20 Must-Visit Spots for St. Louis Food Lovers

May 2, 2018 at 7:00 am
Claverach Farms is one of this year's Best of St. Louis Food & Drink.
Claverach Farms is one of this year's Best of St. Louis Food & Drink. HEIDI DREXLER PHOTOGRAPHY

These spots may not be restaurants per se, but they're still among food critic Cheryl Baehr's favorite places in town to indulge. From ice creameries to slushie bars, from food trucks to butchers, they keep us filled up no matter what our craving.

For more of this year's Best of St. Louis Food & Drink issue, check out Baehr's 10 Best Restaurants in St. Louis and 20 Restaurants Under $20, as well as our Readers' Choice winners.

Claverach Farm
570 South Lewis Road, Eureka; 636-938-7353
The bi-state area is blessed with an abundance of small-scale agriculture, which makes it impossible to crown any single farm as "the best." Taken together, each producer forms a vibrant kaleidoscope that makes real-deal farm-to-table dining readily available in any city restaurant worth its salt. What sets Claverach Farm apart from the rest, however, is not so much a superior product or better-tasting produce; it's that the table is on the farm itself. Out of a converted 120-year-old barn, chef/owner Sam Hilmer treats his lucky guests to farm dinners and wine dinners that showcase the finished product of what Claverach does. All produce is grown on site, and meat is sourced within 60 miles of the property. On a summer evening, there is simply nothing more lovely than sitting amongst friends at communal tables, a gentle breeze blowing through the rafters and the freshest, truly farm-to-table experience you can get. Oh, and a glass of the farm's acclaimed dry rosé doesn't hurt either.

4584 Laclede Avenue, 314-361-1200
We take for granted the fact that we can walk into a bar and order a proper drink with house-made tonics, infused bitters or shrubs, but it wasn't all that long ago that the city's cocktail menus contained things called "Flirtinis." Taste was instrumental in bringing St. Louis out of those dark ages, ushering in an era of thoughtful drinks created by the city's top barman, Ted Kilgore, that harkened back to St. Louis' storied history as a cocktail epicenter. Credit goes to chef Gerard Craft, who not only gave Kilgore a platform to shine, but who has made sure that, nearly a decade later, Taste has never wavered from its commitment to proper drinks. The libations are so on-point, they might make you forget there is more to this Central West End spot than mixology. But then you order the restaurant's legendary pork burger, you'll realize they taste even sweeter when washing down incredible food. Just like the pre-Prohibition drinks Taste helped us rediscover, this pairing never goes out of style.

click to enlarge Mideast Food Market. - CHERYL BAEHR
Mideast Food Market.

Mideast Market
14345 Manchester Road, Ballwin; 636-230-7010
If you live out west, you've probably driven past the Ballwin strip mall that houses Mideast Market a thousand times, unaware that inside this international grocery store lies a Pakistani, Afghan and Middle Eastern feast just waiting to be devoured. Even if you peek inside, you might miss its food counter, which is tucked all the way in the back. The prepared food offerings and made-to-order entrees have remained one of west county's best-kept secrets for a reason: In-the-know regulars would despair of any publicity that makes them wait longer for the fragrant samosas, stewed chicken dishes and, of course, gyros on offer here. They swear these gyros are the best version in town, and they may just be right. They're certainly the best value, as hunks of tender beef and lamb sliced off a vertical spit into thick pieces are overstuffed into the pillow-soft pita bread. You can get the usual accoutrements — lettuce, tomato, tzatziki — but what sets this gyro apart is the variety of Middle Eastern and Pakistani condiments you can top it with, turning an already wonderful sandwich into a beautifully spicy affair. Who would have known you could get such delicious menu items from a grocery store?

Clementine's Naughty & Nice Creamery
Two locations including 1637 S. 18th Street, 314-858-6100
When she was a little girl, Tamara Keefe stopped with her family at a garage sale on their way home from church. Her mom spotted an old hand-cranked ice cream maker amongst the bric-a-brac, brought it home and proceeded to teach the youngster how to make the frozen concoction. Many years — and a successful corporate career — later, Keefe is back to making ice cream, only this time her product is anything but the simple home-style versions of her youth. At her growing artisanal chain, Clementine's Naughty & Nice Creamery, Keefe churns out the city's most gourmet versions of the frosty dessert, approaching her recipes with the mind of a chef. Some of her creations are fun — think gooey butter cake or Nutella ice cream. Others are more cerebral, like black cherry made with activated charcoal or a seasonal specialty called mugolio made from imported Italian pine sap. Then there is her "naughty" collection, a menu of boozy flavors that aren't just inspired by cocktails — they have enough of a punch to make you feel like you've thrown one back. The adult concoctions are a far cry from what Mom let her make as a kid, but the pure joy of realizing she had a talent for making something special carries through in everything Keefe does today.

Nathaniel Reid Bakery. - MABEL SUEN
Nathaniel Reid Bakery.

Nathaniel Reid Bakery
11243 Manchester Road, Kirkwood; 314-858-1019
Nathaniel Reid was supposed to be a biologist, not a baker, but thank goodness he had an existential crisis during his science studies at Mizzou or else we might not have Nathaniel Reid Bakery in our lives. After an internship made him realize that biology was not his calling, the eponymous baker took a suggestion from his mom and got into cooking. It may have seemed like an idea out of left field, but after he changed his major to hospitality and restaurant management and began making desserts in a professional kitchen, he understood there was no other job for him. Reid's days of wondering what his life's work should be will seem like a million years ago when you walk into his Kirkwood bakery and see his handiwork. Reid is a master, internationally recognized not only for beautiful-looking desserts, but beautiful-tasting ones as well. Delicacies that look like they should grace the cover of a food magazine (which some of them actually have) make you wonder if they are half as good as they look; taste them and you'll realize they are somehow even more so. His amber cake is one of those signatures, a shiny dome of salted caramel mousse and pecan caramel that rests atop buttery shortbread and caramelized pecans. The dessert is so spectacular, it was included in a compilation cookbook of the world's top pastry chefs. Short of winning a Nobel prize, it's hard to see how Reid could have scaled such heights as a scientist.

