I certainly would.

Anthony Bourdain once wrote that diners shouldn’t order seafood on Sunday, because the last seafood delivery was Friday – your thoughts? I think that’s completely untrue. I get seafood in on Saturdays. My fish that comes in for Sundays is perfectly stored in coolers and checked. Maybe in the ‘80s that might have been true, but with the abundance of seafood purveyors in St. Louis, they’ll deliver at 5 p.m. on Saturday. People shouldn’t have qualms about eating seafood on Sunday. As far as seafood in the Midwest goes, when you develop a long relationship with seafood purveyors, you get very nice stuff. We get seafood from nine different sources.

Have you shopped at the huge Asian market in U. City, Seafood City? I own a house not far from there. I shop there once a week. The seafood section is fascinating to me. If I’m in the mood for some mussels and feel like cooking them up, I might pick some up from there. I just enjoy walking the aisles and looking at stuff and having no idea what something is and buying it and playing with it.

What do you like to cook at home? If I’ve got two days off in a row, I’ll cook on the second day, but for the most part, I don’t really cook at home a lot. Sometimes the last thing I want to do is look at a pot and pan. I sometimes just go with a frozen pizza and a beer. Other chefs are the same way. We actually eat instant ramen noodles.

Where did you cook before DeMun Oyster Bar? I was a corporate chef for a few years, and before that, I was the fine dining chef at Ameristar Casino. I ran 47 Port Street and Pearl’s Oyster Bar.

Cooking at a casino is a whole different ball game, with the emphasis on extreme customer service. It was a great, great experience. At 47 Port Street, we had people that were big VIPs, so we had deep pockets to create exotic things and do tasting menus. While it was one of the most demanding jobs I ever had, it was fantastic to be able to play with all the stuff we got to bring in. On a Saturday night, you might have a table of four high rollers and you need to throw out an eight-course wine-pairing dinner on the fly for them. When the owner of the entire corporation came into town, there would be like a 22-hour stretch where you made absolutely sure that all his meals came out perfectly.

How does it feel when the kitchen is humming and everything is coming out perfectly? It’s absolutely fantastic. I have a great staff here. My sous chef, Nick Puccio, is really, really strong. We have great cooks that have worked in good restaurants. When things are really rolling, it’s probably the best feeling in the world. It’s exactly why I do this job.

Do you allow music in the kitchen? Only during prep time in the day.

What cooking or food book, TV show or movie do you love? I really don’t watch any of the food shows. I think they’re so unrealistic and fake. My favorite movie about wine is Bottle Shock.

What was your favorite food growing up that your parents made? Stuffed peppers. My parents were big gardeners and we had a huge garden. When the end of the summer would come, my stepmom would spend the entire day making tomato sauce and stuffing them, and they were amazing. Then she would freeze some and we would eat them all winter long, too. When I go home, that’s one of the things she always makes. My mother used to make spaghetti on Sundays and that was great, too.

What food did you hate as a kid that you love now? Clams. Ironic, isn’t it? We would have the freshest clams when I was a kid; we grew up about 12 miles from the ocean. They would make them in a white-wine Alfredo, and I would just eat the noodles. I never realized how much I took seafood for granted.

740 DeMun Ave., Clayton, 314.725.0322, demunoysterbar.com

— photo by Ashley Gieseking

Move Over, Bitters: Homemade Orange Shrubs

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Acid plus sugar plus a flavoring agent like a fruit, herb or vegetable. That’s the basic formula for concocting a shrub – a sweet yet tart syrup that’s popping up in your martini glass (even if you don’t know it yet). Over the course of the last year, Cielo bar manager Cory Cuff has cornered the market on this trendy simple syrup, preparing shrubs of every flavor and color like cucumber-lime, raspberry-rose-thyme, even balsamic-fig. Stop by Cielo and you can taste Cuff’s shrubs in the Unusual Margarita and Stealing Alper’s Hooch, or try them as solo sippers in a shrub flight. Want to make homemade shrubs your new DIY project? Find the recipe below.

