When you hear, “St. Louis, Missouri” there’s a good chance that the Gateway Arch comes to mind. Makes sense. It is an icon of American history (an impressive icon I still didn’t get to go in! Good reason to go back…). But after my visit, I want to challenge you to change your thinking and see the St. Louis that I saw: welcoming people, incredible food, generational culture and history, bike-centric initiatives, university, sports teams, entertainment – and a whole heck of a lot more. After my 20-mile circuit in St. Louis I’m here to tell ya, it’s a great, vibrant city that deserves a prime spot on your travel itinerary.
Take “The Hill” for example. Named because it’s located near the highest point in the city, The Hill is an authentic Italian neighborhood that runs generations deep. You’ve got the butcher, the baker, the general store, all run by multigenerational Italian families who put down roots years ago and have grown this area into a destination in its own right.
It was here that I met Alex and Amanda Donley, natives who now own Gioia’s Deli, a spot that was built from the bricks of the 1904 World’s Fair. This unassuming little spot has been nationally recognized as a James Beard American Classic known for its Hot Salami sandwich.
The fact that the recipe is locked in a safe may sound like the most interesting part, but it’s not. The really incredible part is that their Hot Salami is not Salami at all; it’s fresh sausage from pork that’s sourced locally! When you see the episode, you’ll know just how good it is so I’ll spare you the details, just be sure to pay special attention to that quintessential St. Louis feeling, where a family-run restaurant makes everything taste like home.
From a pinch of the past to forward-thinking fun, Milque Toast was unlike anywhere I’d ever tried. The name comes from the old kids’ dish made popular over a century ago. You toast bread, put warm milk with butter and sugar on top and just like that, breakfast!
At Milque Toast, owner Colleen Clawson stays true to the origins of the dish, starting most every menu item she serves with toast. But from there, her offering is anything but traditional. In fact, she grows her own herbs and veggies and uses local ingredients as much as possible. The vibe was funky, the food, delicious, and the location, bucolic thanks to a nearby green oasis. Even better, Colleen appreciates her biker patrons and is part of Bicycle Benefits, which gives members extra perks whenever they stop in.
While we’re on the subject, Bicycle Benefits is just one of the ways St. Louis caters to the cyclists among us. As you ride through the city and its boroughs, it doesn’t take long before you see a “Bike St. Louis” sign. It’s all part of a city initiative and commitment to bike mobility and I can personally vouch for the bike friendliness of St. Louis and its bounty of bike lanes! You won’t be disappointed!
Aside from the St. Louis Gateway Arch, you might also associate Bar-B-Que with this soulful city, but what you might not expect is the variety they’re serving up at Bogart’s Smokehouse. Traditional St. Louis style is a wet, tomato-based sauce but at Bogarts, they’ve perfected a dry rub that’s slightly more Memphis – but with a twist! After the ribs have cooked for hours using locally sourced applewood, THEN they coat them with an apricot glaze and brulee the outside for a crust, sweetness and fall-off-the-bone experience like no other!
True to their BBQ-competition roots - where there’s not an endless supply of ingredients coming from the kitchen - once Bogart’s sells out, they’re done for the day but honestly, I think that’s also a signature secret because you know your order is made fresh.
The focus on fresh is also a big part of what they’re doing at Olive + Oak. Rather than outsource ingredients from far and wide to fit a ‘set’ menu, owner Mark Hinkle is very intentional to create a menu that changes daily based on what’s available.
He loves working with vendors and partners as much as he does making connections with the community and it’s reflected in the bright, airy atmosphere of this nouveau neighborhood gathering spot.
And what you didn’t see in the episode was that our last stop, Fox and Hounds, is where our crew would go every night of our stay. If you’re looking for a real British Pub experience, just walk into this place. Dark woods, speakeasy chairs, couches – I didn’t always drink, I just liked being in there. The vibe was awesome. And of course, no pub would be complete without bangers and mash, fish and chips and the usual fare – all done exceptionally well at Fox and Hounds.
See the Arch (and actually go in it), bike the trails, eat the food and leave with a newfound appreciation of St. Louis that, if you’re like me, will have you going back for more.