29 May 2009

Eating In St. Louis: Why Aren't We ALL 672-Pound Humans???

If you've lived in the metropolitan St. Louis area, you are always finding new places to dine-in, take-out, mixture of both (I like to do that with pizza or chicken...eat-in sometimes at Porter's Chicken, but usually take it home to the family...same with the original location of Fortel's at MacKenzie and Heege), or places to purchase your ingredients and take them home to combine and cook them in the kitchen or on the grill. This IS St. Louis, after all, so we have options galore for breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, late night, even the middle of the night.

So --- I've not given my opinions on a blog before, but I'll give a few of my favorites today just because I have been inundated with food since I got up at dawn.

If money is no object, this list is beyond lengthy, so maybe I'll give myself a $4000 account for the week. That should be more than enough anyway, right?

An option that is good at any time of day for me is GINGHAM'S. It's a family-style restaurant that most people would see and think "Denny's style" or even "Bob Evans like". And since the family that started the restaurant split the business up just a little bit, they have "two" locations --- one in St. Charles at Highway 94 and Sherman, the other in South St. Louis County at Lindbergh and Lemay Ferry --- both are good, although I have been partial to the South County location for many years since I've lived closer to it for the past 15 years. REASONS TO GO: If someone thinks that "Uncle Bill's" is a good pancake place...I invite you to do a comparison. To my taste, GINGHAM'S is clearly the better pancakes. But, that having been stated, do yourself a favor if you are actually hungry when you go into GINGHAM'S and like omelettes --- order your favorite kind of omelette and get the 3 pancakes option (the other option is hash browns and toast for if you want the omelette and aren't as hungry). You can get your fill and enjoy the flavors. For whatever time you go in --- they're open 24 hours a day --- I suggest the iced tea and/or coffee with your meal. They have great dinners, too, so don't limit yourself to the vast breakfast menu.

Okay. So we can find other options for breakfast for certain...let's just say that we were going to meet at Gingham's for brunch instead so we'll need an early morning option. I'm thinking doughnuts. Hoo-boy...do we have options here in St. Louis...and I'll be up front in saying that I'll hear from people about the places I'll be leaving out of my short list. These are simply because I don't frequent them --- not because I don't like them. I've eaten at nearly every good doughnut shop in the region, and some of the less-than-good shops, too.

If you think it's tough to find a place for breakfast and stick with it --- doughnuts are even tougher to dedicate yourself to just ONE of these places. But if I have to find a place that I can count on for consistency, it's EDDIE'S SOUTHTOWN DONUTS at S. Kingshighway and Murdoch, just a block from the Christy/Kingshighway firehouse. Eddie's cake doughnuts are soooooooo good. Oh my heavens...I'm a cake doughnut fiend, and it takes my strongest will to keep from going there every single day. There are so many different doughnuts to try, too --- and it's not easy to walk in early and figure it out...which is why I usually wait until after 8 AM, so there are fewer options (crazy, you say? Naw...makes it easier to choose!)! EDDIE is there most mornings early on, so if you're up early go in and tell him Buzz sent you.
That having been said, they're not alone in my visits each month, due to location of my drive path to and from work. You see, not far from there at the corner of ChippeWatson at Donovan (it's what I call it because Watson and Chippewa meet there) is DONUT DRIVE-IN. They've been there forever, it seems, with a good variety of doughnuts. I am easily suckered in there...there are memories for me from 9/11/2001 (walked in with my family that morning and heard the news on WCBS/KMOX - we'd been listening to a Veggie Tales recording until that moment), and I still enjoy their custard doughnuts a lot - more because of location for me than otherwise because: THE BEST CUSTARD DOUGHNUT EVER is found at DONUT DELIGHT at 3605 Dunn Road in North St. Louis County. I've eaten hundreds of pounds of custard doughnuts with chocolate icing on top --- DONUT DELIGHT is the hands down winner of this category. I even was told how good "COUNTRY DOUGHNUTS" in Crystal Lake, IL was --- and they are very good doughnuts, and overall are fantastic (if you want to drive the 300 miles from STL to Crystal Lake, go ahead...just don't make it your only stop - that would be silly unless you grew up there) --- but the custard doughnuts at DONUT DELIGHT still win my devotion. But, why? Let's start with the size: it is larger than almost any other filled doughnut around. Go with texture of THE CUSTARD being textbook good. Let me reassert that I am a cake doughnut eater and not easily persuaded by non-cake doughnuts, yet I still love this particular doughnut. Filling: again, spot on because it's not supersicklysweet nor too tart --- it's a good mix. Topping the top: the chocolate on top has a chocolate flavor --- as if someone took the time to care about making the icing with real cocoa. Overall, it's my favorite doughnut outside of the realm of cake doughnuts.

