by Nancy Stiles
Even though we've named Riverbend Restaurant & Bar (701 Utah Street; 314-664-8443) one of the best Cajun/Creole restaurants in St. Louis ever since it's been open, it's perpetually underrated. Owner Sam Kogos thinks it may be because of Riverbend's out-of-the-way location. If you do find it, Kogos is certain you'll be surprised by the food.
"We're serving what I think is the most authentic Cajun/Creole food in town," Kogos tells Gut Check. "Me and my cousin, who is my chef -- we're the only ones in town who actually were born and raised in New Orleans, had a restaurant in New Orleans, cooked in New Orleans."
Kogos says he thinks customers respond to Riverbend's food because of its authenticity and consistency. You don't want to go in for a delicious gumbo on Tuesday, only to return on Saturday and find the gumbo isn't so great.
He also uses the best quality seafood he can get, even though prices on Gulf shrimp have gone up 35 percent in the last three years. Kogos knows he could get cheaper shrimp from Asia, but that just wouldn't cut it.
"I think what surprises people is, they go into a place like [Riverbend] and you get used to what kind of food [to expect] and all of a sudden you get this high quality seafood," Kogos says. "People say, 'Oh my God, I went into this dumpy place and they knocked me out.' I hear that a lot when I go to the tables."
Kogos says his only regret is that he doesn't have a bigger kitchen -- there are so many New Orleans dishes he wants to put on the menu but he just doesn't have the facilities. He has been looking for a new location for a while, but it has to be the right place and the right neighborhood. Plus, he says, at 50, he doesn't have the money or energy to take on a huge buildout or renovation. So for now, Riverbend is sitting tight.
"We're so thankful for everybody that comes in. It's just amazing. It's very gratifying because it's not an easy location to find," Kogos says. "I'm not sitting in the Loop or the Central West End -- we're really thankful for the readership and the people who actually come in."
Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. E-mail the author at Nancy.Stiles@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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