Tuesday, October 14, 2008

To Stiff or Not To Stiff

Chow recently ran a column advising whether or not it is ever okay to withhold a tip based on a bad meal. The general concensus was no, it is never okay to leave zero tip. Chow's reasons for discouraging non-tipping range from logistical (it's probably not just the server's fault) to karmic (it's "emotionally unsatisfying"), but the main point is that refusing to tip won't really fix anything.

As for me, although I have experienced many bad meals, I have never not tipped.

That's not to say I'm a holy beacon of gratuity and every server is blessed by my presence. I don't think I'm much different from anyone else who has worked in the industry (and doesn't harbor an "I got out, why can't you?" complex). For me, 20% is always -- always -- the standard. Do a mediocre job and you're still getting that. Do a stellar job and you'll get more. Do an absolutely crappy job and, well, let's just say that once your standard goes down, so does mine.

It's very rare that I'm driven to tip below 20%, but it has happened, but there are things I cannot excuse, namely, total trainwrecks of attitude or execution that should never be displayed to a paying public.


Example 1 - Blackthorn Pub

(I'm hesitant to write this up for a couple of reasons. One, Blackthorn is a St. Louis institution with truly awesome pizza. Two, the guy involved isn't alive anymore. Perhaps I'm only trying to explain my own actions, but here goes...)

On a Tuesday night, my boyfriend and I go to Blackthorn and sit at the bar. We order a pizza and a pitcher of Schlafly. 35 minutes later, the pitcher is empty and the pizza is nowhere to be seen. Although the bartender wasn't assisting any of the other dozen people in the bar, he was too busy talking on the phone to notice us. Hmmm.

After 10 more minutes pass, he glances over, sighs audibly, and tells the person he's on the phone with to hold on. He walks over, grabs our pitcher, and gives us a look that could be translated to "What the fuck?"

"Another one, please," my boyfriend says.

The pitcher is refilled and the bartender walks away. It's now 45 minutes after we placed our order and still no pizza. At least we've got some begrudgingly served booze, but at this point, we're hungry and he's rude and beer isn't comforting enough.

Once we've been sitting there for a full hour after ordering, we're starting to wonder what the eff is going on. A pizza gets placed on the bar every 20 minutes or so, but the bartender shows no sign of caring and no one is picking them up. We've given up on trying to flag him down, because he seems completely absorbed in his phone conversation.

After an hour and fifteen minutes pass, I think I might explode.

"Excuse me" I say, probably with what my parents would call "a tone" but I don't care. The bartender rolls his eyes and walks over.

"Yeah, so, where's our pizza? It's been nearly an hour and a half."

The bartender rolls his eyes, walks down to the kitchen, and comes out with a pizza. He puts it down in front of us and starts to walk away.

"Pitcher's empty," I add.

I am beyond manners at this point. It's not that our food took forever. It's not that we had to wait for beer. It's that the bartender was so odiously rude and never at any time said, "Hey, guys, pizza's going to take awhile. Sorry." NOT ONCE. This has nothing to do with the general atmosphere of Blackthorn or a crowded house; it was all about a total jackass who barely deserved the $1.00 I tipped.


Example 2 - Shangri-La Diner

My boyfriend and I decided on Shangri-La for lunch because it was on the way to his work and neither of us wanted anything very complicated. Plus there was an artsy pink-painted cow in front, so I assumed the burgers would be decent.

I should have known.

Perhaps the burgers were decent, but I never found out because I don't eat burgers unless they're made of meat. Nothing at Shangri-La is made of meat, not even the "pulled pork sandwich" (calling imitation meat anything resembling the word "pork" is a sin, okay, a sin). We didn't know the place was vegetarian at first, but we're adaptable. We can handle it. They still used cheese made from real milk.

In addition to the Pepto-Bismol acid trip theme and the completely unintelligle server, it took more than 30 minutes to receive our grilled cheese sandwich and cheese quesadilla. We were two of only four people in the entire place.

Look, Shangri-La employees, it's perfectly acceptable to do whatever you want on your own time, but please refrain from smoking massive amounts of marijuana at work. At least, of course, unless you're okay with being tipped a dollar. Dirty hippies.


Now that I've attempted to redeem my non-tip episodes, I hope that Chow and myself have brought some clarity to the issue. Also, at least I've never been driven to this....

Saturday, September 27, 2008

RECIPE - Baked Mostaccioli with Pork Sugo

Until this month’s issue of Food & Wine was delivered, I had no idea what sugo was. I don’t think many people did, but a recent browsing of Food Gawker (a favorite food blog and glo-or-orious source of daily food porn) indicates that the magazine has made the food geek rounds. I should mention that I didn’t actually use the recipe, but I got the gist and below is what I did with it.

