Best Of 2006

Last we left Duke, unofficial canine mascot of the RFT, he'd cleaned up his act cosmetically—thanks to 2005's "Best Dog Wash," Four Muddy Paws—but was still a mess behaviorally. Group classes at the local PetSmart may have taught Duke what such commands as "sit" and "stay" mean, but the lessons didn't seem to instill in him a desire to actually carry them out. So we called in Cindy Vickers, president and founder of Absolutely Fabulous City Dogs. A member of the Association of Companion Animal Behavior Counselors, Vickers believes in the N.I.L.I.F. theory of canine obedience. That stands for "nothing in life is free," and what it means is, you can allow your dog to indulge in whatever behaviors you want—sleeping on the bed, sharing the couch, enjoying the occasional table scrap—so long as the dog knows that he's got to earn the privilege by following whatever dictates you set before him. After an introductory two-hour session and just one hourlong follow-up (both priced at a very reasonable $60/hour), Duke now comes when called, drops to the "down" position in a hot second, waits patiently in the next room while the humans are having dinner and has even learned to give high-fives. Absolutely obedient is, indeed, absolutely fabulous.
We thought St. Louis had arrived when Urban Outfitters and H&M came to town, and we thought we were pretty cool when Anthropologie opened. Yep, and we felt extra-special with a Crate & Barrel and a Whole Foods Market, not to mention four Trader Joe's. But now that we have a Design Within Reach, we know St. Louis' shopping market is seriously awesome. And serious. DWR carries all manner of designer furniture, including pieces by design deities Charles and Ray Eames, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Arch-mastermind Eero Saarinen. If the merchandise isn't lovely enough on its own, the renovated Central West End space is easy on the eyes as well. Which is to say: Even if these designs ain't within your reach, you can enjoy the view.
Kitchen Conservatory smells like home. Like childhood. No, our formative days didn't carry the aroma of an All-Clad tagine (a gorgeous interpretation of Morocco's key cooking vessel), nor did we gather <\#213>round the Emile Henry flame-top ceramic Dutch oven. But we did hunker over our homework—or sit down to a heated game of Battleship—while the heady smell of roasted chicken filled the house. The crackling skin, the smoky-tender meat.... Wait, where were we? Oh, yes: Kitchen Conservatory, where right now a rosy-cheeked chef is teaching ten eager students the art of the roasted chicken. And that's not the only class on the shop's superlative syllabus. Over the next few months, aspiring gourmands can prepare a rustic Italian menu with John Komotos of Trattoria Branica, grill chicken-chorizo skewers with Grace Dinsmoor of Modesto or sharpen (sorry) their knife skills with Clark Stone of Wusthof-Trident Cutlery. But the Conservatory is far more than a tiptop study hall for the culinarily inclined; it's also the most thoughtfully well-stocked kitchen shop in town, with gizmos and gadgets for bakers, sauciers, butchers and sommeliers—and for home-kitchen chefs, those devoted men and women who labor over the perfect roasted chicken.
Felice (pronounced fay-lee-chay) Bertarelli started his knife-sharpening business out of his garage on Macklind Avenue back in 1967. He relocated to Carisolo, Italy, five years ago, but his artistry runs in the Bertarelli blood. Today son John and grandson Dan will expertly sharpen any of your blades for just $3 a pop—and while you wait, if you come in before 2:30 p.m. (Felice returns to town twice a year to check on them.) Well-known to Hill residents and restaurants, Bertarelli's is also the go-to sharpener for eateries across the region. "We do Applebee's, Imo's, Macaroni Grill, Tony's, the Ritz, King Louie's, Blue Water Grill, and many more," Dan points out. The shop also sells an array of topnotch blades from Wsthof and Global, along with other kitchen gadgets.
We have many ways of pleasuring ourselves—be it with smoke, drink, gambling, adult toys, whathaveya. To the audiophile, "adult toys" means hi-fi gear. Really, really expensive hi-fi gear. And there's no shortage of local vendors. The Sound Room offers rooms of sound, Best Sound can hook you up with some pretty decent sound, and Hi-Fi Fo-Fum is large and in charge. But only Music for Pleasure takes direct aim at our A-spot. Mmmmmmmmm, the lavishly appointed listening rooms—including the soon-to-be-completed, only-THX-approved-in-the-area home-theater demo auditorium (we can hardly wait). Aahhhhhhhhh, the better-than-studio-quality Dynaudio speaker systems. Oooooooooooh, the Krell electronics. YES OH YES, the outrageously expensive speaker cable and other "interconnects" to...plug in the back. MUSIC. FOR. PLEASURE. EARGASM! Cigarette?
