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Jan 23, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘The Royale’

Budget Crunch: 7 delicious deals to devour now

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Got $10 and a friend? Then contributor Kevin Korinek has seven tasty deals to try now.

 

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1. Guerrilla Street Food is making friends this month, offering weekly collaborations with a few St. Louis favorites, including farmers market favorite, The Tamale Man. This week, $4 gets you the Tamale Man’s take on a bubuto – the Filipino tamale – that includes roast chicken, coconut milk, annatto seed, rice flour, masa, dried shrimp and a hard-cooked egg wrapped in a banana leaf and corn husk.

2. The Royale launched a new light lunch menu this month that’s big on taste and Budget Crunch friendly. For $8, pick two items – a main dish and a side – or pick three for $10 and add an extra side. Choose from mains like a taco, single cheeseburger or a vegetarian hopping John cake, then select sides like a green salad, chips, cup of soup, mac and cheese or a health-conscious Brussels sprout salad.

3. Happy hour is even better at Sardella. Gerard Craft’s restaurant recently updated its menu with some budget-friendly drinks and snacks to enjoy from 4 to 6 p.m. Try a variety of drinks from house red wine to a cold pint of Perennial White Impala, all $5 or less. While you’re there, nosh on $5 toasted ravioli or an assorted array of $6 bruschetta bites.

 

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4. La Patisserie Chouquette goes all out when it come to Turkey Day with its signature Turducken croissants. These warm, buttery pastries are filled with mouthwatering, crispy duck skin, chicken and turkey, surrounded by cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and fried onions. With gravy available on the side, it’s a complete handheld Thanksgiving meal. These $7 treats are only available on Saturdays in November, and it’s first come, first serve – so get there early.

5. Get a jump on the Christmas shopping this year and get something in return. On Tuesday, Nov. 14, DiGregorio’s Italian Market on the Hill hosts a free fall wine tasting just in time for the holiday season. Sample more than 25 wines and try delicious hors d’oeuvres and signature entrees while perusing a variety of holiday gift baskets.

 

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6. Coming in at $8, The Goat is a must-have favorite from hip Cherokee Street coffee shop The Mud House. This delicious little veggie sandwich is sure to have you asking for more. Cold slices of cucumber are stacked atop greens and a creamy goat cheese spread and topped with beet chutney on toasted wheat. It’s a light, refreshing bite for your lunch break.

7. ’Tis the season of giving, and Niche Food Group is looking to reward your generosity during the month of November with its Cookies for Cans drive to benefit Operation Food Search. Dine-in guests can bring a canned good or nonperishable food item to any of Craft’s five restaurants and receive a free banana-butterscotch-oatmeal cookie from Sardella pastry chef Sarah Osborn.

 

Kevin Korinek is a freelance writer and photographer with a passion for making homemade pie.

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Extra Sauce: 6 debate watch parties this Sunday

Friday, October 7th, 2016

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Whether you’re red, blue or somewhere between, we can all agree the next presidential debate this Sunday, Oct. 9, will be more bearable with a drink. Most St. Louisans won’t be lucky enough to grab a seat at Washington University, but we can post up at these fine establishments with a cold cocktail or beer, watch the debate and engage in some lively – and hopefully civil – discourse.

 

1. Schlafly Bottleworks
Grab a Pint of POTUS, Schlafly’s limited-release American lager inspired by the election, and sip it from a Republican red Trump pint glass, a Democratic blue Clinton option or a neutral black glass. Enjoy a menu of burgers, hot dogs and apple pie available for free with beer purchase, then head to the bar or the Crown Room for the main event.
6 p.m., 7260 Southwest Ave., Maplewood, 314.241.2337, Facebook: Pints for POTUS 

2. The Royale
This South City public house has long been known as the place to go for spirited political discussion over spirits. Watch inside or head to the back patio, where the debate will be projected on an outdoor screen.
7 p.m., 3132 S Kingshighway Blvd., St. Louis, 314.772.3600, theroyale.com 

3. Hopskeller Brewing Co.
Express your political opinion at Waterloo’s newest restaurant and brewery with specialty cocktails. Order a red The Donald or a blue I’m With Her – or request a mix for uncommitted, none-of-your-business purple sipper and settle in for the debate.
7 p.m., 116 E. Third St., Waterloo, 618.939.2337, Facebook: Hopskeller

