Category: Missouri (page 2 of 3)

The I’m Sorry Cake + More STL Eats

Test a new recipe on guests at your own risk. Especially when it’s a “Sorry I Forgot Your Birthday” Cake.

Four of my in-laws drove to St. Louis from Minnesota for their first visit this weekend and we welcomed them with this cake. It sure looks pretty. What better way to ask for someone’s forgiveness than presenting them with a fresh strawberry cake lovingly frosted with cream cheese frosting?

The recipe’s technique of cutting butter into the dry ingredients, gradually adding eggs, and stirring in the wet ingredients seemed unusual, but the website’s photos looked pretty so I proceeded anyway. After all, how bad could fresh strawberry puree, flour, sugar, and butter taste? Pretty bad. Pretty, pretty, pretty bad. 

We sang “Happy Birthday” and the belated birthday girl blew out the candles. After passing slices of cake around the room, I noticed pensive facial expressions and quickly took a bite from Jake’s plate.

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It was terrible. “This cake tastes really bad and I’m not going to have any,” I announced as my family tried to politely choke down their slices. We’ve always spoke candidly with each other, which is something I really appreciate. Once I broke the ice, feedback rolled in:

“It tastes like unleavened communion bread with frosting.”

“It’s like big mound of paste.”

“I can’t do it Jeni, I’m sorry.”

“Honey, I ate it all!” stated my father-i-law, a man who exemplifies the stereotype of Norwegian stoicism. I thanked him and asked if he’d like another slice, to which he replied “no.”

In the end, it was the thought behind the “I’m Sorry” cake that mattered and our apology was accepted. “I’m going to bake you all a birthday cake,” I promised. Much better food followed and we enjoyed the rest of the weekend exploring St. Louis together. Here are some more things we learned:

Happy hour at Katie’s Pizzeria rocks. We learned that we had actually visited Katie’s Pizzeria instead of Katie’s Pizza & Pasta. No worries, though. Our pizzas, prosciutto spring rolls and toasted ravioli were delicious and we’re excited to visit Katie’s Pizza & Pasta next. During happy hour, glasses of wine were $4 and all of the pizzas are available in a personal size for about $8.

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These were no tiny pizzas and no one could finish an entire one. The pesto served with the fried ravioli and on top of Jake’s pesto-shrimp pizza really struck my fancy. I’m still craving it.

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I chose a spicy pizza topped with copa, fresh ricotta, pepperocini, and red pepper flakes.

It’s hard to go wrong at Bogart’s SmokehouseEveryone tried a different menu item, from ribs to a turkey sandwich and no one had any complaints. I chose the chicken wing special with sides of sweet and spicy Fire & Ice Pickles and potato salad dotted with hard-boiled egg. I liked that one could sandwiches in small or large sizes and that each comes with two sides.

Plus, everyone who worked here on Saturday was so darn nice. The line was relatively long at lunch, but the staff made sure that when customers who wanted to dine-in entered the building, there was seating available.

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The drinks at Ballpark Village are expensive. Parking is not, however.

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Thank you for putting two cherries in my $8 amaretto sour.

The candy maker at The Fudgery in Ball Park Village sings songs like, “You can try everything for free.” We especially enjoyed a taste of the freshly-made rocky road fudge cooling on the marble table. Turns out that The Fudgery in Ball Park Village is one of 29 stores across the United States. One of the company’s features is their singing candy makers who have to audition American Idol-style for their positions. According to The Fudgery’s website, one of their past employees includes SisQo who totally lives in Maple Grove, MN with his family now!

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Finally, Tani Sushi offers a nice take-out service and the penguin and puffin coves at the St. Louis Zoo are still the most magical place on earth. If you visit Kali the polar bear, know that he gets upset when people put their hands on the glass. I watched a woman argue with the zoo employee when she asked her to and her family to stop. “But it looks like he’s having fun!” she insisted. He’s not. “But it seems like he’s playing with us.” He’s not. Trust, the zoo keepers.

Maybe next time there will be Provel.

Cicadas Are Weird

I composed this Ruth Reichl-inspired tweet after an early walk with the dog.

