Selecting Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis 2011 was no picnic. Choosing the winner meant several worthy candidates would go unmentioned -- until now. In this Gut Check series, we are chewing our way through notable runners up in a number of categories. To see hundreds more winners and finalists and download the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis mobile app, visit our Best of St. Louis homepage.
A certain segment of Gut Check's readership wets itself with rage whenever we write about (let alone celebrate) chain restaurants. We'd like to say we understand. However, several years of professional eating have taught us many unpleasant truths, among them:
1. Even the best-intentioned local, independent restaurants can suck.
2. Sometimes, reading over a list of chains operating in St. Louis, our tummy grumbles.
Here are our five finalists and the winner for the category "Best Chain Restaurant"...
If every chain approached business the way that Chipotle does, the term "chain" might not have such a pejorative connotation. Founder Steve Ells has made it his mission to source sustainable, responsibly raised meat and produce. Of course, you don't have to know that to enjoy the massive burritos -- the spicy beef barbacoa is best -- or, if you would like your current waistline to be as sustainable as the meat, the slightly less massive tacos.
Cincinnati-based Dewey's has expanded steadily since it entered the St. Louis market last decade, yet it's never felt like a true chain. Maybe it's because you can watch the cooks hand-tossing the light, buttery sweet dough. Maybe it's because the service is friendly and free of "flair" or any other chain affectations. Maybe it's because the pizza is so tasty that while you're enjoying it, you forget where you are -- the mark of any good restaurant, chain or not.
While we hesitate to apply the "better burger" tag to Five Guys because they won't cook your burger to any temperature other than well done, if we restrict ourselves to the category of thin, fast-food-style patties, this rapidly growing national chain stands pretty much at the top. Get a double to maximize the juicy, beefy pleasure, and be sure to order the fries, which when enjoyed right out of the fryer are a sublime, salty pleasure.
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