By Ron Stern
No one could ever accuse St. Louis of being dull. With a championship baseball team, deliciously diverse cuisine, and a rich cultural heritage, this city has an iconic mix that locals adore and visitors enthusiastically embrace. Here is a small tasting menu of the best St. Louis has to offer.
The Gateway Arch
Looming over the city, the Gateway Arch is a marvel of engineering skill. The 630-foot-tall structure was built as a tribute to President Thomas Jefferson and is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. The impressive visitor’s center is where you will learn about the history of the arch and from where you will take a tram to the top for sweeping views of the St. Louis skyline. And don’t miss a unique perspective of the arch from a one-hour, narrated cruise of the Mississippi with Gateway Arch Riverboats.
On game days, locals can be seen wearing red and white hats and jerseys all over town. And why not? The St. Louis Cardinals are the most successful National League team in the history of the sport, winning 11 World Series. Be sure to take in a game at Busch Stadium while you are here and capture the spirit.
There’s no doubt that the people of St. Louis love their barbecue. Famous for their signature rectangular cut, St. Louis spare ribs are known worldwide. Here, you will find the best in smoked ribs, brisket, pork, and turkey both downtown and in the local neighborhoods. Restaurants like Sugarfire, Bogart’s, Pappy’s, and Salt + Smoke have loyal followings for their particular cooking methods and house-made sauces. Salt + Smoke was also recently awarded the 2018 Readers’ Choice Award for the No.1 macaroni and cheese in the city. You certainly won’t leave St. Louis hungry.
With more than 30 diverse museums as well as gardens, parks, and open spaces, St. Louis has a rich cultural landscape. Outdoor attractions include The St. Louis Zoo — voted The Nation’s Best Zoo by USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards — and the Missouri Botanical Gardens, among the top three botanical gardens in the world. There are also museums dedicated to history, art, children, photography, and science, and what’s even better is that most offer free admission. The National Blues Museum, which celebrates and preserves the history of this modern American art form, is here as well. According to the St. Louis Blues Society, there are more blues music artists here than anywhere else in the world.
With more than 60 breweries (including Anheuser-Busch), craft beers and brewpubs, St Louis is one of the best places to satisfy your thirst. Even some top-notch non-alcoholic drinks are made here such as Fitz’s Premium Root Beer. At Fitz’s, they make a variety of craft sodas and 20 different floats like the humongous Mt. Everest — vanilla and chocolate ice cream stacked atop their signature root beer. Consider this the mother of all root beer floats!
Over the years, a blending of cultures has provided St. Louis with a tasty tapestry of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and bistros. At Sidney Street Café, Chef Kevin Nashan, a James Beard Best Chef: Midwest award winner, infuses his creativity into every dish of his New American cuisine.
Not uncommonly, many who move away from St. Louis return to their roots years later. Former Chef de Cuisine Michael Gallina (of the highly touted Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY) recently opened Vicia together with his wife Tara in a technology and innovation section of St. Louis known as Cortex. Using fresh ingredients from local farms, they serve vegetable-forward food in a daytime casual atmosphere with fine dining at night.
With wait times as long as five hours, Peacemaker Lobster and Crab Co. has been a huge success since opening in the Benton Park neighborhood. This East Coast-style crab shack offers lobster rolls and boils with all the sides in a fast-casual atmosphere. All of their seafood is flown in daily but make your reservation early!
Sweet and tempting
Some of the sweetest things in life are made right here in St. Louis. This includes Switzer’s cherry twists, the gourmet popcorn at Sweets & Treats of St. Louis and Mom’s Originals chocolate-covered pretzels. Then there are the St. Louis institutions such as the Chippewa neighborhood’s Ted Drewes. The usual lines of fans tell the story of this long-standing location that has been selling frozen custard in the form of malts, concretes, shakes, and sundaes for more than 80 years.
Gooey Louie’s Butter Cake is another St. Louis favorite. What started out as a baking error turned into a local confection sensation featuring a creamy, moist cake that is sold all over the city.
While you probably are familiar with microbreweries, how about a “microcreamery?” Picture handcrafted ice cream made in small batches with natural ingredients and a high butterfat content and you will get the idea. Fortunately, you can find such an establishment right here in trendy Lafayette Square at Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery. Owner Tamara Keefe chucked a $75 million corporate career to pursue her real passion — making ice cream! Open since 2015, her shop uses hormone and rBST-free milk from local, grass-fed, pasture-raised cows, and all of the 100 percent natural ingredients are churned into a decadent 16-18 percent butterfat ice cream. In fact, Keefe says that she is the only certified, all natural, ice cream maker in Missouri. With flavors like Gooey Butter Cake and Strawberry Balsamic and boozy (the “naughty” part of the shop’s moniker) selections such as Maple Bourbon and Chocolate Cabernet, this is an ice cream worthy of poems.
The more than 80 local neighborhoods, many of which have been revitalized, are part of what makes St. Louis a remarkable, historic city. The downtown area, for example, includes the Gateway Arch, City Museum, National Blues Museum, and an abundance of restaurants, nightlife, and sports venues.
If you are in the mood for a good calzone or tiramisu, head over to The Hill district, dubbed as Little Italy. At the Belmar Loop in University City, you can find that old classic record at Vintage Vinyl, take in a movie at the restored 1924 Tivoli Theater, or dine among nostalgic memorabilia at Blueberry Hill. The six-block area includes its own Walk of Fame featuring 140 brass stars lining the streets.
St. Louis seems to quickly work its magic on travelers visiting the city for the first time. You can visit museums in the morning, take in a Cardinals game in the afternoon, dine on the best barbecue in the evening, and then top it off with some of the best ice cream in the country, all in just one day. Come experience the excitement for yourself and see why so many are in love with St. Louis.
—Reach Ron Stern at email@example.com or visit his blog at globalgumshoe.com. This was a sponsored visit; all of the meals, accommodations, transportation, and attractions were provided at no cost for this review. All opinions herein are the author’s.