“Rising temperatures. Hot & humid for days. It smells funny outside. Dodging lawn sprinklers. Cicada shells crunch beneath my feet. Morning.”

Growing up in Minneapolis-St. Paul, I remember mosquitos but I don’t recall seeing cicadas. Mosquitos really were our state bird and the smell of citronella candles is forever burned into my memory.

There are a lot of cicadas here.

A recent STL Today article explains we’re experiencing this current mass of cicadas because, “it’s the only time this century that a 13-year and 17-year brood are arriving at the same time in Missouri.” Another 221 years will pass before it happens again. The article continues by describing how the males are the first ones to crawl upwards to the surface of the earth and screech for their mates. When a female hears the perfect mating call, she will make her ascent upwards to pursue that specific male.

After “coupling,” the males die shortly afterwards and the females climb into the trees, where they lay eggs that turn into larva which leap back into the ground and dig holes where they wait for over a decade until it’s time to mate again. All in all, cicadas really only live about four-six months above ground.

The sound cicadas make is deafening. Our neighborhood streets are lined with mature trees and we can often hear them through our bedroom windows, even with everyone’s air conditioning units running. The cicadas sing loudest around dinner time, though sometimes, they’ll scream in waves during any given moment during the day. *To be accurate, cicadas don’t scream, they hum.

Cicadas aren’t dangerous. They do not bite or sting. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, should a cicada sit on a human’s hand for an extended period of time (an event considered very uncommon), “it may jab you with its mouth, mistaking you for a plant – painful, but a harmless accident, and certainly not an act of aggression or even defense.”

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It seems like cicadas fall out of trees when the wind blows, because they’re rather clumsy, or their short above-ground life-cycle ends. They might dive-bomb you in the chest or fall on your head and it came as no surprise that cicadas are a convenient food source for wildlife like squirrels, armadillos, feral pigs, birds and fish. If your dog’s anything like mine, he or she might also consider them a snack. Cicadas make walking the dog extra weird.

At the end of writing this post, I’ve come to realize is that all of the things which makes cicadas weird also makes them cool. Cicadas are cool.

St. Louis Is Delicious: Seven Favorite Tastes

St. Louis is a delicious city, that’s for sure. When I haven’t been drinking ranch dressing-flavored soda or making pizza hot dish in the crock pot, I’m doing one of many things: Trying to stay cool (It’s so hot here!), job searching, completing Microsoft Excel tutorials, learning about coding on CodeCademy, walking the dog, or eating things.

You can find most any type of food you could possibly wish for in St. Louis. While I used to write posts on most of our restaurant experiences, I share more of these snapshots on my Instagram feed. Here are some of my favorite and most interesting tastes from the past month.

Guerilla Street Food at #FoodTruckFridaySTL
I attended my first Food Truck Friday, a recurring event sponsored by Sauce Magazine. On Friday, the food trucks convened at Tower Grove Park. I’ve seen a lot of posts about and from Food Trucks in my social media feeds and look forward to visiting my first one. In an attempt to avoid long lines, I arrived at the park around 4 p.m.

Street Food Fest

Guerilla Street Food was the truck I was most curious about trying and it was surrounded by the most people. It serves Filipino-inspired food and just opened a brick and mortar store. I placed my order and didn’t have to wait more than seven minutes for my name to be called.

I didn’t read the menu descriptions too closely and found the Fresh Lumpia a surprising take on the Filipino egg roll. It was a crepe wrapped around cabbage-veggie filling, a lettuce leaf, and served with sweet chili sauce. What we enjoyed the most was the Wandering Pig Bowl (also available inburrito). The pulled pork was tender and succulent and the combination of hoisin, Filipino lime, sriracha, scallions and fried garlic made for a very flavorful and umumai-filled combination. It was a hefty portion for only $6. I’ve always wanted to try Filipino food and want to return to try some more dishes.

GS Bowl

I read that attendees can purchase a Food Truck Friday speed pass for $10 (or 3 for $25), which can be redeemed to bypass the line at one food truck. These passes seem like an expensive way to enjoy the event. If you can go when the lines aren’t too long, it’s a lovely way to spend a Friday evening. There were many other food trucks serving everything from gyros to beer to cupcakes. People sat together on park picnic tables and picnic blankets with their families and their dogs.