4. St. Louis Public Radio and The Nine Network
Head to the Public Media Commons at Grand Center to watch these larger than life candidates debate on a two-story outdoor screen. While you wait for the debate to start, grab a slice from the Pi on the Spot and a beer or glass of wine from the cash bar. Reserve your spot online.
7 p.m., Public Media Commons at Grand Center, 3653 Olive St., St. Louis, stlpublicradio.org 

5. Narwhal’s Crafted Urban Ice
One of Midtown’s newest bars livens up debate night with frozen cocktail slushies and debate games. Write down your predictions before the debate starts, and the person with the most correct answers wins a prize.
7 p.m., 3906 Laclede Ave., St. Louis, 314.696.8388, narwhalscrafted.com 

 6. Layla
Debate fun and games abound at Layla, too. Grab a bingo sheet and pay close attention through the debate to win prizes throughout the night. Food and drink deals include $5 smoked wings and $3 and $4 craft beer specials.
6 p.m., 4317 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.553.9252, laylastl.com

Budget Crunch: 8 delicious deals to devour this month

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Got $10 and a friend? Then contributor Holly Fann has eight delicious deals you need to devour this month. 

 

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{From left, Nudo House’s pork tonkotsu and chicken schmaltz ramen}

 

1. Construction is still ongoing at Nudo House, the hotly anticipated ramen restaurant from Mai Lee’s Qui Tran and Marie-Anne Velasco, but the duo hopes to reward eager patrons’ patience with a taste on Sept. 26. Tran and Velasco host their next ramen pop-up at Mai Lee in Brentwood, offering two options for $10 each: a pork tonkotsu or a chicken schmaltz version. This cash-only event takes place from noon to 9 p.m., so grab your friends and slurp to your heart’s content.

2. Whether you have little ones at home or are up for some old-fashioned hooky, skip the school bus and head to Eckert’s Millstadt Farm. Normally $12.50 on the weekends, the cost of admission drops to $6 on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Take in the pig races, a petting farm, an underground slide and a pumpkin cannon, then stroll through the orchards to pick your own apples. Tickets available onsite.

 

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{Urban Harvest STL Food Room Farm}

 

3. If your garden has gone crazy during the last weeks of summer or you couldn’t pass up the flat of ripe peaches at the farmers market, Urban Harvest STL is ready to help during its Preserving the Harvest class at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 17. Learn how best to prepare and keep the season’s bounty at the nonprofit’s Food Roof Farm. The class costs $10; sign up online.

4. While most come to slurp noodle soups at Vista Ramen, don’t neglect the cocktail list. The $9 Cafe Pseudo the perfect sip to say hello to autumn. With flavors that nod toward sweet, roasty Vietnamese coffee, the Pseudo is a combination of Fernet, cold-brew coffee, sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk and Thai basil.

 

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{Martinis at The Fountain on Locust}

 

5. It’s a madhouse at The Fountain on Locust with weeknight specials. On Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m., purchase one ice cream martini and receive a second for $1. Wednesdays bring the $2 plus Meal Madness special from 4 to 6 p.m.; purchase one meal and the next one is $2 plus the change that corresponds to the date (so on Sept. 21, your second meal price will be $2.21). Thursdays see specials on Fountain’s Classic Retro Cocktail menu from 6 to 9 p.m.; get one and the second is half price.

6. The Muddled Pig Gastropub in Maplewood now offers a custom 32-ounce growler for $10. To introduce its shiny new bottles, customers who buy a growler in September get their first fill free from any of the 16 beers on tap, including Ferguson Brewing’s Pecan Brown Ale or Modern Brewery’s Pig Island.

 
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{The Royale patio}

 

7. There’s one thing both sides of the ballot can agree on: The upcoming presidential debates will surely be entertaining. The Royale hosts a watch party on its outdoor patio Sept. 26 with a $5 Uncle Salvatore Nicholia Forte drink special: a shot of Old Charter bourbon and a 12-ounce Miller High Life. Royale proprietor Steven Fitzpatrick Smith’s Uncle Salvatore was known to hate politics, and Smith said this particular special is the best way to cope with the madness of election season.

