A few years ago, chef and guitarist Wil Pelly was hanging out with his bandmate, Matt Arana, one night after a gig; a couple of hours and several shots of brown liquor later, the two hatched a plan to open a music-inspired taco counter out of a concession stand in New Town. To their surprise, it was a roaring success — so much of one that Pelly, together with his partner Rebecca Schaaf, now boast a second, larger location on the Hill.
The new Rock Star Tacos (4916 Shaw Avenue)
opened on November 19 inside Gaslight Studio, the recording studio and gathering space on Shaw Avenue, just west of Kingshighway Boulevard. Replacing J. Smug's Gastropit, which operated out of Gaslight for roughly two years, Rock Star Tacos builds upon the recipes and rock and roll attitude that gained it such a loyal following at its original St. Charles County location for an audience on the east side of the Missouri River.
"We're building community," Pelly says. "It's fast and friendly; every person who came up to our window [at the New Town location] was greeted with 'Hi, welcome to Rock Star. Can I get your name?' People would come from far away once or twice a week because they felt welcome at this little shack. The food is great, but the biggest success we've had is that we've made our community feel important. This location is a little different and will take time, but if people come in and have a great experience, they will want to keep coming back."
Pelly's menu, which is heavily influenced by Tex-Mex as well as his mother's Cuban culinary heritage, draws upon his decades in the St. Louis food scene. Having worked in several of the area's prominent kitchens, including the Libertine, Nudo House and Boundary at the Chesire, Pelly brings his higher-end dining background to casual fare with outstanding results. Though the food at Rock Star Tacos appears simple, it is anything but. Pelly makes nearly everything from scratch, putting the same care into what gets tucked inside a flour tortilla as he did constructing elaborate plates at his former gigs.
And he does this while having fun. Though the food is certainly a major draw, the irreverent, playful vibe at Rock Star Tacos is part of its charm, including the hilarious, music-inspired names he and Schaaf have come up with for their dishes. These include items like the "Skinny Puppies," which are hush puppies made from his signature "Street Korn." Shrimp tacos, comically named "Shrimp Bizkit," feature plump, pan-seared shrimp dressed with sweet peppers and onions." Another favorite, "the Number of the Beef," is Pelly's nod not merely to Iron Maiden, but to the classic gringo taco. Here, seasoned ground beef is adorned with lettuce, cheese and a sour cream-based condiment called "Fancy Sauce."
In addition to the food offerings, Rock Star Tacos has a full bar and plans to offer some form of entertainment — whether that be a trivia night, or live music — every evening it is is open. This commitment is what makes the partnership with Gaslight Studios so natural; patrons of Rock Star Tacos can even watch musicians and podcasters record in Gaslight's glass-enclosed studio, which sits just off the main dining area.
The new Hill location is the latest effort Pelly and Schaaf have taken to grow the Rock Star brand. In addition to the New Town shack (which is temporarily closed for the season) the pair have found success in selling their seasoning blend, "Rock Star Dust," online and in Schnucks stores. They also just inked an arrangement to provide food for the Factory music venue in Chesterfield and hope to continue catering for the musicians who come through the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater when its new season begins next year. As Schaaf explains, the reason for the success is not simply the approachability and fun branding, but that they have been able to create something that is resonating with people beyond the plate.
"The food is really good and not pretentious," Schaaf says. "It's no-frills, just Wil doing his thing as he always has."
Rock Star Tacos is open every day except Mondays from 5 p.m. until midnight and serves food until 11 p.m. Scroll down for more photos of Rock Star Tacos.
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