La Patisserie Chouquette
1626 Tower Grove Avenue, 314-932-7935
Simone Faure, esteemed pastry chef and owner of La Patisserie Chouquette, once laughed off the importance of her job, saying, "I'm not saving lives; I'm making chocolate shoes." That may be true, but she is certainly making our lives more delicious with every creation that comes out of her kitchen. Since opening her Botanical Heights pastry shop five years ago, Faure has risen to the top of the city's pastry scene, making edible wonders that stun not just for their delectable taste but their impressive visual component as well. She's a true artist, fabricating edible sculptures out of sugar, chocolate and fondant as if she were Michelangelo carving them out of clay. But deep down, underneath all the layers and adornments, lies a good old-fashioned New Orleans pastry cook who can dole out comfort as well as elegance. Faure's simple buttery croissants may not be as ornate as a custom wedding cake, but the joy you'll get from eating one is as close to happily ever after as it gets.

STL Hop Shop.

STL Hop Shop
2600 Cherokee Street, 314-261-4011
STL Hop Shop might not exist were it not for a bust of a beer run. At least that's how brothers and founders Justin Harris and Ryan Griffin describe their reason for opening the Cherokee Street bottle shop and tasting room. The pair had been playing a game at their house, and when they left to restock, they were shocked at the difficulty of purchasing craft beer in a city that prides itself on having such a strong scene. Though they had careers in unrelated fields, Harris and Griffin set out to fill this void, quitting their jobs and launching STL Hop Shop in 2015. In the years that have followed, the craft beer retail destination has become not just the premier place in the city to buy suds, but also serves as a community gathering place. Even non-beer snobs have a place at STL Hop Shop; Harris and Griffin will guide those with no knowledge of craft beer into a style that suits them, a welcome approach in a scene that can be intimidating to outsiders. It's a good thing they recently expanded their store — with the brothers increasing the ranks of the city's beer drinkers, we need more places to indulge than ever.

Planter's House
1000 Mississippi Avenue, 314-696-2603
Once upon a time, Ted Kilgore's sense of smell went haywire — which, if you know anything about how the body works, means his taste was affected too. Many years ago, while working for an industrial perfume company, Kilgore had developed such a heightened, hypersensitive sense of smell that he could catch aromas from 40 feet away. It was a problem, but one thankfully solved by Kilgore's getting out of the perfume business and behind the bar. These days, there is no question that every last one of his senses is in proper working order as he, together with wife Jamie Kilgore and business partner Ted Charak, concocts the city's most thoughtful drinks out of their Lafayette Square bar Planter's House. Kilgore was one of the founders of St. Louis' craft cocktail movement, bringing that knowledge and heft to the historic Planter's House, where he pushes St. Louis to think of a cocktail in the same way they'd contemplate a gourmet dish. These drinks are cerebral, at times esoteric, but always excellent, brought to us courtesy of a man who came close to being unable to properly taste a cocktail, let alone concoct one. But we don't want to think of a horrific alternate reality in which Planter's House does not exist. We'd rather lift our glass and celebrate that fact that it does.

click to enlarge Pint Size Bakery. - JENNIFER SILVERBERG
Pint Size Bakery.
Pint Size Bakery & Coffee
3133 Watson Road, 314-645-7142
Pint Size Bakery & Coffee is not so pint-sized anymore. After the beloved south-city bakery grew out of its tiny digs and moved into a larger space down the road two years ago, owners Nancy Boehm and Christy Augustin were able to offer inside seating, expand capacity and take on more custom orders than before. However, the name "Pint Size" has never been just about micro-sized real estate. It's also about the ethos of doing things on a small scale, in a way that is as close to baking in a home kitchen as a commercial operation can get — if, of course, that home kitchen is also run by two of the most talented chefs ever to grace a pastry kitchen. To do things "pint-sized" means using local ingredients from producers Boehm and Augustin know by name, making their products the old-fashioned way and in small batches and running an operation that makes customers feel less like a business and more like a family. The result of that commitment, of course, is pure bliss. Just head there on a Saturday for the salted caramel croissant and ask yourself if life gets any better. No matter how big the building, that pint-sized spirit remains.

Sump Coffee
3700 South Jefferson Avenue, 314-328-1400
Gerard Craft for food. Ted Kilgore for cocktails. Mike Emerson for barbecue. St. Louis' pantheon of genre-defining individuals may be an elite club, but it certainly has room for Scott Carey. Since opening Sump Coffee a little over six years ago, Carey has not simply set the bar for real-deal coffee in St. Louis; he's created it. That's not to say others weren't doing good, single-origin coffee before Carey, but the level to which he's taken the brewed beverage in his South Jefferson coffee shop and roastery is unlike anything the city had previously seen. Armed with a small roaster, the best beans he can source, and an almost confrontational opinion about how coffee should be enjoyed (hint: don't ask for cream and sugar), Carey is on a quest for excellence in a cup, taking his patrons on a journey similar to that of enjoying the world's finest wines. This is not the sort of place you go to study all day over a bottomless cup of Joe. The coffee is a drink to be savored at Sump, not gulped — even if it's good enough to inspire that too.