Best Of 2015

Food & Drink

Food & Drink
Our staff ate dozens of burgers, visited hundreds of diners and spilled whiskey at what feels like 1,000 bars -- all with the aim of identifying the very best things in St. Louis to eat and drink. From the Best Breakfast to the Best 3 a.m. Bar, you'd better be hungry, because these choices will keep you stuffing your face — and having just "one more for the road" — until next year's issue hits the streets.
An array of dishes at this year’s best new restaurant, Público.
Is there any culinary concept Mile Randolph can't nail — Half & Half for breakfast, the Good Pie for pizza, Little Country Gentleman for tasting menus? Add to that list Público, his pan-Latin American restaurant that has been St. Louis' clear dining highlight of 2015. Público elevates Central and South American cooking to levels far beyond anything we've seen in this town — or perhaps in any other town, save for something on the level of Rick Bayless' revered Topolobampo in Chicago. Randolph's menu is ambitious — baby octopus served swimming in a caper- and paprika-spiked tomato sauce, sweetbreads simmered with pineapple and habanero, rice pudding topped with shaved foie gras torchon — though dishes like the grilled whole fish or the perfectly cooked bone-in pork chop prove he is equally comfortable with less-showy preparations. It's not just the food that makes Público so special. The bar program here is second to none, and the renovated storefront's good looks (designed by SPACE Architecture + Design) are as stylish as it gets in this city. This place is a winner in every regard. 6679 Delmar Boulevard, University City, 63130. 314-833-5780, www.facebook.com/publicostl.
Best Barbecue
Tom Schmidt admits that opening Salt + Smoke was somewhat insane. His wife was pregnant; his previous restaurant at the location in question, Nico, had failed; and just about every food publication in town was lamenting St. Louis' saturated barbecue scene. Yet Schmidt's leap of faith paid off in the form of throngs of hungry patrons lined up for a taste of the Loop restaurant's signature dish: the beef brisket. Servers give you a choice on the type of cut you'd like — lean, fatty or the burnt end — but there's no question. The fatty portion, simply rubbed with coarse salt and black pepper, is the richest, most succulent piece of brisket you'll ever have the pleasure of eating. One bite of this glorious meat proves that the only insane thing about Salt + Smoke would be not finishing your plate. 6525 Delmar Boulevard, University City, 63130. 314-727-0200, www.saltandsmokestl.com.
The hash at Three Flags Tavern: A good reason to get up for brunch.
Look at the packed dining room at Three Flags Tavern on a weekend morning, and it's shocking to realize that the restaurant sits smack-dab in the middle of the traffic hellhole created by the Kingshighway bridge construction. After all, there are few reasons to drive through this mess. It just so happens that many of them are on Three Flags' brunch menu, served on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The "Dutch Baby," a deep-dish pancake-soufflé hybrid, is filled with Serrano ham for just about the best sweet and salty breakfast combination St. Louis has to offer, and the mammoth homemade buttermilk biscuit is a flaky mechanism for shoveling down mounds of fresh Devonshire cream and seasonal fruit. But really, how do you order anything at Three Flags Tavern other than the brisket burger? It's available at brunch too, and the only thing that could make it any tastier is pairing it with the restaurant's spicy bloody mary. You'll think the construction detour has taken you to the end of the rainbow. 4940 Southwest Avenue, St. Louis, 63110. 314-669-9222, www.threeflagstavern.com.
The front room at Restituo.
Close your eyes and picture a coffeehouse. A real-deal, Seattle-inspired, '90s-style sort of spot — the kind of place Winona and Ethan would go to chain-smoke cigarettes and blather on about The Man. This is Restituo, a bohemian jewel in the Shaw neighborhood. Restituo looks like it was decorated by a vintage-obsessed gypsy: Old velvet couches, mismatched tables and chairs, and eclectic tchotchkes give the space a warm, quirky vibe. You won't find exotic pour-overs here — just pots of smooth, easy-drinking joe meant for sipping on all day. There's WiFi available, but time here is much more appropriately spent reading de Beauvoir and plotting the revolution. It's about as quintessential as coffeehouses get. 4100 Shenandoah Avenue, St. Louis, 63110. www.facebook.com/pages/Restituo/700472879966107.
