STL Adventure 1 – Near County

boogalooAs defined by the locally produced Guidebook to St. Louis, Near County refers to the metropolitan pocket of about a dozen urban areas including Brentwood, Clayton, Glendale, Kirkwood, Ladue, Maplewood, Oakland, Olivette, Richmond Heights, Rock Hill, University City, Warson Woods and Webster Groves. Whew! Quite a collection of cities that already play a role in my life on a daily basis. For example, Brentwood is home to my Whole Foods Market; the StL_Chuck_Berry_starClub Fitness I work out at almost every day is in Rock Hill; and, oh yeah, I live in Webster Groves! Despite my perceived familiarity with this part of St. Louis, there is plenty of stuff to discover. Below is a quick snapshot of new adventures experienced in my own back yard.

Delmar-LoopFood and Drink: For someone who loves to eat and enjoy a few adult beverages, there are many Near County establishments I have already patronized and it only seems fair to mention some of my favorites first before a share a new experience. Taking into consideration the food/drink offerings and the overall ambiance of the place, here are some of my favorites:

Happy Hour Favorites: Blackfinn American Grille (Brentwood); Robust (Small Plates; Webster Groves) $$$; The Post Sports Bar & Grill (Maplewood)

Casual Outing: Mai Lee (Chinese/Vietnamese; Brentwood); Momos (Authentic Greek; University City); One 19 North (Tapas/Wine Bar; Kirkwood); Pi (Pizza; University City location preferred over Kirkwood)

Casual to More Special Occasion Outing: Oceano Bistro (Seafood; Clayton); The Block (Butcher shop/American Fare; Webster Groves)

homewinekitchen1-2There are plenty of other good eats in this urban pocket but the one that I have been really wanting to try is St. Louis Magazine’s 2012 Restaurant of the Year Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood. So, I made reservations on-line via CityEats through the restaurant’s website for me and my Sri Lanka Adventure pal Julie. At that time, I was able to make special dietary requests given that I am still trying to follow the Whole30 program.  Since their menu changes on a daily basis, I went ahead and signed up for their e-mail list to receive weekly menu updates. Suffice it to say, I am glad I subscribed as I will certainly be planting my ass in a chair at that establishment again. homedoorIf you like American cuisine but want it served in a re-imagined fashion without all the hype about what the specials are for the evening, make your reservations. What really piqued my curiosity is the restaurant’s No Menu Monday.  Every Monday, instead of a menu, a three course dinner ($35) will be specially prepared for you based on your answers to five questions you provide to the chef for inspiration. How unique and cool is that? For an additional $12, wine pairings accompany each course or get a bottle of the featured wine for an additional $25. By the way, look for their new restaurant in the Benton Park area called The Table in June.

12artousideposter-300Recreation: I love art and Near County offers a handful of fairs that I simply cannot pass up.  While most are familiar with the St. Louis Art Fair that takes place in the heart of downtown Clayton every September, Maplewood stages Art Outside, a three-day, juried art fair in the Schlafly’s Bottleworks parking lot with very affordable buys the very same weekend. In addition, Art & Air features more than 100 artists displaying their craft on the grounds of Eden Seminary in Webster Groves the first full weekend in June.

youcando-1Rather than looking at and/or buying art, I became acquainted with Yucandu, a very unique retail store and interactive art studio to make my own art.  Located in Webster Groves, the vibe of this studio is that of an old-fashion candy store, whereby a ton of beads, buttons, ribbon, tiles, and other vintage items for youcando-twosale are displayed in glass jars and bowls. Art projects created by the store’s staff are also available for sale. You can also drop by without an appointment to paint, collage, or do mosaics. Beyond craft materials and supplies, Yucandu offers several workshops for kids as well as adults.  Recently, four girlfriends and I registered for an adult only workshop and spent the evening creating our own necklaces and door-hanger decorations with the guidance of the Yucandu staff.  We brought in our own beverages (red wine) and snacks which made the evening just that much more enjoyable.  Yeah, this is mainly a chick place but a great way to catch up with your BFFs while tapping into your creative side.

giseles-twoShopportunities:  Prior to going to The Post Sports Bar & Grill to watch nine straight hours of the NCAA March Madness on Thursday, I strolled along the main drag of Maplewood and came across Gisele’s, a shop that I actually never noticed before. A French-inspired boutique, initially I wasn’t going to step foot in the place since Fleur de lis and berets “ain’t my thang”; I did, however, remind myself of the goal of A.U.’s Adventures and went inside. The boutique has unique jewelry, blouses, dresses, scarves, and hats, all of which are made in Paris.  A very small section of baby apparel has some cute, one-of-a-kind girly clothes.  You can find all sorts of other things like gisele blousehair accessories, candles, signs, purses, dolls, stuffed animals, etc. I came across a very tucked away “final sale” section easy to miss; for less than $25, I walked out with a very pretty summer blouse in the perfect shade of pale blue/gray for my skin tone.  Brenda, the owner, is really nice and I enjoyed chatting it up with her.  If you are in the area, stop by and give this boutique a peek.

vomfass-3After leaving Gisele’s, I noticed Vom Fass, a store whose name sounded familiar although I had no idea what the store really sold. As I learned, “vom Fass” is German for “from the barrel” and this store specialized in artisan produced oils, vinegars, liqueurs, spirits, and wines. I was immediately interested in exploring the vinegar section to see if there was anything interesting that could add a little pizzaz to my recipes at home. After tasting a few, I was sold on the Star Blueberry vinegar which is vomfass-2perfect for creating dressings for salads incorporating some fruit and/or nuts. The Calamansi was quite tart with a citrus-grapefruit flavors and it wasn’t something I thought I would buy.  Certainly, it can be used in place of lime and/or lemon juice (i.e. to bake fish). Interestingly, the suggestion was made to mix a few drops of Calamansi in a favorite vodka drink which was the immediate moment I decided I just had to buy it.

carlsSo many more things I need to explore in Near County; seeing Chuck Berry perform live at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill is a total must. One of these days soon, as I leave the gym, I will go to Carl’s Drive In, sit down at the counter, and order a burger (or two…I like to eat).  I definitely will make plans to go have lunch or dinner at Piccadilly at Manhattan. No question I will stop by Switzer Candy Company as well as organize a group of friends to go bowling at Saratoga Lanes.

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