St. Louis' neighborhoods are gems in their own right: full of history, great people and, as far as Gut Check is concerned, fantastic food. Each week we'll take you into a specific neighborhood and point you in the direction of the best places to grab some bites.
Maplewood crams a lot of life into a relatively short stretch of Manchester Avenue: It's home to a cozy coffeehouse, a fantasy-sports mecca and the other king of St. Louis beers. Here's a list of some of the colorful, can't-miss places along Manchester before it turns from county to city.
Michael's Bar & Grill (7101 Manchester Avenue; 314-644-2440) From the red-brick interior to the sun-filled patio to the greeting at the door, the convivial Greek-American taverna Michael's exudes warmth. Appetizers run the gamut from wings to toasted ravioli to saganaki, though the standout is probably its fresh calamari which brings gorgeously tangled fried tenticles: "What part of the squid do those perfect rings come from?" an employee hypothetically asked us. Thanks to Michael's, we don't have to find out. Dolmades, moussaka and pastitio are among the most popular Greek specialties, while the "Michael's Burger" (spring for the fat steak fries) is one of the city's best.
Foundation Grounds (7298 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-601-3588) Maplewood has a handful of bright, locally owned coffee shops, but none offers more variety to customers than Foundation Grounds. Wedged at the intersection of Manchester Road and Oakview Terrace near the most bustling part of the neighborhood, Foundation Grounds features a wide selection of food and drink options, with an emphasis on catering to customers mindful of organic, gluten-free, vegetarian, dairy-free or vegan diets. Fresh sandwiches here include "A Perfect Pear," stacked with thinly sliced organic pears, organic spinach, organic apple butter, topped with melted brie and red onion, and "the Madahoocheese," with Tillamook cheddar, Parmesan, organic tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, topped with organic baby spinach. Other options include baked goods, soups, salads, quesadillas, breakfast items and kid-friendly dishes. While the food might be what keeps you coming back, the coffee drinks are probably what brought you in, and rightly so: The selection and quality of coffee, tea and smoothie drinks at Foundation Grounds is as broad as its food menu. The "Honey Cardamom Latte" is an especially rich, tasty treat, and like its eats options, drinks at Foundation Grounds are easily made dairy-free and vegan-friendly, with soy and almond milks available. In addition to its diverse menus, the cafe plays host to live music and hosts events and specials during the week, and offers a cozy outdoor patio for soaking up sun during warmer months.
Boogaloo (7344 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-645-4803) Brining a sunshiny splash to this stretch of Manchester is the Cuban/Creole/Caribbean hybrid Boogaloo. Bright orange, lime greens, ornate mirrors and chandeliers punctuate the interior design, and patrons can sit on swings up at the bar. Crab empanadas and veggie-friendly plantain tostones are some of the most popular tapas dishes, while the "Caribbean Tripleta" sandwich, made with beef, jerk chicken, ham, Swiss and mango slaw is another bestseller. Get acquainted with Boogaloo's cocktail menu and its inventive takes on old reliables: Start with the potent "Coyote Campfire," its margarita made with fresh-squeezed lime juice. The hollowed-out rind is heaped with sugar, doused with Bacardi 151 and lit on fire, resulting in caramelized crystals and a buzz on the quick. Stick around for happy hour, too: Tapas are marked down by 25 percent a pop, as is wine by the glass.
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