My girlfriend and I were grad students at the University of Iowa when we
came down to St. Louis to see the band play at Mississippi Nights.
Something about the city grabbed us. The architecture. The different neighborhoods. The overall vibe as we explored the Central
West End and South Grand, Soulard and the Loop.
When we were finished at Iowa, more or less on a whim, without a job awaiting either of us, we moved here. Eight years later, we're married, we both have jobs we love, and we now own a house in the 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.)
Naturally, I fall back on food to explain myself. Here's my favorite meal to prepare at home -- my favorite meal, period. Nothing in it is particular to St. Louis, but when I think of the times that I've been happiest here, I think of the occasions I've prepared and enjoyed this meal.
It's utterly simple and, assuming I don't screw it up, as flavorful as any of the other 99 dishes on this list: a roast chicken (I follow the basic recipe at the very beginning of Thomas Keller's Bouchon
cookbook; all you need is a chicken -- a fryer is the perfect size for two -- butcher's twine, salt and pepper); potatoes, also roasted in the oven; and Brussels sprouts sautéed in bacon fat because hell, yeah, bacon.
Putting together this list of my 100 favorite St. Louis dishes has been a blast. While some of these dishes have been drawn from my recent reviews, most are old favorites that I was more than happy to revisit. Still, after working on this project for more than a year, I've had my fill of looking back. There are dozens of new restaurants that I have yet to try, dozens of towns and neighborhoods on both sides of the river that, shamefully, after eight years, I have yet to visit.
Those who think that there are more than 100 St. Louis dishes worth celebrating -- believe me: narrowing my list wasn't easy -- or that I picked the wrong 100 will be pleased to know that my fellow Gut Check writers will soon begin a new countdown of their
100 favorites. If there's a dish you think they should try, don't hesitate to let them know.
As for me, if my next list of 100 favorite St. Louis dishes isn't at least half comprised of dishes from restaurants where, as of right now, I've never been -- restaurants that might not even exist yet -- then I'll have failed in my mission as a restaurant critic.
So here's to the next 100 -- and the 100 after that. Over the past year, I've counted down -- in no particular order -- 100 of my favorite dishes in St. Louis. Some are well-known, others obscure. Some are expensive, others dirt cheap. All of them, I guarantee, are delicious.
Previously:#2: The "Pork Duo" at Niche#3: The bread pudding at Harvest#4: The ribs at Pappy's Smokehouse#5: The applewood-smoked duck breast at Sidney Street Café#6: Beef tenderloin with foie gras and a port wine demi-glace at Tony's#7: Dry-aged steak at Prime 1000#8: Tajadas con queso at Fritanga#9: Kumamoto oysters at DeMun Oyster Bar#10: Tacos al pastor at La Vallesana#11: The Heath Bar concrete at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard#12: Beef tongue at Café Natasha's Kabob International#13: The root beer braised short rib at Monarch#14: The egg raviolo at Acero#15: Pappardelle at the Tavern Kitchen + Bar#16: Carnitas at La Tejana Taqueria#17: Benne's Farm half chicken at Five Bistro#18: Dátiles rellenos at Modesto#19: Hot-and-sour noodles at Joy Luck Buffet#20: Lamb vindaloo at India Palace