a spirit house dinner in dogtown photo by carmen troesser

Some of St. Louis' best Thai food is served at Spirit House dinner parties in Dogtown

Food brought Ekkachai Danwanichakul and Chelsie Hellige together. They met 13 years ago, when he was a server at The King & I and she was his customer. The now-married couple almost missed their chance when Hellige’s number got smudged on the receipt she left for Danwanichakul. But he kept an eye out – and that ruined note to show her when she returned to the restaurant.

Now, the two frequently visit Danwanichakul’s native Thailand to spend time with family and indulge in elaborate Thai feasts, which Hellige jokingly called “eating the gauntlet.”

Home in St. Louis, though, the couple hasn’t found a place that replicates the traditional cuisine they enjoy in Thailand. As Danwanichakul explained, much legit Thai food sounds simple but takes a lot of time to execute, like khao tom mat, a time-honored dessert made of steamed sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. He said the dish takes a couple of days to prep and a small restaurant sweating the bottom line couldn’t afford to put it on the menu in its bona fide form.

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So the couple decided to take matters into their own hands and bring the real deal to St. Louis. “We thought, ‘What can we do to show our St. Louis friends what home-cooked Thai food is like?’” Hellige said. “Instead of complaining, we decided to contribute.”

They started hosting dinner parties for a handful of friends in their charming bungalow near Dogtown, showcasing an array of Thai dishes from fried pomfret, a white fish popular in Asia, to khao kluk kapi, a dish of fried rice and shrimp paste.

What started out as a private affair quickly morphed into the “secret supper” pop-up series called Spirit House that debuted this summer. Dinners are scheduled on a weekly or biweekly basis and announced via Instagram and email. The eight seats at the couple’s dining table get snapped up quickly. 

Danwanichakul prepares all the food as traditionally as possible using the home’s cozy kitchen, a small prep station on the sun porch and the gas grill and a wok in the back yard. Sometimes dishes are plated and coursed, but more often they’re served family-style in the old-school Thai way. 

The parties are definitely a labor of love and not a money-making concern – guests contribute just enough to cover the cost of the event.

As far as the future of Spirit House, there isn’t a long-term plan. Hellige said they’ll continue the series through the winter. After that, “We’ll see where it goes.”

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

Tags : Recipes, People