Cielo Restaurant & Bar, 999 N. Second St., St. Louis, 314.881.2105, cielostlouis.com

Orange Shrub
Courtesy of Cielo’s Cory Cuff
4 Cups

Juice and peel of 4 navel oranges
Juice and peel of 1 lime
3 cups Champagne vinegar
6 oz. sugar

• Combine the fruit juices, peels and vinegar in a sanitized plastic or glass container with a fitted lid. Cover. Let infuse for 4 days in a cool, dark location.
• Strain the mixture into a saucepan and add the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, and let boil for 10 minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn.
• Pour the contents into a cruet with a pouring spout or a clean glass bottle. Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 7 to 10 days.

Now that you’ve made your shrub, mix it into Keepin’ Up With the Joneses, a cocktail Cuff dubbed “kind of like a cosmo, but with vinegar.” Combine 2 ounces of vodka, 1 ounce of orange shrub and ½ ounce of cranberry juice in a Boston shaker, and shake vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with an orange twist.

— photo by Carmen Troesser

Extra Sauce: An interview with Andy Ayers – the extended version

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

For almost five years now, Andy Ayers has been the guy behind the guy. His relentless quest to deliver produce from local farmers to area chefs has made his small operation, Eat Here St. Louis, indispensable. These days, the former owner of Riddle’s Penultimate Cafe and Wine Bar can tell stories about rutabagas, kohlrabi and eggplant that are, well, ultimate.

Who are you sourcing produce for now? Today I was at Big Sky; I went to The Royale; I was at Local Harvest on Morgan Ford; I went to City Greens produce, which is a low-income farmers’ market; I was at Niche; and I was at Fresh Gatherings, the cafe at SLU. It’s a pretty typical day for this time of the year. In the summer, there’s [sic] a lot more stops. I would say I’m working in the neighborhood of 40 restaurants and 40 farms over the course of a year.

What’s your typical workday like? A fair number of my customers order a day in advance and then quite a few people call me in the evening when they close their kitchen, after I’m in bed, and I look at the email or text in the morning. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle every morning, to draw up a route that’s sensible. I get up at about 4:45 a.m. In the summer I’ll get up an hour earlier, even. You can get an awful lot done if you start early. You sleep a little bit later in the winter and get up earlier in the summer, and you work until you’re bone-tired in the summer. For 27 years I ran a restaurant and had the opposite schedule and went to bed at about 3 a.m.

Do you go to farms on both sides of the river? Yes, I go to both Missouri and Illinois. “Foodshed” is a word you can use like watershed. As far as our area foodshed goes, in many ways there’s agriculture closer to the city limits on the other side of the river than in the other three directions because of the sprawl away from the river on this side. There’s a high population of farm families near St. Louis in Illinois who’ve been growing for several generations. Frequently you’ll find the younger family members are interested in increasing their income. Grandpa and grandma have supported the extended family on the farm income, the middle-aged group doesn’t work for the farm anymore, and the new generation has rediscovered the idea of planting more and boosting sales. You don’t have to tell farmers twice if the market is growing – they’ve been watching the market dwindle for many years, and now it’s changing. If you buy it, they will come. If it sells out this year, they’ll plant more next year. That’s what I’m trying to encourage.

What I’m looking for is someone with excess product or production capacity who doesn’t see the market right away. Here’s an example. When I first got started, I was talking to an old bachelor farmer in JeffCo. He has a stall at Soulard. He told me he plants twice as much spinach as he thinks he’s going to sell because of weather and deer grazing on it. The big expense is cutting and washing it and bringing it to market. He was just plowing under his excess. I asked him to give me a chance to help sell his spinach, and I helped him have his best year.

This guy I get great veal from sells it on the Internet. I can help him market that. These are the kinds of situations I’m always looking for. My mission statement is twofold: I want to make it as easy for chefs to buy local foods as it is to get on the phone and buy imported stuff. The fact is that it’s never gonna be easy because of seasonality. There’s never gonna be local avocadoes here. But I want my service operation to be as good as the big guys. You tell me how many pounds of this and that, and I’ll have it there tomorrow. That helps get chefs more interested in local food, too. And the other mission is to help growers sell everything they grow and can grow. I don’t want to dominate the local foods market – I want to grow the local foods market.

This isn’t exactly harvest season in Missouri right now. I concentrate during the winter months on finding sources for non-fresh items to add to the list, like the vinegar. That just blows me away. For next week, I’ve got the first Missouri ducks and geese coming in to augment my free-range chicken program. By early summer, I’ll have a walk-in freezer in my warehouse. My warehouse is in the shadow of a former giant chicken-processing plant that was aced out by the Tysons, the national, vertically integrated operations. It’s ironic. But yeah, this is a great time for me to take a bit of a break. I’m going on vacation in the first half of March. I’m going back to St. John, the smallest island in the Virgin Islands. Now I know where the only organic farmer in St. John is!

