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St. Louis trip allows time to explore new venues

07/27/2014 6:00 PM

07/27/2014 6:00 PM

When last I left you, I was coming back from a rather lengthy, definitely tasty, trip down my culinary memory lane in St. Louis.

I had cut my teeth on St. Louis classics like Gooey Butter Cake, Toasted Ravioli, Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard, and Culpepper’s Chicken Wings, among other items, some 30-years ago, and I was bound and determined to cram as many as those taste memories into my long weekend agenda as possible.

Mission accomplished, my wife, whom I met on my gastronomic discovery of St. Louis all those years ago, and I were determined to also weave a new culinary fabric into our St. Louis tapestry.

So, I lined up a bunch of next experiences: restaurants, one terrific brew pub and brand new place to stay, among others. What follows is an entirely subjective, completely biased report on some terrific new — to us anyway — eats, drinks, and venues.

Let me start with where my wife, daughter, and I called home for our three nights in the Gateway City — the River City Casino.

I was familiar with the Ameristar Casino whose parent company owns River City. In fact, the Ameristar Casino Resport and Spa in St. Charles is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

I’ve always had great experiences there, and I knew I would have again, but I was excited to check out the new digs in South St. Louis right on the banks of the Mississippi, so I leaped at the opportunity to stay and dine there, and boy am I glad I did.

First of all, let me comment on the rooms, which are spacious and quiet, perhaps the two greatest room qualities in my opinion. What’s more, River City is really convenient — you can be in the heart of St. Louis in 15 minutes or less, and out into St. Louis County in about 20. So it’s a great place to set up shop for a St. Louis exploration, which is exactly what we did.

While we got around town quite a bit, we also made sure to take advantage of what was right under our pillows — some pretty good dining, and drinking, destinations. We dined at Lewy’s Nine Cafe for Brunch and the 1904 Steakhouse for dinner, and stopped into the Beerhouse for, well, beer, on numerous occasions.

I can’t say I get the architecture at Lewy’s Nine, which can best be described as eclectic, but I sure dig the menu. I was told to get the Mediterranean Omelet, loaded with gyro meat, feta cheese, onions and tomatoes.

Other than a dearth of meat, which was quickly rectified, the flavors and textures were unique and delicious. My daughter had the pancakes, which were huge — I mean, really big — and my wife did her standard bacon and eggs. I liked Lewy’s Nine a lot and would return anytime.

For dinner, we experienced a meal at 1904 Steakhouse, a reference to the 1904 World Fair that St. Louis hosted. A Caesar’s Salad and a perfectly cooked medium-rare rack of lamb later, and as they say, “stick a fork in me, I’m done.”

My wife and son opted for the fillet, which was delicious, and my daughter went with the half roasted chicken. Why have chicken in a steakhouse? Because she’s 15, that’s why. Anyway, we washed it down with a bottle of Sangiovese-based Super-Tuscan and went back to our rooms more than satisfied.

I’ve got three new beer experiences from St. Louis to share with you as well, which is kind of funny because I really don’t drink beer all that often anymore. But, craft beer has never been hotter, and even St. Louis, the land of Budweiser, Bud Light, and Busch, has jumped on the bandwagon.

First, let me tell you about The Beerhouse at River City. It lives up to its name, featuring 100-beers from around the world, and offering a passport — along with special discounts and gifts —if you complete your world journey by having a glass of all 100 brews.

I had two different beers over my three days at River City, so it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever circumnavigate The Beerhouse’s world of beer. But, with a really nice looking menu of snacks, pizzas, sandwiches, and main courses, I will return for a couple more beers and likely a nosh or two.

Not far from River City in a funky little corner of South St. Louis, you’ll find the Perennial Ale Artisan Brewery and Tasting Room.

My foodie buddy, Craig Adcock of Jude’s Rum Cake fame, turned me on to these malted beverages, and I’m sure glad he did. My wife, daughter and I stopped into the tasting room one late afternoon, and while my daughter was uncomfortable with the collection of locals and hipsters and local hipsters, I loved both the vibe and the beer.

Started by a husband and wife team, Perennial describes its beers as a combination of American- and European-styles, and I liked both styles very much. Plus, I can almost guarantee you will find something to your liking as Perennial brews two dozen or more beers seasonally, offering some of them in bottle, some on draft, and some in both bottle and draft.

I particularly enjoyed the Season de Lis, a Belgian-style Saison brewed with Chamomile Flowers, and the Hommel Bier, which is a Dry-hopped Belgian Pale Ale. I brought some others home, a large bottle format that I haven’t had the chance to try just yet, but I can’t wait. The Perennial Ale tasting room isn’t easy to get to, unless you’re staying at River City Casino, but make the effort. It’s worth it.

Last, and probably least, quite honestly, in my plunge into St. Louis’ re-emerging beer scene, was a visit, two visits actually, to Ballpark Village, St. Louis’ version of Power and Light next to Busch Stadium.

A sea of red, an ocean of beer, and hours of wait times amount to a rather loud, somewhat watered down beer experience, though I have to say having a Goose Island Honker’s Ale from my hometown of Chicago while watching the gigantic TV inside Ballpark Village, is not a bad way to pass the time before a ballgame.

We waited an hour to get into the Budweiser Brew House, and while my pretzels and cheese were fine, I can’t say they were worth the wait.

Still, I’m glad I went, and I would go back again, if nothing more than for another Goose Island and all that goosed-up ballpark ambiance.

So, there you have it-St. Louis old and St. Louis new — to me anyway. I hope you enjoyed the journey and plan one of your own.

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.

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