13 hours in St. Louis
08.06.2012 - 08.06.2012
Why? Yes, that is the obvious question. St. Louis was not exactly tops on my Day Trip Destination List. Frankly, it wasn’t on any list I might have except possibly my Why Would I Ever Want to Go To St. Louis List.
So, when Matt advised me that he needed to be in St. Louis from 7:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. and asked me to go with him to help pass the time, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down with giddy excitement.
Here were the only things I knew about St. Louis:
1) It’s in Missouri.
2) They have a baseball team.
3) They make some beer there.
4) They have an arch.
That pretty well summed up my vast knowledge base with regard to the city of St. Louis. I grudgingly agreed and immediately set about the most important task: figuring out where I would eat that day.
I have found that, if no other reason to visit a place presents itself, you can always count on food.
Within moments, thanks to the unfailing power of the internet, I knew that St. Louis considered its top 5 signature foods to be gooey butter cake, toasted ravioli, thin crust pizza made with provel cheese, slingers (eggs, hash browns and a hamburger patty topped with chili, cheese and onions), and pork steaks.
It was a start.
I was St. Louis bound.
We left at 5:30 a.m. on a Friday morning. The day was gloriously clear and I enjoyed watching from the plane as the sun crept up and up and up. I would have enjoyed sleeping in my bed for another 4 hours significantly more, but I couldn’t get a gooey butter cake from my bed, now could I?
With the time change, we landed in St. Louis just after 7:30 a.m. As we drove across the bridge, the St. Louis skyline came into view.
We had decided to stick to the downtown area, because there seemed to be a lot to do there. I had a lot of things on the list of possibilities and we just decided to see where the day would take us.
The first place it took us was to the Gateway Arch. Pretty much because it was the first thing we came to and we figured that, at 8:00 in the morning, it couldn’t be very crowded. Neither one of us was exactly dying to see it, expecting it to be pretty lame, so we just wanted to get it out of the way as painlessly as possible.
I have to apologize to the arch and to all lovers of the arch. I truly underestimated how seriously cool the arch would be.
The Gateway Arch stands 630 feet tall and is 630 feet across from base to base. It is MASSIVE. It is made of large rectangular stainless steel plates, and the way the light and colors play off of that surface truly made it remarkable.
There was almost no one there at that hour on a weekday, which probably added to the beauty of it. We hadn’t planned to go inside, because we had decided that if going to see it at all was lame, how much more lame was paying $10 to go to the top of it? That was for fanny pack toting, instant camera wearing, Cardinals jersey buying tourists.
However, once we were there and saw the sheer coolness of it and saw that not one person was in line to go up, how could we not? We whipped out our $20 so fast it would have made any fanny-pack toting, instant camera wearing, Cardinals jersey buying tourist proud. Heck, by the end of the day, I’d probably be wearing an “I love St. Louis” t-shirt and carrying a foam finger.
When we paid for our tickets, the attendant asked if we were claustrophobic or if we had a fear of heights. That should have been my clue that the “tram car with windows looking outside as you ride up” that I was expecting was actually a tiny, windowless bubble of metal.
No, Mr. Attendant, I am not claustrophobic, but I don’t like being crammed into a a miniscule pod with no windows that is about the size of the trunk of my first car with 4 other people who may or may not have B.O. or flatulence or just bad manners for an agonizingly slow 5 minute ride worrying that, at any moment, the power will fail, leaving me in the dark with no air conditioning with 4 other people who may or may not have B.O. or flatulence or just bad manners.
Thankfully, it wasn’t crowded on our tram, the power did not go out, and it was actually a relatively painless experience.
We did the “view from the top” thing, which was less impressive to me than the arch itself, but at least allowed me to check one more thing off my list.
Been inside the Gateway Arch? Check.
Having been roused out of bed at an inhuman hour and then distracted en route to breakfast by the shiny arch, it was now 9:00 a.m. and I was ravenous.
Although I really wanted to find gooey butter cake for breakfast, we headed to Half & Half, a relatively new eatery/coffee bar in an area near downtown called Clayton. It was a quick 15 minute drive and we were promptly seated at a cute patio table.