For starters, sugo is a thick Italian sauce made with meat and vegetables. It’s actually sort of similar to a Spanish sofrito, but with meat blended into the vegetables. Food & Wine recommended braising the pork for two hours, but like I’ve said before, time is tight. I can’t very well braise for two hours at night, but I can turn on a CrockPot* before I leave for work.

*sorry, I meant slow cooker. I’m clearly not being paid by the CrockPot people.

In addition to a slow cooker, here’s what you’ll need:
  • 1 pork shoulder or loin
  • 1 medium-sized onion, halved and quartered
  • 1 bulb garlic, cloves peeled and ends trimmed
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 bell peppers (I used green because they’re a whole dollar cheaper than red or yellow), but into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 ½ cups carrots, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 fistful spinach, stems trimmed
  • 1 large can (umm, 16 ounces?) crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 4 leaves basil
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 pinches dried oregano (I don’t use enough of it to buy fresh)
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 1/2 cups red wine (I used Cabernet, I find pinot noir, malbec, and syrah too berry-like for this)
  • olive oil
  • 2-3 cups dried mostaccioli pasta (I guess it's ziti for non-St. Louisans)
  • grated Parmesan cheese
Because I don’t feel like doing all my prep in the morning, I took about 30 minutes the night before to cut the celery, bell pepper, carrots, onion, and garlic. At the risk of getting all Jessica Seinfeld and being sued for the following sentence, this recipe is an excellent way to jam a lot of vegetables into a dish without it tasting like crap. See?

By the way, you don't need to cut anything precisely. You're going to smash it into a mess later on, so don't bother with bite-sized pieces or with getting everything even.

After cutting the above-named vegetables, place everything into Ziploc bags and stick them on the same refrigerator shelf for easy access in the morning. I cannot be trusted to select from different shelves before I’ve finished Pot 1 of coffee.

The next morning, turn the slow cooker on low and pour a shallow pool of olive oil in the bottom. Season the pork with salt and pepper and throw it in.

Cover the pork with last night’s vegetables, the thyme, oregano, and 2 leaves of basil.

Then pour in half of the tomatoes and keep the other half in a container for later.

Lastly, pour in the vegetable stock and red wine.

*Those purplish things in the picture are cubes of frozen demiglace from a previous recipe. More on that later.

Cover the slow cooker and go to work.

(Work sucks, doesn’t it?)

Two hours of braising in the oven is about the same as 8 hours of low slow cooker time, so turn off the slow cooker as soon as you get home. I took the lid off because it smelled amazing and nothing is sexier than smelling food when you’re changing out of your work clothes.

Once you’ve changed (and possibly cracked open a happy-hour-at-home beverage), use a slotted spoon to get the vegetables and pork into a bowl. Tearing the pork as you go is fine, because you’ll be blending it anyway.

*** Food & Wine also recommended a food processor to fully blend the meat and veg, but I don’t have one. I suppose I could request one as a gift, but my mom rolls her eyes when I request Season 2 of No Reservations on DVD. Guess how successful the food processor will be. I originally planned to use my blender, but it’s difficult to wash and I’m sort of in love with my potato masher. I think it’s an Oxo, but I bought it at Target and it’s freaking amazing. ***

If you decide to use a potato masher like I did, start wailing on the vegetables and pork. Actually, be careful. They’ve absorbed a lot of liquid and could squirt you in the eye if you’re overzealous.

But now you have sugo....

Once you’re done mashing, cover the bowl with some plastic and set it aside. Put some salted water on to boil for the pasta and preheat your oven to 400.

***While you’re waiting for the water to boil, spoon the liquid left in the slow cooker into some empty ice cube trays. This is an excellent way to ensure that you’ll always have some kind of broth, demiglace, or stock on hand. (You may want to store the trays in a freezer bag once the liquid is solid; there’s no need for fatty stuff rattling around in the freezer.)***

Food & Wine's recipe called for orechiette, but this is St. Louis and we rock it mostaccioli-style. Mispronounced, of course. Anyway, cook your pasta until it’s just firm. Anything further will result in mush, and mush doesn’t taste good no matter how hard you bake it. Drain.

Combine the sugo, pasta, spinach, and the remaining basil leaves and pour into a casserole dish. Pour the remainder of the crushed tomatoes on top.

Place casserole dish in oven and leave it there for about 35 minutes. After then, pull it out and top with grated Parmesan. Put it back in the oven for about 7 minutes, turning the broiler on for the last 1 or 2.

I like to let the casserole dish to sit for at least 5 minutes after I take it out of the oven. It’s less likely to hemorrhage liquid and, you know, scald my tongue. Plus all that flavorful porky goodness has a chance to marry with sharp, tangy Parmesan and sweet tomatoes.