Best Bar
Real bars are places grownups go to do grown-up things, like drink Manhattans out of appropriate stemware and buy cigars out of humidors. Real bars have handsome pool tables, stacks of matchbooks and ashtrays at the ready, and Jameson...on tap. Real bars don't serve food — you're a grownup, shoulda planned ahead — but a few cigarettes and the olives from your perfect dirty martini ought to hold you over. That bottle of Buffalo Trace you might otherwise buy on sale at Schnucks tastes better at a real bar, and the baseball game's more entertaining too. It's on, but it's not the center of attention. Your Scotch (served to you by a guy called Lucky who thoughtfully asks if you'd like a water back), however, is. Famous Bar is a real bar. With a deep lineup of classic and signature cocktails (try the bloody mary with quail egg), plenty of wines by the glass, and beers foreign and domestic, rest assured: You won't leave thirsty. St. Louis has plenty of places to get a drink but very few real bars. Famous Bar is one, and it's the best there is. 5213 Chippewa Street, St. Louis, 63109. 314-832-2211, www.thefamousbar.com.
Best Burger
This year, the Libertine has experienced about as many changes as a restaurant can without becoming an entirely new place. There's a new chef, a completely new menu and a revamped concept. In the midst of all these culinary changes, one thing has remained constant: the "Diner Burger." Perhaps this is because the burger is emblematic of how the restaurant hopes to redefine itself: as a low-key, accessible neighborhood joint. Or maybe it's because owners Nick and Audra Luedde know they'd have a revolt on their hands if they took it off the menu. The patty of local grass-fed beef is topped with thick slices of molasses-glazed bacon and served on a bun griddled with bacon fat. As if that weren't enough, the masterminds at the Libertine have figured out a way to make homemade Cheez Whiz. Yes, really. They slather this rich, gooey concoction over the burger — straight from a nitrous-charged whipped-cream dispenser. No wonder this item has withstood the test of time. 7927 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton, 63105. 314-862-2999, www.libertinestl.com.
Best Fried Chicken
Ben Poremba was sitting in the dining room of his restaurant Olio one day when he had a revelation: "I think I'm going to open a fried-chicken restaurant." His employees laughed, taking the idea as nothing more than the musings of an eccentric chef. Yet the next thing they knew, Poremba, an Israeli expat, was off traveling the country to learn everything he could about this classic American comfort food before opening Old Standard last autumn. Fast-forward two years, and his idea is less novel — fried chicken is 2015's "it" dish, and barely a week passes without a new restaurant springing up that's devoted to the deep-fried bird. Granted, others preceded Poremba, but there's no question that he was the visionary behind this new crop of nouveau chicken joints. And unlike those who came before him, Poremba uses ethically raised birds. He brines the chicken and cooks it in a pressure fryer, resulting in juicy, succulent meat, and crispy skin and breading. It may be a crowded field, but this trendsetter leads the flock. 1621 Tower Grove Avenue, St. Louis, 63110. 314-899-9000, www.oldstandard.com.
EdgeWild Restaurant & Winery
An urban winery in the middle of Chesterfield Valley may not be where you'd expect to find the town's best wings. But tucked amid the chardonnay scallops and tuna poke, EdgeWild's dry-rubbed beauties stand as an example of how great food can come from unexpected places. The award-winning wings (they took the crown at the 2013 UCP Wing Ding) are triple-rubbed: dry rubbed, smoked, rubbed again, fried and finished with a final coating. The result is a sauce-free masterpiece — a mingling of brown-sugar sweetness and a deep, savory Worcestershire punch. There's a little bit of heat to please the spice lovers, but not so much as to scare off those who love a milder version. And the chicken itself? Plump, juicy and falling off the bone. Dig into these delectable treats and you might think you've stepped into a smokehouse. 550 Chesterfield Center, Chesterfield, 63017. 636-532-0550, www.edgewildwinery.com.
Best Frozen Treat
Since last summer Tamara Keefe has offered her wares at some of the town's top restaurants (Elaia, Cleveland-Heath, Pappy's Smokehouse), but this May she finally struck out on her own to open the decadent Lafayette Square microcreamery Clementine's Naughty and Nice Creamery. Her flavors could be courses on a chef's tasting menu — Manchego cheese with truffles and honey; strawberry with white balsamic and pepper — or something you'd find at a craft-cocktail bar. Her exotic concoctions are not just flash, though. Keefe builds her ice creams on a solid foundation by using only local, hormone-free milk from grass-fed cows, and she makes every last item that goes into her ice creams in-house. And if eating 16 to 18 percent butterfat ice cream weren't naughty enough, Keefe ups the ante by infusing some of the selections with booze. There's no better place to indulge when the devil on your shoulder wins out — or when the angel wants to cut loose too. 1637 South 18th Street, St. Louis, 63104. 314-858-6100, www.clementinescreamery.com.