Is there an unusual kind of produce you try to champion? Kohlrabi is really low profile. Most people have never seen one and they don’t know what it is. It looks like Sputnik. It suggests a root vegetable, but it’s not. The stem swells up right above the ground, and that’s the edible part. That’s a real underappreciated item. They’re delicious.

Is there a fruit or vegetable you’re getting excited about coming in-season soon? That’s the wonderful thing about seasonality. I’ve been looking forward to asparagus for weeks now because that’s one of the first things that comes up in the springtime. I’ll buy as much as I can and eat as much as I can and sell as much as I can and pretty soon it’ll be over. Now we’re actually changing the seasonality of the tomato season. Growing up, my dad was in competition with the neighbors to grow the first tomato of the season. But with hoop houses, I’ve got beautiful homegrown tomatoes now. We’ve taken the novelty away from the tomato season.

There’s all kinds of little small-demand items that are fun, like black radishes. I just sold the last of the chestnuts today. The boys at Niche are making chestnut soup. I rounded up 76 pounds of Missouri chestnuts. I get excited about all of it.

Even cauliflower? You wouldn’t think there would be that much variety in cauliflower. There’s only like three varieties grown for mass sales. On a small scale, with a shorter shelf life, people can grow old-time varieties of cauliflower that are just delicious, that have a triple flavor-burst of what the cellophane-wrapped cauliflower tastes like in the supermarkets.

Do you enjoy driving in the open country when you go to and from the small farms? I depend on being able to get out of town and onto the road, but off of the interstate. The visual environment is so much mellower – being able to see long distances and smooth curves instead of right angles. I keep a camera in the car. Sometimes I slam on the brakes and pull over to take a picture. I like to drive around, but I have hired help, too. I have three part-time drivers.

Do you have a favorite fruit or veggie? If you pressed a gun to my head, I would say black raspberries. They’re so rare you don’t even see them in the regular market; you have to get them from someone that grows them.

Do you ever miss the fun you had at Riddles? That’s a lot of fun, having a restaurant. I don’t get to hear much live music anymore, either, like we had every night at Riddles. It’s great to have a retail business and to have steady contact with your customers. That’s a really grueling occupation and best suited for the young. I’m too old to work 90 hours a week, and I don’t have to do that anymore. It’s a new challenge that has gotten my entrepreneurial juices going. There’s a restaurant on every corner, and there’s not a lot of people doing what I’m doing, so I enjoy being an innovator.

What is the story of the restaurant name, Riddles Penultimate? My wife’s mother was Mrs. Riddle. She was a waitress all her life. Our first place on Natural Bridge [Road] from ‘80 to ‘85 was Riddles, so I wanted to keep the name, but also to change it. “Penultimate” was a favorite word of mine. At that time we imagined ourselves having yet another restaurant, an ultimate restaurant, which we never did. We were the first place to ever use the term “wine bar” in St. Louis. We had the first nitrogen wine-dispensing machine used in a public restaurant in St. Louis.

Riddles was in The Loop for some 20 years; you were really able to watch the neighborhood change. It’s a fascinating part of town. I used to skip school and go to The Loop for the used bookstores when I was in high school. I took advantage of a storefront called the Peace Information Center as I approached draft age. It’s always been a vital and upbeat area. I was part of the merchants’ group that opposed the chain restaurants coming to the Loop.

Do you have any words of advice for the crew at Three Kings Public House, which occupies the space that used to be Riddles Penultimate? My bar manager is one of the Three Kings, so there’s some continuity there. Derek Flieg. He was always a star employee. I’m glad he put together some investors and was always able to stay there. He does a great job.

You’re known for being a real wine-lover, too. Yeah, I drink wine every day but it’s a whole different experience when you don’t have a wholesale license anymore! I used to be able to schedule a wine salesman to host a tasting at Riddles any day I wanted. Now I’m on the hunt at the retail level for bottles that sell for less than they’re worth. I also have a few nice bottles leftover from that Riddles cellar, and every now and then we crack one open. We won the RFT readers poll 13 or 14 years in a row for the best wine list.

