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- PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
- Edibles & Essentials is the cafe you wish was in your neighborhood.
6. EDIBLES AND ESSENTIALS (TIE)
Unlike at most restaurants, where the chef is confined to the kitchen, Matt Borchardt does it all at Edibles and Essentials. He's the guy behind the counter taking your order, the sales clerk describing the virtues of various types of olive oil and the guy opening your wine and bringing you your food — and he wouldn't have it any other way. A former chef consultant and culinary educator, Borchardt opened his Southampton café as a place to balance his love of cooking with his passion for teaching. The set-up is part deli counter, part retail space and part fast-casual restaurant, though it's no Chipotle: Guests are encouraged to buy a bottle of wine and linger over Borchardt's signature cherry smoked deep-fried ribs for as long as they'd like.
6. LOCAL CHEF KITCHEN (TIE)
Well before words like "sustainable," organic" or "farm-to-table" were essential labels for the nation's trendiest restaurants, chef Robert Uyemura was quietly living that philosophy in the unlikeliest place: a corporate restaurant in Chesterfield. However, when his kitchen philosophy turned into a lifestyle, and that lifestyle led him to form his own CSA, Uyemura knew that his calling was to show people the full range of what is possible with conscious cuisine. The result of his vision is Local Chef Kitchen, a restaurant that doesn't just use sustainable ingredients — it exists because of them. Out of his simple Ballwin storefront, Uyemura serves impeccable cuisine in a fast-casual setting at affordable prices, and shows that what you can do with local, sustainable food goes far beyond the usual lip service.
- PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
- The pastries at Nathaniel Reid Bakery are nothing short of perfection.
8. NATHANIEL REID BAKERY
Consider one of Nathaniel Reid's signature dishes, a dome-shaped beauty whose flavor is capable of inducing ecstasy. He calls the confection the "Amber Cake," but there are no words to fully convey its perfection. A luxurious silken dome of salted caramel mousse is gilded with pecan caramel with a crunchy shortbread crust that tastes like a nutty, brown butter biscuit. It's the sort of dessert you'd expect to find served on a gilded platter in the presidential suite of a five-star hotel.
Chances are it has been. After all, the "Amber Cake" is the handiwork of acclaimed pastry chef Reid, who made a name for himself at some of the world's most exclusive properties. But as Reid once told me, "My dad is a carpenter. I want to have a place where he can come and feel comfortable. I want to be able to give this sort of luxury to everyone." He's done this with his magnificent Kirkwood bakery, where he gives his guests little pieces of heaven for only a handful of dollars — and that is what makes the place priceless.
9. BIG BABY Q
Ben Welch has never been shy about his barbecue skills, once saying in an interview, "I've heard that Mike Emerson is my competition." Comparing himself to the godfather of Pappy's Smokehouse and the city's undisputed king of 'cue was a bold statement, considering Welch didn't even have his own smokehouse, let alone a proper venue to showcase his barbecue prowess.
He does now with his Maryland Heights smokehouse Big Baby Q, and once you bite into his luscious, fork-tender brisket, you'll understand he had reason to be so confident. In fact, every last thing coming out of his smoker — the pulled pork, pork steaks and even the oft-overlooked chicken — is nothing short of spectacular. Welch has proven his barbecue bona fides and placed himself firmly in the pantheon of St. Louis' most important pitmasters.
Leave it to acclaimed chef Gerard Craft to take something as simple as pasta, pair it with the fast-casual concept and turn it into something so impeccable it's worthy of fine-dining treatment. Following the Chipotle model, guests at Porano choose from a variety of housemade pastas, sauces and accoutrements. However, the beauty of Porano goes far deeper than a bowl of magnificent pasta. Here, Craft and his team push the limits of what is possible with the casual genre, not only in the quality of the food but in the ethics and environmental consciousness that are so often at odds with grab-and-go style eating. Like all of Craft's restaurants, Porano is a testing ground for his vision of what's possible with food and where it's going — and like all of Craft's restaurants, that place is where we want to be.
Yolklore: Partners Mary Boehne, John Bogacki and Billy Oziransky elevate our understanding of what breakfast can be at this lovely breakfast spot in Crestwood.
Melo's Pizzeria: Joey Valenza turned his love for bread-making into this charming Neapolitan-inspired pizzeria in Benton Park.
Tai Ke: As St. Louis' first Taiwanese restaurant, Tai Ke introduces us to the island's vibrant street food culture.