by Mabel Suen
Yesterday we introduced Amanda Doyle's new book, Finally, A Locally Produced Guidebook to St. Louis By and For St. Louisans, Neighborhood by Neighborhood.
We sat down with Doyle at Rue Lafayette to discuss her favorite restaurants and what makes St. Louis special.
Mabel Suen: How long have you been living in St. Louis?
Amanda Doyle: I've lived in St. Louis since 1997, so right around 14 years. When I moved to St. Louis, we lived in Lafayette Square for a year. I've lived in Tower Grove Heights/Tower Grove South ever since with my husband, a menagerie of cats and dogs, and my three-and-a-half-year-old son.
What do you think makes St. Louis so great?
I like how easy life is here. I have a lot of friends from high school and past lives that live in a lot of great places like Los Angeles, New York and Austin. I go to visit them and I think it's hard as a daily life. I like that St. Louis is kind of a lazy city. You can get anywhere easily and gain access to things easily.
What inspired you to write your book?
Ten plus years of accumulating all this knowledge about places in St. Louis. For my day job, I'm talking to visitors about places like the Botanical Gardens, the Arch, Tony's and other obvious things people do when they come here. But I also knew about all the other quirky stuff you tell your best friend and finally had an outlet to do that. Reedy Press, a great St. Louis focused publisher, had a vision for it, and after talking to enough people about it, we found there was a need. Put in a little effort and you could be a pretty good expert on whatever you want.
What are your favorite neighborhoods in St. Louis?
Tower Grove is great. I really like Maplewood, and I love Ferguson. It's my north county sleeper. I like a lot of parts of north city like Old North St. Louis. There's so much unnoticed there that's really of value that people should know about. And I love Cherokee Street. The energy down there is great.
What are a few of your favorite destinations?
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in North County is somewhere I had not been prior to researching for the book. It's amazing for that much kind of wild nature to be just 20 minutes from downtown. You'll feel like you're in the middle of the wilderness gazing upon trumpeter swans. I also love Cherokee Street. When we first moved to St. Louis, it was when Metropolis St. Louis, a group of young people gung ho to revitalize and restore pride in the city, was getting its start. There's a lot of that kind of do-it-yourself spirit on Cherokee. I also enjoy the many, many corner bars of St. Louis, particularly the corner bars of North St. Louis, which are an under-visited asset. Another hidden place is The Chapel in Clayton. A lot of people don't know about it. It's magical to me. That room is beautiful and they have shows all the time.
Tell me one thing most people don't know about St. Louis
In north county, you can probably get into a fist fight over which north county pizza place is the best. I've seen families get into heated arguments. Everyone has a strong opinion. A lot of people say that Angelo's in Florissant is the best, but I've also heard Faraci, Pirrones and Nick and Elena's, and some of these places are tiny!
What is your best piece of advice for choosing a place to dine out in St. Louis?
Go to one of the walkable clusters of restaurants if you're feeling indecisive. Go park your car in Clayton, the Loop, Maplewood or South Grand somewhere and there are tons of restaurants to get to easily and look at menus. Stroll and see what strikes you. See how many people are in there.
What are some of your favorite St. Louis area dining destinations?
It's hard to not fall into the rut of Grand because we so close to there. It's my default, so I love Lemongrass and Mangia Italiano. I like Eau Bistro in the Chase Park Plaza. I think it suffers a little from the hotel restaurant connotation, but it's great and I've really enjoyed it every time I've been there. On the Hill, I really love Lorenzo's. The food and presentation is great. I love the Soulard Coffee Garden's eggs benedict for weekend breakfast, City Coffeehouse and Creperie in Clayton for its spinach crepes, and Sen Thai downtown. Sen is just consistently tasty and great and such lovely people.
What is your all-time favorite food destination that people might not know about yet? Do you have any favorite recent finds?
In Edwardsville, there's a Korean place called Oriental Spoon. I don't know how many people haven't been to Goody Goody diner. The food's fine, but it's a cultural experience. It's been awhile since I've waited that long for a table, but I was happy to wait because it was good food. I also like the Cork Wine Bar in Ferguson. It has small plate portions and very good food.
What places are visitors most impressed by?
We always go to the City Museum, and I like to take people to the River Road in Illinois. I think it's really pretty. St. Louis people complain all the time about how we don't have beaches or mountains and that the biggest drawback is no outdoor recreation. In Grafton, you can rent a kayak or canoe on the Mississippi River. It's somewhat epic just driving into all the little towns like Alton and Grafton for fish shacks and stuff like that. Pere Marquette and other places make for great day trips or afternoons.
What is the most surprising thing you've eaten in town? The Magic House cafe has a very excellent veggie sandwich. I have it every time I go. I really like the spiked martinis at the Fountain on Locust, particularly the creme de menthe.
What is your philosophy/mantra on St. Louis pride?
If you're bored, you're boring. There's no excuse for that. We don't need to apologize for what we're not. I learned that while writing this book. We don't need to feel bad about it. We need to be excited for what we are.