20 Must-Visit Spots for St. Louis Food Lovers

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.

click to enlarge Pharaoh's Donuts. - MONICA MILEUR
Pharaoh's Donuts.
Pharaoh's Donuts
200 North 7th Street, 314-351-0285
St. Louis is not lacking in independent doughnut shops. In fact, there are so many high-quality spots it can be hard, if not completely unnecessary, to pick a favorite. However, in the midst of all of this glorious fried dough, one shop rises above the rest. Pharaoh's Donuts, a humble, nearly-hidden downtown storefront, does not stray from the classics — it doesn't have to. In the shop's decades of providing wholesale doughnuts for local gas stations, owner Amon Aziz has perfected the craft of simple yet magnificent styles including classic glazed, long johns and good old powdered-sugar-coated jellies. They're just a little bit fluffier and a little bit yeastier, with their sugary coating a touch more pronounced than their competitors, making them the quintessence of the form. It's no coincidence you have to enter the shop through the doors of the St. Louis Pain Management Clinic; Pharaoh's Donuts are the surefire cure for what ails you.

Ices Plain & Fancy
2256 South 39th Street, 314-601-3604
If you walk into Ices Plain & Fancy anticipating a mere ice cream shop, you might think you've instead stumbled upon a mad scientist's experiment. Clouds of blueish-purple smoke rise from the counter and look so luminous, you'd think they were either backlit or from an alien galaxy. And in some ways, that's not all that far off, for what is served at Ices Plain & Fancy is so out of this world, it may as well be from another planet. The secret to the Shaw neighborhood parlor's shockingly creamy ice cream is how it's made: flash-churned to order at negative-312 degrees using liquid nitrogen, which results in ice crystals that are infinitely finer than those in ice creams made with the traditional slow-churn method. The texture has the intense creaminess of a stick of tempered butter; only frozen custard comes close to the lusciousness. Ices has everything from traditional flavors to vegan ice creams to even cocktail ice creams. Apparently, the liquid nitrogen gets cold enough to freeze alcohol, making these adult treats as powerful as a stiff drink — only one that is filled with the most decadent ice cream you'll ever get. This science lesson is so much better than cracking the books.

click to enlarge Teatopia. - MONICA MILEUR

2606 Cherokee Street, 314-553-9402
Reginald Quarles has loved tea for as long as he can remember, though he admits he hasn't known what it actually tastes like for all that long. Quarles says he used to dump so much sugar into his brewed beverages he could barely discern the taste — inauspicious beginnings for one the city's premier suppliers of quality loose teas. At Teatopia, Quarles' comfortable Cherokee Street storefront, tea is much more than a beverage; it can be a spiritual experience and a way of improving people's lives. As a former mental health professional, Quarles has been in the business of making a positive difference for people and realized after some personal hardships that providing a cup of comfort was a good way to do so. Now on a mission to make tea feel accessible to everyone, Quarles is trying to change the perception of the beverage as something for the well-to-do, offering his products to his customers in a warm, welcoming environment at a price point suitable even for those of modest means. With each cup, he makes his customer's lives a little bit sweeter — no sugar required.

Civil Life Brewing Company
3714 Holt Avenue, no phone
If you're a longtime connoisseur of craft beer, you can head down to Civil Life Brewing Company, order a pint of rye pale ale, sit across from a knowledgeable barkeep and chat to your heart's content about the virtues of American C-hops. If you've never had a pint of anything but Bud Light, you can go into Civil Life, order a pint of rye pale ale, sit across from a knowledgeable barkeep and ask, "What the hell are hops?" and be treated exactly the same. This is the beauty of Jake Hafner's Tower Grove South craft brewery, which has become a mainstay of the city's beer scene. Sure, at its core, Civil Life is about beer, but just as important to Hafner — if not more so — is creating a sense of community, giving his brewery a special place in the lives of its patrons. You see this in the space itself, which is more neighborhood gathering place than bar. Families congregate on the patio while friends play board games inside the brewery's small library. There's even a book club organized by one of the resident barmen — after all, what goes better with a discussion of Joyce than a pint?

click to enlarge Narwhal's Crafted Urban Ice. - MABEL SUEN
Narwhal's Crafted Urban Ice.

Narwhal's Crafted Urban Ice
3906 Laclede Avenue, 314-696-8388
Childhood friends and business partners Brad Merten and Brandon Holzhueter were on a much-needed vacation in Florida, sitting on the beach enjoying deliciously boozy libations, when it struck them: Why are the frozen concoctions that everyone associates with sitting by the pool or beach relegated to coastal vacations? They bring so much happiness to people's lives — why not figure out a way to bring that joy into everyday life? Out of that idea, Narwhal's Crafted Urban Ice was born, a drinking establishment dedicated to the art, and bliss, of frozen cocktails. There is no shame here in ordering the sort of "sticky drink" that your bartender will curse you for requesting elsewhere. At Narwhals, it's not only encouraged; it's the bar's reason for being. A wall of frosty concoctions churns behind the bar, filled with an assortment of thoughtful flavor combinations that pushes the limits of what a slushie can be. This is not a place for college kids to wander in and out of with to-go cups in search of a sweet-tinged buzz. Narwhal's is serious about its drinks and invites its customers to be as well. It's why Merten and Holzhueter made sure to create a striking, comfortable space for enjoying your beverages — it may not be as good as sitting beachfront, but in Missouri, it's as close as you're going to get.