8. Enjoy cooling autumn weather and the sweet boing of a rubber ball off your foot during a pick-up game at Kickball in The Park starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17 in Sublette Park. The first 100 attendees will receive a free hot salami sandwich from the Gioia’s Deli food truck.

 

 

 

 

 

Trendwatch: Guide to Drinking Edition (Part 1)

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

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{Ben Bauer sips on the She’s Standing Right Behind You cocktail at The Libertine.} 

 

1. Taste of The Alps
Think of this French Alpine liqueur as Green Chartreuse’s little brother. With more floral notes, a lower ABV and a lower price tag, St. Louis bartenders are falling in love with Génépy. Drink it on its own as an aperitif or look for cocktails where it plays well with others: Try it paired with the gin-like Bols Genever, Yellow Chartreuse and lime in the Vivre Sa Vie from Olio’s summer menu, or sip an intense lineup of hibiscus, pomegranate and baking spices in the Heatsource cocktail at Retreat Gastropub. The bar at Público lends a Latin vibe with mezcal and lime, along with Licor 43 and Averna in Wee Willy’s Whiskers. Or visit The Whiskey Ring when winter hits for its take on a hot toddy: The Green Lantern made with Génépy, Green Chartreuse and lemon simple syrup.

2. Lager Love
Once the watery antithesis of the craft beer movement, a new wave of crisp, full-flavored lagers are making a comeback. Brewers are turning to the old-school Eastern European Czech Pilsner to create these low-ABV brews with a characteristic Saaz hop. Look for 2nd Shift’s Technical Ecstasy, Stubborn German Brewing Co.’s recently added Hip Czech Pilsner and seasonally available versions from Square One, Schlafly and The Civil Life.

3. Red Wine Float Trip
Bartenders are layering on the flavor with red wine floats atop new cocktails. Try it at The Libertine, where a mineral red tops a mixture of rye, lemon juice and lemon verbena-sweet tea in She’s Standing Right Behind You. Order the Full Sneak at The Fortune Teller Bar and watch as ruby port is floated over a blend of whiskey, ginger liqueur, lemon and ginger ale. Red also wine crowns The Juice at Scapegoat Tavern & Courtyard, which shakes up Orangecello (a house-made lemoncello that swaps the citrus), pomegranate vodka, muddled oranges and ginger beer.

4. As American as Applejack
Look for this potent fruit-based hooch cropping up by the bushel-full. Eclipse combines applejack with tequila, gin, rum and Benedictine in the 3 Mile Long Island, while The Royale keeps it simple in its Apple Buck, a mix of applejack, lemon juice and ginger beer. Scapegoat Tavern & Courtyard puts a twist on the whiskey sour, adding applejack to brandy and sour mix in The Monica.

 

Still thirsty? Click here for more of what’s trending in the STL beverage scene. 

-photo by David Kovaluk

Extra Sauce: In case you missed it…

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Get caught up on all last week’s food news, from new locations of local favorites to the man behind a local institution. ICYMI, here’s the latest in the St. Louis restaurant scene:

 

 

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1. Niche Food Group chef-owner Gerard Craft announced that he will open a second location of his Italian eatery Pastaria in Nashville in summer 2016. Click here for the Sauce Scoop on the James Beard Award winner’s first restaurant outside The Lou.

2. River City’s executive pastry chef Stephan Schubert won the America’s Division of the American Culinary Federation’s Global Chef Challenge. Click here to find out how he almost didn’t make it to the competition floor in the Sauce Scoop.

 

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3. South County residents and movie buffs can grab a pint before catching a flick next year when Three Kings Public House opens its third location. Click here for the Sauce Scoop on its upcoming opening near Ronnie’s 20 Cine.

4. The latest in a slew of new food trucks, Slide Piece aims to fire up the engine and serve sliders in downtown St. Louis by Monday, Nov. 9, pending inspections. Find out what’s on the menu; click here for the Sauce Scoop.