I can safely say that a visit to other doughnut shops is not uncommon for me all over the metropolitan area, but I will for certain say that since the Kolache Factory took over on Brentwood Blvd., I sure miss the apple fritters which used to fill my stomach on certain days.

An old favorite lunch spot from the time I was a kid is Woofie's. It's in Overland on Woodson Road just north of Page, in a tight spot for turning in and out --- perfect for anyone who loves the numerous varieties of hot dogs and sausage of similar ilk. I still can't tell you which is my favorite there --- my mouth is in the mood for something different each time I stop there. It's a MUST for your friends from Chicago when they're in town watching the Cubs being demolished by the Cardinals. Treat them to this: Chicago-style hot dogs make with Vienna beef --- yum --- because they'll need it with the next Cardinals sweep of the Completely Useless By Septembers.
There are numerous places with great lunch deals --- I can't tell you how many different places my mouth has found happiness and my pocket found some relief because someone told me about a $6.75 lunch special which included an entree, sides and drink. I'll let you decide your favorites for lunch...but if you are like me and sitting in South County with a Chicagoland native who wants a hot dog...you make the drive up to Woofie's ANYWAY.

Okay --- here's a tough item for anyone in St. Louis.


Why is this so difficult? Well, because St. Louis has its own pizza. And that's a bone of contention and some contentment depending upon where you were raised. If you were NOT raised in St. Louis, you are probably not a fan of Imo's Pizza, Cecil Whittaker's Pizzeria, and numerous others who use PROVEL CHEESE on their pizzas.
My personal recommendation is CUSUMANO'S Pizza and Italian Restaurant (formerly of North County/Glasgow Village - now in the third generation, now located) at 1120 Technology Drive in O'Fallon MO --- on the northeast corner of Highway K at Highway 40-61 --- from the simple cheese pizza to your favorite toppings, these are done the old-fashioned way, with a thin crush. The Cusumano's Pizza special has: Sausage, Pepperoni, Bacon, Mushroom, Onion, Green Pepper, Ham & Shrimp. A bit out of the ordinary, right?

If you're in St. Louis proper and don't wish to drive out to O'Fallon MO, finding one of these operations with a good track record, such as the CWP on S. Grand (hello Laura) or the one at Lemay Ferry and Forder (hey, Greg) is the best idea. At Cecil Whittaker's, my preferred toppings are black olives, mushrooms and sausage. I'm not a big pepperoni fan, but these two locations do have good pepperoni as far as I am concerned --- it's not too greasy.

There's a St. Louis homegrown pizza restaurant which serves a variety of pizzas that I'd have to say is a favorite of both St. Louisans and non-St. Louisans. That is FORTEL'S Original Pizza Den at the corner of MacKenzie and Heege Roads. You'll find a variety of options with different sauces, different toppings...it's a little on the gourmet side, yet it's not too "foodie" for regular pizza fans. Tell Shelly that "Buzz on the radio" says "hi". No, you won't get a deal, but you'll make me smile if when I go in next to say "hi", Shelly tells me someone came in because I said you should do so.

If you were raised on non-St. Louis pizza, there are a few options. But I honestly will go with the masses here: PI. That's some FANTASTIC pizza --- I had some recently and found out what all the hubbub is about --- oooooo it's sooooooooooooo good! I'm sure to find a reason to be on the Delmar Loop area and stop at Pi again soon. I want my daughter to find out why we like different styles of pizza --- she's going to like this, too. Having experienced Pi, I know why the president wanted some for himself. It's how Chicago-style pizza, or Napoli-style pizza is done. And out-of-towners love this place, especially if they're avoiding the native St. Louis style cheese and sauce.

In St. Louis some of the best pizza is Spanish pizza?
WHAT IS THAT? Only my FAVORITE PARTICULAR PIZZA. For the best veggie pizza, you have to go to THE HILL to GUIDO'S. GUIDO'S PIZZERIA AND TAPAS on Shaw Blvd. is where you'll find this delightful treat. The sauce is spanish, the veggies are piled up high...it's a thin crust, and when you're done with a piece on the edge, take one from the middle and find out how different it is. Then, when you're done, take it home and put it in the fridge and have a piece in the morning. It will turn into many cold pieces of pizza --- this is the best cold pizza on the planet, too!

There are lots of opinions here. I enjoy PORTER'S Fried Chicken for my take-out --- and because I'm a big fan of their fried okra as a side item, I go there more often than almost any other chicken place. Occasionally I will sit in their little dining area and eat some of their fish, too. Many of my friends have come to agree that the home-fried taste is worth the repeated trips.

My honorable mention for chicken goes in the DINNER category. So...