Did your mom have to work to get you to eat your vegetables while growing up? We had a big garden all the time and that’s where I learned to appreciate homegrown tomatoes. My dad started ‘em in the cellar and babied them along. We grew okra and green peppers and I enjoyed them, although my mom was of the school that you should cook them until they laid down flat in the pan as a mush (laughs). I’ll always remember the first time my girlfriend stir-fried a bunch of vegetables in a wok. I couldn’t believe it – they shone with flavor. My big nemesis as a kid was rutabaga. My dad believed that rutabaga was god’s gift to mankind. Not only did I have to eat it, I had to like it. They could make me eat it, but they could not make me like it. I love it now.

What area restaurants do you enjoy dining at? I like to patronize my customers because they tend to be the most careful chefs in town. I just had a great meal the other night at Acero.

Are you good at thumping a melon? Watermelons respond to the thump. They begin to reverberate more when they ripen. I judge smaller melons with a slight pressure at the stem end or by the aroma.

Have you ever watched the cartoon Veggie Tales? No. I haven’t had a TV in 30 years. There are huge sections of popular culture I’m not familiar with. I don’t know how people find time for TV. I hear there’s been this enormous foodie explosion involving chefs who act crazy on TV, but I ain’t hip to that.(Laughs)

Is there a food book or movie you really dig? I enjoyed the book Kitchen Confidential years ago and had dinner with Anthony Bourdain at Duff’s one night. It was kind of exaggerated, but it was interesting. Everyone who’s been in the restaurant industry since their youth has had similar experiences.

Have you seen any of the recent wave of food-justice documentaries, like Food Inc.? I have. They all kind of melt together. More than one of them has featured Joel Salatin. It’s great that it reflect the interests of the public and the foodies, but the real grassroots thing that has resulted in the proliferation of farmers’ markets is what really blows my mind. It’s really anti-corporate, and there’s no big money behind it. It’s the perfect meaning of the term “grassroots,” literally. It’s neighbors talking about how delicious the food they found there is. That’s how it got rolling. It’s been an organic growth, and I don’t think it’s a passing fad. I remember when the grocery store was 98-percent white bread and maybe like two-percent rye. Eventually the market mix really changed and there was a vast proliferation of other kinds of bread. Wheat bread is not a fad. Look at the microbrew industry. I talk to farmers a lot, and I use that as an example. It seemed like the economics were insurmountable, the trend of bigger and bigger, and getting down to only one or two big breweries in the country, and then look what happened. This group of crazy home brewers made beer for themselves and showed everyone how good it was. In the last 10 or 15 years, the only part of the industry that’s growing is the craft market, which is on fire. Now the big guys try to make their beers sound like they’re craft beers. People decided to make a high- quality product and market it specifically as a by-hand, small-scale product, and it worked.

Which is great – except for the foodie who goes all the way into self-parody, like some Brooklyn hipster buying the world’s rarest cheeses for a pretentious artisanal tasting party. There have been some excesses. Some edges are going to get rubbed off. That’s not the central thrust of what’s happening, anyway. Because of the changes in the market there are young people going into farming. It’s like somebody starting an auto company and announcing they’re going to compete with GM. They would have laughed you out of the bank 15 year ago. It’s different now. It’s not easy to get started, but it can be done.

What’s one of your favorite dishes to cook? One of the advantages of being in the food business is a well-stocked kitchen. I got a beautiful pork steak about as big around as a football this week. I was out in Wright City and I bought a whole “Prius-load” of sweet potatoes, but this farmer’s pork is so good, I bought some for myself. I made some homemade applesauce to go with that pork steak. We always have a couple of vegetables with every dinner and a bottle of cheap but drinkable wine. I love having dinner at home now, uninterrupted, as opposed to my days at the restaurant.

You have been known to take little jaunts out-of-state to source hard-to-find products. I’ve just got some really good quality corn grits I had to go to Kentucky for. I couldn’t find anybody any closer who knew from grits. I found an actual 19th century water-operated grist mill that stone-grinds the grits, and I drove to Midway, Kentucky, to meet them and see the place. This is the best quality product available. I like to stay within 150 miles, but sometimes you gotta go where you gotta go, even if it’s 300 miles. Meeting the people is important to me, too. I also just got this amazing vinegar from Cody, Nebraska, where a farm family grows and harvests the fruit, crushes and vinifies the juice into wine, converts the wine into vinegar, barrel ages, packages and sells the results from a little straw bale-constructed clean room right on the farm. Wait ‘til you taste them!

