C Notes: Ian completes the journey through his 100 Favorite St. Louis Dishes

C Notes: Ian completes the journey through his 100 Favorite St. Louis Dishes

Since February of last year, I've been counting down my 100 favorite dishes in St. Louis on Gut Check, the Riverfront Times food blog. I figured it would be easy to limit myself to 100 dishes — until I realized that my short list ran closer to 200 than 100. A good sign for the number of delicious dishes in the area, from the elite (beef tenderloin with foie gras at Tony's) to the humble (a $2 taco on Cherokee Street).

Though we called it a "countdown," I made it clear that the 100 dishes were presented in no particular order. That said, I saved some of my absolute favorites for last. Here I share with you the final five.

#5. Applewood-Smoked Duck Breast at Sidney Street Café
(2000 Sidney Street; 314-771-5777)
Sidney Street Café owner and executive chef Kevin Nashan was a semifinalist in the "Best Chef: Midwest" category of this year's James Beard Awards. About damn time. Nashan — the reigning Riverfront Times "Best Local Chef" — is as deserving of national notice as any St. Louis chef.

Behold No. 3: Harvest's bread pudding.
Kholood Eid
Behold No. 3: Harvest's bread pudding.

Location Info

Map

Sidney Street Cafe

2000 Sidney St.
St. Louis, MO 63104

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Louis - Soulard

I could claim any one of several different dishes on Nashan's Sidney Street menu as a favorite, yet I always come back to the applewood-smoked duck. The flavor is intensely smoky. Most barbecue doesn't achieve this level of smokiness. Yet even through this cloud of smoke the distinctive flavor of blush-red, medium-rare duck meat and the luscious texture of rendered duck fat come through. Not enough duck for you? The duck breast sits atop a sweet-potato latke studded with duck confit. The latke, in turn, sits atop a small amount of charred rapini, whose bitterness provides a welcome contrast to what might otherwise be an overwhelmingly rich dish. From construction to preparation to the beautiful composition of the plate, it's flat-out fantastic.

#4. Ribs at Pappy's Smokehouse
(3106 Olive Street; 314-535-4340)
What more is there to say about Pappy's Smokehouse — except, to the two women behind me on my most recent visit who bailed from the line halfway to the register, "What the hell were you thinking?"

The ribs are my go-to order here, smoked over apple- and cherrywood and seasoned perfectly: a zing of black pepper, that beguiling rosemary note. And, above all else, the sweet-savory hit of pork cooked hour after hour after hour...

Just visiting Pappy's lifts my spirits. The regulars. The tourists. The fans having their pictures taken with the sunglasses-bedecked pig's head mounted on the wall or, if the pig's not available, with Mike Emerson. The whole bustle of the place. It's the most communal dining experience in St. Louis, and it never fails to put a smile on my face.

#3. Bread Pudding at Harvest
(1059 South Big Bend Boulevard, Richmond Heights; 314-645-3522)
Whatever I order at Harvest, I always, always conclude with the bread pudding. It's a legendary dish — and deservedly so.

All the usual dessert adjectives apply to Harvest's square of brioche bread pudding in a bourbon-currant sauce: luscious, indulgent, decadent. Yet, for all its richness, this isn't a cloying dessert. There are subtle flavors here, like a warming nutmeg note, and the currant and the bourbon both cut through and complement the bread pudding's sweetness.

And in a town lousy with créme brûlée and flourless chocolate cake, Harvest is one of the very, very few places where I tell people that you must save room for dessert.

#2. "Pork Duo" at Niche
(1831 Sidney Street; 314-773-7755)
At Niche I always look first to the current pork selections. Whether it's the pork-shank pappardelle that first put the restaurant on the radar of Food & Wine magazine — and which is back on the menu now — or a St. Louis-convention-flouting fried pig's head, Gerard Craft and his crew know how to prepare every last bit of a hog.

The pork entrée right now is called, simply, a "duo": pork belly and smoked pork loin with cornbread pudding and a hash of Brussels sprouts that is topped with a chicharrón. (Making it a pork trio, really.) Your server pours a sorghum-sherry sauce over the dish's first three elements tableside.

You get a little bit of everything with this dish: the smokiness of good barbecue; the natural sweetness of pork heightened by the cornbread and the sauce; the unctuous fat of the belly. My favorite part might be the belly's exterior: Beyond crisp, it cracks under your fork like the surface of a créme brûlée and works your teeth like hard candy.

When I return to Niche, this dish might no longer be on the menu — never to return, perhaps. That's part of the excitement of dining here. You savor your meal because, unlike your favorite burger or barbecue joint, you might never repeat its exact circumstances. And you don't mind this, because you're asking the same question that has been driving Craft and his team for five years now:

What's next?

#1. Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts
(at home)
My wife and I moved to St. Louis more or less on a whim, then unmarried and with no job awaiting either of us. Eight years later, we're wed, we both have jobs we love, and we own a house in south city. More to the point, we've found a home here. This feeling is difficult to convey. It's not like we woke up one morning bleeding Cardinal red and craving Provel. (Though we do like the Cards.)

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Eric
Eric

I really enjoyed this series, and actually found out about a few choice items from here. Thank you!

Alan Buxbaum
Alan Buxbaum

Harvest's bread pudding is wonderful, but Cyrano's is better.

 
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