One friendly tip from me to you is to wear closed toed shoes walking through Tower Grove Park, or follow the paved path. To take a short cut back to my car, I tromped through the grassy field covered in lawn mowing clippings and stepped on a bee.

House of India
One weekend we ordered take-out from House of India, as recommended by several people. It was exactly what we were looking for. The sauces were wonderfully complex and addicting and totally “hot” as requested. House of India distinguishes the terms spicy from hot and the person who took my order politely corrected me over the phone when I asked for “extra spicy.”

House of India Collage

The vindaloo wasn’t our favorite of the three entrees, but the bhindi masala and paneer makhni (reminded us of paneer tikka masala) were some of the best we’ve ever tried from anywhere. When we lived in the Twin Cities, we loved ordering bhindi masala from Surabhi who made it in a similar style. Some restaurants make a saucier version that includes other vegetables like tomato or green pepper. We prefer the dryer, more okra-centric version like this.

Chai Tea & Ham and Raspberry Jam Biscuit at Half and Half.
Half & Half is an often-mentioned breakfast/brunch/lunch cafe located nearby.The restaurant includes some communal tables, an open kitchen, and more mason jars than I could count. On two visits, what stood out is that the food is cooked with a lot of care. My family member’s fruit bowl side was not some wintermelon-filled afterthought and the crispy breakfast potatoes were lovingly sprinkled with finishing salt. I’m especially fond of their little biscuit filled with ham & raspberry jam. It’s the perfect, compact breakfast.

Half and Half Collage

Blueberry Cake Donut at Vincent Van Doughnut
When we first moved here, I spun into a donut frenzy. There weren’t many places that sold donuts that didn’t arrive at the store pre-packaged. And the one time I bought a package of donuts from the farmers market, they were so soaked in fishy-tasting grease that I threw them away.

There are many donut shops here! One of my favorite local bloggers Whiskey & Soba recommended Vincent Van Doughnut. When I had arrived on a weekday by 10 a.m., they had sold out of most of their donuts. Fortunately, I’m the most un-picky donut fan. This blueberry donut was my jam. The texture was similar to the cake donuts I’ve tried in the past, but with more bite and a crisp crust. The glaze was tart and naturally fruity, and its spicing almost reminded me of Chef Shack’s Indian-spiced mini donuts. I loved the donut’s delightful, state fair fried food essence.

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Jake said the flavor reminded him of his Norwegian grandmother’s donuts. He preferred their other style of raised donut that remind me of a beignet just as Whiskey & Soba described.

Fortune Teller Manhattan, Fortune Teller Bar
The Fortune Teller Bar caught my eye for several reasons: Recommendations from friends, tales of a roaming palm reader & mention that it served Lunchables. When we visited, we had just eaten dinner but noticed the bar has a full kitchen. I did not see a fortune-teller and wonder if he or she is present on certain nights or later at night than 7:30-8 p.m. Getting my palm read seemed like an amusing thing to do, but after reading about a blogger friend’s terrible palm reading experience I’m a little relieved & $20 richer.

Unless I’m dining at a Mexican restaurant or chain, I go for less sweet cocktails. This Fortune Teller Manhattan ($8) made with J.J. Neukomn whiskey, Byrrh Grand Quinquina, Angostura bitters and dark cherry was strong & delicious with the tiniest hint of sweetness.

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Sugarfire Pie Gooey Butter Cake. I’ve tried baking gooey butter cake twice with varying degrees of success. One was too dry and the other, too gooey. “My gooey butter cake is too gooey, ” is a St. Louis problem. Until I master the art of baking gooey butter cake, I’ll let someone else do the honors. We have many versions to try, but so far, our favorite is from Sugarfire PieI hear we need to try Russell’s on Macklind. 

Seafood City Supermarket, Fish Cake: There are many Asian restaurants and grocery stores along a street called Olive Blvd. Seafood City is probably the largest. I can’t tell if it’s part of the Seafood City Supermarket chain since its website does not list a St. Louis location. Seafood City is similar in size to United Noodle in Minneapolis. However, it has a large selection of fresh seafood, smaller produce section and no in-house deli or restaurant.