I agonized over the coffee choices. I am a “one cup a day” gal, and that one cup of coffee I drink each morning might be my favorite moment of each day. It is something I look forward to and savor. When we had landed, my eyes were still partially closed despite having been awake for 4 hours so I had downed a quick cup of airport rotgut in a styrofoam cup. That was not an acceptable coffee moment. I needed a do-over.
Did I want a pour-over pot of Malacara from El Salvador? How about my own French Press of rich Columbian coffee? A bottomless cup of the house coffee? An espresso? So many wonderful choices.
I opted for a cappucino. Simple, but my personal favorite since our trip to Italy. Each cappucino was an opportunity to recreate the magic of the Amalfi Coast. What better way to savor my perfect coffee moment?
My cappucino arrived, perfectly foamy and decadent, with a delightful little heart swirled onto the top and a tiny little spoon. My Italian cappucinos were always served with a lot of sugar, so I looked about my table for some sugar and saw two little ramekins. One had sugar and a tiny spoon and the other was dark brown, as fine as flour, so I assumed it was cocoa.
I loaded a generous scoop of sugar beneath my foam and sprinkled cocoa on top.
You know how, when think you are drinking a glass of orange juice and you forgot that you actually have milk, that first sip sort of throws you? So, you take another sip to allow your brain to put everything back in the right place and let your taste buds figure out what is in your mouth?
Well, it took me three sips to figure out that I had loaded my cappucino up with salt and pepper.
Further proof that I am completely clueless, unsophisticated, and uncool.
God bless Matt for explaining my “situation” to the waiter, as I hung my head in shame, unable to look him in the eye, so that I could get another cappucino. The waiter was very understanding and gracious, bringing me a new one on the house and saying, “You wouldn’t believe how often that happens,” when what I know he was actually thinking was, “Oh my god, you idiot. No one has ever done this before. I am giving you a free cappucino because I feel sorry for your husband for having to live with such a stupid person.”
With the great cappucino crisis under control, it was time to order. The menu was divided into two sides: Eggs and Sweets. That was just unfair. How was I supposed to choose?
Matt and I have an uncanny tendency to choose the same two items on the menu and then try to decide between them. This makes ordering easy, because we each get one of the items in question and then agree to share. That is how Matt ended up with the chorizo and eggs served with a pile of spicy potatoes and a generous slab of sweet cornbread.
It is also how he ended up eating it all by himself when my blackberry French toast arrived, causing me to launch into a sugar and bread frenzy and completely renege on our deal, unable to part with that decadent French toast, even for the man who had single-handedly salvaged my damaged cappuccino only moments before.
Hey, all is fair in food and war.
Don't feel too sorry for him. He also had this incredibly fabulous looking oatmeal:
More of a pancake girl myself, I find French toast to be a bit tricky. Typically restaurants get it very, very wrong….overdrowning the bread slices in too much egg so that they collapse into paper thin sheets under the batter and stay slightly soggy no matter how much they might be cooked…or blackening them mercilessly in the pan. Half & Half got it very right. Two thick slices of brioche arrived, fried in the lightest of egg batter so that they crust was crispy and brown and the center was light and fluffy. There was the slightest hint of lemon and a dusting of powdered sugar along with a generous portion of blackberries and a healthy dollop of marscapone.
This alone was worth flying to St. Louis for.
Following breakfast, we had several choices for our morning. We could head to the Botanical Garden where $8 would gain us admission to 79 acres of horticultural wonder. Or we could grab tickets to Circus Flora, a one ring circus based in St. Louis. There was also Citygarden, an urban park and sculpture garden in the heart of downtown St. Louis. We could head to Six Flags, tour some breweries, or go see the famous Budweiser Clydesdales at Grant’s Farm. Who knew St. Louis had so much to do?
We headed toward Forest Park, a 1371 acre park in the center of the city with a zoo, a planetarium and science center, art museum, and history museum. Did I mention that all of that was FREE?
Free always wins.
It is no secret that I am not a fan of small children. They seem to only have one volume, screaming, and one speed, running. So what would make me go to a zoo on a beautiful summer day where I would likely encounter hordes of them, all sticky and sweaty and screaming and running?
