STL Adventure 5 – Downtown & Near North

archThe Downtown and Near North section of St. Louis includes downtown St. Louis, Hyde Park, Old North St. Louis, and designated historic district of St. Louis Place. When I go to this part of town, it’s usually to watch Cards baseball, Rams football or Blues hockey. I have come to appreciate that there is more to the Downtown & Near North area.

crowncandyFavorite places for food and/or drink already experienced include Broadway Oyster Bar, Lucas Park Grille, Mosaic, Dubliner Pub, Lola, and Sidebar. I have always wanted to eat lunch at  Crown Candy Kitchen, a St. Louis tradition since 1913 and what better time than the present? Since I love bacon, I BLTdecided to order the Heart Stopping BLT, an unbelievable bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich on white toast with Miracle Whip (yes, a complete anti  Whole30 food item). As I starting biting into this piece of perfection, I happen to notice the back of the waitresses t-shirt which proclaimed the following: “This ain’t no health food store…“.  Made me laugh. By the way, crowncandy3I ate the entire damn sandwich including the pickle (minus the chips). Afterward, I had to check out the candy offerings and I could have easily bought a little bit of everything. Instead, I bought a dark chocolate peanut butter cup for later although the one scoop of chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream on a sugar cone was consumed immediately. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this rare indulgence with absolutely zero regrets.

ballgameFor recreation, I typically gravitate to this part of town for a sporting event, usually a Cardinals baseball game. Recently, I had the opportunity to go to an international soccer match at Busch Stadium between Manchester City and Chelsea. It was an unbelievable experience from several perspectives. First, going to Busch Stadium to watch a sporting event other than a baseball game stlsoccer1was pretty cool. Second, the place was just as packed for this soccer game as it was when I watch the Cardinals win Game 5 and thereby clinch the World Series in 2006. Third, seeing Busch Stadium in a sea of blue versus the typical red  was quite the site to see. The atmosphere was electric, the game was amazing, and the evening made me feel very proud of this sport city.

citygarden-saint-louis-pink-suit-photo-linda-wiggen-kraft-blogSInce I mentioned there is more to do than sports in this part of town, I wanted to experience a “non-sport related” recreational activity and off to Citygarden I went. Citygarden is a park located in downtown, between 8th street to the east, 10th street to the west, Chestnut Street to the north, and Market Street to the south. What a cool place to explore art, landscaping, and design. There are nearly 30 different sculptures to check out, including Wurm’s Big Suit, Mitoraj’s Eros Bendato, Leger’s Femmes au Perroquet, and Yasuda’s cityDoor of Return. There is a free Citygarden iPhone App available that can be used with the GPS feature of your iPhone to enhance your experience exploring Citygarden. The App includes an Art Index that provides an audio description of each sculpture on display with a short bio of the artist.

leftbankbooksShopportunities are abundant in this part of town, particularly with the various boutiques and shops along Washington Ave and beyond. I ended up paying a visit to Left Bank Books on North 10th. For whatever reason, I love bookstores and spent quite some time exploring. Perhaps a little lame, maybe a bit boring, or just play uneventful in your minds but remember, I am A.U. and this is my adventure! Until next time, get out there and do something new and different!

STL Adventure 4 – Forest Park

cweimageWhen I moved to Missouri the first time (1997-2000), I lived in the Central West End (CWE), a section of the central neighborhood of the city referred to as Forest Park in the Guidebook to St. Louis.  Specifically, this section of town is composed of the CWE, De Mun, Dogtown, Forest Park Southeast, The Grove, and Skinker-Debaliviere. In looking over the Guidebook’s recommendations, I realized how much I already experienced in this section of town.  During the spring and summer, I hit Forest Park at least subzeroonce a week to walk, run, or play golf. The CWE has two of my very “no-occassion needed” places for dinner and/or drinks in Herbie’s Vintage 72 and Subzero Vodka Bar.  Sasha’s Wine Bar in De Mun as well as the ambiance of the CWE’s Pi (over the other two locations) are fun places to eat.  I have attended many of the recreational activities outlined in the Guidebook to St. Louis so this was a little bit of a challenge for me. It was nice to immerse myself into this part of town to experience something new and to really appreciate this part of town all over again!

chibarFood and Drink:  I love sushi. It is not uncommon for me to have sushi for breakfast, that’s how much I enjoy sushi.  Interestingly, I came across the Chi Bar on North Euclid in the CWE that piqued my interest so I made plans to meet some gal pals for dinner on a Thursday evening.  Although we did not have drinks, the three of us enjoyed a wonderful meal that included two seaweed salads, 6-piece eel sashimi plate, 8 piece spicy tuna roll, 2 piece salmon, euclid-maryland2 piece tuna, 2 piece white tuna, and 2 piece yellow fin tuna nigiri sashimi, 4 piece avocado roll, and an 8-piece eel avocado roll that ended up costing us right around $15 per person.  For the amount of food we ate, I thought this was pretty cheap for a sushi dinner.  It was great and I will be back again.  Oh, and by the way, if you get there before 7 pm bring some change for the meters; the Wicked Witch of the West rides around on her bike ticketing offenders so don’t take any chances on trying to beat the meter.