When I was paying for my purchase, I noticed plates of some type of still-warm food sealed in ziplock bags at the end of the register. I asked what was inside the packages, and an employee who described it as fish cake started offering samples to customers and employees, alike. It had a golden brown crust and savory flavor that wasn’t at all fishy. I did pass on purchasing the plate since it contained too much food for Jake and I, but would consider getting it again if we could serve it fresh to a small group.

At the end of this week, we’re hosting more family members who are coming to visit St. Louis for the first time. Our Missouri adventure continues. . . 

Trayse yawn

Trayse says, “Hello,” and “Why is it so hot here? I’m a Minnesota doggie.”

To Reach The Top Of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, You Have To Ride In A Tiny Pod

I had the most St. Louis Day that began at the Arch and ended at Busch Stadium. My folks came to visit the city for the first time and so we toured our new hometown together.

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The Gateway Arch is visible from all over the city and it’s really a majestic sight to behold. Usually, I don’t initiate trips to tall observation decks, but the Arch is an iconic St. Louis symbol and climbing to the top felt like the St. Louis thing to do. Plus, admission to the top is only $10, unlike Seattle’s Space Needle or Chicago’s Hancock and Willis Towers which will run you at least $20 per adult.

The Gateway Arch is located on National Park Service grounds. It’s actually the “tallest man-made national monument in the United States.” Park grounds also include the Old Courthouse where Dred Scott and his family sued for freedom from slavery from 1847-1850 during their first two trials.

One can visit the Old Court House and wander around the exterior of the arch for free

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My folks are grabbing a photo opportunity

Although the observation deck windows aren’t visible in my photos, you can see them from the outside. This side of the arch is flat while the other contains the elevators.

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It’s like finding the end of a rainbow.

Don’t forget to bring a hat or shades on a warm sunny day. You may have to walk a few blocks from your parking deck or meter and the light reflects off all of the metal and white concrete.

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Before you arrive, realize that you have to reserve your tickets online, over the phone (877-982-1410), or in person at least two hours ahead of time. They are available at the Gateway Arch Ticketing & Visitor Center located Old Courthouse located about two blocks away.

An employee explained that the Ticketing and Visitors Center will eventually move back into the arch facility when construction is complete. With tickets in hand, we passed through the security station and monitored the screen above the North Tram that indicated what time slots could board.

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Next, we waited for our elevator assignments. Each elevator, or, as I like to call them, Arch pods, holds five seats. A park ranger will assign visitors to pods, making sure to keep members of a party together. This might mean that you have to wait for the next seating unless you feel comfortable sitting with strangers.

The pods are tiny and the seats are so close together that even if you were strangers before the ride, you probably won’t be afterwards. . .

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We were assigned to pod eight.

Before the pod doors open, visitors view a short film providing some background about the Arch. It all has a very retro and sci-fi feel.

Arch pod

After you climb into the pod and hunch into your seat, the doors will close and the four-minute ascent to the top of the Arch begins. It’s four minutes exactly; we timed it. The little pod will creak and rock as it climbs to the top of the Arch, and you can watch all of the stairs and cables and pulleys it passes out of the clear front doors.

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I was surprised to find that the observation deck is a long and narrow carpeted space reminiscent of the inside of an airplane. The windows are long and narrow. Short people like me will need to kneel on the carpeted ledge that runs beneath the windows.

By the time we reached the other end of the space, a team of electricians entered. One of them was more than happy to talk to us about the inner workings of the elevator system and explained how the cables are replaced every other year whether they need to be or not.

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The space inside the observation deck can feel claustrophobic, especially if it’s filled with other visitors. However, it’s fun to see landmarks like the stadium and river from 630 feet.

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When you’re ready to return to the bottom of the Arch, line up for the next elevator rides down. This time gravity is on your side and the descent only takes three-minutes. People who fear heights and small, enclosed spaces may struggle with the Gateway’s “Journey to the Top.”

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The inside of the Arch facility contains restrooms, drinking fountains, two gift shops and a small theater that plays the documentary Monument to the Dream every 45-minutes. A cafe and dock for riverboat cruises are also located on the park grounds. With temperatures hitting the 90’s, we skipped the dock and walked to the Old Courthouse.