 

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5. When Absolutli Goosed shuttered its doors last month, its owners took just two weeks to turn their space at 3196 S. Grand Blvd., into Brickyard Tavern. Click here for the Sauce First Look at this new bar and grill on South Grand.

6. Dueling pianos will return to Maplewood with the opening of The Live Juke Joint Dueling Piano Bar. Click here to find out when in the Sauce Scoop.

 

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7. Steven Fitzpatrick Smith explained how he created and sustained a local institution that invites public debate between established neighbors, college hipsters on a dime and maybe even your mom. Click here to find what he does 10 years later at The Royale.

8. A Glen Carbon building that has been a grocery store, a brothel and a down-and-dirty saloon over the years. Pending inspections, it will see its next life as The Cabin at Judy Creek. Click here for the Sauce Scoop

 

 

 

 

 

What I Do: Steven Fitzpatrick Smith of The Royale

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

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Some bars lure in customers with trivia nights and live music. The Royale brings in thirsty patrons with public forums on local ballot initiatives and live debates between aldermanic candidates. (The killer cocktail list doesn’t hurt, either.) Credit goes to owner Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, who took over the space 10 years ago. Smith explained how he created and sustained a local institution that invites public debate between established neighbors, college hipsters on a dime and maybe even your mom.

You describe The Royale as a “public house.” What does that mean?
It’s a place where you can meet with your neighbors, and it’s an extension of civilized behavior. That’s something that gets me feeling very good about where I live: knowing that I can sit down with my neighbors and have conversations with them.

The building that houses The Royale has been a bar since before Prohibition. What was your vision when you took over in 2005?
I wanted a place that was respectable enough that more people could go to it than just a particular niche of the market. I wanted anybody to feel relatively comfortable here. I’ll see some kids that come in to drink, and then the next thing you know, they come in with their parents, and they’re like, “Look, this is where I hang out. It’s respectable. I’m not a ne’er-do-well.”

Why do you host public forums and debates?
These are the kinds of things that I would go to. … I like (watching debates) at the library, but if I can get a drink and maybe a bite to eat, and I can convince three of my friends to go with me, that’s much more likely to happen at a bar than in the basement of a library. I enjoy watching the baseball games as much as anybody, but I still think there are other things we can talk about.

You also host events themed around history, like your Cuban Missile Crisis Party.
I love history. When I do (this party), a lot of people learn about the Cuban Missile Crisis. And they got to dress up like it was 1962 and they got to have all that fun, but then they learned about something. I had some great teachers when I was younger, so I (see that as) an extension of what I can do here. Not necessarily as intense; I’m not testing anybody. You can just come in, enjoy the drinks and check out who else is here.

Do you see these events as a public service?
I’m trying to get people to think a little bit more. You want to think more about how to make things better and you have to talk about that with your neighbors. … Better-educated votes lead to a better situation for everybody. We may not agree on everything – that’s certainly not the case. I’m not looking to necessarily sell them on one particular thing. … We all have our own views. Ultimately, if more information is out there, the better informed we are, the better decisions we make, the better city we’ll have.

You are part-owner of Tick Tock Tavern and involved in local real estate and culinary tours. After 10 years, how involved are you in day-to-day operations?
I’m the operator. I close out receipts. … I fixed the basement doors, and I’m going to go on the roof later and patch part of it. If anybody needs to be thrown out of here, I’m the guy. There’s nothing better than to be thrown out by the actual owner of the place. You’ve got to make it look easy. It’s actually a lot of work, but it’s the small touches. I rewired a bunch of lamps last night (to hang at the bar), and I don’t know if anyone is going to notice, but I love it.

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

Budget Crunch: 10 delicious dishes and sweet deals to try right now

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Welcome to Budget Crunch, wherein intrepid reporter Byron Kerman offers 10 tips on delicious menu items and sweet deals happening now. Got $10? Grab a friend and sample, split and stuff yourselves with these steals.

 

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1. Condiment lovers eat at Dirty Dogz just to sample from the amazing selection of more than 200 mustards, hot sauces and more at each location (which just happens to be inside three local Home Depots). Wanna try wasabi mustard, chili dog-flavored mustard, lime-flavored Chohula hot sauce or almost anything else? They’re all free with purchase, so put ‘em on your dog, kielbasa, hot link, brat, etc. Dirty Harry would be appalled, but they even have ketchup.