Recreation: There is so much to do in this neck of the woods including checking out the Cathedral Basilica, St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Zoo, Forest Park, Hi-Pointe Theater, and the Muny. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dogtown every March 17 is a must.  The Great Forest Park Balloon Race (still on my to do list), Greek Festival, and Grove Fest all take place during the month of September or very early October and are lots of fun. Having done all of it (with the exception of the Great Forest Park Balloon Race), the waters will be slightly muddied when I throw my recent experience at a cute candy shop as “recreation”.

lolli-storeOh Lolli Lolli is a very cute candy shop in the De Mun area located in the scenic Concordia Park neighborhood.  It is a tiny store but when I got there on a Thursday at around 5:15 pm, it was packed with kids and a couple of lolli-lolli-candyadults.  If you plan on gifting chocolate to someone, their milk chocolate peanut butter cups are awesome.  A lot of their candy is individually wrapped and you can buy one of a bunch of different chocolates that will serve as a thoughtful and unique gift for anyone. The stuff offered by Oh Lolli Lolli is a nice change from the traditional Bissinger’s chocolate.  So, if you are in the De Mun area, take the time to check out this cute candy shop.

goldengrocerShopportunities:  Even before my Whole30 adventure, I have pretty much been an organic, whole “foodie” since moving to Boulder, CO in 2000.  While the bulk of my shopping is done at Whole Foods in Brentwood, I just had to check out the Golden Grocer.  Located on North Euclid Avenue in the CWE, this natural health foods & supplements store made me feel like a kid in a candy shop. The one thing that I was floored by goldengrocer-spiceswas the number of bulk spices offered.  I love to cook and the key to some great dishes is using the right spices. I now buy bulk spices in smaller amounts to make sure that they stay fresh. Now that I am aware of this little gem, I will definitely be going back to the Golden Grocer in the CWE to buy my spices because after all, variety is the spice of life and the Golden Grocer offers plenty!

STL Adventure 3 – “Outstate”

keeven drivewayMy St. Louis Adventure recently included a bonus trip only briefly mentioned in the Guidebook to St. Louis and technically not a required exploration destination for A.U.’s Adventures.  Although within the state of Missouri, the trip falls under the book’s definition of “Outstate”. My friend Dora Smith invited the girls up for the weekend to her parent’s farm near Washington, Missouri for some R&R at her and her husband Dave’s new log cabin. They started building the log cabin during the spring of 2009 using logs that stood on a nearby farm for over 100 years. You can check out the cabin progress via Dora’s blog.

angie-saraSo, after work on Friday, four gal pals packed up and headed to the Smith Cabin.  Via historic Route 66, we stopped for a mini-happy hour at the Big Chief Roadhouse in Wildwood. The seasoned house Pow Wow chips went well with my very cold Zwickle draft.  The BBQ smoked jumbo au-dorawings were perfect!  After dinner and many, many laughs, we continued our journey to the Keeven farm in New Haven, Missouri. Upon our arrival to the cabin, Dora’s dad had already built a fire in the fireplace located in the kitchen.  It was so nice to come into a toasty warm cabin!

wine-robblerThe next day after breakfast, we hiked for about an hour around the perimeter of the Keeven farm.  After the hike, we packed up our snacks and headed to Robbler Vineyard and Winery in New Haven. Owned by a couple from Glendale, Missouri, the winery was celebrating their 22nd anniversary the day we were there so the reeseatmosphere was very festive. We were able to taste a few wines as well as some cheese that a local farmer only recently started selling. We made friends with “Reese”, the very cute puppy that came with another group of people to hang out for the day. The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting in the sun at a picnic table, sipping the HIllside Blanc and the Dry Rose, laughing and enjoying the day.

cabinAfter the winery and a short walk along the river in New Haven, it was back to the cabin for Sara’s chicken and some more wine for dinner. Dora’s parents Ron and Lois came up afterwards to play cards.  An evening of rummy ensued where I learned not to mess with Mrs. Keeven. She plays a good game!  chairsThe night went by quickly and before we knew it, we were all fast asleep in a quiet, cozy cabin.  It was a very great weekend and I look forward to coming back again and checking out New Haven.  The little city seems to be booming a bit and it will be interesting to see how it grows and matures over the next couple of years.

