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6. Polite Society
Polite Society (1923 Park Avenue, 314-325-2553) is less about good food, killer cocktails, attentive service and stylish digs —though those are all there — than it is about the feeling you get when you walk into a place with all the elements in perfect harmony. Restaurateurs Brian Schmitz and Jonathan Schoen recognized the need for a gathering place filled with warmth, hospitality and thoughtfulness, and that translates into an experience that makes you feel like you are an invited guest in their home. Kudos go to chef Thomas Futrell for being able to take eclectic food concepts and make them seem cohesive with near-perfect execution — if you haven't had his best-in-class shrimp and grits you are missing one of the best dishes of 2017. However delicious the food, though, Polite Society's big draw is that you walk out feeling a little better than when you walked in. You may not be able to put your finger on exactly why, but that's not because nothing stood out; it's because everything came together.
7. Balkan Treat Box
It may have taken two decades, but this year, St. Louis finally woke up to what a culinary gem it has in its Bosnian community. Granted, there have been successful Bosnian restaurants before 2017 — the bounty of this year only exists because of the Grbics of the world, who paved the way by introducing the city to Bosnian food. Yet this year, thanks in large part to a new generation of chefs, the light switch flipped on and cevapi is now a household word. Though many bright spots played a part in this phenomenon, the brightest was Balkan Treat Box (@BalkanTreatBox), a humble food truck with a tiny menu that serves up authentic Balkan cuisine with a hip, modern air about it. Owned by Loryn and Edo Nalic, Balkan Treat Box celebrates food from throughout the region, including doner kebabs, cevapi on wood-fired somun bread and a show-stopping Turkish pide filled with a mild Turkish cheese and mozzarella blend. Balkan Treat Box has become so popular, it has a legion of fans, constant lines and regularly sells out of its wares. Clearly, it's the taste we've all been waiting for.
8. Mac's Local Eats
For the patrons of the Dogtown watering hole Tamm Avenue Grill, a simple counter offering burger and fries would have sufficed as the bar's food-service option. And in some ways, that's exactly what they got in Chris "Mac" McKenzie's Mac's Local Eats (1227 Tamm Avenue, 314-479-8155). However, as someone who has made it his life's work to educate consumers on humanely raised, sustainable meat consumption, McKenzie shows with his no-frills sandwich counter what you can do good ol' greasy bar food without sacrificing your ethics. When McKenzie talks about his food, the phrase that he repeatedly uses is "respect for the animal," which he does by transforming a pig into his "Naked Pig," a sandwich of sous vide pork tenderloin the color and texture of rose petals, or a cow into his classic diner-style griddle burger. As McKenzie says, the animals just taste happy. Noshing on them with a side of McKenzie's trademark Red Hot Riplet seasoned "Rip Fries" makes us pretty happy, too.
9. Pizza Head
On its surface, Pizza Head (3196 South Grand Boulevard, 314-266-5400), with its punk rock ethos and its middle finger to anyone who would dare to tell the kitchen what kind of tomatoes to use in its sauce, could not be more different from chef/owner Scott Sandler's freshman effort, Pizzeoli, a temple to Neapolitan pizza perfection. Yet even though Sandler has left behind the rigid confines of Neapolitan style, his passion for making the best pizza possible remains unyielding. This time around, he's tackled the quintessential New York slice in all of its monstrously-sized, greasy glory, hitting the nail so precisely on the head that even the most hard-to-please New Yorker would approve. The classic cheese and (shhh, vegan) pepperoni glistens with that characteristic orange-hued grease that stains the bottom of the paper plate on which it's served. Then there's the white pizza, which dazzles with the simplicity of ricotta, garlic and olive oil. Sandler may have gone from Michelangelo to Banksy, but he proves his art is world-class, no matter what the style.
10. The Stellar Hog
When Alex Cupp took over the beloved south city dive Super's Bungalow, he knew he had a delicate balance to strike. On one hand, he wanted to honor the neighborhood bar's nearly century-old legacy, making sure any polish he added didn't shine up the joint so bright as to make it unrecognizable. On the other, he had big plans for the food service, his sights set on turning the kitchen into a bastion of fine barbecue. Somehow, he found the perfect balance, maintaining Super's character even while smoking up some of the best brisket and ribs in the area under the name the Stellar Hog (5623 Leona Street, 314-481-8448). On any given night, you'll find the bar packed with old-timers throwing back draughts of Busch to a soundtrack of Van Halen, only now what they're washing down with those cold ones is some of the most sublime brisket, ribs and pulled pork in town. Coming from the Pappy's family, where he learned from the aces of St. Louis 'cue, Cupp knows a thing or two about barbecue. That he can showcase his talents inside the legendary Super's is about as good of a homage to the place as you can get.
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