2. Let the civilized life begin with Lavender Lemonade, available now at The Mud House. Locally grown lavender becomes house-made lavender simple syrup, which is then mixed into house-made lemonade. Served in a mason jar and garnished with a lemon wedge, it’s refreshment incarnate at $2.75 a glass.

 

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3. When the students at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of St. Louis hand you the bill for your lunch at Creativ Eats Restaurant, you may start laughing. After all, a sweet three-course prix fixe meal for $9 is a sleeper of a deal. The recently announced Florida-Caribbean fusion menu features your choice of scallop and shrimp ceviche or black bean and sweet potato soup; an entree of pulled jerk chicken, Cuban skirt steak, grouper en papillote or a curried vegetable empanada; and a dessert of tres leches sorbet with pineapple or coconut gelatin scallops with passion fruit and boysenberry sauces and topped with “Key lime caviar.” The student-operated restaurant, located in St. Charles, takes reservations for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; call 636.688.3055.

4. The new spring menu at The Fountain on Locust includes the yummy Fig and Bacon Pie ($8) a flatbread topped with house-made fig spread, bacon, apple slices and gorgonzola cheese. Yes, please.

 

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5. Did you know Milagro Modern Mexican rocks a tasty, budget-friendly Mexican Sunday Brunch? Menu choices include a Baja omelet with lump crabmeat, spinach, avocado and panela cheese, topped with chipotle hollandaise ($10); cinnamon-raisin bread French toast stuffed with sweetened, rum-soaked plantains ($8); and churros y chocolate, cinnamon-sugar doughnuts served with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce ($5).

6. You may not need more than one drink at The Restaurant at The Cheshire’s happy hour, which starts at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. That’s when their absinthe-based cocktails like the Hemingway (Saint George Absinthe, crème de violet liqueur, sparkling wine and lavender bitters) or a Sazerac with an absinthe wash are $6 each. Pair that potent concoction with $5 food items like Cheshire fish and chips, Cheshire cheeseburger (also with fries), or steamed mussels. Then again, it does go until 6:30 p.m., so maybe you have time to peruse that cocktail list again.

 

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7. It might not be a secret for much longer, but Capitalist Pig has just debuted a monthly Off the Menu Secret Lunch Club. If 10 or more people RSVP for the lunch, chef-owner Ron Buechele makes it happen. The lunch, tentatively scheduled for noon Thurs., May 29, will feature off-menu items like smoked pork belly buns (a riff on a David Chang recipe) made from house-made steamed bao buns and slow-smoked, crispy pork belly with a topping of pickled daikon, carrot and jalapeno.  Did I mention it’s a steal at $10? Email ron@madart.com for reservations.

8. Vinyl Side Monday is a fun promotion at the The Royale whereby whoever brings in a record for the DJ to spin after 10 p.m. on Mondays gets a free half-pint of any beer on draft. Current draft selections include Goose Island Illinois Imperial IPA, Civil Life English-Style Pale Ale, and Lagunitas Under Investigation Shut-Down Ale.

 

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9. Trying one of just about everything in a single go is totally do-able at the famous 5 Star Burgers Happy Hour. From 4 to 6 p.m. daily, diners pay just $1.50 for mini-burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, mini turkey burgers and veggie-burger sliders. Fries and sweet-potato fries are $1.25 and $1.50, respectively, and fried pickles, onion rings and crispy cheese curds are just $2. Draft beers are half-price, and house wines are $3.50.

10. The Starr Special Milkshake ($4.50) at MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse is not for children; it’s for adults who want all the energy children have. Espresso grounds and chocolate bits are mixed into the shake for a caffeine-and-sugar jolt that can speed the earth on its axis. One MoKaBe’s barista said the consistency of the espresso and chocolate is that of crumbled Oreos. I say the power rush is that of a newly crowned dictator.