STL Adventure 2 – St. Charles County

old-st-charles-moSt. Charles County is located west of St. Louis and composed of Cottleville, Dardenne Prairie, Lake St. Louis, St. Charles, St. Peters, and Weldon Spring.  The first time I lived in St. Louis (1997-2000), I almost bought a house in Weldon Spring; after attending a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I realized I wanted to go further west so I turned in my letter of resignation at St. Louis University Medical Center the next business day and moved to Boulder, Colorado a month later (without a job).  At that time, my brother Jonas lived in St. Charles with his wife and four boys so I decided to pay homage to his old stomping grounds and spent a day in historic St. Charles.

lewis-clark-s-an-americanFood and Drink:  While taking a stroll down Main Street in old St. Charles, I had lunch at Lewis and Clarks Restaurant because I was starving and it was too cold to sit outside at some of the other cuter wine/lunch places.  This three-story establishment offers a wide variety of food with fast and friendly service.  I had a burger to which they accommodated my no-bun-more-lettuce-and-pickles-please request.  Nothing magical about the burger but it was really good.

stonesoupcottageMy hope was to be able to tell you all about my experience at Stone Soup Cottage in Cottleville, Feast Magazine’s Best Restaurant of 2012 but reservations are so hard to get! I actually gave the owners of the company I work for a gift certificate to this place as a Christmas gift and could only secure a reservation for them on May 17th. Stone Soup Cottage also offers cooking classes on Mondays but they are now on hiatus for the Spring and Summer seasons so I have to wait until the Fall to check it out but I most certainly will!

stcharlesRecreation: I spent about half an afternoon walking up and down Main Street in historic St. Charles as well as Frontier Park located along the Missouri River.  The ten-block 200-year-old Main street is charming and lined with over 100 small shops offering antiques and nick nacks from the Victorian and Americana time periods. The tourism center offers visitors a handy map. If you are a little more high-tech, the center offers pre-loaded iPods for an 18-stop, 90-minute self-guided audio walking tour of Main Street. Frontier Park was quiet the day I was there but there are some upcoming festivals scheduled including the Missouri River Irish Fest (May 25 and 26). Admission is free and there will be Irish food, drink, music, etc. to enjoy.

diolivaShopportunities:  Obviously, Main Street in St. Charles offers quite a few shopportunities. I love to cook so the Olde Town Spice Shoppe was a favorite stop. The store is full of spices, herbs, seasonings unique marinades, sauces, teas, and other baking ingredients.  Dog owners, check out Canine Cookies n Cream Dog Bakery. The place is full of good-looking treats (and customers who bring their dogs) and a must-go-to shop to pick up a special treat for your dog. Another favorite was diOlivas where I could have spent hours looking and ringsampling various olive oils and flavored vinegar.  I purchased a delicious Blackberry Ginger and awesome Pomegranate balsamic vinegar that I have been using in my recipes. Finally, I love a little bling and I found a very artsy ring at one of the jewelry shops that completely escapes my mind right now.  I really like this ring and can’t believe I found it amongst the million pieces of jewelry on display in the store!  It serves as a great memento of my St. Louis Adventure!

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.

Guidebook to ST. Louis Adventure!

guidebook-auAs I was wrapping up my Whole30 adventure, I was starting to wonder about my next challenge or experience. Nothing was resonating with me and I decided to refrain from over-thinking the process and to just enjoy my birthday week. Two days after completing my Whole30 adventure, I was having dinner with my great friend Dana who gave me a very thoughtful book (signed by one of the authors!) called Guidebook to St. Louis (by and for St. Louisans). I immediately said to her, “This is going to be my next adventure!”

Seriously, I have lived in St. Louis a total of almost 12 years; the first time I lived here for three years (1997-2000) and then quit my job and moved to Boulder, CO without a job. After three years in Boulder, I moved back to St. Louis in 2004 because I wanted to come back. Despite living here a significant amount of time, I have often told myself that I really have not fully experienced a lot of cool things that this city has to offer.  My assumption has always been that I will eventually get to it.  Well, what better time than the present, right? Time to get on and go experience St. Louis!

funThe authors of the Guidebook to St. Louis have identified 14 distinct neighborhoods, dedicating a chapter to each neighborhood. Following a brief history, the chapter is divided into three sections: 1) Food and Drink, 2) Recreation, and 3) Shopportunities. My plan is to venture out to all 14 neighborhoods over the course of the next two months, making sure I eat and/or grab a drink at a place I have never been to, partake in a recreational activity, and check out at least one shopportunity unique to each of the neighborhoods. Can’t wait to start the fun and tell you all about it!