Eat Me in St. Louis: Ten Splurge Restaurants for March Madness Visitors

click to enlarge A duck dish at Salt, one of several restaurants worth a splurge during your visit to St. Louis - Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Silverberg
A duck dish at Salt, one of several restaurants worth a splurge during your visit to St. Louis

Hello, fans of North Carolina, North Carolina State, Kansas and Ohio, and welcome to St. Louis for the -- deep breath -- 2012 NCAA Division One Men's Basketball Championship Midwest Regionals!

You've come all the way to St. Louis to watch your beloved team fight for a berth in the Final Four. Why not continue the celebration -- or, if your team doesn't make it, why not obliterate your sorrows -- by splurging on a meal at one of our standout restaurants?

Gut Check has put together a list of ten restaurant splurges within a five-mile radius of the Edward Jones Dome.

(Don't have the scratch for a big-ticket dinner? Don't worry. Gut Check also has a list of ten budget-friendly restaurants.)

Farmhaus (3257 Ivanhoe Avenue; 314-647-3800): Kevin Willmann, a Food & Wine Magazine "Best New Chef" for 2011, serves smaller dishes, intensely flavored and beautifully constructed, meant to be shared. The menu changes frequently, but you can't go wrong with seafood. His signature dish is escolar poached in butter and white wine with grilled prawns and a seasonal vegetable.

Five Bistro (5100 Daggett Avenue; 314-773-5553): Many chefs claim the mantra of local produce. Anthony Devoti, owner and chef of Five Bistro, lives it. His menu lists the local source of almost every ingredient he uses. But you don't need to know that to understand that the man can cook. His deceptively simple preparations, like a classic roast chicken, are packed full of flavor.

Franco (1535 South Eighth Street; 314-436-2500): Franco offers classic French bistro cuisine in a lovely contemporary setting. The vibe is upscale but laid-back, so whether you're in the mood for a hearty meal of cassoulet and a serious red wine or just feel like snacking on some steamed mussels with a glass of white wine at the bar, you'll be happy. The pommes frites are not to be missed.

Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood (620 Market Street; 314-421-1540): You want a true St. Louis dining experience? You want dinner at the restaurant of the beloved St. Louis Cardinals outfielder-turned-broadcaster Mike Shannon. The steaks are excellent, but the baseball memorabilia alone, including signed baseballs from what seems like every superstar to ever swing a bat or throw a strike, is worth a visit.

Niche (1831 Sidney Street; 314-773-7755): Gerard Craft serves progressive American cuisine with an exacting eye for detail and great ingredients at his flagship restaurant. Craft is a Food & Wine Magazine "Best New Chef" and finalist for the James Beard Foundation's "Best Chef: Midwest" award.

Pi Pizzeria (400 North Euclid Avenue; 314-367-4300): President Obama put Pi Pizzeria on the map in 2008 when, as a candidate, he declared it the best pizza he'd ever eaten. It's a bit pricier than your average pizza parlor but worth it for the San Francisco-style deep-dish, a thick, cornmeal crust topped with a rich tomato sauce, plenty of cheese and toppings conventional and inventive.

Salt (4356 Lindell Boulevard; 314-932-5787): Salt features rustic, ingredient-driven fare with more than a hint of playfulness. Some dishes, like a lovely seared scallop in a cracked-mustard sauce, are served inside Mason jars. Wes Johnson loves duck fat as a cooking medium: The duck-fat frites are crowd-pleasing starter or side, and the chicken fried in duck fat is a knockout dish.

Sidney Street Café (2000 Sidney Street; 314-771-5777): An old-school dining space reinvigorated by the progressive cooking style -- not to mention the enthusiasm -- of chef and owner Kevin Nashan. If you have the time and the money, splurge on a tasting menu so you can sample as much of his fare as possible. If not, you can't go wrong with the applewood-smoked duck or the trio of Missouri lamb dishes.

Taste (4584 Laclede Avenue; 314-361-1200): Adam Altnether graduated from the kitchen at Niche to run Gerard Craft's Taste. Here the dishes are small, flavorful and sometimes on the edge. You might find bone marrow and octopus alongside more familiar pork and beef dishes. The bar features the prodigious talents and wild imagination of mixologist Ted Kilgore.

Three Sixty (1 South Broadway; 314-241-8439): Ain't nothing like a good rooftop bar, and Three Sixty is one of the swankest. Occupying the entire top floor of the Hilton at the Ballpark, Three Sixty offers a view that rivals the Arch. Its owners spared no expense; the posh interior features a spectacular two-story waterfall, elegant bars both inside and out and glassed-in VIP seating for the well-heeled. The menu features high-end and locally sourced ingredients.