The End.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


You may have noticed that STL Delicious has been on hiatus for the past month and a half or so, but hopefully everyone who noticed that also noticed when I wrote about how time is tight and money is tighter at the moment. While I can’t commit to going out every week like I used to, I’ll try my best to at least cook something every now and then.

With this in mind, expect a Pork Sugo and Pasta recipe this Saturday.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Surely You Jest

This is why people continue to resist food "trends" in favor of things like Velveeta and Tang. Designer ice? You've got to be kidding.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't You Recognize Me?

Apologies for the lull. Money is tight and time is tighter.

Chow recently ran a column about how restaurant regulars should expect to be treated. The advice seeker said that he and his wife visit the same bistro about three times per month and leave a large tip. Not only does the staff not comp the occasional glass of wine, they also don't remember if his wife prefers sparkling or still water and show no sign of recognizing them. The advice seeker wanted to know if his expectations were valid.

While the advice giver was diplomatic and correct, as with most Internet forums, I found the comments to be the most entertaining and, more importantly in this case, spot-on. Most Chowhounds (including myself, nerd alert) are either industry or are very familiar with how it operates. Instead of posting a buttload of flames about some silly typo, Chowhounds provide helpful, thoughtful, and honest advice.

You can click-and-read them if you want, but because this is my blog, I'm sharing my own thoughts on the expectation that bothers me the most - that restaurant and bar staff should comp you just because you've been there before.

Okay, so I'm industry. I've spent 9 hours a night lugging cases of beer, reaching into slimy cooler depths, and dealing with drunken idiots who think I'm a waitress, wench, and mother in addition to the bartender. My boyfriend is industry, too. He stands behind a stove in a cramped, 104-degree kitchen. My friends are also industry. They make money by hustling between tables, slinging orders, parking cars, and all other manner of getting stuff down your throat and making sure you have a good night.

We have things to do.

Do not expect us to give you anything for free

No matter how frequent a customer may be, no one should ever enter an establishment expecting free stuff. It's presumptuous, rude, and totally contradictory to the whole commerce thing. Let's not forget Homer Simpson's brain's sage advice about how money can be exchanged for goods and services.
Sure, I might give out a free beer or two over the course of a night. I might not. Depends on my mood and how busy I am. Restaurants are the same way. Your server shouldn't be expected to give you a free glass of wine for coming in (especially considering how most people's booze preferences magically upgrade when they're not paying), but she might if there's only one glass left in a decent bottle. Might.

Tipping is certainly appreciated. But it's also expected. I don't work for free; tipping is part of my pay. It doesn't guarantee you free stuff. Also, an unusually large tip, while nice, is grounds for suspicion. No, you cannot stare at my boobs for money. No, I will not fall all over you with gratitude. No, you do not get top shelf for the price of rail every time. I'm more likely to pour heavily for you than the cheapskate who never tips, but giving away the bar is not in my job description.

I do believe that everyone should be recognized. It's just polite. I know I can't stand it when the power-tripping door guy at the place I go all the time acts like he has no idea who I am. He doesn't need to know my name, birthdate, or waive the cover, but still, dude, say hi like you've seen me before. Be reasonable, though. If I'm slammed and you unobtrusively order a couple of beers before leaving, I may not know your face the next time you come in. Nothing personal.

The bottom line here is that while regulars should be treated as they are -- valued customers -- there's no reason for anyone to expect restaurants, bars, valet lanes, etc. to be transformed into VIP gift suites at the sight of a familiar face.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

DOUBLE POST! The Trade *and* The Fashionability of Bacon

No Douchebags Allowed

It's not on the door of The Trade, but it certainly should be. The Trade isn't the sort of place that accepts douchebags, even the kind that wears a popped collar and keeps its mouth shut. That's not to say it's hard to get in; although the RFT has named The Trade as St. Louis' new rock n' roll bar (perhaps the hammered-together look or poster of Sid Vicious have something to do with it), it's more like a place that accepts anyone who can put their head down, their elbows out, and drink like, well, okay, a rock star.

Finding The Trade takes some doing. It's officially listed at 3515 Chouteau -- the same building currently housing longtime gay bar The Complex. However, it's best to enter from Papin, one block north of Chouteau and home to not much more than industrial buildings and gravel parking lots.

It's called setting the mood.

The Trade doesn't feature rock bands per se. It's simply too small. In addition, the concrete, diamond-plate steel, and haphazardly assembled everything else don't exactly make for ideal acoustics, either. Instead of the thrash bands you'd expect to play under the aforementioned Sid Vicious poster, The Trade plans on hosting a few acoustic acts and DJs and advertising for other local bands for now.