We all know our car seems to run better after it's washed. But after a thorough scrubbing at General Grant Car Wash, our treasured jalopy also seems to have grown a little younger. The minds behind this sparkling palace, dedicated to automotive hygiene, take the fine art of the car wash very seriously—and they have it down to a science. From the first, when two staffers promptly climb into your vehicle and seize control of the interior, you gape, awestruck, at the torrent of activity, vacuuming and wiping and vacuuming some more. Then comes our favorite part: choosing a fragrance that will linger for days. There's mountain pine, leather, baby powder, vanilla, lemon, pia colada, and our usual pick, the new car smell. Now we enter the long white corridor and watch through the big bay windows as our four-wheeled friend trudges through the watery blasts, is embraced by the massive blue brushes and cuddles up to the rotating red swatches that tickle and sterilize its undercarriage. In the bright lobby, rife with air fresheners, waxes and wipes, a flat-screen TV set monitors the progress of the grand wash. And at last our car emerges—reborn—into the sunshine where two other fellows, clad in shimmering blue General Grant T-shirts, give her the final once-over before we toodle off, smiling.
Mayer the long-haired dachshund wants to know what we've brought into Pick. His buddy, a regal-looking standard poodle named Charlie, seems to have the same question. Clint Lunn, who sees to both the shop and the pups, laughs. "You guys got food in that bag?" Actually, it's wine, purchased from Pick's around-the-corner neighbor Brennan's. The dogs are momentarily bummed. We, however, are thrilled to be shopping for fresh flowers at Pick. Today there are anthuriums, lipstick-red Hawaiian flowers with shiny heart-shape leaves. In the refrigerated case are orange Asiatic lilies, brighter than any we've ever seen, and delicate white snapdragons. Business has been brisk, Lunn reports, and he needs to bring out more flowers. He allows us a peek into the storage area, where he's keeping orchids, bamboo and sunflowers as big as dinner plates. "I don't do carnations or baby's breath," Lunn says. "No dyed flowers, none of that cheesy stuff." But if Pick is a flower shop for purists (and it is), this sense of purpose in no way undermines its sense of fun. Lunn creates spectacular arrangements; his portfolio showcases everything from the traditional grandeur of wedding-time roses to minimalist groupings of bamboo and protea (plump, gorgeous, artichoke-shape flowers). Shipments arrive weekly from Hawaii, Thailand, California and South America, which means Pick is never the same place twice. What does remain constant are the excellent prices, the wide array of funky vases and votive holders, and the lovely local art. Oh, and Mayer and Charlie, who ask that maybe, just maybe, you bring them a snack.
University Gardens is turning a molehill into a mountain. At the corner of Delmar and Old Bonhomme Road, they've managed to transform a small urban hillside into a pretty city peak. This is just the sort of thing we need for our yards. Yup, we've got molehill lawns with mountain dreams, and University Gardens has the goods to make those dreams come true: row upon row of plants, buckets of rocks and, more important, wheelbarrows of helpful advice. With one of the best selections of native plants in the area, this little garden center proves that small spaces can make a big impression.
The new Sundance catalogue arrived and you started thinking: Oooh, pretty, I want to do that! Well, the women at B&J Rock shop think you can. In fact, if you ask <\#213>em real nice, they may even show you how. There are no classes to sign up for, just friendly one-on-one tutoring straight over the counter. Anytime. For your wearable design, you can choose from scads of semiprecious stones, freshwater pearls, Czech glass, Austrian crystals, and beads from Bali and Africa. B&J carries all the hardware you could possibly need. (If you want sterling or gold, just ask for it; they keep the good stuff behind the counter.) But beware: This hobby can become quite a habit, and it's not a cheap one. But there're plenty worse things to be addicted to—and who couldn't use a new necklace?
The beauty of Red Lead becomes apparent on a typical Saturday afternoon: After yet another demo on some intricacy of the scrapbooking arts wraps up, the crowd doesn't leave but instead disperses to browse the wall racks and aisles of paper, the massive stockpile of rubber stamps and ink pads that ring the room (antique, chalk, cat's eye, full pad—Red Lead stocks them all), the strange oddments used to jazz up pages, the glitter—oh, the eye-catching array of glitter choices. It isn't seeing the devoted scrappers unable to tear themselves away from the 'Lead that provides the epiphany. (What devout worshiper would leave the cathedral early?) It's the broad range of the throng. There are middle-aged moms, sure—but there's one swapping tips about technique with a punk-rock twentysomething! Indeed, Red Lead is an unparalleled nexus for the crafty.
Ardent Dick Blick devotees—and there are many—don't care a whit that it's a chain with locations in fifteen states. And why doesn't it offend their creative, innovative, sensitive souls to throw their money around there? Because Dick Blick's products are as top-of-the-line as top-of-the-line gets, and the company's history couldn't be more mom-and-pop. Mr. and Mrs. Dick Blick first began distributing a small art- and writing-supply catalogue way back in 1911, and the company remains family-owned today (though it's a different family, which purchased the company in the late 1940s). All this fits in just right with the tiny brick house in downtown Clayton that serves as Dick Blick's St. Louis outpost, converted to hold aisle upon aisle of paints, pencil sets, frames, reams of canvas and even a wide selection of Crayola products. See, sometimes art and commerce do mix.