cleveland-heath in edwardsville photo by jonathan gayman

Readers' Choice 2016: Best of the Best

Friday night

It’s Friday night, and you just got paid. Time to start your tour of the best St. Louis has to offer with a trip out to Readers’ Choice Favorite Restaurant Cleveland-Heath. (Yes, it’s in Edwardsville, and, yes, it’s worth the drive.) Fridays are busy, which means you should get in line with the Nowait app before leaving, but also that the restaurant is alive with energy. When you arrive, step up to the bar and ask bartender Andrew Dolinky to choose your first whiskey of the night, or select a well-thought-out cocktail like the Meadow Lane with gin, elderflower and ginger liqueurs, dry vermouth and oloroso sherry.

Once seated, the Favorite Wait Staff delivers specials in its signature unpretentious, attentive style. Ask any question and you can expect knowledgeable answers. Browse the menu of Cleveland-Heath’s Favorite American Traditional dishes. The thick and hearty pork porterhouse tastes like a giant slice of Canadian bacon – maybe the best piece of pig you can remember. Mexican- and Asian-inspired dishes (like the savory pozole soup or okonomiyaki seafood-barbecue Japanese pancake) are just as good as the American offerings. Calling them better would suggest there is something on the menu that isn’t worth your time.

With Chef of the Year Ed Heath and co-owner Jenny Cleveland in the kitchen, you know what to order: the special. It doesn’t matter what it is. Get the special. Trust that the attention to texture and flavor interplay will astonish, with each bite precise on every axis. With dishes like melt-in-your-mouth tuna poke and a foie-smeared toast dolloped with a strawberry-blueberry compote, you’re sure to find a flavor, crunch or aroma that you’ll be dreaming about well into the weekend.

As the evening comes to a close and you finish off the last perfectly puffy beignet, congratulate your servers, bussers and bartenders for their well-deserved accolades.
– A.B.

Saturday morning

La Patisserie Chouquette
Ease into Saturday with a treat from La Patisserie Chouquette, winner of Favorite Cakes and Pastries. Step into the bright, Botanical Heights patisserie and order The Darkness, an over-the-top chocolate-chocolate-chocolate croissant, or go savory with the tarte Provençal with roasted tomato, fig, fontina cheese, bacon and onion. Sip a cup of The London Tea Room’s Cream Earl Grey while you nibble and discuss your weekend plan of attack.

pastries at la patisserie chouquette // photo by greg rannells

Soulard Farmers Market
One of the oldest and largest west of the Mississippi, Soulard Farmers Market boasts a riverboat-load of vendors hawking everything from turnips to T-shirts. Wander the four wings and be sure to grab produce from Millstadt, Illinois’ Scharf Farm and some goat cheese from Baetje Farms. With as many as 100 vendors, there’s no shortage of meat, produce, spices and baked goods, which may be why its your Favorite Farmers Market.

Saturday afternoon

Blues City Deli
Just over the highway and a bit south from Soulard Farmers Market is sandwich paradise. Always generous with the meat and fixings, Blues City Deli makes your Favorite Sandwiches. There’s something for everyone at this Benton Park institution. Order the Prez Reuben, a bag of Kettle Kurls and a can of 4 Hands City Wide, or go off menu and ask for the never-disappointing Aporkalypse Pretzelwich crammed with garlic-pepper pork roast, provolone, pickles and bacon covered in zingy Boom Boom sauce on a Companion pretzel bun.

aporkalypse pretzelwich from blues city deli // photo by carmen troesser

Planter’s House
After napping off lunch, head to Lafayette Square for your Favorite Craft Cocktails at Planter’s House. Co-owner Ted Kilgore and crew stir can’t-miss classics and shake up in-your-face-fun originals that capture trends and seasonal spirits. Linger inside the lush interior of the Bullock Room while you marvel at the back bar’s selections or pull up a seat on the patio and sip a Take Me With U, a fruit-forward mix of blanc vermouth, bitters, lemon, a rosemary tincture and a happy splash of bubbles.

cocktails from planter's house // photo by jonathan gayman

Saturday evening

Reeds American Table
Dinner is served at Reeds American Table in Maplewood, where chef-owner Matt Daughaday’s creatively refined classic flavors have won your heart. Less than 1 year old, Reeds is your Favorite American Nouveau. Order one of Daughaday’s favorites: the fried lamb – a braised lamb neck breaded in chickpea flour and fried, served with a grilled little gem salad and a yogurt-creamed feta. Check out the impressive drinks menu, then let advanced sommelier Andrey Ivanov choose your wine pairing.

Strange Donuts
After dinner, leave the car parked and hoof it a block west to Strange Donuts for dessert. From classics like the vanilla-frosted, rainbow-sprinkled Rainbow Pony to collaborative specials featuring savory meat combinations, Strange Donuts is full of surprises. Order the gooey butter for a masterful take on the classic dessert from among your Favorite Doughnuts.

Sunday morning

Kaldi’s Coffee
Rise and shine – it’s time to get back out there. For a proper java jolt, hit a Kaldi’s Coffee, your Favorite Coffee Shop. A St. Louis staple for 22 years, the local shops feature fair-trade or single-origin options and flavored varieties roasted right in Midtown. Get a hand-brewed pour over or a sidecar (cappuccino with a shot of espresso on the side) and prepare to take on the day.

Brasserie by Niche
Be prepared to brunch hard at Brasserie by Niche in the Central West End. Maybe it’s the eggs en cocotte – eggs poached in cream with spinach and bacon served in a little cast-iron skillet – or the Mornay sauce blanketing the ham and cheese croque madame with an egg on top. Whatever your French-inspired siren song, Brasserie delivers a taste of Paris on a lazy Sunday morning. Perhaps that’s why you voted it your Favorite Brunch.

brasserie by niche // photo by greg rannells

Sunday afternoon

International Tap House
Just around the corner from Brasserie, take the afternoon to digest and relax at iTap in the CWE by people-watching on the patio or watching a game inside. Pull up a seat on any of the three floors and order a pint from the Readers’ Choice Favorite Beer List. With just about every St. Louis area brewery represented, you can drink local all day, or opt for a regional craft beer like the crisp, tart Bell’s Oarsman Ale. The beer world is yours.

Sunday evening

Barbecue Battle
For your weekend’s final dinner, two barbecue heavyweights go toe-to-toe. Sugarfire Smoke House and Pappy’s Smokehouse tied for Favorite Barbecue, so you be the judge. Stop in at Pappy’s and order the Big Ben to go: a hefty combination of ribs, a brisket sandwich, a pulled pork sandwich, a chicken quarter and four sides (opt for the baked beans, fried corn on the cob, sweet potato fries and potato salad). Then swing downtown to the Sugarfire location on Washington Avenue and get the Meat Daddy combination plate with ribs, a smoked sausage link, brisket, pulled pork and turkey. Spread a picnic blanket under the Arch and argue the meaty merits of St. Louis’ favorite barbecue. May the best rib win.

sugarfire smoke house // photo by jonathan gayman

Broadway Oyster Bar
To end this whirlwind tour of St. Louis’ best, grab a seat at the iconic Broadway Oyster Bar. Chill N’awlins-style with a frosty bottle of Abita beer or a boozy Sazerac, the iconic New Orleans cocktail. Dance the night away to live music, then snack on some your Favorite Creole and Cajun food like the Shrimp Voodoo once you’ve worked up an appetite. End the weekend by raising a glass to this year’s class of St. Louis favorites.
– K.S.