While live music isn't the main draw, the the staff's iPod tastes and drink specials are definitely selling points. Cans of PBR are $1.50 all day every day, High Life specials are $2.50 and under, and the 3 o'clock license is a big boost to an area with not much more than college bars and gay bars (and let's be honest, neither is known for great music).


I've made no secret of my hedonistic love for bacon. The texture, the flavor, the aroma, and the fact that it has felled many a vegetarian engender within me a fetishistic desire that has a tendency to disturb others, especially when chocolate is also involved.

Anyway, Salon reports that in addition to stimulating the appetites of food lovers everywhere, it appears as though bacon is making delicious, chewy waves in the fashion world, as well. I bought my friend bacon Band-Aids a few years ago, but I don't think even I could have predicted the below bacon-printed (and scented!) tuxedo.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Pre-Grand Opening Look at The Stable!

I'm not supposed to officially write about The Stable....yet. The grand opening isn't until Saturday (6/21) and I believe in giving a restaurant time to find its feet. I'm also friendly with the owners and kitchen.

In any case, I strongly recommend that all of you visit when you can. The taps are very micro-heavy, the food is spectacular (especially the pappardelle with smoked chicken, roasted red peppers, feta cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes), the decor is classic Jones (see Rotten Apple review), and hopefully, the few service burps will work themselves out within a couple of weeks.

Soooo worth the short trip to the Falstaff brewery complex at Lemp and Cherokee.

Here are a few pics to get you excited....

...Left Hand milk stout, O'Fallon 5 Day IPA, Scrimshaw Pilsner, and Hoegaarden

...The still, currently in the process of making local whiskey

...An at least two-story chandelier, assembled in pieces from salvaged stuff in the brewery complex

...That means booze!

...Another one of the chandeliers. Much like the huuuuge one, most of the features at The Stable were salvaged from old, falling down buildings.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Drink It, Black

Or not. In this recent New York Times post, Oliver Schwaner-Albright writes about how cream and all its dairy siblings pollute -- pollute! -- coffee. He says "the flavors of an exceptional cup of coffee can be as layered and complex as a glass of pinot noir." To this, I would like to say the following to Mr. Schwaner-Albright:

Bitch, please.

How you take your coffee is a preference issue. My father takes his with sugar, no cream. My mother takes hers with cream, no sugar. My boyfriend takes his black. I take mine "regular," an East Coast term meaning with small, equal amounts of milk and sugar that, sadly, the Midwest has never adopted in language or practice. Perhaps we should thanks Starbucks for running "regular" into extinction with endless variations on "-ccino."

Why isn't preference ever enough for food snobs? I appreciate that people labeled as food snobs are educated about what they're consuming, but the key word there is "consuming." Paying money for cupping sessions wherein participants compete to identify flavors and aromas undetectable by uneducated sensory systems is work. What's so wrong with enjoying something for once?

I enjoy coffee. My ideal cuppa consists of dark French roast (preferably Kaldi's or Chauvin, both local and delicious), muscovado sugar, and whole milk. Perfect. I breathe deeply over my cup and immediately feel more alert, calm, and satisfied. I don't think about nutty aromas or spicy flavors.

But again, that's just me. I know all about standards and such (like, um, Folgers sucks?), but everything enjoyable is open to interpretation. Few booze experts will deny that a true martini is made with gin, but I can't think of many who would deny that vodka martinis can be just as tasty and inebriating.

I'm not buying the coffee beans that come from a fox's asshole. I haven't invested insane amounts of money and time to make myself feel special. I just like my coffee the way I like it. Bitter balances sweet. Milk softens acidity. Neither ruins quality coffee's essential robust character. I don't break it down into science, I just enjoy it.

(Though if I were to dissect my love for coffee into more elemental terms, I'd use the outstanding Grant Achatz article in the August 2008 issue of Food & Wine....go buy it if you're not already a subscriber and read all about Gerard Craft [whose Smoky Pork Pappardelle recipe is today's top choice!] in the process!)

Pollution rules.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

RECIPE - Chili Garlic Oil

This is possibly the easiest recipe ever. It's also cheap to make, lasts a long time, and lends a distinct flavor to everything it's added to.

What You'll Need....
  • 1 empty glass bottle, thoroughly washed
  • 1 wine bottle stopper
  • olive oil
  • 1 bulb garlic, all cloves peeled and trimmed
  • red chili flakes
What You'll Do....

Peel and trim all of the cloves from one bulb of garlic so that they fit into your glass bottle.

Add red chili flakes. I have no idea how much I used. Probably a tablespoon or so.

Add olive oil. Fill nearly to the top (your wine bottle stopper should have a dry base when it's plugged into the bottle; if the oil gets inside the threads, it can turn rancid and the oxygen will rot the garlic).