How long have you worn the beard? Since I ran away from home and went to Mexico when I was about 17. I’ve trimmed it but I haven’t cut it off since. I had this fantasy of being a desperado and not coming back, but I learned I only really feel at home in America.

Have you ever handled produce that looked like something or someone, for instance, an eggplant that looked like a celebrity? Actually, eggplant is frequently anthropomorphic and I once had one that for all the world looked just like Richard Nixon.

7036 Bruno Ave., St. Louis, 314.518.6074, eatherestl.com

— photo by Laura Miller

Spring Training with Jack Petrovic

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Hoping the dead leaves and rotten tomatoes festering in your garden all winter have magically transformed into fertilizer? Possibly. But that oft-forgotten bed of mess will need a little more TLC to yield the garden you’ve been dreaming about all winter long. And you’re just in time; March is the perfect month to get down to business. According to Schlafly Bottleworks’ master gardener and horticulturist Jack Petrovic (pictured), techniques for improving your soil range from throwing topsoil and compost on top of last year’s garden to double-digging your plot and sending soil samples to labs* for analysis. For the average home gardener, though, Petrovic suggested this user-friendly approach to getting your soil in shipshape for prime planting season.

With the enormous amount of erosion and depletion Missouri soils have suffered, we’re left with what’s referred to as “Missouri clay,” with 4 to 6 inches of topsoil in our gardens, if we’re lucky. Start by using a rake to turn over the first few inches of your topsoil. Cover the topsoil with ½ inch of compost or composted manure, and rake it in. Don’t be cheap. Be sure to buy quality compost (Or make your own.). For the cost of a new cell phone, you can have a dump truck-full of quality compost delivered to your door.

Sprinkle a Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF)** over the garden. This will add a balance of important minerals to your soil. You can also add the volcanic rock dust AZOMITE** instead of COF, or use a combination of the two.

Top the COF with a light covering of mulch or straw. If you use leaf mulch, be careful not to work it into the top layer or it will severely rob the soil of nitrogen, and growth may slow or stop for months. Just lay it on top.

Go through this process every year, preferably in the fall (but March is OK, too). Over the years, organic material will eventually leach into the deeper layers, allowing roots to grow deeper.

For a more intense approach (geared towards the more seasoned gardener), Petrovic also offered his “aggressive approach.”

Using a rake, double-dig your garden by starting at one end and digging out a strip of topsoil that’s several inches deep and 1½-feet wide. Place it in a wheelbarrow.

Take your pitchfork to the exposed portion of the garden and work up the brown clay underneath.

Dust the clay with lime (without a magnesium content), then cover it with compost or composted manure and mix it in well with a rake. I add raw, uncomposted vegetable scraps like cabbage leaves as well. Fork the topsoil from your wheelbarrow back over the strip you dug up. Repeat this procedure across your garden.

When finished, rake over the entire garden, and add a light layer of compost, manure, some coffee grounds and a dusting of Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF). Cover it all with straw or mulch. The worms will love you; the microbes will eventually readjust; and with the airspace and nutrients you just added, the plant roots will grow deep enough to continually break up the depths and sustain during the hot weather.

Know this: You will never (in your lifetime anyway) build your clay subsoil up to the point of being rich, fluffy, dark soil full of organic matter. My home garden is over 65 years old. Me, my grandfather, and my father have added truckloads of organic matter to the soil, and what I have now is dark brown instead of light brown clay.

* Petrovic recommended that no matter how you ready your garden, eventually you should get your soil tested by a professional lab. He said, “I use Logan Labs in Lakeview Ohio ($20) because the lab’s report allows me to calculate and perfectly balance the mineral content of my soil simply by going online to www.growabundant.com and plugging my results into their mineralization calculator.”

** Available at Worm’s Way, 1225 North Warson Road, Olivette, 314.994.3900, wormsway.com

Stop by Schlafly Bottleworks on the first Saturday of every month at 9 a.m. for Petrovic’s community gatherings and check out Schlafly’s Gardenworks’ Facebook page for news on upcoming gardening classes.

