Beer, BBQ, and Music: St. Louis has it all and it does them all well. —INGRAIN, Winter/Spring 2020
STORY / Brian DeVaney
Okay, we get it, Chicago: You guys have world-class restaurants, music venues that can woo Taylor Swift, and Kanye. What you may not know is that in the Midwest there also lies a little place called St. Louis, a city with a beer and food scene that can compete with any major metropolis in the world.
If anyone were to hack my bank account and I had set up the password challenge question as “What is your favorite drink?,” I’m pretty sure I would be screwed because the answer would be BEER. Micro/nano/mini breweries (or whatever other adjective you want to use to define small, local beer producers) have become ubiquitous in St. Louis, the city where I have served beer since I was 6 (unopened cans of Bud Light to mom) and have had a few myself since I became a responsible 21-year-old adult.
At certain times of the year, if you show up early to line up for the amazing offerings at Narrow Gauge Brewing Company (1595 N. Hwy. 67, Florissant), at some point you may realize you are at the end of the line because people slept in tents to get the latest “double-dry-hopped” release (a dry-hopped version of the brewery’s IPAs and pale ales). If “hoppiness” is not your bag, check out the wide array of unique “I’d run over my own mother for one more pint” deliciousness. The brewery’s wild ales and sours are off the chain.
PICKS Double-dry-hopped Cloud City, OJ Run, Begin Anew (Blend #1 Peach)
Warning: When sampling the brews at Center Ice Brewery (3126 Olive St.), you will want to try EVERYTHING. The variety at this up-and-coming brewery is insane: American strong ales (a catchall category for beers with high ABVs), rosé ales and ciders, pilsners, stouts, and more. Pick up a Crowler (a 32-ounce aluminum to-go can) or two to watch the game at home.
PICKS Beauty Brut IPA (dear Lord, this is good!), Play Gloria Hazy IPA (LET’S GO, BLUES!), Nash Year’s Eve 2017 (a Champagne-like imperial blonde ale with white grapes aged for more than two years)
When you head to the hippest beer venue in St. Louis, you will notice that Rockwell Beer Co.’s (1320 S. Vandeventer Ave.) patio is festooned with shipping containers. (I’m pretty sure
they were used to transport artisanal beard balm and ethically sourced flannel.) This knowledge only enhances the flavor of anything you drink, preferably as a means to wash down partner restaurant BrassWELL’s fried chicken sandwich (topped with pickles, arugula, and served with aioli).
And yes, you should pair the beignets (Key lime dipping sauce! Dude, I mean c’mon!) with the brewery’s Saison, a collaboration with Foeder Crafters of America, a local manufacturing company that is bringing traditional foudres (also spelled foeders) back to the craft beer world. (Don’t worry, readers: I had to look up what a foudre is, too.)
PICKS Byrd Up! (a dry-hopped rye pale ale, stellar with that fried chicken sandwich, btw), Polymath (the collaborative Saison, aged in locally made white oak foudres)
My third-favorite activity in this world is eating (don’t ask about the other two). Fortunately, St. Louis has a top-notch food scene, and even in the nicest restaurants I can still wear jeans.
At Olive + Oak (102 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves), you may find cooking just as good as—if not better than—at those restaurants where you’d likely have to wear a collar. Head chef Jesse Mendica has teamed up with sous chef Christopher “Chico” Metzler to update classic dishes; their steak tartare tastes like eating butter made by Zeus. (Rarely would you catch me eating raw beef, but this version redefines my belief and faith in humanity.) Sure, the Moroccan lentil dip, asiago-cauliflower gratin, and miso-ginger turnips are insanely delicious, but let’s get back to protein. Try the blue crab gratin (l could eat a five-gallon tub of the stuff), but save room for the rabbit liver mole (I hallucinated that I was talking to Jimi Hendrix while eating it). And as Missouri is one of the largest beef producers in the U.S., don’t skip the prime “cowboy” ribeye. People travel from Australia to taste this beef, which is presented sliced in a massive 32-ounce, extra-thick, bone-in mound of joy. (You should probably share this steak, but no judgments here if you don’t.)
And when in St. Louis, do as the locals do and getchu some barbecue. No one questions whether this city’s got good Q, but these days STL BBQ has risen to an entirely new level of meat dominance. Just a few of the meat operations unrivaled in this quadrant of the Milky Way include Pappy’s Smokehouse (3106 Olive St.), which is in the same strip mall as Center Ice Brewery (it’s BYO food at the brewery, wink wink); Sugarfire Smokehouse (605 Washington Ave.), home to some of the most creative barbecue concoctions known to man; and Hogtown Smokehouse (6301 Clayton Ave.), opened by the former pitmaster at the now-defunct Southtown Pub. Any of these can take the “Pepsi Challenge” with BBQ establishments in the Texas-, Memphis-, or Kansas City–styles.
Also not to miss is the traditional fare of the Mississippi Delta, a much-overlooked region that stretches from St. Louis to New Orleans and that has spawned various cuisines (and styles of music, including many modern American genres). Does the idea of BBQ spaghetti excite you? Do you consider yourself a connoisseur of crawfish étouffée? (This one comes with a second shellfish bonus: shrimp.) Do you know what awaits you when you bite into St. Louis’s original gooey butter cake? If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” get on a plane and Uber to the Highway 61 Roadhouse (34 S. Old Orchard Ave.). Just do it!
Is there anything to do in St. Louis besides stuff your piehole with beer and food? Yes, and you will likely find some great noshing while being entertained anyway.
A city with such a rich music tradition is bound to be full of venues (from piano bars to hip-hop hangouts) and dance clubs; if you enjoy St. Louis–style blues or are simply a fan of traditional American music, you should check out the Marquise Knox Band—assuming they are not on tour with ZZ Top and Cheap Trick. The band plays regularly with guitarist Matt Lawder at the Broadway Oyster Bar 736 S. Broadway); their knowledge of blues and guitar in general greatly surpasses their years on this planet. While you are garnering a better understanding of traditional American music, you should give Broadway Oyster Bar’s crawfish enchiladas a try. The crawfish is so sweet and succulent, you may mistake it for lobster. (I mean, they are just little lobsters, right?)
Another venue to hit (also a Marquise hangout) is the Enterprise Center (1401 Clark Ave., the home of the St. Louis Blues (Stanley Cup champions!). Here you can enjoy the 14th and Clark Taqueria’s tacos al pastor (in a hockey arena, no less) or try a St. Louis specialty, “toasted ravioli.” Don’t be fooled by the name; these breaded ravioli are pure deep-fried deliciousness. Don’t skip the marinara dipping sauce.
Epilogue There isn’t enough time to describe the many other amazing things to do, eat/drink, and see in St. Louis. I didn’t even mention the largest free zoo in the U.S. (1 Government Dr.) or the 11-time world-champion St. Louis Cardinals (700 Clark St.) baseball team!
Ready to pack? Check out our other INGRAIN Travel stories.