I suppose you'd call it "cellaring," but put the filled, closed bottle in your pantry and leave it there for at least a couple of weeks. The flavor gets stronger the longer it sits, so keep that in mind when you're dipping your bread into it.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

RECIPE - Chicken Tortilla Stew

I've written before that I usually fall on the wrong side of the fine line between soups and stews. I try to make a stew and it ends up as a soup. I try to make a soup and it ends up as a stew. In this case, the more widely-known Chicken Tortilla Soup is now Chicken Tortilla Stew. I haven't yet learned how to apply reverse psychology techniques to my own cooking, but here's hoping.

What You'll Need.....

The Stew Stuff
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, minced
  • 1 white onion, rough-chopped into small pieces
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium tomatillos, husked and minced
  • 1 can black beans (I actually don't prefer frijoles negras, as they're less likely to be organic and usually come in flavored broth and/or sludge)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1.5 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 7 white flour tortillas
The Seasoning
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • chili powder
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. cumin
(You could also use 1 tbs. garam masala in place of the cumin and coriander...I had to because I forgot that I was out of both and didn't feel like going to the store.)

The Other Stuff
  • olive oil
  • canola or vegetable oil
  • mild white cheese such as queso fresco or panchego
***When I'm making something that requires a fair amount of vegetables, I usually prep my vegetables the night before. In this case, I chopped my bell peppers, jalapenos, and onion the night before and stored them in separate baggies.***

What You'll Do....

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While your oven is preheating, chop your bell peppers and onions (if you haven't already). Combine them for a sort of mirepoix. Set aside.

Spread your thawed corn kernels on a sprayed baking sheet. Season liberally with kosher salt, black pepper, chili powder, and cayenne. Set aside.

Rub chicken breasts with olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper.

Place both corn and chicken in the oven. My oven was built in 1955, so it has two small racks and the heating element from the bottom is strong enough to fight the Russians. Because the chicken needs higher heat and I don't want the corn to burn, I place the chicken on the bottom rack.

(You may want to check the corn at least once and toss the kernels for even roasting. Whatev.)

While your chicken and corn are in the oven, prep your tomatillos, garlic, and jalapenos. Pick firm tomatillos with tight husks. Peel and clean them well; I don't know what the sticky stuff is on tomatillos but it's not pleasant.

Okay, so I said 6 cloves of garlic. I probably used 6 regular cloves and two more smaller cloves because, like butter and booze, I believe garlic makes everything better and I always use a lot of it.

Once your tomatillos and garlic are minced, combine them with your jalapenos.

WASH YOUR HANDS after you chop your jalapenos. Wash them three or four times. I am not kidding. Trust me, my eyes have suffered enough.

Separate your tortillas into two stacks -- one stack of 4 and one stack of 3.

Cut the 4-stack into bite-sized pieces. These will be used to thicken your stew and add a soft, pasta-like texture.

Cut the 3-stack into strips. These will be fried and used as garnish (and create a terrific crunch for your stew).

Remove corn from the oven. It smells pretty awesome.

Toss corn and its seasoning with the jalapenos, garlic, tomatillos, cumin, and coriander (or garam masala).

Remove the chicken when its done but before it starts to get dry (about 45 minutes). Turn oven down to 200, but don't turn it off. You'll need it later.

Shred chicken.

In a stock pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over Medium High heat. Once the oil is hot, add your bell peppers and onions. Stir to coat evenly with oil. Cook until the onions are soft.

(If you happen to be distracted by an episode of Clean House and your onions burn a little bit, reduce the heat and hope no one will notice. If people do notice, tell them your vegetables were fire-roasted.)

Once your sort-of mirepoix is soft (and possibly a little burned), add canned diced tomatoes, black beans, jalapeno-tomatillo-garlic-corn mixture, and chicken. Stir to combine flavors.

Add two quarts of chicken stock. See those fire-roasted vegetables????

Lower heat to Simmer and go watch more crappy TV shows for 45 to an hour or so. It's stew, so you can get distracted all you want. Big deal.

After about an hour, add your bite-sized tortilla pieces. Stir to combine. Cover and wait until the stew has had a chance to thicken (maybe another 30-40 minutes).

While you're waiting for the stew to thicken, start frying the tortilla strips.

Pour a thin layer of vegetable or canola oil into a saucepan and turn to high. Once the oil is hot, fry the strips. Depending on the size of your saucepan, you should do this in phases. Only a single layer of strips is going to fry properly.

Once the tortilla strips are fried to a golden brown, spread them on a baking sheet and place in the oven until the stew is done. This will keep them crisp.

Once the stew is done, turn off the burner and oven heat. Remove the tortilla strips from the oven so they don't dry out.