— photo by Laura Miller

Extra Sauce: More from our interview with Steve Gontram

Monday, February 11th, 2013

In this month’s Five Questions (page 50), Steve Gontram told us about some of his favorite restaurant experiences along with details about his latest venture, Five Star Burgers. Here, we give you the extended version of his interview.

First, there was the wondering: What would chef/restaurateur Steve Gontram’s next move be? Now, there’s only the satisfaction. At Five Star Burgers, the latest in a chain created by his father, Gontram is plating up some outstanding American food. Here, the creative force who originated Harvest and is considered a local pioneer in the farm-to-table movement, talks Turkey, goat and quail.

You’re famous for cooking meals and delivering them yourself right from the kitchen. At 5 Star, are you in the back or front of the house?
Both. Today I toasted 200 buns for lunch. On Saturday, I was expediting and running food. I do a little bit of everything. This afternoon I’m filling out W-2s for my employees.

What’s the farthest you’ve traveled for a great meal?
I had a great meal in the “Fairy Chimneys” area in Cappadocia, Turkey. This is an area of rock formations that look like huge stalagmites, and people live in them. Turkey is so gorgeous. The meal was very traditional, with Turkish coffee, clay-oven cooking and Turkish wine.

What’s the most unusual item on the menu at 5 Star?
On the core menu, the burger that gets the most raves is Dad’s Green Chile Cheeseburger, which is a New Mexico staple. Ours has crispy Hatch chiles, pepper jack cheese and green-chile mayo – it’s got a kick. We’re doing a fun burger-of-the-month year round, too. In January, it was the Goatburger, made with Jones Heritage Farm goat, topped with a little ancho chile-mango salsa and fried plantains.

You’ve been in Bon Appétit, on the Food Network and were invited to prepare dinner at the James Beard House in New York City. What’s the highlight of your culinary career?
Definitely the James Beard house. They can put me on the cover of Rolling Stone, but my career highlight will always be the Thanksgiving of ’98. It was a lot of fun and a great honor. I remember I did a yellow beet-Champagne as an aperitif, and fig-stuffed roast quail. It was like eight courses, a decadent meal.

Describe your single greatest episode of gluttony.
A 24-course tasting menu at Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit in New York, a few years back. There’s also the times when you whole-roast a pig with some friends and eat the whole thing. I’m a chef. I don’t have a dainty figure. It’s the indulgence industry. A couple decades ago, fine dining was all about caviar and foie gras, but it can still be pretty indulgent.

If you’re going to be drinking for hours, what’s your drink?
A low-alcohol session beer by The Civil Life or my drink of choice: a perfect rye Manhattan, which I call “Manhappy.”

That amazingly, amazingly delicious bread pudding at Harvest was your creation?
Yeah. That is a great dessert. I sold that when I sold the restaurant, though; I can’t sell it anymore.

You were one of the founders of the St. Louis Originals?
I was one of the three or four that floated the idea and brought everybody together. The core group was Cardwell’s, Annie Gunn’s, Tony’s, Harvest and a few others. Five Star is not in the group as of yet. The Originals are now centered on a rewards program called the Power Card, that can be redeemed at any of the restaurants. We’re just three months old and haven’t decided if we want to get involved in a rewards program yet.

Do you have any secret parking tips for 5 Star?
A lot of people don’t realize we have a massive lot in the back, and if it’s not the middle of lunchtime, there’s usually a space back there.

You worked for Wolfgang Puck at his Bay Area restaurant, Postrio. What’s it like to work for him?
Wolfgang was an awesome guy, very friendly, very eager to educate and offer advice – a very cool guy and a very shrewd businessman.

For your beef you sought out Creekstone Farms, where celebrated cattle expert Temple Grandin designed the facility. Have you met her?
Creekstone has their facility in Kansas, and she designed it from the ground up. I haven’t met her, but I’ve seen videos of her speeches and watched the HBO movie about her.

The 5 Star happy hour deals sound tempting.
Yes. From 4 to 6 p.m., seven days a week, it’s half price on all drafts, and mini burgers – call them sliders if you will – [are] anywhere from $1.25 to $1.50, and $2 cheese curds, and other specials. The mini burgers come in Angus beef, turkey, veggie and fried chicken.