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You’ll find statues of Dred Scott and his wife outside the courthouse. Between 1847-1850, Dred Scott’s first two court trials in which he and his family sued for freedom from slavery took place here. At that time, a Missouri statute stated that “any person, black or white, held in wrongful enslavement could sue for freedom.”

Eventually, Scott’s case reached the United States Supreme Court which denied him citizenship solely because of the color of his skin and declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional in 1857. This PBS essay states that after the Supreme Court verdict, Scott’s former master’s sons “purchased Scott and his wife and set them free.” He died nine months later.

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The courthouse rotunda’s three floors are open for visitors to explore (currently, the courthouse’s elevator lift is out of service). There is also an exhibit on the first floor where we learned more about Dred and Harriet Scott through photographs, documents, and a film.

We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of learning about our new hometown. There are so many opportunities to learn about history, see art, listen to music, and dive into local food traditions. Like many have mentioned, we also appreciate that so many attractions are either free to visit or very affordable.

Our friends and family in the upper Midwest are always on our minds, but we’re truly having a lot of fun here. We hope you get to visit St. Louis sometime in your lifetime.

OK Now I Think Taqueria El Bronco’s My Favorite

We can’t stop eating tacos.

The other night Jake and I were watching an episode of the Jim Gaffigan Show. One of the jokes was that while he and his wife were looking for a new home, she fell in love with every one they viewed stating that it was “the one.” I feel this way about good tacos. On our first STL date night, we rejoiced upon finding street tacos and spicy salsa at La Tejana in Bridgeton and on our second, we did the same over tacos at Taqueria El Bronco.

Moving to a smaller city is one thing, and moving to a large city is another. The Twin Cities is larger than St. Louis, but it’s where I grew-up and had always lived within a few hours’ radius. I just kind of understood the food scene and restaurant dynamics because I collected experiences and knowledge in bits and pieces from multitudes of sources for 30 years! We took for granted knowing the places people generally regarded as the best in their category from the tourist traps.

In St. Louis, we are just beginning to figure out where we are at any given time. Therefore, we look to blogs, message boards, and St. Louis residents for advice. One restaurant that frequently appeared in my search for favorite Mexican restaurants is Taqueria El Bronco located on Cherokee Street. There are many Mexican restaurants and bakeries located along this stretch of Cherokee Street and I keep reading about it’s hard to go wrong here.

On Saturday night, we had to drive around a bit before finding a parking spot on a side street (still adjusting to parallel parking and remembering to carry quarters for meters). Once inside we were warmly greeted and quickly seated. We dug into the complimentary chips and salsas. The red was very mild while the green was wonderfully spicy.

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We’ve never tasted a green salsa quite like this and we put it on everything. Next time, we’d ask for two dishes of green salsa. My thirst still wasn’t quenched after climbing around The City Museum so I ordered a margarita ($6.25). Jake tried a Michelada ($5.74) which reminded us of a Bloody Mary-flavored beer.

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Jake ordered five different tacos while I chose two. They’re smaller and less stuffed than the tacos at La Tejana, but also cost less at about $2 each. Seafood tacos cost a little bit more. Our order arrived surprisingly quickly.

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Sliced radishes in my tacos make me happy!

Jake’s favorite taco was filled with finely crumbled chorizo. The meat wasn’t greasy at all and had a flavor we kept wanting more of. Jake said he liked it so much he’d just order chorizo tacos on a future visit.

I ordered one shrimp and one al pastor taco. The shrimp taco tasted light. The shrimp tasted fresh and weren’t strongly seasoned. I especially liked the al pastor meat. It had a wonderful griddle char. Some people hate the sight of fat on meat, but I loved that some of the pork pieces had a thin layer of caramelized fat.

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We left El Bronco glowing with green salsa-induced endorphins. The person who managed the griddle Saturday night was totally on point. There’s clearly many good tacos to be had in St. Louis and we’ve hardly scratched the surface. El Bronco’s were as delicious as any we’ve tried from our favorite Twin Cities restaurants like Pineda and Taqueria Los Ocampo.

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