(When you store the strips for leftovers, use a baggie with a paper towel inside. This can soak up excess oil.)

Some people serve Chicken Tortilla Stew (or soup) with garnishes like salsa, avocado, or other vegetables. I'm a meat-and-tortillas kind of person, and I think I put enough vegetables into the stew already.

For me, crispy tortilla strips and some mild, creamy panchego cheese crumbles provide the ideal textural contrast to the meaty, spicy, smoky, toothy, and, yes, veggie stew.

Friday, May 30, 2008

How To Sound A Gulp...Barbarically

Alert for a pretty little St. Louis food blog....

Sounding My Barbaric Gulp! by Kelly Schmickle (met her at a sneak preview of The Stables, can't wait to have another drink with Peg....you'll see).

Go there. Read her. Learn about fiascos.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Best Sandwiches in St. Louis

For the best-looking version of this post (including one containing working links), please visit the MySpace home of STL Delicious. Also featured on that site are answers for Best Gyro (The Gyro Company on Gravois, per Julia Gulia) and Best Veggie Sandwich (Adrianna's on The Hill, per Lizzzzzzzz). Anyway....

After reading a recent New York Times article about the best new sandwiches in New York, I was inspired to write my own list of what I find to be the best sandwiches in St. Louis. I'm not sure how these rank with everyone else; if the RFT's Best Of list has taught me anything, it's that most St. Louisans don't share my tastes. My apologies to Tin Can. I heart your meatloaf but who the hell thinks that's the best mac n' cheese in the city? Cheese don't need sugar, people.

STL Delicious List of the Best Sandwiches in St. Louis

1. Best Overall Sandwich -- Cubano Sandwich at La Tropicana. Pulled pork roasted mojito-style (with rum!), ham, cheese, and pickles on pressed bread. I love pork, cheese, and bread. I hate pickles. But at La Tropicana, I eat the crisp, briny slices anyway. And I like them.

2. Best Burger -- O'Connell's. I've heard they simply throw them in the deep fryer, but I don't care.

3. Best Chicken Sandwich -- Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwich at Square One Brewery. I admire any restaurant that can take something so simple, plain, and often abused and make it downright great. This sandwich comes on chewy ciabatta bread with thick bacon, scallions, a blend of cheeses (don't know which ones, don't care), and the absolute best honey mustard sauce ever. Seriously. It converted my formerly honey mustard-hating friend with a single bite.

4. Best Turkey Sandwich -- Southwest Turkey at Macklind Avenue Deli. Ah, my first ever STL Delicious review and the very first thing I tried on their menu. It still gets my vote for the cool lettuce, fresh red onion, and the addictive chipotle sauce.

5. Best Hot Roast Beef Sandwich -- Mama Toscano's. Despite the wonky hours of this Hill classic (perhaps better known for supplying area restaurants with my nemesis, toasted ravioli), the Hot Roast Beef is a tender wonder that moistens and flavors the bread without drenching it in salty, manufactured broth like you'll find in some other delis.

6. Best Meatball Sub -- Gioia's. It's not only the fat meatballs that make this sandwich great, it's the luscious marinara and the gooey, milky cheese. Extra points for eating it across the street in Berra Park.

7. Best Fish Sandwich -- Grilled Salmon at the Schlafly Tap Room. Simple. Tasty. Not fried (don't get me wrong, I do love me some fish and chips on occasion). Super red pepper sauce. Now, if they'd only put the same amount of energy into running their frequently-down Web site.

8. Best Seafood Sandwich -- (because there's a difference between freshwater fish and food from the sea) Louisiana Crab Cake Sandwich from Sage. You'll read all about it in the review I'm writing this weekend.

9. Best Muffaletta -- Blues City Deli. I'm sure you've seen them near the top of my friends list. Trust me, they wouldn't be there if their sandwiches weren't spectacular. A good portion of my newer friends were culled from their list, too, and I've had more than a few of you write to tell me your favorites on their menu.

10. Best Falafel -- Al-Tarboush. As a sucker for independent, family-owned, dead honest places in St. Louis, I cannot get enough of Al-Tarboush in The Loop. It helps that their falafel is crisp, warm, spicy, cool, and tangy at the same time. It helps that it goes so well with their lemony hummus platter. Lastly, it super helps that the owner is a nice guy who recognizes a girl in need and kindly lifts the "No Public Restroom" rule.

11. Best Burrito -- Chicken Mole Verde or Pork in Red Sauce with Spicy Potatoes at El Burrito Loco. Available in small, medium, or large sizes. Two mediums last me a couple of dinners. Another family-owned place that I'm thrilled to see doing well.