What’s it like to work closely with your dad, who created 5 Star Burgers restaurants and operates them in New Mexico and Colorado?
It’s been fun. We’ve talked about this concept for a long time, and he has a ton of experience in the burger business. It’s fun to bring his knowledge and my chef background together and do creative burgers.

What’s the funniest and the most frightening thing you’ve seen in a restaurant kitchen?
The funniest was when we had a great server leave us at Harvest, and the kitchen decided we would bake him a goodbye cake, and we threw all this awful stuff in it including ghost chiles and served it to him with candles. He took a huge bite, and I don’t think he made it through service, I think he had to leave early. He was a good sport about it.

The most frightening was also at Harvest. One Saturday night we were extremely busy, and I was doing an osso bucco special, and I was searing off osso bucco and one slipped from my tongs and hit the pan of oil and splattered up and coated the back of my hand and burned the hell out of my hand. The skin was not really there. I was working the line, though, and there was no one to replace me. So I bandaged my hand up and kept it in a bain-marie of ice water and worked one-handed the entire Saturday night, which was pretty much an impossible task. That was a bad night. Every cook has a good burn story.

— photo by Jonathan Gayman


A bike-side chat with Griffin Delivery’s Andy Heaslet

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Andy Heaslet had to change the name of his South Grand Delivered restaurant-delivery service to Griffin Delivery for the best of reasons: He expanded his territory to downtown. More territory means more adventures, like the strange interludes with a customer known as “The Hand.”

1. Which restaurants’ food does Griffin Delivery deliver now?

Lunch downtown from Lola, Pickles Deli, Tortilla Grille, Joe’s Chili Bowl at Citygarden, and the downtown Local Harvest Cafe, and lunch and dinner in South City from Mangia Italiano, MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse, Natty’s Pizza, Orkeed Restaurant, Wei Hong and the Local Harvest Cafe near Tower Grove Park.

2. How do the couriers carry the food?

The bikes have a box-rack that attaches to the seat post. It weighs maybe three to five pounds, and when you add 10 to 15 pounds of food into it, it changes the way you have to ride your bike. The tail likes to wag the dog. You have to use your abs more and control your handlebars more. The drivers get strong really quickly. Other couriers only work with burrito and sandwich places because you can just throw it in the backpack. We can’t do that with blackened tilapia from Mangia; it wouldn’t be fair to the food. We use an insulated box big enough to hold five 18-inch pizzas or 12 box lunches, and we have bigger boxes, too.

3. What’s the strangest moment one of your couriers has had?

One that seems to happen repeatedly is when you’re knocking on the door for a really long time and then finally a woman comes to the door holding her robe closed and needs two hands to take the food and sign the receipt, and we get a show. (Laughs) Then there’s one customer who wouldn’t let us see her face. The door would open just like, six inches, a hand would come out to take the food and then the hand would come back to give the courier a stack of quarters. We called that customer “The Hand.”

4. Can you share your future plans, for more restaurants that might be added to Griffin? I think we’ve got SweetArt coming early next year in South City, and we have four or five informal commitments from other restaurants.

5. Can you guys deliver soup without spilling it? We’ve done more than 1,000 deliveries in two years and on only four or five occasions did we have to go back to the restaurant because the food got screwed up in transit. Our gear, our setup is really effective. We sometimes ask the restaurants to wrap soup containers in Saran wrap, too. We don’t yet do coffee, but we’re not far away from figuring that out. 

6. Describe the process of making the jump from South City to parts beyond. We had the idea more than a year ago to come downtown. We did Bike to My Lou, the downtown community bike ride and festival, with Blake Bailey grilling hamburgers, in the spring. That was our downtown coming-out party. Now that we’re there, it’s almost like starting over. We’re re-building our brand identity and spreading the word again that you can get meals delivered on a bicycle quickly and affordably. Another new thing is downtown traffic, which is ridiculous. The taxis and limos can be aggressive, and the people who come downtown once every six months for a Cardinals game drive like a deer frozen in the headlights. (Laughs)

8. Your business is awfully green, as they say; I understand you come from a non-profit background, too? I want to run my for-profit with the same passion and compassion I had when I was running a non-profit. That was called the Peace Economy Project; it was about building an economy based more on peaceful endeavors than the military-industrial complex. The new business is environmentally conscious, fun and makes a profit. We’re still working on that last one, but my heart’s in it, and that’s the important thing. The famous activist Percy Green heard my idea for the restaurant/bike- delivery business and he encouraged me to go for it, so I pursued it. I had almost given it up.

