Like a lot of Kansas City residents, I try and make it over to St. Louis at least a couple times a year.
It’s not that I think St. Louis is “better” than KC, just different — different restaurants, different food traditions, different local brews, brew pubs, and wine bars. Plus, I met my wife and was married in St. Louis, lived there for three years and went back to visit the in-laws for many years after that.
So when it comes to St. Louis classics like gooey butter cake, toasted ravioli, Culpepper’s chicken wings and Ted Drewes, frozen concretes, I’ve got my favorites and my opinions.
I had a different goal on this particular visit. I wanted to both revisit and refresh — check back in with some of my longtime favorites and check out some new venues at the same time. I have to say that based on that criteria, this trip was an unmitigated success.
We stayed and dined at the River City Casino, which was a brand new experience for us and an excellent one at that. We also checked out the new Ballpark Village by Busch Stadium for some adult beverages and pub-grub-type food.
The waits are very long, but the food was surprisingly good. I’ll have more on that front later, but first let me give some love to some of the places we visited and loved for years.
Our first night in town, we picked up our son from St. Louis University and headed to The Hill, St. Louis’ neighborhood featuring all things Italian, most notably residents and restaurants. The four of us — son, daughter, spouse and me — were dining at LoRusso’s Cuchina, a figure on The Hill since 1989.
I had met Terri and Rich LoRusso some 15 years ago while filming an episode of my television show, Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert, and I’ve been a fan of them and their restaurant ever since. I’ve dined at LoRuso’s Cucina a few there a times over the years, but haven’t visited in quite some time so I was eager to see how the restaurant had changed, hoping that it hadn’t changed at all.
Upon arrival, it took about a minute to realize we were going to be in for the same delicious cuisine and warm, hospitable service as always. The menu was loaded with classic St. Louis-Italian favorites: Toasted Ravioli, Ziti, and Chicken Spidini along with Loruso classics like Pork Osso Buco and Gorgonzolo Fillet.
The room hadn’t changed, nor had LoRusso’s gregarious personalities. The only thing that had changed was Rich’s weight — down about 150 pounds thanks to a gastric bypass operation.
We shared some Bruschetta and Calimari Fritti to start. I had the veal chop for my entree. Everyone else had pasta — the Short Rib Bolognese stood out to my palate. But, it was all good, very good, and I can’t wait to get back to LoRusa’s. I promise not to wait so long between visits this time.
Two other quicky classic stops included Culpepper’s, a little bar and grill in the Central West End that serves the best Chicken Wings I’ve ever had. It’s also where I met my wife some 32 years ago, so it holds a special place in my heart and my stomach.
Anyway, the family, sans son, stopped in for lunch. My wife and I split the Buffalo-style wings and an order of fries, and my daughter had a healthy-ish wrap. The wings were still terrific and my wife still lovely, so it was a very pleasant trip down memory lane.
After lunch, it was time for a quick jaunt down Watson Road to Ted Drewes, home to frozen custard known as “concretes.” The name refers to the consistency of the heavenly creations which is, shall we say, thick. In fact, the servers turn the cups upside down before handing them to you to prove just how dense these beauties are.
They serve a micro, a mini, a regular and a large at Ted Drewes. I had the micro because I still had a stomach full of wings and fries. I usually opt for the mini, which is plenty, at least for me.
As for flavors, I had banana and hot chocolate, but anything and everything is good there, from their own creations to customer-assembled specials. If you’ve never had a Ted Drewes’ frozen custard, you have to treat yourself the next time you’re in town. And, if you’re familiar with these St. Louis classics, then you’re likely nodding your head and salivating.
Okay, I think I’ve done all the damage I can do on the “revisiting-my-culinary-youth” in St. Louis. I hope I’ve encouraged you to try some of these gems next time you roll into the Gateway City. Next time, I’ll tempt your taste buds with some new and delicious eateries, and at least two beer-centric destinations not to be missed.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.