Other cities have street food. Taco trucks. Noodle carts. Meat-on-a-stick, grilled in portable kitchens and served fresh and hot to night owls looking for a bedtime snack to soak up the beer.
Aside from a couple of hot dog carts, St. Louis hasn't had much in the way of street food.
But Jonathan Jones of Fats Pierre has a plan.
"I'd like to change that," he says. "And I'd like to change it by doing everything by the book, then getting people excited about it and showing that it can contribute to the culture of the city."
There's no guy named Pierre, and business partners Jones and Ty De la Venta are both rather trim. For the past few weeks, they've been selling gourmet sausages at the Silver Ballroom while going through the rigorous process of making sure their food cart is up to code.
If all goes as planned, Fats Pierre should be street legal by the end of this week. It's a long process, but one that's worthwhile for a business that's breaking new ground in St. Louis, especially when even food-friendly San Francisco is cracking down on street vendors who work outside the system.
No matter where they go, the Silver Ballroom will remain Fats Pierre's home base. Street vendors are required by law to have a commissary -- a kitchen that's subject to the same inspections as city restaurants.
"Make sure you say that we're warm and wonderful," De la Venta jokes.
And they are. The team -- Jones is three years out of college, De la Venta is a 70-year-old artist -- are unlikely partners, longtime family friends who found they shared ideas about the necessity of street food.
They interrupt each other while telling the story of how Fats Pierre was born:
Jones begins, "My brother was hanging out with Ty, and he's like, 'You guys need to talk about something.'"
De la Venta adds, "I have an art studio down by Lemp Brewery, and there was a guy down there who had restaurant equipment for sale. He had a hot dog cart. So Chris [Jones' brother] came down to my studio and said that Jon wants to do a hot dog cart. I said that it was kind of my cart because I had always wanted to have a hot dog cart. He said, ' Well, so does Jon,' so I said, 'Well, let's get together.'"
Jones continues, "We had been thinking of these things separately and all of a sudden... serendipity."
"Jon's a really creative cook," De la Venta says. "I'm a creative artist, but Jon's a creative cook and an artist in his own right."
Jones is focusing his creativity on sausages from G & W Meat and Bavarian Style Sausage and buns from Black Bear Bakery. These aren't wieners cooked in gray water. These are sausages worth fighting about.
"I was walking around talking to people [at the Silver Ballroom]," De la Venta recalls. "And there were two young men here and the one guy said, 'That knockwurst is awesome!' The other guy said, 'No, the Sicilian!' -- and pushed him! 'No, it's the knackwurst!' and these guys are about to get into a fight over it, arguing about which was the best sandwich."
In addition to the sausages, Jones has taken the original chopped beef recipe from De la Venta's father's restaurant and updated it with homemade horseradish cream and sharp cheddar.
With Cinco de Mayo, Jones took another step toward his vision of featuring a world of street foods from one cart, introducing street tacos and vegan chorizo, the latter made from Match Meat ground "pork" and his own spice blend. He has also tinkered with seared flank steak on a stick with guasacaca, a Venezuelan avocado sauce.
And he's already looking for his next global-street-food stop. "I'm really interested in southeast Asian, meat-on-a-stick items like yakitori, satay, Thai lettuce wraps," he says, then adds, "I want to do some African."
For now Jones and De la Venta are looking forward to parking their cart in front of the Silver Ballroom and then venturing to Tower Grove Farmers' Market, where they'll offer fresh-made breakfast tacos starting in June.
Fats Pierre The Silver Ballroom (and other locations t.b.a.) 4701 Morganford Road http://fatspierre.com
Hours (inside the Silver Ballroom): Monday - Saturday 8-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday street cart in front of the Silver Ballroom, 11 p.m.-2 a.m. or later, weather permitting.
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