The Gut Check One Hundred is our accounting of the 100 dishes in St. Louis that you must eat right now. These are the best dishes at the newest restaurants and the newest dishes at the best restaurants. These are the 100 dishes that define St. Louis dining in 2013. Our list culminates this fall when the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis 2013 names the "Best Dish" of the year.
You don't need much imagination to see Sauce on the Side (903 Pine Street; 314-241-5667) expanding from its downtown spot across the area -- and maybe even beyond. For now, though, this homegrown fast-casual concept fills a need in the St. Louis dining scene that you might not have realized we had, at least not before your first visit there: a spot where the calzone is king.
The dough is the first key to baking the perfect calzone: too heavy and a dish that's already a meal in itself can be overwhelming. Across my multiple visits, Sauce on the Side's dough was uniformly excellent, substantial enough to support the fillings of each calzone but with a pleasantly airy chew even at the corners, where the ratio is 99 percent dough to 1 percent filling. The flavor is light and unobtrusive, a template for both the fillings and whichever oil accents the pie.
The second key is the quality of the ingredients that go inside the calzone. Here Sauce on the Side distinguishes itself both with the individual foods and how the kitchen brings them together. The "Costanza" calzone ($9) appears to be a take on the classic pizza calzone, with pepperoni, garlic, basil and mozzarella, but the addition of eggplant, with its distinct astringent character and a hint of roasted sweetness, adds an unexpected touch of sophistication. The house red sauce supplies just the right acidic bite of fresh tomato to balance the gentle sweetness of the garlic-honey oil brushed over the calzone's exterior.
Is there a dish that you think belongs among the Gut Check One Hundred 2013? Let us know!