We never quite adapted to the slight two-hour time change from Pacific to Central during our stay in the Midwest. It was vacation, sleeping in felt great, and our only planned activity (baseball) was scheduled at night. It was just shy of noon by the time we cruised out of our air-conditioned sanctuary on our first day, into a hot and humid downtown, for a very short, very pleasant, .03 mile walk to Death in the Afternoon, located on the Northeastern edge of City Garden. CG is lovely a park full of sculptures, fountains, architectural pools (open for wading) green roofs, and meticulously planned flora, all within a two block area. I wish we had taken more time to explore but it just didn’t seem all that pressing at the time. http://www.citygardenstl.org/
This little pot-bellied fellow greeted us outside the restaurant, a gentle reminder that we were embedded deep in the bleeding heart of Red Bird country.
That guy’s got ‘tude.
Death in the Afternoon was a bright, crisply air-conditioned, glass box; all straight, clean lines and minimalist décor.
From our post at the bar, we were greeted with the welcome sight of local craft beer taps; Schlafly, Perennial, 4 Hands and Civil Life, all from St. Louis, along with a few offerings from Chicago’s Goose Island; a satisfying departure from large batch, watery sweet, domestics.
After a round of musical beers we finally settled on our personal favorites and made a food plan. DITA’s menu is locally sourced, sustainably raised, and house made; it’s disturbing that “house made” is a notable feature, but hey, that’s the reality of modern-day American food culture. The cuisine was a little bit USA, a little bit Asia, though I would shy away from using the word “fusion.”
We opted for a turkey steamed bun and a Cuban sandwich; the Cuban, an omnipresent menu item in the Midwest, we would later learn.
The right elements were present in the bright white, sweet, slightly sticky bun, and it was filled, to our surprise, with stringy smoked turkey as opposed to sliced roast meat or the like. Smoked meat is the exception that proves the rule in clean-air (some might say communist) San Francisco, whereas smoked meat IS the rule in St. Louis.
The Cuban possessed the right ratio of meat to cheese to pickle to bread, just as a Cuban is should. Tasty, but not revelatory.
A short discussion ensued with the staff and a fellow bar patron (who nobody trusted, he was all fussy about the color of the cheddar in his stuffed burger) as to which St. Louis BBQ joint reigned supreme. I did want to try to Beast http://www.beastcraftbbq.com/#about, an unconventional spot that blasphemously serves charred tortilla’s instead of white bread with their meat and, gasp…brussels sprouts as a side, but Beast is about a twenty-minute drive from downtown and we were without wheels. Pappy’s and Bogart’s seem to vie for the title in the downtown-ish area, and, they are owned by the same people, so in the end, it didn’t matter much which one we chose. We settled on Bogart’s Smokehouse http://bogartssmokehouse.com/, a nice two-mile walk from City Garden, straight down South 8th street (which becomes South 7th partway through) then into Lafayette Square.
Lafayette Square is a district within St. Louis proper; an actual part of the city, which just felt odd because it was so…residential? Low storied? Quaint?
Also pleasantly foreign, lush plants and flowers seemingly oozed from every front yard, side yard, sidewalk crack and planter box, a welcome sight to our drought worn eyes; flat roads, with nary a hill in sight, and brick buildings, as far as the eye could see.
Bogart’s is a charming little corner spot, a bright yellow, wooden fronted departure from all of the surrounding brick, with a long row of outdoor tables running the length of one side.
Inside, all cues point to ‘que, where a chalkboard menu hangs over the register, tables are set with paper towels and squeeze bottles full of sauce, and smoke permeates the woodwork.
With some friendly guidance from the cashier we ended up putting together one “plate” which got us a meat with two sides, along with a “rib combo” comprised of a half slab of St. Louis style ribs along with a quarter pound of our meat of choice.
The term St. Louis “style” refers to the butchering technique, wherein the spare ribs are cut into a uniform, rectangular slab that cooks more evenly than a traditional rack, which presents more of a challenge due to its irregular shape and varying density. This set of lung protectors was truly delicious, slightly sweet, nicely ringed, perfectly textured, with a nice, salty rub.
The BBQ sauces ranged from spicy, to acidic, to sweet; Voodoo won out as the table favorite, with a little bit of kick and a little bit of sugar.
Our additional meats were pastrami and burnt ends; the pastrami was quite distinct, with a velvety texture, bright pink hue, lean composition, and subtly salty flavor, as opposed to the deep hued, fat ringed, deli style version.
Sadly, our burnt end order was botched and we ended up with the regular brisket, which was great, but there is no substitute for the crusty bits.
The deviled egg potato salad was a thing of brilliance, a best of both worlds hybrid.
I can’t recall a baked bean that I didn’t love, and these sweet meaties were no exception. The owner/manager? someone, came and chatted with us for a while, a fellow originally from San Diego, who could not have made us feel more welcome if he tried. Nice staff, Bogart’s.
We did a small digestion tour of the Lafayette square neighborhood then, popping into Carson’s Sports Bar and Restaurant, http://www.carsonssportsbar.com/ a haven for old men during the day and hammered twenty somethings at night (I know because I was one of those twenty something’s, on an ill-fated “business” trip in the early oughts)
An oppressive mixture of cleaning products and perfume smacked us in the nostrils the moment we walked in, quickly compounded by an audio assault of bassy pop music and a screeching drunk female bartender making dick jokes and braying, followed by a final, ocular, knock-out blow in the form of a dreary set of bar patrons staring bleakly at an array of clear and neon colored bottles of booze behind the bar (all of which appeared to be plastic). I’m not quite sure why we stayed to choke down a beer while simultaneously trying to hold our breath, but, it happened.
We sought respite a few blocks away at 1860’s Saloon http://1860saloon.com/
where the bartender was more subdued but no less crazy, offering an astrology reading for us all, because, she is psychic, but her full potential (my word, not hers) has yet to be realized. Sick of Anheuser-Busch products, I ordered a shot of Jack Daniels, which was the only brown booze option. Imagine my dismay when it arrived in a plastic specimen cup at a gag inducing temperature just shy of boiling.
For dessert, Clementines ice cream, http://clementinescreamery.com/
an adorable little hipster spot offering small batch concoctions, sweet, savory and boozy, grouped on the menu under the headings “naughty” (with booze) and “nice” (without).
They incorporate a wide spectrum of flavors, such as cheese and tahini on the savory front, as well as floral, spicy, and herby mixtures utilizing cardamom, chamomile, basil, and cumin. After a fair amount of tasting, we settled on a butter cake with the “double-dark” midnight chocolate, topped with candied bacon, salted candy pecans, and olive oil.
Back at the hotel, we visited the lobby Ruth’s Chris for pre-baseball happy hour. http://www.ruthschrisstlouisdowntown.com/
RC seemed to be the most solid downtown choice for a proper cocktail, as the surrounding bars all seemed to be of the neon sign, sports variety. Also, they offer pretty great drink and food deals until 6:00, with plenty of $8-$10 bar bites and their “signature” filet Oscar discounted from the normal $23 to $18, alongside a selection of signature libations at $8 & $9 per. The HH booze was generously portioned as well; behold the Old Fashioned:
We threw in an order of fried ravioli for good measure, a necessity, really, as Randi had never tasted that particular Midwestern delight before:
Did they come out of a bag? Probably. Do I care? Nah. Deep fried dough, filled with cheese, topped with powdery cheese and tangy, chunky, tomato sauce? Never a bad thing.