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

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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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