9. What did you do before that? I was a professional mascot in college: “Slapshot” the polar bear, with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League. Then I was also the Butler University Bulldog. The team was not used to great success. When we got to the Sweet 16 for the first time no one on campus knew what to do. (Laughs) I think my craziest moment as a mascot was when I was crowd-surfing over people and I unintentionally came to a stop atop an old lady, and I thought I’d broken every bone in her body. Then a guy stuck his finger in the polar bear’s face, which was a little higher than my face, and said, “Not cool, Slapshot. Not cool.” I felt bad, but as a mascot I couldn’t speak so I just had to mime that I was sorry. (Laughs) Then, after college, I did the Peace Corps in Paraguay, doing rural economic development.

10. The way people order from you is so cool – customers click what they want online, right from the restaurant’s menu, but at your website. We use software called Big Tree Solutions, which was created by the same guy who started Tiger’s Takeout in Columbia, Mo. We had a friend customize it for us to give it some flair, and we’re really happy with it. Our sales have gone up by 50 percent each month we’ve used it. That’s a rate of growth that was inconceivable a year ago.

11. Why “Griffin”? In our logo, we originally used silhouettes of the griffins that protect the east side of Tower Grove Park, so we kept that.

12. What’s Griffin’s delivery charge? Five bucks, but we’re looking at a zone-based fee, ranging from $3.14 on up, with a tiered structure. Once we have Soulard and Benton Park covered, we’re thinking about changing that.

13. How fast can you deliver? Our default estimate time is 45 minutes, but our average is in the mid 30s. It depends on how long it takes the restaurant to make the food; a pizza takes longer than a sandwich.

14. What do the bike couriers do if they have downtime between deliveries? They hang out in coffeehouses and restaurants. I love having my folks go out and take pictures and play on Instagram and Twitter. I’m also trying to get them to hand out Griffin Delivery stickers if they like.

15. It looks like on your site you’re asking the customer to put the tip on before delivery. The customers do have the option of giving it to the couriers when they get to door. The site reminds the customer of what 20 percent is, regardless, which is a good thing. Also, the customers often just want the transaction to be over; they want to have the convenience of signing their names and getting to the eating.

16. What should the prepared bicyclist always carry with him/her? A tire lever, a fresh tube, a patch kit, and a CO2 cartridge or a hand pump. There are so many bike shops in St. Louis, that’s great, too. In the winter, you might want to carry long johns and extra gloves, also. It’s no fun when you leave the house when it’s 50 degrees and come home when it’s 30 degrees and you’re not prepared.

17. You deliver through all kinds of inclement weather, too. Yeah. Last winter was pretty nice; it was so mild. We say that if you can drive your car to work, we can probably ride our bikes. “Black ice” is a different story. We can walk our bikes for a little rather than ride them, if it gets really bad.

18. Do you see your company growing into more neighborhoods? Sure. We’d love to have four or five neighborhood branches. I don’t ever see us going west of I-170, but serving more of the inner core of the city and the inner ring of suburbs. But it’s one step at a time for now. We’d love to connect South City and downtown by serving Lafayette Square, Soulard and Benton Park.

See the full list of restaurants available at Griffin Delivery at griffindelivery.com 314.270.2276.

— photo by Laura Miller

Extra Sauce: Short List Runner-Up

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

{The Daily Bread Bakery & Cafe’s baguette}

While we searched for the perfect baguette for this month’s Short List, we dismissed plenty of lightweight, flimsy, 3½-inch-high loaves that were nothing like the real-deal baton. In order to find our top three, we subjected each baguette to seven – yes, seven – tests. Read about (and see) our finalists here. And as for the baguette that fell just shy of taking home a medal? The runner-up prize goes to St. Louis Bread Co.

St. Louis Bread Co., offers one of the most flavorful French baguettes in town. The recipe uses just the right amount of salt and the interior tastes almost buttery. If the loaf wasn’t consistently over-baked, turning the crust two shades darker than we’d like and transforming the heel-bite experience into a non-event, there’s a high probability that the St. Louis-born-bakery gone national would’ve placed in our top three.

St. Louis Bread Co.
Various locations, panerabread.com

— photo by Greg Rannells

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