Salume Beddu
When Mark Sanfilippo first started Salume Beddu a little over a decade ago, he was just a guy knocking on doors to generate interest in his nascent charcuterie business. Then came a brick-and-mortar storefront and sandwich counter and now, an 8,000-square-foot production facility that allows him to make enough product to stock the shelves of such esteemed establishments as Eataly in Chicago. Through it all, however, Sanfilippo has never wavered from his original vision: to create the highest quality, artisanal cured meats using only the best meats and ingredients available. You may see his product popping up in more stores and restaurants, but you will never have to wonder whether he has traded in craftsmanship for mass production. He hasn't. And though he has had to shutter his original storefront and counter, he's made sure to turn over the sandwich side of the business to the capable hands at Parker's Table (7118 Oakland Avenue, Richmond Heights; 314-942-6300). Big growth can be tricky for a business, but Salume Beddu is navigating it with aplomb.

Bolyard's Meat & Provisions. - COREY WOODRUFF
Bolyard's Meat & Provisions.

Bolyard's Meat & Provisions
2810 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-647-2567
You might go into Bolyard's Meat & Provisions because you've made a decision to eat only local, humanely raised meat — and you'll find that there. Owner and butcher Chris Bolyard has made it his life's mission to change the way we eat animal protein, personally vetting each and every farm whose products he sells in his Maplewood butcher shop. However, you don't go to Bolyard's simply because of the more sustainable and conscientious products; you go because you are also getting the best-tasting, highest-quality meat money can buy. Bolyard's proves that these two factors — how an animal is raised and how it tastes — are inextricably linked, and once you realize this connection, there is no going back. How could you once you've eaten one of Bolyard's famed pork chops? The thick-cut slab of rose-hued meat is so marbled, you'd think it was bacon. And it cooks like it too, rendering all that fat over a grill to the point you'll have to duck and cover lest you get seared by shooting flames. It's a small price to pay for enjoying this delectable meat.

Balkan Treat Box
www.balkantreatbox.com, 314-667-9927

All chefs like to say that their food is the result of love, but Loryn Nalic can say that quite literally. Though she'd always had a passion for food, the fire was ignited when she met her husband and business partner, Edo Nalic, and was exposed to the beauty of authentic Bosnian food. A native of Bosnia, Edo took Loryn to all of his haunts and to family dinners, a courtship that enticed her to commit not only to him, but to preparing the cuisine of his homeland as well as she possibly could. She spent time in his family's kitchens, both stateside and in Bosnia, perfecting Balkan specialties to the point where the couple was ready to launch their own business. That concept, Balkan Treat Box, has not only jumped to the top of the city's food-truck scene in less than two years of existence, but has shone a light on a style of cuisine that, for the most part, had not fully integrated into St. Louis' culinary landscape. Why it took so long to do so is a mystery, especially after you taste one of Balkan Treat Box's glorious pides, a boat-shaped piece of pita, speckled with char from the wood fire and filled with rich Bosnian cheese and toppings like traditional spicy red-pepper relish, cabbage and brisket. And you can't visit Balkan Treat Box without trying the cevapi, a grilled beef sausage that is synonymous with Bosnian cuisine. It's no wonder why Loryn fell in love — we're gaga at first bite.

click to enlarge Side Project Brewing. - MABEL SUEN
Side Project Brewing.

Side Project Brewing
7458 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-224-5211
While working as head brewery at Perennial Artisan Ales, Cory King began making experimental beers as a creative outlet. However, they became so popular, people wanted him to make them again and again, leading him to turn his hobby into a bona-fide brewery: Side Project Brewing. King once mused on whether this amped-up production and repetition meant his beers were no longer experimental. Though he concluded that was in fact the case, beer aficionados from around the country — if not the world — beg to differ, as King has developed a reputation as one of the top brewers of thoughtful, innovative barrel-aged beers around. Just as enthusiasm for his product prompted him to start his own thing, demand for Side Project's beers necessitated he build his own brewery, a combination production facility and tasting room in Maplewood that beer drinkers file into with the reverence of going to church. That devotion is especially pronounced on the day King makes his special releases available; you'll see every corner of the room filled with devotees cracking one open and sharing it with friends. It gives the place the celebratory feel of a wedding reception, which is quite apropos: With beer as good as King's, who can fault anyone for falling in love?

Parker's Table
7118 Oakland Avenue, 314-645-2050

In some ways, much has changed in the twenty-plus years since Parker's Table opened its doors. The wine and specialty goods shop has relocated, took on the Salume Beddu sandwich business and recently expanded into the adjoining building in order to bolster its wine dinner and special-event capabilities. However, in the most important way, absolutely nothing has changed about this beloved place. Parker's Table remains — and seems as if it is destined always to remain — a small business with exceptional products that is just as much a community gathering place as a place to purchase wine and cheese. This is the wine shop that any office drone who has ever dreamed of opening a wine shop envisions when they consider chucking their career out the window to follow their bliss: cozy, well-equipped with the finest meats, cheeses, coffee, beer, wine and spirits and, above all, open-ended, offering everything from interesting classes to lively dinners amongst the rows of wine racks. Though we are living in a time where bigger outfits drown out the little guy with cheap prices and even cheaper products, Parker's Table proves that the quality you get when supporting a local business is priceless.

About The Author

Cheryl Baehr

Cheryl Baehr is the dining editor and restaurant critic for the Riverfront Times and an international woman of mystery. Follow her on the socials at @cherylabaehr
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