***Yes, I'm aware of the taquerias on Cherokee, but in this blog, tacos aren't sandwiches. Some other time, okay?***

12. Best Gyro -- I honestly don't know. Suggestions?

13. Best Breakfast Sandwich -- I'm about to lose any shred of credibility I have and Rooster is way cooler, but I'll always go for Hardee's Bacon Egg and Cheese Biscuit.

14. Best Breakfast Sandwich That Really Isn't a Breakfast Sandwich -- Bacon and Eggs Sandwich at Niche. Damn you, Gerard Craft, damn you for being so good. Congratulations on the Food & Wine Best New Chef nomination and everything, it's just that reservations will be hard to come by now. Just keep on with that so-super-succulent pork belly, okay?

15. Best Banh Mi -- Umm, Banh Mi So. Duh. Another one of those Al-Tarboush-like local suckerpunches to my belly. Banh Mi So is a place I'll probably never review because I love it so much. It's difficult to get me away from the pho, but their banh mi with crunchy veggies, peanuts, and juicy pork on french bread is my second favorite menu item.
16. Best Sandwich I Can't Categorize -- Peppered Pork Sandwich at Iron Barley. Bring a napkin. Better yet, bring eight.

Oh, I heart you Macklind Avenue Deli....

Where I've Been -- Excuses, Other Stories, and a Double Review!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's been awhile. Aside from the usual excuses (work, friends, laziness, fickle wireless connection), I've also been building the STL Delicious MySpace page. One of the MySpace posts, "Best Sandwiches in St. Louis," was unfortunately posted on MySpace before Blogger, meaning that it'll be a pain in the ass to re-type. Damn Ruper tMurdoch for poor formatting.

I'll post it here. I promise. Sometime.

Go out to MySpace if you just can't wait.

Anyway, I was all set to post a review of Sage, someplace I went nearly a month ago and just haven't gotten around to writing about yet. Then I realized that I'd been quite a few places and perhaps my inability to hammer out the entire Sage review wasn't such a bad thing. It was looking a little long, besides.

With this in mind, here's a rundown of where I've been lately and what I've been eating....

1031 Lynch St.
St. Louis, MO 63118
(314) 256-1203

Sage is located in the old Lynch Street Bistro space and looks about eight billion times better. The colors are softer. The bar is more welcoming. The crowd, at least the one that gathers around 7:00pm, isn't as business-heavy.

The bar itself stocks a decent wine selection, your typical liquors, and, of course, is heavily leaning towards the A-B portfolio for beer. I've got a wide range of tastes, so I was glad to order an elegant tulip glass of Shock Top Belgian White, a new seasonal-turned-year-round brew that's good enough to shut up the beer snobs. At least from what I've seen on the Internet, anyway.

The appetizer menu at Sage isn't particularly inspired, but it skews comfortably far from the toasted ravioli list so typical of just about every joint in Soulard. Our choices, the Trio of Mini Sandwiches and Cha-Cha Calamari, were pretty superb.

Sort of.

The Trio of Mini Sandwiches includes the following sandwiches: Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream (hot-tangy horseradish butter, peppery beef, surprisingly tender for such a small piece), Louisiana Crab Cake with Roasted Red Pepper Spread (silky crab meat seasoned perfectly and not drowning in mayo or breadcrumbs), and Tuscan Chicken with Honey Mustard (kind of pointless, tasted like something from Wendy's).

With the exception of the "Tuscan" Chicken, the sandwiches were just fine...until we got to the calamari.

The Cha-Cha Calamari is listed on the menu as tossed in a Asian cream sauce, but it really tasted more like a honey and ginger glaze. While there were hints of fire and a subtle, lingering heat from the chiffonaded chilis, the real selling point of the calamari was its size and texture. The thick, meaty tendrils were cooked until just done, the light breading hadn't gone gummy, and the scallions provided just the right amount of crunch to keep the dish from turning leaden after one too many chews.

Which wouldn't have been necessary, anyway.

Forgive the poorly-lit picture, but below are our entrees, Boursin and Sun Dried-Stuffed Chicken Breast (foreground) and Sage Seafood Capellini (background).

I don't normally order chicken.

It's not that I don't like it, it's just that I rarely see the point. Chicken is boring. Chicken is bland. Chicken's got no cojones, at least not in 99% of the restaurants I've been to. But this one is made with pancetta gravy.

Mmmm, pancetta. Mmmmm, gravy.

After checking with our server, I was told that the pancetta gravy was not a "lame sauce" as I'd feared, but that it was indeed meaty, smoky, salty, and creamy enough to make me like chicken. Our server's assurance combined with the promise of boursin made me slightly disappointed when I actually tasted it.