HODAK'S is known for it's family-style chicken. Ahh, yes, the chicken is delightful. But let's go in for the dinners. Always served faster than you can imagine, always freshly made, hot where necessary, and cold items are cold, too. I love the sides here, in addition to the complex menu. Sure, the chicken is terrific. I love the chicken livers. Let me repeat --- I go for the sides. The mashed potatoes and gravy is great standard fare...always good with the meal. Turkey and stuffing is also good --- these folks know their birds. I cannot think of one time I've ever gone in and not enjoyed my food. This is a city location: Gravois between Jefferson and I-55. The parking is good, and the food is worthwhile...oh, and the staff is quick, friendly, and worth putting an extra five to ten percent in on the tips. Seriously, this is a good destination for someone who wants to make sure that the kids, the adults and the senior citizens are all going to find something at dinnertime.

What? We have to boil it down to one, two, or three places? Sheesh. I can't do that.
My favorite spaghetti and Italian salad is served NOT ON THE HILL, but in Fosterburg IL --- the Castelli family has operated the Moonlight/Castelli's Moonlight at 255 --- for generations...the fourth generation serves you today. The bolognese sauce is my preference because of the spiciness. The HOUSE SALAD is a love/hate thing. Most people will enjoy it, but don't eat it if you have allergies to nuts --- I suspect there is nuts in "secret" recipe, but I've never heard for certain. To find out why I love this place, drive Northbound 255 on the Illinois side and keep going until you exit at Fosterburg Road, turn left and go until you see the sign. It's an Alton area favorite and worth the drive. Okay --- that's my Italian restaurant pick, but I will put up that Cunnetto's House of Pasta (on The Hill) serves my favorite fettucine alfredo, while Charlie Gitto's downtown makes me happy with their variety of Italian fare, Zia's salad (on The Hill) is among the best anywhere, and Mama Campisi's (on the Hill) is high on my personal pick list.
I will state that my favorite spaghetti sauces outside of the restaurants are made by hand in my kitchen by me...but I am not selling it to the restaurants...they'd have to hire me because I can change up the ingredients depending upon what I have available at home. Homemade sauces are still the best.

Too tough to call, in reality, because there are so many reasons to say "somebody's backyard" is better than to have to pay for it at a restaurant. But if I had to come clean about where I go before any other place --- BANDANA'S is still my preference. Yes, I like Phil's, Pennie's, and several other places, but BANDANA'S smoky flavor and choices make it my first choice of the restaurants. Keep in mind that as I have heard that Three Monkeys is good, I haven't yet experienced their food...that's coming soon, I hope. The menu looks good to me.

This is a personal favorite because in 1986 I lived above the restaurant in downtown Washington MO --- COWAN'S RESTAURANT. Breakfast, lunch, dinner...and THE BEST PIES around. I really don't care if you're a bakery fan or not --- Jerry's pies are the ones made with love and experience, and if you get there when they have the chocolate-peanut butter pie, get it room temperature or cold...don't get it warmed up. But if that's not your preference or you have allergies to nuts, try to get something with merengue on it --- lemon is great, chocolate, banana cream pie...oh man, now I wanna drive the 55 minutes to Cowan's and get some pie --- and it's not even lunch time yet.

Since Velvet Freeze is no longer an option, I'll go with something you can find. Maybe I should say different places and options.
For ICE CREAM, it's OBERWEIS --- several locations in Illinois, but I am nearest the Telegraph Road location. They even have a terrific "no sugar added" chocolate yogurt soft-serve.
I'm going to be judicious and make it a tie for FROZEN CUSTARD. I grew up in North St. Louis County --- so I'm always going to love the variety of flavors and toppings at FRITZ'S in Old Towne Florissant (been to the one in O'Fallon MO, too and enjoyed it - there are a few locations around now), even though I now thoroughly enjoy MR. WIZARD'S on Big Bend in Richmond Heights --- and since I've lived south of the Highway 40 Mason-Dixon/Equator Line...yes, I enjoy trips to TED DREWES --- I used to live near the S. Grand location --- I like the fact that I can get a good mint topping and pistachios.

This is where I go back where I began...GINGHAM'S. Why? It's the old person's hangout. This means that the food is as good at 1 AM as it is at 10 AM. Coffee late at night with a waffle. Sounds good, doesn't it? But if it's just a good piece of pie you're looking for, enjoy it. And if you're just wanting to try something different, see if you can put your paws on the biscuits and honeybutter (if you like honeybutter...this is special!). Or get a burger, even the toasted ravioli, or a milkshake or...well, you have such a choice, that fire for a midnight snack can be extinguished with a trip inside.


Let me make one distinction for all: GINGHAM'S allows smoking. These are NOT smoke-free restaurant(s). I would prefer a non-smoking environment at all times, but still go to Gingham's as a frequent to regular customer despite that enigmatic downfall (I am always looking for the ANTI-SMOKING SECTION in restaurants). If you're allergic to smoke, you may want to skip the trip. Their exhaust system is antiquated and not worth putting your life in jeopardy.

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