 

 

The Scoop: Resurrected Tick Tock Tavern to team with new Steve’s Hot Dogs location

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

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{Steve Ewing}

 

This summer, Tower Grove East will see the expansion of one St. Louis favorite and the revival of another. Steve Ewing, owner of Steve’s Hot Dogs at 2131 Marconi Ave., on The Hill, recently announced a second location is in the works at 3459 Magnolia Ave. The site is also home to the newly reconceived Tick Tock Tavern, which last served customers in 1994 before owner Charlotte Horvath retired. Now in the final stages of the licensing process, the two restaurants will share a building, a kitchen and a future together in the emerging South City borough.

“It’s a great combination,” Ewing said. “I’ve known (Tick Tock owners Thomas Crone and Steve Smith) most of my life. Both of them are well-known names in the community. It’s just a great group of guys. Putting all of our resources together, (all) of us can come out with some great products in a great neighborhood.”

Ewing, also frontman for the band The Urge, started Steve’s Hot Dogs as a food truck in 2008 to wide acclaim. Its first brick-and-mortar location opened in 2011. Serving lunch Monday through Saturday, the restaurant’s no-nonsense menu is more than a dozen dogs strong, kept up by Ewing and grill managers Phil Pitkin and Corey Horan. The three will split management responsibilities for both the original and the new location, which will seat 30.

The new incarnation of Tick Tock, which was popular with St. Louisans for decades, is co-owned by Crone, Smith (who also owns The Royale) and community developer Fred Hessel. “Fred and I had talked about maybe doing a project together,” Crone said. “We all visited one day, walked into the space, and it really clicked for us. There’s a yearning in the neighborhood for a family restaurant component. It really serves everyone’s needs.”

Tick Tock Tavern will seat 49 diners inside and another 20 on a shared patio. Crone added that much of the tavern’s interior has been preserved for nearly two decades. It will be gently renovated, but most of the original decor will remain intact. “(Tick Tock) had a really odd and charming look,” he said. “But it was a regular South City corner bar. We’re keeping the same feel.”

Subterranean Homemade Food owner Robin Wheeler will prepare lineup of light back-bar fare (Pickled eggs, beer-brined pickles, jam, jelly and jerky are all on the docket at the moment.). Behind the bar, expect a selection of eight wines, four local beers on tap (and even more in bottles) and around 10 simple but essential cocktails. Crone said he hopes the two restaurants will open at the same time in mid-summer.

-photo by Greg Rannells

Drink This Weekend Edition: Where to drink by the fire

Friday, December 27th, 2013

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{EdgeWild’s fire room}

With New Year’s Eve just around the corner, a low-key weekend is in order. And what better way to relax than by sipping spirits near the fire? There are plenty of restaurants around town with beautiful fireplaces, but there’s something magical about imbibing in the cold while sitting around a roaring fire. This weekend, grab your winter hat, order your favorite drink and head outside. It’s time to get cozy.

The Scottish Arms – If The Scottish Arms’ fire pit on the back patio doesn’t sufficiently warm you, the 100+ selection of whiskeys surely will.

The Royale – What’s better than drinking by a fire? Eating s’mores. At The Royale, make-your-own s’mores kits are available for purchase. Bonus: Come on Sunday night after 9 p.m. for Cocktail Museum where bartender Robert Griffin features his own curated menu of classic cocktails.

Molly’s in Soulard – Order one of Molly’s spiked coffee drinks like Fat City Finish or Caffe Rue Royal, and grab a seat by the fire on the huge outdoor patio.

Diablitos Cantina – If the fire isn’t blazing when you arrive, just ask, and a bartender will get the flames going in no time. Not smoky enough for you? Add some mezcal to the equation with one of Diablitos’ new mezcal cocktails, such as Poison, featuring mezcal, muddled jalapeño, lime and cinnamon sugar.

EdgeWild Restaurant & Winery – Are you a bit of a cold-weather weenie? In EdgeWild’s glassed-in fire room, you can recreate the feeling of being in the great outdoors, minus the work. Order another glass of wine, shed your layers and stay awhile.

Taha’a Twisted Tiki – While this newcomer won’t be open this weekend, Taha’a Twisted Tiki in The Grove plans to open its doors on Monday, Dec. 30. Imagining yourself somewhere warm is much easier when you’re sipping a flaming Volcano Bowl next to a fire pit adorned with tiki torches.

– photo by Jonathan Gayman

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

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