The pancetta gravy was incredible, okay? Shredded pancetta studded the velvety gravy and caused me to reconsider my problems with breakfast gravy. The rest of the dish, however, was pretty underwhelming. The boursin might as well have been Philly cream cheese and the "sun dried tomato" was as neon orange and flavorless as cheap tomato powder.

What I tasted of my friend's Sage Seafood Capellini was decent. The pasta was slightly overcooked, but the clams, lump blue crab, and lemony artichokes (lots of artichokes) provided a double wallop of flavor and texture for a satisfying dish.

Sage's dessert menu relies on the shooter concept, that is, tiny shot glasses of dessert cakes, sauces, puddings, etc. that can safely be enjoyed after a huge meal. My decision, the blueberry bourbon brioche with a small puddle of vanilla cream, was FREAKING. FANTASTIC.


La Tropicana
5001 Lindenwood
St. Louis, MO 63109
(314) 353-7328

This isn't really a review.

How can it be? Everyone in St. Louis has been to La Tropicana. They know about the outstanding pernil, the roasted chicken, the cubano sandwich, and the charming patio. What does anything I have to say matter?

Well, it doesn't, but I feel guilty about the laziness and feel compelled to include a few things here. So here goes.

My most recent visit to La Tropicana was Cinco de Mayo. Luckily, Cinco de Mayo is the day before my birthday, a happy little circumstance that gives me double license to enjoy the hell out of some margaritas. La Tropicana gives me license to enjoy the hell of of them along with the very best sandwiches and roasted meats in the city.

As you'll see when you visit my Best Sandwiches in St. Louis post on MySpace, La Tropicana has the very best all-around sandwich in St. Louis. To quote myself....

Best Overall Sandwich -- Cubano Sandwich at La Tropicana. Pulled pork roasted mojito-style (with rum!), ham, cheese, and pickles on pressed bread. I love pork, cheese, and bread. I hate pickles. But at La Tropicana, I eat the crisp, briny slices anyway. And I like them.

I was all sandwiched out by Cinco de Mayo, so below you can check out the gorgeously caramelized roasted chicken, the blurry-yet-unbelieveably moist pernil (like I said, margaritas), and the addictive maduros, yuca, and spicy rice and beans paired with each one.

Terrific pane, too.

And I honestly don't remember how many of La Tropicana's margaritas I'd had by this point. I was with people, there were pitchers, I can't be expected to keep track of these things. I will say that La Tropicana's margaritas are far and away better than Chimichanga's, not quite as tasty as Lily's, but certainly bigger than both and absolutely heaven when paired with the food.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

RECIPE - Basic Flavor Rub

Yes, you could always shake a bunch of dried mystery dust from a jar on whatever it is you're planning to cook. It's not going to kill you. It might taste satisfactory, at least depending on what you're used to eating.

It's fine. I guess.

Or you could assemble a few simple ingredients and mash yourself up a Basic Flavor Rub that works awesomely on fish, chicken, lamb, beef, pork, or whatever other crazy meat you happen to find in your neighborhood. It works well on vegetables, too, or at least ones with strong flavors like asparagus or nearly anything you put on the grill.

Here's what you'll need:
  • A few cloves of garlic. I'm addicted to the stuff (Greatest. Flavor. Ever.) so I used 4 cloves.
  • Black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Thyme
  • Red chili flakes
  • Olive oil
Quantities aren't really important here. It's a Basic FLAVOR Rub, so the amount of flavor you put into it really depends on your taste and how much food you're about to make. I live by myself and usually cook for 2 people tops, so I use only enough ingredients that fit in my mortar and pestle.

Ohhhh, my mortar and pestle. So pretty. So hefty. So sexy. I never had one until about 6 months ago, and now I can't understand how people live without them. Okay, so maybe they buy food processors. Yawn. I'll admit that a high-end food processor would be pretty cool for some things, but there's a sense of accomplishment that comes from owning and using a mortar and pestle to create super combinations of flavor.

Alright, here's what you should do....

Trim the ends of your garlic and smash the cloves. If you're using a mortar and pestle (or a food processor, I guess), you don't need to mince it. A gentle beating is enough to make your garlic nice and mashable.

Add your black pepper, kosher salt, thyme, chili flakes, and olive oil. These ingredients make this a BASIC Flavor Rub, as each of them complements a wide variety of food.

Start mashing. The amount pictured here took about 20 minutes to mash to my satisfaction. This sounds like a lot of work, but it's more about sort of smooshing the flavors together. It's not labor intensive and crushing those bits of garlic into a tasty mess is pretty satisfying.

So aromatic I could wear it....

Below is what my finished Basic Flavor Rub looks like. The garlic isn't totally pulverized, but it's small enough to make a paste with the other ingredients. It's easily spreadable on whatever you're cooking and not so runny that it drips off to burn in the bottom of whatever you're using.

The End.