I am still asking myself that same question. There had to be at least 89,000 of them there. And they were all next to me screaming, “I WANT TO SEE A MONKEY! GET ME A FUNNEL CAKE! IT’S HOT! CAN WE GO TO THE POOL NOW????”
It took me at least 45 minutes to get the shaking under control after Matt had to throw his t-shirt over my head and lead me out of the zoo.
We stayed in Forest Park for a while. There was so much to see and do (and it was FREE). It was a beautiful day to be outside.
We stayed until that beautiful blackberry French toast wore off. There was only one thing to do at that point: Head to the Hill.
The Hill is an Italian-American neighborhood located south of Forest Park. Its streets are lined with perfectly neat houses and manicured green lawns, and it is filled with old-school Italian restaurants, bakeries, and shops. The Hill is the Italian version of Mayberry.
We made our way to Anthonio’s because it seemed to be chosen by locals as one of the Hill’s favorites. Who were we to argue?
Anthonio’s was simple and casual. Not one to win you over with fancy décor, Anthonio’s gets you with it’s marinara sauce. The sauce is made in –house, with fresh tomatoes and spices. It’s tangy and not overly sweet.
We started with some “St. Louis Famous” toasted ravioli. They were crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, with a side of that heavenly marinara sauce.
The pasta with meatballs was the show stealer, however. I opted for the richer bolognese sauce, because, who doesn’t want to add meat sauce to 2 giant meatballs? It was a great decision.
We tried to walk it off, as well as one can walk off a giant belly full of meat and noodles, by heading over to the Missouri Baking Company. I still hadn’t found one of those gooey butter cakes.
I did not find a gooey butter cake at the Missouri Baking Company, but I did find a lot of other things.
I found a snowball, a chocolate whoopie pie, and an apple cream cheese pastry, to be precise.
Still unable to walk fully upright, I thought it best that we continue to walk around the neighborhood for a while, fearful that if I crawled into the warm car at that moment, I might slip into a state of meat fueled unconsciousness.
Next we headed to the Delmar Loop, an eclectic street lined with unique shops and cafes. Colorful trolley cars once filled the streets of St. Louis. The Delmar Loop derives its name from the Delmar Streetcar that served that area in the early 1900’s. Affectionately referred to as “The Loop,” this six block section of town had tons of boutiques, music clubs, eateries, and vintage clothing stores. It bordered on “funky” and looked like a place where you could get anything from a tattoo to a 1984 prom dress. The Loop did not, however, have gooey butter cake that I could find.
The heat of the day (and the fact that we had ingested massive amounts of sugar, pasta, and meat) left us limp and lethargic. Thus, we spent the next hour doing a “driving tour of St. Louis.” It gave us plenty of time to see some of the stately historic homes, the unique neighborhoods, and most importantly, to sit in the blessed air conditioning of our rental car for a while.
Knowing that lunch was going to involve a giant bowl of pasta (the massive meatballs were simply a stroke of luck), our original dinner plans were to go to Three Sixty, a rooftop restaurant near the Busch stadium. It had light fare, unique cocktails, a great view of the stadium, and placed us just a few minutes from the airport so that when we got the call it was time to go…we could head on.
What we didn’t know was that there was a St. Louis Cardinals game that night. With the stadium next door to the restaurant, it was MADNESS trying to get there. Once we squeezed our way to the parking area, we realized that everything was $15 for “event parking,” IF you were lucky enough to find a space.
We headed a few miles away to Sanctuaria, which was, indeed, a sanctuary. With a delightfully wicked interior and a beautifully shaded patio out back, this tapas bar seemed the perfect place to sit and wait for “the call.”
Sanctuaria had a ridiculously huge cocktail menu that I was happy to peruse, while Matt (the pilot) had to sip a Diet Coke. We ordered some house made chips with blue cheese dip to munch on while we looked over the menu when “the call” came.
It was time to go.
And I never found a gooey butter cake.
No matter. I had sampled many of the great things St. Louis had to offer, even though none of them had been gooey butter cake. I had no idea how much there was to do in St. Louis or what a clean and vibrant city it was.
I thanked St. Louis for her hospitality and waved goodbye, wondering just where one might find a St. Louis gooey butter cake in Tennessee?
Next up? Abaco! It's going to be a busy summer, folks!